Tuesday, December 16, 2008
2008 Reno Air Races
Evolution of the Jet Class
In 2008, after a lapse of a couple years, I found myself racing in the Jet Class in a beautiful L-39, Robin 1, owned by Bob and Robin Miles. Initially, the aircraft was kept primarily stock, and then, as everyone became comfortable with the Jet Class, some modifications were added (the tip tanks came off, etc.). The year before, the comfort level had increased enough that RARA decided to open the Jet Class to any straight-wing, non-afterburning jet. This introduced a very diverse set of airplanes into the class, including a T-2 Buckeye, a T-33 minus tip tanks, an L-29 with a Viper engine and some other “hot” jets. In 2007, speeds increased, and several aircraft turned over 500 mph. Sadly, the 2007 races were marked by tragic accidents in which several pilots lost their lives, including jet pilot Brad Morehouse. This led to a reevaluation of the Jet Class for 2008. It was decided that the entries would, from now on, be limited to L-29, L-39 and Fouga Magister aircraft. (Indeed, the Jet Class came close to being cancelled altogether.)
So it followed that, this past September, the Jet Class had a lot to prove. The FAA’s opinion was that two of the fatal accidents in 2007 had happened due to intentional noncompliance on the part of the pilots. As a result, the FAA and RARA placed considerable pressure on jets in the Jet Class to demonstrate that they could race safely. Cliff Magee, the Jet Class president, and Curt Brown, RARA’s director of flight, worked tirelessly to get the class one more chance, and a lot was riding on 2008’s outcome! The FAA showed up in force for the races, even sending three safety inspectors to the first several days of Jet Class briefings.
|THE HEAT IS ON. “Hoot” Gibson raced this L-39 in the pressure-filled jet races of 2008. |
The jet racing was intense; Brown finished first (at 510.124 mph) in the Gold Final race on Sunday. He was closely followed by Mike Mangold, at 499.272 mph. Both piloted L-29 Delfins with Viper engines, and they basically had the front part of the racecourse to themselves. Joe Gano flew the fastest L-39 speed (480.488 mph); the Gold Final’s slowest speed was 414.858 mph. The pilots in the Jet Class were fortunate in that they were able to fly twice on Sunday, doing a Silver Final as well as the Gold Final. Speeds in the Silver race were actually just a little faster than in the Gold race, with the slowest airplane coming in at 424.258 mph.
It was a successful outcome for the 2008 Jet Class. After starting the year under a microscope, the class gathered favorable reviews from Reid Walhburg, the FAA’s representative to the races, as well as from RARA, the airport manager and fans. The class established itself as a professionally run and safe operation, and the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation among the jet racers was a wonderful thing to experience. Here’s to another great year in 2009!
Robert “Hoot” Gibson is a former Navy fighter pilot who has flown F-4 Phantoms and F-14 Tomcats. He’s a graduate of “Topgun” and the USN Test Pilot School, and he has flown five space shuttle missions. At the Reno Air Races, he has raced in the Formula One, Unlimited and Jet Classes.
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