It was Charles Lindbergh
(born Detroit, 1902) who stated "A coward can sit in his house
and criticise a pilot for flying into a mountain in fog, but
I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed.
What kind of man would live where there is no daring? And
is life so dear that we should blame one for dying in adventure?
Is there a better way to die?".
Well I don't know if flying Garuda Indonesia
to Los Angeles via Denpasar, Jakarta and Honolulu quite counts
as daring, but breathing the smoke from clove-scented Javanese
cigarettes sure must! The delta flight from LA to San Francisco,
and the drive in Alamo-rental Neon to Reno was tame, but the
Corn-Dog poisoning at Stead field was pretty awful.
Certainly the pilots at Reno 1996 Air-Races
weren't in any danger of hitting mountains, they were too
dang close to the ground! The field is a natural ampitheatre,
at a guess 20 miles across. Portions of the race course are
below the finish line, so that airplanes would appear to pop
up out of the ground as they hit the chequered flag. Classes
flown were biplane, Formula 1, T6, T28 and Unlimited, with
airshow items in the intervals. After 3 days of this fare,
one was quite exhausted. Finals day would have been enough,
especially as the airshow items were the same every day: you
can handle just so much of the Canadian Snowbirds, Northern
Lights and Rocky Hills' Extra-300, despite their non-stop
action at very low levels.
The heavy-metal Unlimiteds were the main attraction,
my motivation in seeing them being a rumour that the world
is short of WW2 fighters, so get there while ye may. As it
turned out, there were heaps of everything, Sea-Furies, Mustangs,
Yak-11's, Bearcats. One clipped-wing Sea-Fury, Critical Mass,
was particularly attractive in its brilliant black and red
livery with racing canopy, but it wasn't as fast as it was
The P51's Strega and Dago-Red were well turned
out, but ever since the plastic-fantastic R/C version I have
not been a fan of Dago-Red. As things turned out, I was badly
mistaken in this irrational bias. Dago had a dose of the same
Merlin-tuner as Strega: in the final the two aircraft were
locked together for most of the race. When I say locked together,
I mean within 50 feet of each other and the ground, at average
airspeeds per lap in excess of 470 MPH. That is really extreme!
Dago edged out Strega to win, and seeing Dago went all-out
in the heats as well, that was some Merlin up front.
Poor old Rare Bear,the clipped-wing F8F-2 Bearcat
that holds the World piston-engine speed record at 528 MPH
(in hot air in Mexico), did not get to show its stuff, despite
a $100,000 engine re-work. Apparently blanking plates were
left in the oil-lines, or some similar misdemeanor, and the
Bear may-dayed out with smoke streaming from the engine. I
tell you it glided like an F3D, I half expected the guy to
do some thermalling on the way down. He did at least 3 glide
circles before safely dead-sticking on the main runway. It
was a great disappointment to me, as the prop on the Bear
was in contrast to Strega and Dago-Red.
The Bear, if I recall correctly, has a gear-reduction
unit off a
Lockheed Constellation, and was wearing 3 Orion blades. All
this to keep down the tip Mach number and hence keep up the
profile efficiency. These blades have semi-circular tips,
while the big Ham-Stan 4-bladers on the Mustangs were essentially
square tipped, so it was hoped the debates about tip shape
might have had an answer here: but it was not to be.
Later, I fortuitously met George Heaven at Van
Nuys airport, just inside LA. George, it turns out, is not
only the designer of the Rubber-Bandit (worlds-first man carrying
rubber-powered airplane), but he also does the props for most
of the heavy metal. I pumped him about this as hard as human
dignity would allow, and it turned out he was not too happy
about the round tips on the Bear.
The argument is that the shock waves formed around the circular
periphery of the orion blades produce more drag than those
formed on the leading and trailing corners of the square tipped
My own opinion, derived from reading Abbott
and Von Doenhoff's "Theory of Wing Sections" and other material,
is that the nature of shock formation at the tips is hard
to know due to the strong 3-dimensional tip-flow effect on
the pressure distribution. I guess it depends just how hard
you're pushing the Mach number, especially as with the Unlimiteds
you're at Mach .64 before the propeller even starts to rotate.
The Rare Bear prop blades were interesting visually
as well. They had P-51 style cuffs, while outboard of this
was a matt shot-peened surface. From 50% to the tips they
were very highly polished,like mirrors. The tip section(s)
were very thin, probably less than 5%, but with a surprising
amount of camber. If anything, they were a cambered flat plate.
One of the Yaks was running a Ham Stan Tigerclaw prop, which
is a composite prop very similar in blade shape to Ranjit's
One other gem from George is that the early
50's XF84H Thunderscreech which was a gate guardian at Bakersfield
airport (current location unknown!). Damn, I drove past there
without knowing! The XF84H is a most dramatic turboprop (Allison
XT-40) fighter, featuring a fully supersonic propeller: it
is also the fastest propeller driven aircraft ever. According
to "The Thunder Factory", it did 670 MPH:
George informed me it did 623 MPH in Air Force
tests. That is a must see!
After seeing the Rubber Bandit (I'm lost for an adjective),
we popped into a hangar next door and there was the green
Yak-11 from Reno. This aircraft had more power than the propeller
could absorb, even with 4 clipped blades. The problem was
ground clearance, you just couldn't run enough diameter or
get wide enough blades. The blades were Aeroproducts hollow-steel,with
the end welded-up after clipping. This revealed a fairly odd
airfoil section, not unlike those seen on some ducted-fan
blades: quite thick at the tips.
I didn't understand this but couldn't bring
myself to pump George further; he had already been far more
generous with his time than I ever would be.
The Unlimited races were conducted in most spectacular fashion.
First off were T33 and Mig 17 jets. The race planes took off
as quickly as they could after this and chased after the Mig,
doing a large circuit around the basin while they formated
on the Soviet jet. The Mig then lead them in a dive across
the start line, so they were all screaming from the very start.
I stand in awe of the skill of pilots who could get just this
In the course, they just went flat out, no more
than 300' above the deck. As they approached the spectator
stands from the left, the noise was spine tingling: something
like a swarm of angry bees, the whine rising to a crescendo
as they passed by. From the rear, the scream of the props
gave way to the clatter of the piston engine, in something
of a catharsis. Waiting above them was the T-33, ready to
act the Guardian Angel in case of a Mayday. A number of ships
got a good once-over from this aircraft, especially the poor
old Bear. The Bear is also the symbol on the flag of the Californian
Republic (brown-bear, not Rare Bear).
After Reno, we (daughter Remy and myself) visited
Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Orlando (inadvertently)
and New Orleans. Then on to Madera for the Giant Scale pylon
We set up our stall in 90 degree heat, but otherwise
beautiful weather, managing to sell all my books and Formula
1 18X20's over the 3 days of racing. We tented on the rock-hard
ground, rolling over as each part of the body became numb.
Eventually totally numb, we were then able to sleep, despite
the noise from the freeway nearby (Exit 17 left for Madera
airport). Madera didn't seem to be much of a town, maybe we
looked in the wrong place.
The T-6's were fairly boring, the F1's better.
Just as in Reno, it was the Unlimiteds that shone. In point
of fact, they were better than the Reno heavy metal. With
5 aircraft howling up and down the straight line course, they
were spectacular, visible and entertaining. With Herbrandson
engine delivering in excess of 35 HP, the top ship, Vendetta,
was doing 220 MPH down the straight. On the turns it seemed
to lose about 80 MPH, then about 1/3 down the course it accelerated
madly, leaving the other aircraft like they were stopped dead.
Most spectacular was a P-38 with twin 2-cylinder Husky engines.
Quite competitive, this ship was really hauled around the
Most impressive on the turns were the Lancairs.
With their tiny high aspect ratio wings, they made mincemeat
of the turns. The structure of these aircraft were really
high tech, with glass/honeycomb fuselage construction. I saw
one fold a wing at the pylon and then roll around the fuselage
until it disintegrated on the ground.
On the subject of prangs, one T-6 seemed to
get full down elevator and dived straight into the bitumen:
nothing left. Another lost a wing and rolled in too, making
a huge dust cloud. A Team Extra Nemesis F1 got hit square-on
in the turn; there was nothing left to hit the ground.
Unfortunately the finals had still not started
at 5:30 pm on the final day. We were too tired to last any
longer and headed back to LA. One good thing about LA: you
can see the air you breathe. But we were left with many impressions.
Not least, this has to be the ultimate in model pylon racing.
F3D is great, but its just not in the same class
Mind you, despite what we call expensive, F3D
is cheap compared to any of this. If $20 for a prop bothers
you, try US$260 for a 26X26 RacePro. Airframes go about US$7000,
I hate to think for engines, but a 3W twin F1 is about $1500.
As a result of this expense and the labour involved, you don't
see too many individual efforts. Mostly the entrants are teams,
which are owned.
The boss guy flies in on his Learjet and visits his 10-man
team with their semi-trailer/hanger, plane-towing ride-on
tractors and 40X40 tent. The team services maybe 10 aircraft,
mainly Unlimiteds and F1's.
I was hoping to meet an owner who wanted to
buy me. I'm definitely one prop man who's up for sale! No
such luck. Biggest problem I found was getting to know what's
My thanks to Keith Harvey for getting the dates
right for me. It seems Reno is mid-September every year. There
are at least 3 outfits organising Giant Scale Racing, including
Endless Horizons, the Race Marketing Group and Lone Star Unlimited.
Oh, by the way, Lindbergh died of cancer in 1974, on Maui.