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.
Things happen fast at a mile every 12 seconds, often wrapped over to 60 to 70 degrees of bank, pulling gust loads of 4 G’s to 5 G’s in the low-level turbulence, and Jones learned quickly that he needed to react instantly if things went wrong. “In one case, I was coming down the chute at the start of a race when a part of the cowling came loose. I immediately pulled up off the course to the inside and finally landed on a back runway. I don’t even want to think what would have happened if the cowl had come off at that speed,” speculates Jones. “Another time, I had a throttle malfunction that prevented me from powering back to maintain formation during a start. Again, I had to land immediately.”
The process of updating and improving the airplane never ends, although despite his success, Jones says he’s more conservative than some other racers who have totally dedicated their airplanes to racing. He’s currently working on a cold-air induction system to boost horsepower, and also is in the process of moving the airplane’s CG farther aft to improve the speed.
Jones flies his airplane quite often for business, and he says that puts some constraints on how far he’s willing to go in modifying the airplane for racing. “Unlike some of the guys,” chuckles Jones, “I have to fly the airplane home after every race. That gives me a strong incentive to make certain the airplane is running at the end of every race. As much as I love speed, I can’t afford to literally go for broke.”
“Still, I’m pretty happy with how well the airplane has done,” smiles Jones. “I can pretty consistently beat all the other normally aspirated entrants. The only racers that consistently beat my race #10 are just a few of the turbocharged entries, and I’ll sometimes win races against a few of them, too.”
In only six years of competition (the 2001 event was cancelled following 9/11), the sport class has become a fan favorite, and Jones says it also has attracted more sponsorship to Reno than any other class. The price of admission certainly isn’t cheap, but pilots willing to dedicate a few hundred thousand dollars to a high-performance homebuilt airplane now have the opportunity to go racing.
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