Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Golden Hour


Honoring a fallen friend


FINFAfter 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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