that come to the annual Pylon Racing Seminar have several goals to
achieve; they want to build and practice their racing skills, learn
everything they can about the racing environment, and pass their final
checkride. What they do not want to do is make some sort of mistake that
would, quite possibly, be fatal. Although PRS is a learning environment,
almost all of the flying is at extremely low level, so problems and
mistakes are critical.
veteran unlimited class pilot was renewing his racing credential at Reno
this past June. John Penney races Lyle Sheltonís Rare Bear; the highly
modified Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat. The aircraft is one of the fastest pylon
racers in history, and holds the 3Km. piston engine speed record at just
over 528 mph. It is an impressive machine that requires upper skill to
Since Rare Bear had been out of
competition for several years, the new crew was busy getting the
aircraft back in shape for this yearsí race. They were taking
advantage of the waivered airspace during PRS to get the aircraft dialed
in and to get some course time.
Early Friday morning, the aircraft
launched on a local test flight over the airport. Penney made a normal
takeoff and orbited overhead to check power settings and run some
numbers. Even though the power wasnít up very much, the Bearcat was
moving along pretty good.
To end the flight, Penney brought the
racer down the runway on a low and relatively slow pass for the crew.
After he turned a wide downwind, the
engine cut out. Penney was low and slow, and was not in a position to
make his runway of intended use. Penney racked the airplane into a left
270 degree turn, got the gear down, and landed on Steadís runway 14.
Tragedy had been averted. (Link
afterward, a mass pilot briefing was held to begin the 2003 Pylon Racing
Seminar. Pilots from all race classes were present in the Room of Hard
Benches for a brief that covered race procedures, airport operations,
local frequencies, weather and emergencies - both simulated and real.
Each "student" race pilot was listening carefully. After the
brief, one man rose and asked to address the entire group. He wasnít
about to regale us with a "there I was..." story. He was about
to come clean and confess his mistake in front of his peers so others
could learn. This is what John Penney he had to say.
name is John Penney, and I fly one of the unlimiteds called Rare
Bear. We had a situation this morning that Iíd like to share
with all of you new guys - just to give you some perspective. In
retrospect, I did some things wrong this morning.
I was up on a shakedown flight.
We hadnít flown Rare Bear in a couple of months, so we wanted to
do a shakedown flight and check the systems and put on just a
little bit of power, which we did. Everything seemed to be just
fine, but as I was coming out of the power and into cool down,
something just didnít seem as smooth as I thought it should be.
I did a check of the four different mag switches, and everything
was fine there. I checked my mixture and everything was fine
there. It wasnít like it was quitting, but it didnít have that
Ďsweetí feel to it. I did transmit to my crew chief that I
didnít like it and was going to bring the airplane back. At that
point, I didnít feel compelled to declare an emergency; I didnít
feel it was appropriate at that point.
I came down out of cool down and brought the power back, it seemed
to be running smoothly. I thought it might have been my
imagination. That was my first mistake - that the roughness was
just my imagination. As it turns out, eventually, it wasnít.
Instead of setting up for a precautionary landing, conserving my
energy and making sure that if anything went wrong I could get it
to a runway, I called the tower and requested a clearance to come
in and do a pitch-out. So I made a pass down the runway and pulled
up to the downwind. Everything was fine.
As the airspeed was coming back
to the gear speed, I started bringing the power up to preserve my
speed so I could get it to the runway. I was still thinking things
were normal. At this point, the engine started running fairly
rough. I decided to change the power setting a little bit, but I
didnít want to bring the power back... At that point, it started
quitting on me. It gave me a spot of bother. I didnít feel I had
the energy and airspeed to make 26, so I changed my plan to land
biggest mistake I made, was not taking my airplane to a position
that would ensure an appropriate amount of energy to make it to
whatever runway I wanted to go to if it turned to shit. I want to
allow you new guys to think about this for a little bit. When I
made that transmission to my crew chief that things didnít feel
right, I should have stuck with my plan. In not doing that, and
flying down initial and pitching out, I exposed myself
unnecessarily and had gotten myself into a situation at low
altitude and low airspeed. I didnít have any options.
Ultimately, the engine was quitting and was going up and down. I
didnít think I could land on 14 okay.
If there is something that doesnít
seem quite right to you, donít compromise that assessment. Go
ahead and stick with the plan to proceed as conservatively as you
can. I didnít. Luckily, it turned out ok. But it could have
turned out a whole lot different. For those of you who were out
there, you saw how the airplane was sinking and coming on down. I
didnít have anything left.
When anything isnít right, take
the most conservative route. Maneuver your airplane to preserve
your airspeed, energy and altitude state so you can make the
Story and Photos
Copyright 2003 by Scott Germain - WarbirdAeroPress.com. All Rights