Friday, July 1, 2005
Clark Kent Of The Sport Class
Mike Jones is a mild-mannered businessman, but in Reno, NEV., he’s some kind of Superman!
If you’re like me and would not consider missing the Reno Air Races every September, you have to have noticed the increasing popularity of the sport class. The Reno Air Races have survived for years with only four classes of competition: sport biplanes, Formula One, T6 and unlimiteds—the latter, by far, being the top draw of all.
In fact, Jones is a chameleon. In the workaday world, he fits well into the corporate mold. On weekends, he definitely qualifies as an adrenaline junkie. When he’s not working on his airplane, you might find him riding a Honda Blackbird, an 1,100 cc, 165 hp motorcycle that can leap from zero to 60 mph in less than three seconds. Jones has been fascinated by speed all his life.
He began flying in 1983 specifically because he wanted to build and fly a homebuilt airplane for both business and pleasure. “I was excited about building some kind of airplane; I didn’t know what, but I figured I should earn my pilot’s license before starting any building project,” comments Jones.
He first decided to build a four-seater and dedicated three years and some 2,700 man-hours to constructing a Prescott Pusher. That first homebuilt was nearly complete when a man from Austria came along and offered to buy the project to use for installation of a turboprop engine. Jones sold the Pusher and elected to step up to the faster Glasair III in 1988.
He spent six years building his experimental hot rod, finishing in 1994, and the result of his craftsmanship was a series of awards from every competition he entered. He took Grand Champion honors at the Phoenix Copper State Fly-In in 1994 and won Grand Champion again at both Oshkosh and Sun ’n Fun in 1995. Jones’ Glasair III also captured the Wright Brothers Award at the Dayton Air Show in 1996.
Best of all, though, the slick, innovative, Ted Hamilton design helped satisfy Jones’ need for speed. “The Glasair III is such a fast and quick-handling airplane, it was a natural after my experience with the Prescott Pusher,” Jones explains. “I discovered a whole new world of performance with the Glasair.”
Jones also discovered a new sport and experienced considerable success in his early air-racing experience. “Before the Reno races, I had flown in a number of races in the Rutan-inspired class known as the Rutan And Composite Enthusiasts series—R.A.C.E.,” remarks Jones. “These started out as events for the huge number of Long Ezes, but were gradually expanded to encompass other classes of homebuilts. The races aren’t pylon events in the classic sense, but are comparatively long-distance out-and-backs over courses of 100 to 120 miles. They’re run in remote sections of Nevada and Utah, places like Jackpot, Mesquite, Wendover and Kanab.”
Jones says, “We make flying starts, often eight to 12 airplanes at a time, run out 50 to 60 miles and return to the starting point by a slight dogleg to avoid the next wave of outbound traffic. We can fly at whatever altitude we wish, but we must cross the finish line above 100 feet.”
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