Thursday, July 1, 2004
The NAA is leveling the playing field for pilots who would like to set national records
Speed! It’s the reason that many of us fly. For most pilots, faster is better. I raced stock cars as a kid, sports cars as an older kid, and the current, much older kid would be racing unlimited air racers but for a lack of money.
I guess you could say I’m one of those pilots for whom speed is an obsession. Ten years ago, Mooney Aircraft and Plane & Pilot sponsored me on an attempt to set several world speed records between Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Fla. My wife and I flew a new Mooney TLS/Bravo coast to coast in a little over seven hours and posted records to Albuquerque, N.M., and Dallas in the process. Flying at 25,000 feet with a 10-minute refueling stop at Dallas Love Field, we posted an average speed for the 2,148 statute-mile trip between L.A. and Jacksonville of 300.2 mph and established eight world point-to-point speed records.
Since then, I’ve participated in another 17 world records, and I’ve become good friends with the folks at the National Aeronautics Association (NAA), especially Art Greenfield, director of contests and records. NAA is the American arm of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the Paris-based organization that certifies world aviation records.
Art Greenfield called recently and asked if I’d be interested in helping to launch a new class of U.S. records called Sporting Performances. The idea is to encourage greater participation in record setting by leveling the sky, so to speak.
One criticism of the old system was that aircraft were categorized by weight. There were separate classes for pistons, turboprops and jets, but within the piston class, there was no special provision for such factors as retractable gear, turbo-charging or horsepower. That meant, for example, that in piston weight class C1C (2,205 pounds to 3,858 pounds), the Mooney Bravo we flew from California to Florida was theoretically competing not only with turbocharged Bonanzas, Comanches, Centurions and Skylane RGs, but also with normally aspirated Cardinal RGs, Arrows, Sierras and even fixed-gear Skyhawks and Archers.
Pretty obviously, none of the latter group would have any chance at all against a Mooney Bravo. Until now, this has discouraged owners of lower performance airplanes within a weight class from even attempting a record. For that reason, NAA proposed that the new record class be based on comparable models rather than weight. The idea was to have Cessna Skyhawks compete only against other Skyhawks, Piper Cherokee 180s and Archers compete only with their own kind and so on.
Greenfield and I analyzed the general-aviation market and came up with some 281 distinct model classifications, probably with more to come. The model list is a work in progress and will be ongoing as we refine the new record category. NAA is working to make the new classes as fair as possible, so that, for example, engine conversions within a given model won’t compete against stock airplanes. For instance, an early Bonanza converted to a 285-hp engine will compete with other 285-hp Bonanzas rather than original 185-hp model 35s. Similarly, Skylanes normally flying behind 230 hp may be fitted with as much as 300 hp on the aftermarket, so converted airplanes won’t compete with stock machines.
In a similar sense, NAA decided to simplify Sporting Performances by limiting the distances to two classes, a short course between 50 nm and 500 nm, and a long course over 500 nm. Specific city pairs won’t matter in Sporting Performances. Any point of departure and destination that falls within the two distance guidelines will qualify. This means that you could fly between, say, Cleveland Lakefront and Dayton, Ohio (151 nm), to attempt a short course record, then refuel and continue to Oklahoma City (692 nm) to try for a long course record.
Unlike my first records, however, Sporting Performances will require a landing at each airport. In 1994, I departed Long Beach, Calif., climbed out over the ocean west of Los Angeles, then turned east, over-flew LAX at 20,000 feet, leveled at FL250, and the controllers took radar shots to establish crossing times and speeds (338.2 mph). That won’t be possible in Sporting Performances. You can make the landing a touch-and-go, but you’ll be required to land. As before, you’ll need to report the record attempt to NAA within 72 hours and have the controllers at each airport send a form to NAA to post the time of departure and arrival. NAA will then apply the appropriate great-circle distance, divide by time en route and calculate your average speed. You won’t be required to join NAA in order to set records, nor will you need to hold a sporting license, but record fees will be less for those with the appropriate NAA credentials.
By the time you read this, I will have kicked off the new record class with probably a dozen Sporting Performance marks in everything from Bonanzas and Mooneys, to Cessna 340s and Super Decathlons.
Now, at last, pilots who feel that their Skyhawk, Cherokee, Citabria, Super Cub, Bonanza or whatever is quicker than the average of its type can compete on an even footing and possibly earn a place in the record book.
Bill Cox is entering his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot® and provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide.