Sunday, September 19, 2010

Good Times/Bad Times in the VOS Sunday

Thunder Mustang "Rapid Travel" cartwheels into Stead Field sagebrush
The weather weirdness continued out in The Valley Of Speed Sunday. The high winds associated with the passing of a Frontal Band made conditions a little problematic for the racers and their aircraft. On my way out to Stead, I saw a cloud of dust blowing through the saddle atop Peavine Peak, to the West of Stead Field. I've never seen that before in 28 years going to Stead Field to see the Reno National Championship Air Races.

During Sunday's Super Sport Gold Race, the second place racer, George Giboney in the Thunder Mustang "Rapid Travel" pulled up on Lap 3 and called a Mayday. The little Mustang was smoking as Giboney traded speed for altitude and smoked again once he neared the field and turned on final. As he approached Runway 26, a 40MPH gust of wind caught him, he missed Runway 26, and landed hard at a 45 angle to the taxiway, and while trying to steer away from the Static Display Aircraft and the milling crowds, drug a wingtip and cartwheeled into the desert. The aircraft lost it's wings and the fuselage came apart to where witnesses reported seeing Gilboney's legs flailing in the wind!

Tense moments for the crowd followed before there was any news beyond the announcement of a "Situation" From my vantage point out in the Valley Of the far end of the race course, the situation was just a cloud of dust at the right end of the strip, and a vague announcement over the Public Address system which is simulcast on the Reno Air Racing Association's low power FM radio station.

Another Fenceliner who's folks were in the grandstands proper, got call via cell phone from them that related the grim scene, which he in turn shared with his neighbors at the Fenceline.

After an eternity that was really less than 10 minutes, the PA announcer broadcast the good news, pilot George Gilboney was standing in the sagebrush next to the "Rapid Travel's" debris field. When I got home to the DaveCave, I read on the Air Racing Bulletin Board that Mr Gilboney was seen in the team's hanger with his feet up on the desk enjoying a cold beer. Injuries? A cut on the head.

So relief washed over the grandstands and finally reached the Fenceliners. All that remained was to run the Breitling Unlimited Gold Race. We waited.

Over the PA system, the Announcers were introducing the Unlimited Gold Class pilots and their storied aircraft to the assembled crowd. The Race Planes were parked at Show Center, in front of the grandstands with the Breitling Home Pylon in the background. Thousands of Air Race Fans snapped photos as the intros continued. Finally the announcer said: "Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the four words you've been waiting all year for...Gentlemen...Start...Your...Engines!"

Nothing happened...

The senior announcer, the voice of the Reno Air Races chimed in: "The pilots aren't in their aircraft. Pilots it's time to saddle up!"

Nothing happened...

Finally an Unlimited Pilot came on mic and said the pilots were meeting to discuss the weather issues and related safety concerns and would deliver their verdict at 5PM.

Out at the Fenceline, it was blowing like Hell. I considered going back to the car for a long sleeved shirt and sweatpants...even though I was staioned in the lee of the substation's fencing.

At 5:03PM the announcement was made...the Gold Race was scrubbed...30+MPH gusts were just to risky should there be another Mayday. What's more, there would be no postponement! There was no contingency plan to race Monday...too many volunteers would be unavailable to safely run the Big Show. The winner on points is "Strega" winner of Saturday's Gold Heat 3A.

I was out in the VOS for about two hours...driving home I felt like a crisp potato chip...that was serious wind. I heard a traffic report on KKOH Reno's 50KW blowtorch News/Talk Station. High Wind Warnings on NV HWY395. Stead Field is right alongside HWY395.

Many stories were left unfinished Sunday in the Valley of Speed. The mundane narratives and the Cinderella Stories will have to wait until September 2011 to be told. I'll be there...with bells on!

Keep 'em flying!

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