View Full Version : Serious Question

09-17-2002, 08:12 AM
Now I know this is going to ripple a few tail surfaces, so before I begin let me just make clear I fully appreciate that Air Racing has probably done more for the preservation of warbirds than any other factor. I don't doubt for one minute that the aircraft aren't maintained to the highest standard, just look at them!. They are lovingly cared for without a doubt.

Now for the contentious question/s -
Following the unfortunate accidents that happened to Miss America and Critical Mass, has the time come to review the use of what are 60 yr old pieces of living history in a sport that is so severe on engines, aircraft and pilots?.
Should these warbirds be retired (and restored back to stock condition) and flown in a less spirited manner, more befitting their heritage?.
With the ability to build a new aircraft from nothing, the sight of a highly tuned P-51 would not vanish, it would just not be a 60 yr old P-51.
The RR, P&W, engines are becoming scarcer and scarcer as each year goes by. So using these few survivors for a race engine is reducing the numbers even more.

I love warbirds. I attend every Flying Legends Airshow at Duxford in the UK (where I live), and the sight of 7 or 8 P-51's or Spitfires tailchasing around the sky is the closest to Reno that I'll probably get. I would love to get to Reno before there are no more warbirds doing the same around pylons in the desert.
I just feel that replacements for these 'birds should be found before there are none left .

I'm now just going to find a cloud to hide in until you've all calmed down!!!!


09-17-2002, 11:23 AM
Well, this subject comes up now and then. There are those who believe that racing destroys the resources for the rest of the warbird community, driving costs up.

I understand this thought process, but the flip-side would be the ingenuity some of the racing community will come up with to keep their equipment running, and running fast too, while keeping the costs as minimum as possible.

As for heritage, I believe air racing and air racing ingenuity was the first to set the stage before warbird aircraft. It was only expediency that brought the two together in the late '40s and again in the mid '60s. These racing pioneers have taken, for the most part, derelict aircraft and have given them new life and new meaning. Otherwise, if it were up to our government, these heritage fighters would be in a heap out there in the desert graveyards...I could go on for hours - like some announcers we know...

Anyway, back to your dilemma.

One thing you will have to decide for yourself: How strong is your conviction about the warbird racing community 'gobbling up' the resources for the flying museum folks? If you believe this is how you truly feel, then you should not go to the National Championship Air Races any more. Once you buy the ticket, you are supporting the very cause you are questioning.


09-17-2002, 11:55 AM
you are always welcome to attend the air Races, to help your descission alaong. But fair warnning. one you attend, you will be hooked. And a fan forever.

09-17-2002, 12:11 PM
Here we go again, but that is okay because some folks have not been involved in the races long, or at all. Until you have been there and can reflect on many years it is a vain argument. I personally feel the Unlimited racing that we have had since 1964 has had miniscule effect on destroying our warbird population vs. the aircraft that have been saved from the scrap heap and MOST IMPORTANTLY given opportunity to be displayed in their peak performance for the younger generations.
These fighters were built to be the fastest, most agile, best turning, and many other descriptions... machines of their day. Most warbird airshows don't afford the fighters a chance to fly at their maximum speed down low, or perform tight turns in easy sight of the crowd. The air races have provided this legal medium and has screened the pilots and provided the technical inspections that most any warbird show would not, so that the maximum performance flying is done also with maximum safety. If we consider the loss of two of the world's very rare P-63s and one P-38 in recent years (this would just be a start) at airshows how can we compare this to Reno in 39 years? The Unlimiteds at Reno have only lost Bill Speer's P-51D in those 39 years at the Reno site in activity directly related to racing. Miss Ashley II doesn't count as she was not a true warbird but a custom built aircraft. All other Reno accidents of warbirds resulted in very rebuildable airframes. Indeed modern racing has lost two Bearcats (Bud Fountain and Mike Geren) in the early 70s in California, and a Mustang in Las Vegas, and a FG-1D Corsair near Fox Field in 1965. That is still not a bad track record at all! Other would-be racers were detroyed in test flights but in each case the cause could have been prevelant just as easy if they were flying as a restored warbird.
The Pratt & Whitney R-4360s, R-2800s, R-2000s, and R-1830s are certainly not in any threat with the few racers that use them. Still fewer use the Allison V-1710s today and most that have are running at power settings that are not too threatening. I do see that there may be an argument for the Merlin attrition but I'm guessing even this is weak in closer inspection. The Wright R-3350s are not too much of a warbird issue really aside from some transport restorations, a few B-29s, and the Skyraiders. Am I forgetting any major types?
I'd rather my Sons or Grandsons remember seeing a Merlin, Allison, or R-2800 in full bore low level maximum performance use than someday saying, Yes I've seen a few fly, but never got to see what they could really do!"

Lowell Thompson
Warbird AND Unlimited racer fanatic

09-17-2002, 12:14 PM
I would shed a huge tear if all the mustangs were hanging from ceilings and mounted to poles and even if they flew them in wide formation flights at air shows, these are birds of prey and I think if they could talk they would want to be racing despite the risk of extinction.
I donít know how much of those unlimited class mustangs are original but I am sure there isnít a whole lot anyway.
I say leave the models behind the glass and let them (RARA) play with the real thing, besides I canít think of a better group of people to take care of them, sometimes giving there lives with there birds new or old.
Would I attend Reno for a NHRA airrace? I didn't go to any NHRA events this year, maybe if John Force put the door back on that mustang or even if it looked like a ford mustang.
And Mr. Force will you stop with the fastest sport stuff and get to a real race.

09-17-2002, 12:50 PM
The "flyem/savem" discussion has been ongoing for ages and probably will continue until way after we are all in the giant air force in the sky however there is one positive aspect of air racing that no one ever mentions or possibly even thinks about. Whether it be air racing, auto racing, boat racing or whatever, those innovators who dare take standard engineering thoughts and practices beyond the accepted norm are true pioneers. Because of their ability, daring and desire to take their craft beyond the standard they have-sometimes unwittingly-devised and developed hardware and/or procedures that often are later refined into things that make our lives easier or safer. Whether it is the seat belt in your car, the hull on your boat that rides smoother in rough water or the propeller on your plane that gives better short field performance, or any of a million other things, the concept probably was initiated by a dreamer, a back yard tinkerer, a pilot or crew member or an engineer who dared to ask "what if"?

09-17-2002, 01:25 PM
Well, this debate has been going on *at least* 20 years now, so you're not really venturing into new territory.

My take, and its worth EXACTLY what you paid for it, is that there are already plenty of Mustangs, Sea Furies, and even Bearcats leading "the sheltered life" and being preserved as flying museums. The ones that are left racing are dwindling in number as some are converted *back* to stock configuration, or worse yet b*stardized into replicas of TF-51s (sorry, but I think that is a horrible thing to do, and the fact that it happened to Stiletto makes me that much more adamant.) So let the racers keep on racing- there's no threat to "history" here. Now, I couldn't say that if there were F2Gs, P-38s, and P-63s racing currently because those *are* rare as hen's teeth... but I don't see those becoming a strong factor. Its pretty much down to a Mustang and Sea Fury show. That said, I'd still give my eye teeth to see Lefty and Ladd put 'White Lightnin' back together and bring her back again... even if she were just a middle-of-the-pack Bronze runner.

The folks who designed and originally built these things were trying to win a war. They never *dreamed* that anyone would be flying them, let alone racing them, 50 years later. The big problem looking for a solution isn't airframe related, its powerplant related. If there were enough aftermarket powerplant support- that is to say NEW production parts for the Merlin (there's almost none) and the 3350 (there is literally none), then I see nothing but good in continuing to race the highly modified warbirds and letting the stockers fly the airshows and sit in museums.

That isn't to say I don't think it would be interesting to see more purpose-built racers, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next one to appear on the scene. But, in my unsanctioned opinion, it will be a LONG time before a purpose-built comes in and contends with the likes of Dago Red. Even if tons of Dago's detailed design is sub-optimum for ~500 mph speeds, (and we all know this to be true) the foundation of a rugged warbird is like city's infrastructure. It gives a huge head-start on building the rest of the program.

09-17-2002, 08:43 PM
I believe it was in Sundays Reno Gazette Journal that had an article on David Roses' biplane "Rags" and how the rules had been changed to basically outlaw it, anyways about halfway through the article it comes up that NEXT year he will be bringing MACH BUSTER to Reno.

Did anybody else see the Atlas V-12 and the model of the Dart project in the Rare Bear Pit?

09-18-2002, 07:30 AM
Thanks for the replies.
I did state that I would love to be able to visit Reno one day, if only to say I've been there and got the ballcap!!
I appreciate it is probably a topic that has come up before and so thank you for taking the time to answer my Q's.

Is it true that no more warbirds can be converted to racing, the existing ones therefore being the only ones that can be modified any further?

If that is the case then perhaps its a good thing to see some racers being returned to stock condition.

A subject which will no doubt continue to be hotly debated.

Right, where's my piggy bank? Better start saving for a visit to Reno :)


09-18-2002, 09:13 AM
Is it true that no more warbirds can be converted to racing, the existing ones therefore being the only ones that can be modified any further?

Bob [/B]

Airplanes are private property- their owners can do with them whatever they choose! Right now, economics says that a TF-51 replica commands more money in the marketplace than Voodoo, Strega, or Dago Red would- thats the real pressure against creating new racers. But people who *want* to race are still converting.

Perhaps you are unaware that September Fury was only converted to a full-out racer beginning about 3-4 years ago. In fact, most of the "super stock" (R-3350 conversion with minor tweaks, but otherwise stock) Sea Furies have been built up since 1990 or so. They're generally not much faster than a Centaurus Sea Fury (with notable exceptions such as 911, 'Spirit of Texas,' 'Argonaut,' 'Riff-Raff' and Howard Pardue's 'Fury'), but they sure make for some good racing in the silver and at the back of the gold pack!

And lets not forget that the "newest" of the extremely modified Mustangs- Voodoo- has been undergoing a steady modification process for a number of years, and only this year did she step down to a more nearly stock engine.

09-18-2002, 03:22 PM
It all boils down to money and what an owner can / wants to spend. I loved Stiletto as a racer, but the aircraft was basically worthless as reflected in the prices she sold for. Once she was no longer competative, what's the point in keeping her a racer?
If I had the means to care for one of these, I'd probably baby it and polish it to death. The last thing I'd want to do is risk it racing. Just flying it is risky enough.
I think the place for them to be is in the air, being cared for by someone with the will and means to do it right. If this means racing some of them, great. For it's just as much a part of the overall history as any combat at this point. And the racers are generally some of the best cared for birds flying.

As to R-3350's on the Sea Furies, My understanding was that the conversions are being done in the interest of safety, cost of rebuild and maintenance and parts availability. Even Ellsworth Getchell, who operates a Centaurus still, said in a recent article that it's a labor of love to keep that engine in.

09-18-2002, 05:02 PM
I was wondering on this topic too.

I think that economics will have the final vote. If parts, resources, and operating capital get too hard to come by, we may see less and less of the highly tweaked racers, but perhaps more "stockers".

And now, with the jets and sport class operating at speeds that are not far off what the unlimiteds can produce, they may be offering an alternative from within.

There is no queston that anyone who hangs around these boards are committed racing fans and want to see unlimiteds go on forever. However, I dread to think what the entry list will be for the 2022 races.........

09-18-2002, 06:16 PM
I think I can speak for every one on this point.

We all dred the 2022 races. Why......

We are all afraid that there will not be a 2022 Air race. or even a 2010 race for that matter. The popularity of air racing is catching on around the world. But it is slowly comming around. The big problem is the purse that the pilots win. It tradisionaly does not cover the cost to run the air plane and the crews that maintaine the plane for the two weeks of the races. I know the races are only one week. But I am including travle, pre and post prep time to and from Reno. Air racing needs a big time sponcer. (A big thank you goes out to American Express for this year).

There is another problem that will have to be addressed real soon too. And in a way it has, or is being addresed already. That is Reno Stead airport is increasingly being incroched upon by new homes, and more people. RARA has already decreased the size of the unlimited corse. For safty reasons.

As far as the old war birds, I love them. nothing sounds like a RR engine going by you and 450 mph. I would hate to see them become musium pieces. They deserve to be flying. Stock or modified.
I also like the concept or the home built aircraft as well. (Tsunomi, Miss Ashly) . I hope when the war birds start to retire and be returnd to stock, that they will start to come back into play.
But even then it all boils down to one thing......Money.


09-18-2002, 08:07 PM
You're right. Traditionally the purse has been minuscule. But if you think about the fact that it ALWAYS has been too small for the unlimited class since '64, it makes you wonder how the races have continued for almost 40 years now? - 40 YEARS! It seems as if RARA tries to get that purse to grow over the years, BUT THEN THEY ADD MORE RACE CLASSES to share the wealth.

What this tells me is it never has been about the money for most of these guys - it's the love of competition, racing and flying.

The RARA owns the land at Stead where the races are conducted, but encroachment can still be a safety problem - but nothing compared to what happened at the post-war Cleveland air races.

If the bottom line is money, it may be more so for the city of Reno. They make so much from this event, with its only rival being Hot August Nights, you would think they would love the races to continue into 2022 and well beyond - maybe this is a pipe dream on my part?

09-18-2002, 10:00 PM
You know, I realize that sport is roughly the same speed as a bronze unlimited race, and Jet is a high end silver/low-middle unlimited race speed, but you know, neither class sounds as fast as the unlimiteds. If the 2022 races don't include the old warbirds, I think we'll all have missed something really unique. I guess I'll have to make sure to bring the CD of the unlimited engine sounds in 2022 :)

Originally posted by Unregistered
I was wondering on this topic too.


And now, with the jets and sport class operating at speeds that are not far off what the unlimiteds can produce, they may be offering an alternative from within.


09-18-2002, 10:28 PM
Yes Reno does love the air races. And they will fight to keep them in Reno. But the voice of the people out at Stead is getting louder and louder every year. The more people that move out there the louder it will get. There has been talk (thoe not recently) about future groth in and around Reno. One of the proposed plans is to shut down Reno Cannon (or what ever they are calling it now) in Reno and move it out to Stead. Not that this will happen any time soon or ever. but it is a scarry thought. If it does happen, what will become of the Reno Air Races?

There was a big stink from the Stead residents three years ago when Miss Ashly crashed in to the neiber hood on the East side of the airport. I was told then and would be willing to bet after this year (esp after all of the incidents at the races this year). That the Reno Air Races need a few good (accedent free years) to help take some of the pressure off. Personaly I see it like this...

You moved out here with the knowledg that the Reno Air Races are held hear for three weeks a year (including PRS). The Air races have been here longer, and help pay your damm taxes. So sit down. Shut up. And enjoy an experiance that is and makes history. If it was not for thies planes and the men that flew them, and still do in some cases. you wouldnt be able to enjoy them at all.

Yes the pilots do fly out there (and have for the 40 years) because they love the compitition, and flying. But they cannot keep dumping all that money into two weeks of flying out of thier own pockets. Sponcers help, but do not pay all of the bills. That is the main reason we have not seen Rear Bear fly for the last......what 5 years now or has it been longer. That is ONE reason why Tiger wants to hang it up after this year.(thoe I would be willing to bet we will see him and or Strega again). If they dont place they dont get money. Lets face it, this is not NASCAR. were if you finish 43rd in a 43 car field and turn only one lap you still walk away with more than it cost too build and truck the car to the event. And that is after the rest of the team gets paid!

This is a tough sport that takes deep pockets. And lots of land. Both of wich are in question for the long term future of this sport.