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Race 71 At Oshkosh
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Food For Thought

Racer #71’s AirVenture Cup Race 2008


We flew up to Mitchell, South Dakota from Arkansas on Friday.  The plane was near race ready, which meant our fuel was limited to the standard tanks.  I had planned to refuel at Omaha but the low ceilings and visibility caused me to change and land at Topeka everything went well but the fuel was over $6 per gallon.  When I am going to the AirVenture Cup I do what I have to do to get there and participate.  The race staff was there and we got our name tags but we could not actually check in until noon on Saturday.


Friday night we went to a Sport’s Bar named Blarney’s and had dinner with the other racers.  It was a pleasant evening spent with friendly like interested people and we enjoyed it a lot.


Saturday we slept in, had breakfast in the hotel then went to the airport to check in and wash the airplane windshield and leading edges.  I bought a gallon of water at the gas station adjoining the Ramada Inn and used one of my old T-shirts for the cleaning chores.  After we put the cover back on the plane we visited the famous Corn Palace in downtown Mitchell and wrote some post cards to a few friends while waiting for the race briefing at 6:30 PM back at the airport.  We really enjoyed our visit to the Corn Palace and the movie they showed there about the Corn Palace and South Dakota.  At 6PM we got to the airport and there were just a few people but no racers present.  At 6:15 one of the race staff told us that the briefing had been changed back to the Ramada Inn.  We got there at 6:30 and didn’t miss a thing.  After the briefing we were treated to a tasty buffet dinner.  We sat at a table with Bob Vasey (Race #63, RV-3) and his family and we had an enjoyable evening dining and talking with them.


We went to bed at a reasonable time but I didn’t sleep well thinking about race altitude choices, fuel burn strategy, etc.  I ate a roll of Tums through the night and morning to calm the digestion process.  I called Flight Service and got the winds aloft and used the information to pick the corresponding cells in my matrix for speeds and altitude based on those forecast winds.  It results were the same as before I left home; the best altitude seemed to be 9,500 ft.  You only have to be burned once from climbing to take advantage of forecast tail winds to be very skeptical – I was so burned in the 2005 AirVenture Cup Race.  These conditions were very persistent so I committed to the climb to 9,500 ft.  Then, as I slept I wondered if the 500 ft/min rate of climb I had planned in my Excel matrix was less efficient that a faster rate of climb.  I slipped out of bed so as not to wake Jeanine and went through the darkness to the bath room and calculated the difference in race speed based on a 1,000 fpm climb and a 500 fpm climb at 100 kts.  The speed was faster for the race with the 500 fpm climb on the front end.  Back to fitful sleep.


At 6AM the alarm went off, we wrapped up our two-day stay at the Ramada Inn and headed for the airport.  For breakfast and the 8AM briefing.  I wasn’t hungry but my team manager/wife Jeanine brought me two donuts and black coffee.  8AM came and went without a briefing.  Word circulated that there was a weather problem in route.  The long but appreciative wait began.  As lunchtime came the race there still was no briefing but we had lined up the planes in launce order on the taxiway and ramp.  The race staff went to Domino’s and bought pizza’s and soda for everyone.  A collection was taken but I have no idea if enough cash was raised to cover the cost.  Everyone was mild mannered and they occupied themselves with aviation conversation and doing last little things to their airplanes.  I bought a gallon of fuel and topped off our tanks.  At about 3PM Eric Whyte announced that the weather had cleared sufficiently on the race course for starting the race.  Pilots and crews went to their planes to await the sequential start engine signal.  Jeanine and I were buckled in and up to the key turning step in our checklist for a while before the got to us.  Our fuel had to be managed carefully and we could not afford to sit there with the engine running.  We got the signal, started up and taxied out after a long line of racers and others followed us to the runway.


The first two off were the Nemesis NXT Relentless and a Lancair Legacy.  A crowd of spectators had stayed through the hours of waiting and I guess as a show of appreciation the two planes were to circle back after takeoff and do a high-speed flyby to start their race.  Naturally others in the fast group wanted the same advantage and voiced that opinion on the radio.  It was allowed for all the racers in group 1 which was everything in a class supposedly faster than the RV blue and red classes.  That degenerated into many others not wanting to be put in a disadvantage so some racers were going straight off the runway on course and some were circling back for a high-speed run in to the start.  I chose the no circle back departure.


We were in line behind Bob Vasey in his RV-3 #63 as he taxied onto the runway.  Our SL-60 GPS still hadn’t some up with its position solution and was not providing a usable serial input to the autopilot but my old GPS-90 hand held was working fine.  I cycled the power on the SL-60 and it started through its initialization process again.  Race #63 started its takeoff roll and it was obvious I was going to be hand flying at least the first part of the race.  Bob Vasey rotated off the runway and I pushed the throttle in on our plane to start the takeoff roll.


We crossed the start line at the end of the runway and climbed out on a heading of 085 degrees magnetic.  I could see race #63 ahead climbing above us.  I held the climb at a relatively steady 500 fpm and stayed in a position behind and below the RV-3.  After 15 or 20 minutes I saw the dark red racer descending.  It seemed that the pilot had decided this climbing was a waste of time.  The data showed that 9,500 ft was the best altitude so I continued the planned climb.  As we got higher I noted that the speed in the 500 fpm climb was up to 178 kts so the climb was paying off well with good tail winds aloft.


After we leveled off at 9,500 ft the ground speed (which was all that counted in this situation) slowly increased to the 190 kt range and occasionally exceeded 200 kts.  Things were going very well.  Then approaching the half way point clouds ahead threatened this high-speed steady state flight condition.  Pilots ahead started calling rain and descending ceilings.  They sounded sincere but sometimes they can make a bad call.  I continued on in a straight line to the finish at 9,500 ft.  Then I had to descend because of diminishing visibility there was plenty of clear sky below.  As I approached 8,500 ft it cleared up ahead and I could see a clear path to blue sky in the distance.  Decision time again do I maintain airspeed and descent to 7,500 ft or climb back to 9,500?  I decided to climb.  The speed dropped back to the 170’s initially but it came back well even as I climbed.  Set up again at 9,500 things were going well but as we approached the Mississippi River it closed in ahead again and I had to descend.  Pilots were saying they were descending out of 5,500 ft in this area but once again as I descended to 8,500 ft it cleared up again.  Having my previous experience with the beneficial climb the decision was easy this time.  We went back up to 9,500 ft and stayed there until about 65 miles from the finish when it looked like we could get shutout by some lower clouds ahead.  I had planned to start the descent at 55 miles but 65 was close enough.  As it turned out I had to maintain VNE to get down to 200 ft AGL at the Dodge County Airport (UNU) finish line.


Jeanine recorded our start and finish times so we were able to calculate our race speed at 227 mph.  Nothing official has been seen yet but I expect all speeds to be very high.  We had a great time


Bob Axsom

Race #71