Air Racing 101
A course in handling the course at the National Championship Air Races.
- By Larry Lowe
- Air & Space magazine, January 2008
(Page 3 of 6)
After four laps in loose trail to establish the course, Stephens leads the two rookies to the “cool down,” a circular track at 3,000 feet where an engine can unwind from race power and a pilot’s consciousness can recover from the blur of the desert in preparation for landing.
Soon the rookies are rolling down Runway 26, transitioning from the “hot” side, near the interior of the course, to the “cold” side, where they can slow for turnoff and not be a hazard to a following racer who may have landed fast, or lost his brakes.
On Friday morning, the pilots assemble in the briefing room. Stephens briefs his group of three pilots on the mission profile: a rejoin to formation after takeoff, a practice start, some laps. At some random time, Stephens will call for an engine failure, and that pilot must pull the power back to idle and find a runway.
On this flight they are taking the course at 150 feet. After one lap, Stephens climbs to observe from above. When he calls for the simulated engine-out, Lloyd climbs to an altitude from which he can S-turn over to runway 14, making his emergency landing approach easily.
Von Grote isn’t as lucky. His approach ends up a bit short of runway 14. Had this been a real emergency, he probably would have walked away, but the airplane would likely have slid into the desert.
Now Stephens has each racer pull out of formation and roll the airplane inverted, hang in the harness a beat, then roll right side up. This exercise introduces the pilots to the wake turbulence effects they would experience if they tangled with the vortices streaming off the wingtips of the airplanes in front of them.
After lunch, Stephens takes the class out for passing practice. For this session the group is joined by Vince Walker, a FedEx DC-10 pilot from Colorado who has pressed his Extra 300L into service as a trainer because the Lancair he is building is not ready to fly. The Extra is designed for maneuvering, not speed; Walker will strain to keep up with the flight.
Once the rookies are spread out, Stephens pulls the power back and eases out a few degrees of flap to slow to 150 mph, which allows Lloyd to attempt a pass.