The looming big question for the 2002 Reno National Championship Air Races is whether or not Lyle Sheltonís Rare Bear is going to make the field for this yearís classic. With an ever present requirement for funding, all unlimited racers require a period of time to be groomed for the races. Shelton, the Bear, and the dedicated crew are finding themselves "up against a wall" to get the racer ready to compete.
Crewmember Marc Weir took some time to relay the latest information on the progress being made on the R-3350, the airframe, and the various system components.
"Well, itís the Tale of Two Cities, really," Weir says. "Down in southern California, the stuff that is being done is primarily power plant/engine and systems. The northern part in Reno is the airplane itself and some of the systems such as wiring."
Weir explains that quite a bit of progress has been made, but time is running very short. "Both wing tips, where we carry water and fluids, have been removed and resealed." Minor leaks over the years have nagged at the crew. "The instrument panel was also taken out, and all the tanks - the ADI tank that is in the cockpit as well as the one inside the fuselage, have been taken out and totally cleaned." With the tanks out of the way, it made building a new instrument panel a lot easier.
Rare Bearís radios have been removed and sent to an appropriate museum. "Iím going to say that they were in the airplane for 15, maybe 20 years," Weir said. "They were mounted in the rear fuselage on a shelf, and they weighed a fair amount - about 25 - 30 pounds. All of those have come out and we put in actual 21st Century radios from Garmin on the actual panel.
"That will help out a lot," he said. "Any weight that you can take out of the tail of the airplane - especially Rare Bear, is a big help. With the panel out, we were able to totally rewire the airplaneís instrument panel." The new panel is a much neater installation with tidey bundles. "Craig Boyer is the primary person that has been doing that.
Another item that has been rectified is cockpit glare. Over the years, Shelton was concerned about glare from the sun distracting him or pilot John Penney while down on the course. The gloss gray has now given way to a flat black. "Heat is a concern," Weir said, ĎBut that is why we have an umbrella to put over the cockpit."
All of the lines have been cleaned out and gone through, and the bottom fuselage panels have been taken off so the fuel tank could be inspected. Much cleanup has been done.
As far as progress in SoCal, John Slack has been able to find new parts that are becoming scarce, if not impossible, to find. Everything from pistons and valves to a crankshaft - all brand new - has been procured, and much of it makes up the new racing engine. "On paper, this engine would be as good as any engine that weíve ever had, including the 1989 record breaking engine," he said.
"With that said, there are always things that happen along the way as far as delays. They had hoped to have everything done, especially the engine, in time for the pylon seminar. The engine is the most time consuming part of this. We had to go back and forth several times with the engine builder to have some items corrected. One has to realize that a lot of the racing specifications for the Rare Bear are "top secret."
Shelton, in an attempt to stem the hemorrhage of time, has hired two full time workers to supplement the volunteer crew. With their daily job responsibilities, it is impossible to expect everybody to be able to work on the racer full time. The two hired guns have made daily work on the racer possible, and helped speed up the process.
"Unfortunately," Weir said, "Weíre still up against a wall. Weíre twenty-some days to Reno with the engine just now getting done and ready for testing. Other things, like the ADI pumps have been overhauled and gone through. The oil cooler and oil tank has also been gone through, and new lines and fittings have been manufactured down south."
Whatís the bottom line?
"I sure wonít say itís impossible," Weir stated. "Remember, in 1994 we won both Phoenix and Reno after a total rebuild of the airplane. The first flight was the test and ferry flight from Van Nuys to Phoenix. Be that as it may, Iím not going to say itís impossible, but you start to look at those days counting down and wonder."
Story and Photos Copyright by Scott Germain 2002. Photos by Scott Germain. All Rights Reserved.