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.
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.
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, then....Oh-my-God....by
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
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
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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