Rare Bear Update
September 2009
By John Penney

Dear "Bear" Fans,

This year the "Rare Bear" Air Racing team faced one of the most challenging race weeks for our team that I can remember in the last several years. In previous years, we had our backs against the wall, but the challenges this year were more daunting.

We couldn't get our Cornell race engine done in time due to some mechanical issues. As a result, just weeks before the races, the decision was made to buy a stock Curtis-Wright R3350 from Anderson Aeromotive that was meant to go to the B-29 "FIFI". Our crew, under the guidance of Crew Chief Dave Cornell, replaced its "fast" nose case with an EA2 nose case with a higher reduction ratio that allowed us to run our desired race rpm without overspeeding the prop. That was all that was done to modify this engine for this year's race.

During the off season, Dave Cornell had designed and engineered an oil cooling boil-off system to replace the air radiator/spray bar system that the "Bear" had raced with since her first race in 1969. Such systems are known to reduce cooling drag...worth horsepower. Estimated numbers for the "Bear" are classified.

We had anticipated getting some flight test done on the boil-off system the week before the races started, but as the "Bear" always does, she fought us all the way to the first flight. The big question mark this year would be the boil-off system. We simply didn't know how the system would function and cool the oil. So we entered into a research and development (R&D) program that lasted right up through the finish of the gold race on Sunday.

Our first flight was on Monday morning of the races...a five minute flight that ended up with a Mayday, a cancellation, then another Mayday to a landing. That was driven by the resultant temperatures and the fact that I had never seen the system response until that first flight. We worked to modify and tune the system, more flight tests, then got "in the show" on Tuesday with a speed of 402.678 mph...with less than takeoff power on our "stocker" engine! That put us in 11th place for qualifying, and we had to race in the silver heat on Thursday with no ADI. We crossed the finish line second, but bumped to the gold as "Riff-Raff" had cut a pylon. Speed was 412.230 mph.

On Friday, we still did not have ADI but finished 6th in the gold with a speed of 434.872 mph. On both Thursday and Friday we had to use our ADI system as a backup source for our boil-off supply system so we couldn't get the benefit of water injection to cool our induction temperatures. 434 and change ain't bad for running the engine dry...still below takeoff power!

On Saturday we now had ADI but our induction temperature indicating system was inop. So we crossed our fingers and used a reduced power setting...finished fourth at 471.500 mph. Finishing fourth with a speed of 471 mph, on Saturday, shows how fast the field of racers at Reno is now becoming. Awesome!

Finally we had made it all the way to Sunday's Gold Championship Race when we ran the best power we could with the stock engine but were still off by more than 25% from what we've seen from a full up race engine. Because of the configuration of the engine, it was self limiting on the horsepower we could draw, and we finished second to "Strega" at 479.088 mph. All things considered, the speed we finished with for an average 479.088 mph speaks well to the drag reduction efforts of Dave Cornell and our crew. We now know this airframe is FAST!

As always, it's disappointing for the "Bear" to finish anywhere but first, but we are very encouraged about what our capabilities will be for next year when we'll have a full up Cornell race engine motoring around the course.

And, our crew and team are very happy and congratulatory for Stevo Hinton with his gold victory. Stevo and his ability to make "Strega" perform the way they did represent the future of this sport.

Finally, our whole team is very, very fortunate to have the best owner in the sport of unlimited air racing...Mr. Rod Lewis. This effort with the "Bear" has required an enormous level of support from Rod, and he has stepped up to the plate...again. He's done it every year, for the last three years, since taking ownership of the "Rare Bear" Air Racing Team. Our goal is to make Rod's support meaningful next year with the fastest race finish ever to have happened at Reno. I know we can do it...so standby for Reno 2010!

As always, thank you, all of you "Bear" fans, for your unending support. See you next year...

John Penney, team member
"Rare Bear" Air Racing Team


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