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Andy Chiavetta inspects a new carbonfiber wing for his LT-1 kitplane at his shop in San Clemente, California. (David Levin)

Raceplane Builder Par Excellence

The Reno Kid, Andy Chiavetta.

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(Continued from page 2)

A & S: Why did you build a second LT?

The second LT is a duplicate of the first one, just to see how long it takes to build one up, and how much it costs. It took eight years to build the original one, and it was kind of on and off when I could work on it.

A & S: That sounds like a long time.

To do a composite airplane, it’s three steps. You make a plug—the positive shape, or what you want the part to look like—a mold, and a part. So it’s hard to estimate how much time it takes to make the part. Now that the molds are done, I just have to make parts for the plane. So that’s the step we’re doing now.

A & S: Will you sell the LT-1 as a kit?

Yeah. All the tooling has been made to make more of them. That’s why it took so long.

A & S: What do you hope the experience of building an LT-1 will be?

It will be a good introduction to composite construction. A lot of the hard work will be done here at the shop. They won’t have to know how to do large lay-ups, which require a higher skill level. They’ll have wing skins and ribs and parts, and they’ll be bonding it all together. It will be more like building a model airplane.

A & S: Have there been advances in composites since you’ve been making skimboards and airplanes?

Yeah. In molding. Patricia and Jon Sharp, who built Nemesis NXT, started using a new molding technique. They’re our main competition at Reno but also friends.

A & S: That’s how it goes at Reno, doesn’t it? Race teams can be fierce competitors, but they seem to help each other out.

That’s not always the case. [laughs] The Formula One class is very competitive. Darryl puts it this way: Everyone likes a winner—but not too much. People in the Sport Class were getting a little mad at us too. They were trying really hard to beat us, and when we win every year, it gets tough. Tension builds up.

A & S: So the Sharps are winners and you’re a winner and that’s why you can be friends?

I guess. Of course we’d always like to be the ones who are winning.

A & S: Will you win this year?

No, we’re not racing this year. We’re still working with the problem of horsepower. It will take a lot of horsepower to get to the NXT speeds. We’re close, but it takes a lot more.

The last few years we’ve been really thrashing to get the engine running properly. We decided between the both of us that we’re going to test more than we have in the past, and if it’s not coming up to speed, we won’t race. If it looks like it’s going to do well, we will. A lot of times, we’ll build up the engine, test it, get it safe, make everything work, but we don’t push it all the way until we get to Reno because it’s risky. You could blow up the engine prior to the race. What you’re doing is you’re opening the envelope at the race. If you run into something like we have the last few years, that’s not fixable within that week, then we’ve lost our chance.

A & S: What about next year?

If the engine is working well, we may try for the straight-and-level record in our class, where you fly four passes, and [the National Aeronautic Association officials] take the average of the four passes. We were planning on doing that at Tonapah if it’s available….

A & S: Where Darryl set the record in the F-104…

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