Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Advanced Warbird Training

The last few months, we’ve been talking about hat Air Racers are doing in our off-season.  I mentioned how Will Whiteside and Steadfast are working to own several speed and time to climb records. We talked about Team Ruby looking to get into some fun Auto Racing activities.  And this month, we’re going to talk about Dan Vance and Rob Gordon – and their new venture.

Dan Vance is the son of long time Reno Racer and Warbird Owner/Pilot, Art Vance. Art acquired Speedball Alice in 1976. He rebuilt it in 1982 and named it Million Dollar Baby (at least!), and changed the name in 2000 to Speedball Alice in honor of Captain Don H. Bochkay from the 357th. The artwork with the “winged ace” is from Bochkay’s aircraft.

Art raced Speedball as well as two Sea Furies, Baby Gorilla and Furias. He was the Check Pilot and President of the Unlimited Division at the Air Races for many years. He also flew cover during qualifying practice sessions. He had a way of teaching with humor and boldness that resonated well with our community. At the time of his death, he had well over 11,000 hours and was a mentor to many of us.

You would think growing up with Art has your father would be an enormous challenge, but Dan Vance took to flying like his father’s son. Art and Dan both flew for the airlines, both enjoyed restoring and flying warbirds, and then Dan started flying at Reno. He has flown both P-51s and Sea Furys, most notably #911, September Pops, owned at the time by Mike Brown. Since then, he has taken his father’s place as one of the Check Pilots for the Unlimited Division. I have watched Dan mature over the years from a young man to a highly qualified, distinguished warbird pilot.

Rob Gordon took a different path. He learned to fly when he was quite young, but decided to follow a career in Law Enforcement instead. However, his love of all things aviation continued, causing him to buy a T6 and a Stearman over the years. He would work with Dan and Art over the years, learning the art of restoring and maintaining warbirds as well as continuing to progress as a pilot.

Rob started flying Lady Jo, a very famous TF-51 in our area, owned by Daryl Bond. The reason Lady Jo is so popular, is most people who have had “dual” time in a Mustang on the West Coast did that time in Lady Jo.  The TF- is a Dual Control Mustang theoretically designated for training. Originally, only ten were built during 1941-1945. After WWII, several more were converted.  They are still very rare and very highly coveted. Lady Jo was a rebuild made into a TF around 1989.

So, Rob is hanging around the airport, flying his T-6 and then gets the chance to fly Lady Jo. But, he still hasn’t made the jump to Reno yet. His luck changed when one year, Robbie Patterson – who usually races Lady Jo, was unable to make the races. Daryl turned to his new “Young Gun” and that year, Rob Gordon attended PRS. He then gets the opportunity to Lady Jo in 2007, and Speedball Alice each year after that.

Lady Jo and Speedball Alice at Reno
Gordon Edwards – Photographer

Now, these two Air Racing Veterans have decided to take the knowledge they have gained over the years and have joined forces with Dragonfly Aviation out of Santa Rosa, CA to provide Advanced Instruction in their Warbirds. Specifically flight training in their PT-17 Stearman and their AT-6 Texan. For the average pilot, this is an opportunity to get some advanced training which will challenge you and make you a better pilot – not matter what your daily flyer is.

I have signed myself up to be one of their first students. I can’t wait to put on my helmet and get some oil in my hair behind a round P&W Engine.

Other News

Unfortunately, our French competitors with Big Frog suffered an engine failure at the end of January. Their pilot, Christophe Delbos, was able to bring their NXT to a successful off-field landing. “Bobos” is okay, but the aircraft is a total loss.

The Big Frog Program was a testing ground for a prototype SMA engine, a 230 horsepower turbocharged diesel. The idea was that this engine would be “greener” and provide better reliability. They are back to the drawing board tonight.

Big Frog, the French NXT
Tim Adams - Photographer

It is the place of Air Racing and especially the Sport Class to become a proving ground for new technology. We grow by pushing the envelope and learning where the edges are.

We wish them well and look forward to seeing them again at Reno.