Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Still Relentless


You don’t see this every day! But if you do, will you be ready?


I can tell you that for one lap prior, the plane never ran so well. I was waiting in the queue for the Thunder Mustang Rapid Travel to qualify so that I could take the course at the Reno Air Races in Relentless, my Nemesis NTX kit-built race plane. I completed my level lap and had it honkin’ pretty good. My goal was clearly to beat Jon Sharp’s record of 412 mph, and when I saw my groundspeed reach around 360 knots (414 mph), I called for the clock. I remember looking at the instruments over Pylon 8, and everything was in the green.

Just as I started to roll slightly to the left to set my nose on just the right angle to start my qualifying lap, I heard the most unbelievable squeal and then POP! I knew right away that the prop had left the party, but the big question was: What was going to happen next?

Normally I would have pulled and rolled hard into the center of the racecourse for a Mayday but I hate right-turn dead-sticks to runway 14, and although the aircraft was flying okay, I didn’t want to do anything to motivate the engine from joining the prop on the ground before I got there!

Usually, a pull-up at over 400 mph would give plenty of altitude to land at any runway, but the drag on the hole where the prop used to be slowed me down like a chute. When I was downwind for runway 14 and pushing hard to keep 140 knots, I remember thinking to myself that it was looking more like a 180 autorotation in my helicopter!

I made a smooth but fast touchdown and rolled out. As the plane slowed to a stop, the smoke started coming out of the cowl really fast. I knew by the smell that the resin was burning. I jumped out with my little extinguisher to put out the fire that was now coming out of the cowling intakes like a furious dragon, but the firemen got there first, and it only took about three seconds of their water cannon to calm even me down. —September 15, 2010


Racing aircraft to me is so much more than the speed. It’s about pushing myself, learning, going to the edge and sharing the experience with others. This would have been my 10th year racing, and I was prepared to make it count. When I heard that my nemesis Jon Sharp wasn’t going to race (in his Nemesis NXT), I was really disappointed. I’m drawn to the sport because of the aviators like Sharp, Greenamyer and others who push themselves and their machines. To put my wits and skills up against the best is what it’s all about to me.

Unfortunately, when you go to the edge, sometimes it doesn’t always work out so great. To walk away from blowing up my engine and losing the prop was huge, but to keep my cool and land the plane without damaging it further is what I would like to share. Many have asked what it was like and how I stayed calm. I don’t know how calm I was for the 20 or so seconds that it took to land, but I hope that sharing my experience will help other pilots improve their situation when they’re faced with an unexpected emergency.



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