Notes from the Reno Races

Dispatches from the 2007 National Championship Air Races.

Rare Bear takes off for the Saturday Gold race. On Sunday, pilot John Penney finished first in the Unlimited class. (Larry Lowe)
Air & Space Magazine

(Continued from page 1)

In Unlimited, all eyes were on longtime favorite “Rare Bear,” sporting a new paint scheme and under new ownership. The former champion took off for Saturday’s Gold race heat but couldn’t develop full power and placed third at 446.626 behind Matt Jackson in Dreadought at 452.903 mph and Mike Brown in “September Fury” at 470.055. Rare Bear’s crew obviously found the problem, however. The Bear was heard emitting a healthy growl as pilot John Penney opened it up for a full throttle test early Sunday, and the stage was set for a classic Reno shootout between “Rare Bear” and the larger, more powerful Sea Furies.

In the end, “Rare Bear” took the race in commanding style, with a speed of 478.394 mph. Penney claimed an early lead and never relinquished it. Then, after finishing his race, he called an emergency and had to make a deadstick landing on runway 22.

Reno is nothing if not dramatic.

Saturday afternoon: Back to racing

After all events were suspended on Friday an unnatural calm settled on Reno-Stead airport while fans and racers absorbed the impact of three deaths in four days. On Saturday morning, things began to pick up again. As I write this, Mike Brown’s F7F Tigercat is neck and neck, improbably, with a P-51. Two seconds behind them, a Bearcat and another Mustang are locked in a contest for their position. A string of Mustangs follow up in tight trail. Best of all is the whistling whine of the jet class.

We’re racing again at Reno.

Not that everything is completely back to normal. The first accident on Tuesday left experienced racers analyzing the event as professional pilots always do, asking themselves what chain of events left Steve Dari with no more options. His crash had been an operational accident, not a racing accident, and could just as likely have happened elsewhere. That helped the pilots tuck the incident in the back of their minds and move on.

Thursday’s accident was a far more dramatic blow to the collective psyche. Second year jet racer Brad Morehouse got tangled up in the wake turbulence of the jet in front of him, flipped through a roll and slammed into the ground, shattering the airplane and instantly extinguishing Morehouse’s life. The debris ricocheted into the air and came to rest in a long flaming swath across the show center, the smoke obscuring the home pylon.

The photo in the Reno Gazette-Journal the next day was dramatic, but not as powerful as it might have been. The press corps self-censored some of the worst pictures, providing images to officials for use in analyzing the accident, but foregoing significant fees by not releasing them for publication.

Late Friday, I polled the pilots in Sport Class, who delivered a calm, deliberate and consistent message. It had probably been wise to pause, but the consensus was that they know how to police themselves, and were good to go. You could look them in the eye and know it wasn’t the macho talking.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus