Flying the Race
By Pete Bedell
An insider's look at racing the Marion Jayne Air Race
Race officials layout a specified course either along a runway
or series of well-defined landmarks. To negate the effects of
wind as much as possible, the course is flown both ways.
Several GPS groundspeed readouts are recorded. A check pilot
rides with the air race participant to confirm that the throttle is
full, the flaps are up, cowl flaps are closed, etc. Often the check
pilot is a fellow racer familiar in the type of airplane who will not
let you get away with any tricks. After determining the speed in
miles per hour, race officials subtract 20 mph. This is strictly to
make it look as if everybody is doing well against their handicap.
From then on, your handicap is the speed for you to beat.
Whoever beats their handicap by the greatest margin wins
Flying starts and finishes.
This technique keeps air racing safe for the average pilot. The
concept allows a pilot to make a normal takeoff, fly a wide
pattern around the airport, and overfly the runway at a safe
altitude to begin timing. Flying starts eliminates the need for pilots
to race the airplane through the takeoff and departure, which
exposes him or her to unnecessary risk. Arriving at the next
checkpoint, you are required to fly the designated timing line,
then reduce power, and enter a normal landing pattern. Flying
starts and finishes keep the pilot in a performance regime with
which he or she is familiar during the critical takeoff and landing
phases of flight.
Is racing hard on the engine(s)?
That was one of our first thoughts when my brothers and I
considered entering the 1997 Marion Jayne U.S. Air Race. Our
Beech Baron had provided 26 years of faithful service to our
family never seeing anything more than 65-percent power for
more than the time it took to takeoff and climb to altitude. What
would happen to those costly Continentals if we thrashed them around the sky crossing the United States?
As long as the engine is operated within its limits, there
should be no problems associated with flying an air race. In the
case of newly overhauled engines or those recently top
overhauled, the race will be beneficial because of the high
cylinder pressures needed to seat new rings. If all engine
instruments are in the green, your engine is operating within its
certified limits. It's wise to brush up on the operating limitations
of your engine(s) prior to the race and be sure that you cross
reference these atypical power settings with fuel flow and EGT.
Best-power mixture is approximately 100- to 150-degrees rich
of peak EGT. Don't be surprised to see that fuel flow at race
power settings can be high enough to get a standing ovation from
sheiks in the Middle East.
Operate your engine out of its limitations and you're on
your own. Bust the rpm redline or lean too aggressively because
you underestimated your fuel burn and you'll set the stage for
future engine problems or engine failure. Remember that the race
is meant to be fun, not fear inducing.
What about the airframe?
As with the engine(s), you need to stay within the limitations of
the airframe. Racing will force you to be wary of maneuvering
speed (VA), never-exceed speed (VNE), and other speeds that may not be much
of a factor in day-to-day flying. Control surface flutter is of primary
concern during high-speed flight at or
near VNE. Busting VNE makes you a test pilot. Elevators, stabilators, and
trim tabs are all susceptible to flutter. It's a good idea to have all
control surfaces checked for balance prior to the race especially if the airplane was recently painted.
Likewise, maneuvering speed or turbulence-penetration airspeed is
another critical figure to
keep in mind. During low-altitude flights in the middle of the day when
bumps are at their
worst, remember that you'll likely be operating well above VA. If the bumps
are bad enough,
climb to a smoother altitude "your overall speed will be better in the
smooth air anyway.
Consider the descent back into the bumps, however, and plan accordingly.
The most important thing to remember
is to enjoy yourself! The Marion Jayne Air Race is a fun
gathering of pilots, airplanes, and good times. Playing by the
rules yet remaining competitive is the secret to enjoying this
unique event. Sit back, enjoy the view, and soak up our country
from the unique perch of a general aviation airplane.
Peter A. Bedell was a winning crewmember of the 1997
Marion Jayne U.S. Air Race flying the family Beech D55
Baron with his two brothers. He is an airline pilot and
Editor at large for AOPA Pilot magazine.