Wednesday 19 June 2013 10:53 UTC
Where have you been? What have you seen?
A few pictures from a fun trip last week, flying from Maine on the North East Atlantic coast to Nevada, to visit the Reno Air Races.
Day 1 - Maine to Minnesota
Not a lot to see out of the window, unfortunately, as we flew past Montreal and Toronto, then descended over Lake Huron to land at Mackinac County airport for fuel and lunch.
Tax-free gourmet dining:
While we ate, the FBO refuelled the aeroplane:
There then followed a very unphotogenic flight to Minnesota.
Day 2 - Minnesota to Reno
3 hours flying over the plains of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, then Nebraska took us to a refuelling stop at Laramie, Wyoming - once an important stop on the Oregon trail. It marks the beginning of the Rockies, and the altitude and hot weather would have been challening in many piston aircraft. Unfortunately there were a lot of forest fires, and the smoke made photography pointless as we flew over the mountains and then the salt flats of Utah. But here's a picture from a trip in clearer weather 2 years ago:
We landed in the early evening, and checked into our casino hotel which had an "all you can eat" sushi bar - $24.99 and fabulous!
Days 3, 4 and 5 - Air Races
September in Reno means air racing. After last year's horrific crash there had been a lot of pressure to cancel the races. Fortunately they were able to go ahead, with a few changes to the course, some more stringent pre-racing inspections, and a much higher insurance premium. There were fewer visitors than previous years, but it is still a quite fabulous event. Go next year if you can.
The racers fly an anti-clockwise course on the far side of the runway (this picture taken from a hilltop just to the West of the field):
The racers start flying line abreast perpendicular to the southern end of the runway (right side of the picture). The early turns are the highest risk as up to 8 aircraft jostle for position at speeds up to 500mph, less than 250ft off the ground. Fortunately this year there were no accidents. There are several classes of racing - little forumla 1 racers, biplanes (anything goes as long as it has 2 wings), sport class which comprises Glasairs, Lancairs and a few specialist racing designs, T6s (horribly noisy), unlimited which is mostly WW2 fighters (although in the past it has included types as diverse as a DC7 airliner) - the rules are piston engined and propellor driven, and jets. The classes divide into Bronze, Silver and Gold - bronze being the slowest, silver faster, and gold ultra-modified aircraft flying very fast.
The grandstands give a great view of the whole course, and in between each race - which lasts 5-10 minutes - there are airshow acts. This year we had crazy flying, dead-stick aerobatics, a Learjet doing aerobatics, a U2, various noisy jet fighters, an aerobatic Bonanza and much more. Unfortunately I was working and didn't get to see the whole course, but here are a few pictures to give a taste of what it's like:
The finish line:
The course is further from the spectators than it used to be, following last year's disaster, but it's still pretty close. These 2 jets were going over 500mph:
This GP-5 competes in the sport class. It is made of wood, and has a V8 engine from a Chevy. Sounds fantastic! It has been broken by every one of its owners, and looks slightly tricky to fly!
But not quite as tricky as the NXT, which would have 2 seats if one of them wasn't filled with the water injection tank (sprays the cylinders and air intake to keep them cool). It used to be the fastest in its class, until it lost a prop at the races in 2009 and tore the engine apart. Somehow the pilot managed to land, but his new engine doesn't have turbochargers - so he can no longer reach 400mph.
Here's what the engine looked like 2 years ago:
This very standard looking Glasair 3, on the other hand, can easily exceed 400mph, and came within 2mph of managing a whole lap at that speed. There used to be one in the UK, operating on a CAA permit to fly because with 260hp it was too powerful for the LAA. I suspect that LAA engineering would be unwilling to give the green light to this one, which develops over 700hp thanks to its twin turbochargers, water cooling, water injection and use of manifold pressures that are around twice what any of us would normally see.
Also competing in the Sport Class was this Thunder Mustang. For the final race he used nitrous oxide fuel, but he couldn't quite beat the Glasair.
I should have taken some pictures of the bronze and silver unlimited racers. These are basically stock WW2 fighters, of which by far my favourite was the F7F Tigercat - two engines, 4,000hp, folding wings, and just the most incredible noise. Again, a photo from 2 years ago:
In the Gold unlimited class, this modified Sea Fury did quite well, flown by a retired Space Shuttle commander:
Rare Bear, the modified Bearcat, was doing well until its engine overheated and it had to retire:
"Dreadnought" is a relatively unmodified Sea Fury, which used to win but is now outclassed:
This highly modified P51, named "Precious Metal", has a Griffon engine driving a contra-rotating prop. One of its gear doors came open in flight at 500mph.... fortunately it landed safely:
The winner, as every year, was this highly modified P51 named "Strega" - flown for the last 4 years by Steven Hinton, who is now 24 years old.
Day 6 - Reno to Minnesota
Leaving Reno we flew past a local ski resort, just above the town, looking rather barren on the pistes:
Then over the crystal clear Lake Tahoe:
In the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains, somewhere South West of Reno there were a few patches of snow left:
Further East in Utah, the autumn colours were starting to show....
... and the geology was fantastic:
We made a fuel stop in Vernal, Utah. A typical American stop - land for free, borrow the airport car to go and get lunch while someone else refuels the aircraft, come back and pay the bill, file a flight plan direct to destination, walk to the aircraft and depart. There are loads of things wrong with America, but they have got GA pretty much mastered.
Day 7 - Minnesota to Maine.
On United Airlines.
Reno remains on the bucket list for now - but has to come off soon, I reckon.
Whenever you look at the American landscape, I'm impressed it was ever settled. What a massive, inhospitable place it sometimes is. But not for a Meridian, clearly.
Enjoying the 46?
Off to MMOPA?
I'd enjoy it more if it were easier to get into (nothing to do with my size or flexibility, of course!), but the performance is fantastic. Sadly can't make it MMOPA this year - I'm escaping back to France for a couple of weeks.
Very nice write-up Adrian, thank you very much. Lovely photos.
I presume you landed at Reno Int'l? I flew down there from Canada in a 172 a few years back but the slot system at Reno seemed a bit intimidating, and not knowing my ETAs to better than about 30 mins (!) in those days, I went to a little place just across the border in CA instead.
It's great to see the races still going despite last year's disaster.
Yes, we flew into Reno Intl. (I hasten to add, I was just along for the ride in the right seat). If there was a slot system.... well, we missed it and nobody cared. We filed an IFR flight plan, selected an FBO as we touched down, and parked for 4 nights. It was all totally stress free.
You'll have to put me right on this one, but my gut instinct is that I would come back from the Reno Air Races and say that having ticked the box I wouldn't want to go all the way out there again. It almost appears as "aerial NASCAR" where the American instinct to go around in a circle with the biggest and fastest just exhibits the courser part of the American dream to exhibit one's excess to the extreme.
Would you go, if it wasn't for the Kestrel business, Adrian? I suppose it will stay on my bucket list, but I have some much higher priorities to do first.
Hope to catch up with you at some point on one of your quick dashes to this side of the pond!
P.S. Having read this again, I think this post very much relates to Monocock's thread about getting old and grumpy, oh dear !
Great trip report!
We were there last year and witnessed the accident from VERY close range, just couldn't get the courage to go this year, I've seen air shows in a very different light since then...
Flying a Commander 114b
Very understandable. I fortunately missed last year, and I'm not sure I'd go back if I had seen the accident - I found it bad enough watching the Thunder Mustang accident in 2010 which left the aeroplane in pieces but amazingly didn't hurt the pilot. They have made a lot of changes that would prevent an exact recurrence of the Jimmy Leeward accident, but the races still involve aircraft doing high G turns at great speed close to the crowd, and lots could go wrong.
The organisers dealt with what had happened quite sensitively, and there were a lot of survivors from last year present. They also restricted access for non-aviation journalists to prevent too much sensationalist reporting.
Good to read...
A few people flew down from here and I saw them arriving back for Customs.
Two of the T6 racers are based here and I think the L29 may have gone down there.
I was invited but I didn't go...
"I'd go again just to hear the Tigercat fly past at full power!"
How does it compare to a Mosquito?
In BC wondering wandering
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