Where do old astronauts go? Some of them simply can't shake that need for speed, so they strap on exotic aircraft and sign up for the Reno National Championship Air Races. Of the three astronauts who have taken up air racing -- Hoot Gibson, Bill Anders, and Curt Brown -- Brown, a two-time Reno champion, is the most recent headliner, having flown the fastest speed ever recorded in the 47-year history of the race: 543 mph, during qualifying laps on Tuesday, Sept. 14, in his modified Aero Vodochody L-29 Delfin.
When, in 2009, Guy Clifton of the Reno Gazette-Journal asked Brown which was more fun, racing at Reno or flying the shuttle, Brown replied:
"Well, I have more fun here because it’s me. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. I give NASA and all the folks credit – we’re just the tip of the spear. A lot of engineers and really smart, dedicated folks that make all that happen. We just get the privilege of being on the vehicle. But out here, it’s just me and the plane out on the course. I have a great ground crew getting me ready to go. But once I take off, I don’t have mission control trying to help me, I have me trying to help me. To me it’s more rewarding. And here in Reno it’s kind of like an inside joke with pilots: We get to do things that are totally way illegal anywhere else in the world at any other time. Out here we can really go fast, close to the ground, have fun with other airplanes. Even if we blow a motor up, the FAA doesn’t care, we just pop up, we land. You can’t do that anywhere else."