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Rare BearŪ Update
September, 2007
by John Penney

To start off, thanks to all the well wishers out there and for the support for the "Rare Bear" Air Racing Team by those fans who love the plane as much as all our team members do. And our hearts go out to the families and friends of our racers tragically lost this year.

This year was one of tremendous challenge. After Mr. Rod Lewis, owner of Lewis Energy Group became the new owner of the "Bear" he began to assemble the new team under the leadership of Dave Cornell, a wizard when it comes to making racing planes go fast. Virtually all of his team mechanics are those who joined the team several years ago so there was a wealth of talent and experience from which to draw. Rod invited me to drive for the team soon after Dave assembled his crew. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be offered the privilege to come back with this great team.

Up until PRS, the plane was torn down to bare bones (you may have seen some of the pictures on our gallery page). Every system and bit of structure was inspected and/or overhauled and the whole airframe X-rayed. Significant repairs were required as a result of unknown, sometimes major, discrepancies since the airplane's original buildup that started in 1968. Anyway, the buildup started with mounting, during PRS, of an engine bought from Tom Dwelle. That was less than 3 months ago. The plane flew for the first time on September 2nd.

The first time we put any power to the beast, it argued with us and we had to go out and qualify on Tuesday at, believe it or not, less than rated takeoff power for the 3350. Performance was an anemic 452-something. We wrestled with power through our first heat on Saturday, limited on power and being passed by Tiger, Dreadnought!!

Two test flights on Sunday still left some questions unanswered, but we had improved. So, we were still flight testing on the start of Sunday's Gold Race. To set the record straight, we did NOT use nitrous.

On the start of the race we accelerated past Matt and I was able to move in on Mike's wing. That man is a fierce competitor, a great pilot, and flies one of the smoothest lines I've seen. After all, I got to see it for a whole lap. Don't know what September's problem was, but I know that plane can go faster than it was going when we passed him on the second lap, and was surprised to hear the the lead we opened up.

video by D.B. Mueller
On the third lap, the engine ran rough for several seconds, as unknown to me, some "aerodynamic filler" had broken off the cowling right side and was ingested by the engine. A picture on this site shows a trail of white "stuff" trailing the bear for several hundred yards. The "Bear" must have chewed it up and spit it out, because after retarding power to see if we were OK, it ran smooth again, but we had smoke in the cockpit. It took half a lap, flown high, to get confirmation from Dave that we had no smoke trailing the aircraft. The cockpit smoke cleared after two more laps and power came up again, but not all the way. We held a stable reduced setting with our lead to the flag.

After pulling up for the cooldown, it became apparent that the throttle was jammed and I couldn't get it back below 45" MAP. Pulled the rpm back to 2400, declared an emergency and Steve was on my wing before I knew it. That guy is some kind of a safety pilot, and he asked the right questions at the right time to help me with the forced landing plan. Dave and I also discussed the engine shutdown plan to keep from grenading the engine. Race control held 232 on runway 32 while they landed the other (healthy) racers on runway 26...which gave me a spot-of-bother as I was now down to 20 gallons of gas. They finally let 232 cross 26, and I set up for the deadstick.

At 10,500 feet the ignition key was turned off and mixture pulled to cutoff. It gets really quiet. That was on a high downwind to the high key so I could do a complete 360 to the downwind for the deadstick. Steve was right there. I wanted to stay fairly close to the runway as we had high winds out of the west. Initial aimpoint was 1/3 down the runway, but when landing was assured, I brought the prop rpm up to bring the aimpoint back a little. Touchdown was about 1500 to 2000 feet down the runway, and surprised myself with one of my better touchdowns of the week! Fire/Rescue was on the scene immediately.

I can't say enough about how cool Steve Hinton and Dave Cornell were. It was reassuring to know Steve and Dave were right there for whatever I needed. There's no placating at all when I say it was a team effort getting the "Bear" safely to the runway.

And, I can't say enough about the incredible commitment, dedication and sacrifice of our crew who gave up time from their jobs and families to groom and condition the "Bear" for our victory. The effort was an awesome thing to behold.

Stay tuned for more developments on the "Bear" under the ownership of Mr. Rod Lewis, and leadership of Dave Cornell.

John Penney, "Race 77"

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