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Hinton Sets Record, Souped-Up Jets Are Banned

By Lane Wallace, Contributing Writer, EAA 650945

Pitts S-1
Eric Zine's Pitts S-1 "Sunny Side Up" stands out in the biplane area.

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September 15, 2011 – This year’s edition of the 48th Reno National Air Races at Stead Field, Nevada, got off to a blazing start as 24-year-old race pilot Steven Hinton, flying the highly modified P-51 Strega, set a new qualifying record of 499.16 mph on the very first day of qualifying in the Unlimited Category. Will Whiteside, flying the P-51 Voodoo, qualified second, and Stewart Dawson qualified third in Rare Bear. Rod Lewis’ powerhouse Sea Fury, 232, flown by retired astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson, turned in the fourth-fastest qualifying time but then had to withdraw from competition due to mechanical difficulties. On the other hand, Gibson’s withdrawal made room for Matt Jackson to join the qualifying pack in the Sea Fury Furias. Furias was on a “waitlist” to race because its entry paperwork arrived late.

Lewis’ Sea Fury will not be the only powerhouse sitting out this year’s races, however. The Jet Class will also be missing several of its top fastest racers, due to a rule change implemented after the rookie Pylon Racing School (PRS) in June. In the past few years, owners of several L-29 Czech training jets, in an effort to beat the larger L-39 jets that had dominated the class, had put larger engines in the planes. But during this year’s PRS, one of the souped-up jets (flown by Heather Penney, daughter of veteran race pilot John Penney) had an overheating problem that almost resulted in the loss of its rudder. So, at least for this year’s event, the race committee has decreed that only jets with stock engines will be allowed to race.
The other rule change that might affect this year’s event relates to weather. Last year’s Unlimited Gold Race on Sunday afternoon was finally called due to high winds - the first time that had ever happened. But this year, the Race Committee has already announced that if the surface winds are more than 35 knots, the race will be called in the interests of safety.

Jon Sharp, who holds 15 Reno championship titles in the Formula I and Sport classes, including four consecutive Sport Class victories in his NemesisNXT, officially announced his retirement from racing this past summer. But two of his NXT kit planes, one flown by Kevin Eldredge and one flown by Cristophe Delbos, are entered in this year’s Sport Class competition. So the airplane’s winning legacy might just continue without him.

What else? Well, the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor had to cancel (it, too, had mechanical issues). But the Air Force Thunderbird demonstration team will be performing over the weekend, along with a host of other air show performers. And for those who prefer their old airplanes straight up, the Rolls-Royce Invitational Trophy competition will showcase ­­more than 20 Grand Champion-quality antique, classic, and warbird restorations throughout the week. The Rolls-Royce trophy, which resides at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Museum at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., the rest of the year, will be awarded Sunday before the afternoon racing begins.

The Reno National Air Races run through Sunday. Results will be posted on the event website.

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