In 2007, my team, Aerophile Air Racing, returned from a very difficult trip to the Reno Air Races. Prior to the races, we had worked closely with five-time champion Gary Hubler to prepare Carbon Slipper, and his father, Bill Hubler, was also on our crew. Gary assembled our engine himself, as we were all busy with the never-ending list of speed modifications. Things were looking promising when—to our horror—Gary was involved in a midair accident. Because we were all so close to him, I decided to withdraw our team from the rest of the race, knowing we could no longer safely conduct the business of air racing. I wasn’t sure what the future would hold for us, but I knew how hard everyone had worked to put Carbon Slipper within reach of the gold. At this time, when we all needed something to lift our hearts, I wanted to find a way to thank everyone, commemorate our success and honor Gary.
I asked Jim Raeder, a professional aviation photographer, if he would take a few air-to-air shots of Carbon Slipper before we took her apart again for more modifications. The air was surprisingly smooth for late in the afternoon toward the end of October. As I taxied into position, Jim and his brother, Brian, were in Avid Flyer behind and to the left of me. I put the throttle to the wall, and the engine quickly spun up to 3,600 rpm. Then she came alive. At 40 mph, I lifted the tail, and quickly accelerated to 80, gently floating off the runway. I held it low while continuing to accelerate up to about 180 when I pulled up for a steep climb to 5,000 feet, where we had agreed to form up. It took a bit for Jim to catch up, but after he got to altitude, I formed up on his left side. Brian was flying from the right seat, and Jim gave me hand signals through the open door to position me for the shots. It was the “golden hour,” and the light was just about perfect for warm photography and nice shadows.
After about 10 minutes of close formation flying, I started to settle down and enjoy this special flight. It was the culmination of thousands of hours of work by many people on the team and, finally, a way to pay tribute in a small way to everything that Gary had done for us.
Up to this point, my experiences in Carbon Slipper always had been exciting and thrilling, mixed in with the fear that comes with test-flying, racing and dealing with emergencies. The aircraft has no cushions or air vents. It’s extremely loud, and I have to scrunch down to keep from hitting my head on the canopy. There’s a lot of vibration—in fact, it’s the most uncomfortable aircraft I’ve ever flown. That said, during a race, I’m usually so busy watching other aircraft and keeping the engine from tearing itself apart at 4,300 rpm, that I rarely notice the discomfort. This flight, however, was different. For the first time, I was able to relax and enjoy the light controls, the carefully balanced prop, the incredibly low drag (a bit of a challenge in formation) and the gorgeous view. Every once in a while, I’d clear the engine, because most of the flight was at 1,800 rpm and I didn’t want the carb to ice up, but I didn’t detect any problems with that. The fuel tank holds 8.3 gallons, and the engine at full throttle can burn about 12 gph, but since I was trying to go slow enough for Avid, we were able to stay up for more than 45 minutes, and I still had plenty of fuel left after landing.
Once Jim was satisfied with the pictures, he waved me off, and I had a chance to play a little. I pushed the throttle back up and shot away from the photo ship to feel the speed and hear the roar of the racer again. After a gratifying greaser landing, I shut down and sat for a few minutes soaking in what had just happened while I got the feeling back in my lower body. When the crew arrived to recover Carbon Slipper, there were smiles and handshakes all around for a successful flight. This was an enjoyable, strangely peaceful flight, and a chance for our whole team to honor a man we’ll never forget.
Ray Debs is a multi, single, glider, instrument and commercial pilot who lives in Boise, Idaho. Carbon Slipper N81XS is a custom Formula One aircraft. It placed 5th in Gold in 2006, clocking speeds up to 243 mph. It was going a bit faster in 2007. Visit www.aerophile.org.
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