Aberle sets qualifying record at Reno Air Races


Last updated 10/11/2007 at Noon

Tom Aberle set a qualifying record for the Sport Biplane class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, although he had to pull out of the actual races due to melted pistons.

Aberle’s qualifying September 10 averaged 251.573 mph, breaking the record of 249 mph Aberle set in 2006. “We’re definitely disappointed at not being able to race, but we’re heartened that the airplane continues to go faster every time we run it,” said Aberle, who co-owns the plane called Phantom with Andrew Buehler.

In 2006 Aberle became the first Sport Biplane pilot to average at least 250 mph. Phantom’s 2006 qualifying speed broke the record of 241 mph Aberle had set in 2004.

The qualifying runs occur over the 3.1-mile course. Pilots fly the course until they are comfortable and then give a signal to the timer. The planes are then timed for two laps with the faster lap being counted as the qualifying speed.

Phantom was leading the first heat race September 13 before a melted piston on the second lap forced Aberle to exhibit caution. When he could not eliminate the operational problem while in the air he pulled out of the race. The piston pre-ignition, which was caused by improper heat range of the spark plugs, was diagnosed after the plane returned to the ground, and Aberle missed the second heat race while his crew was working on the repairs.

Phantom returned to the air for the Gold Race on September 16, although because of the failure to complete a heat race Aberle began the Gold Race in the back. “We had passed all but one airplane in 1 1/2 laps,” he said.

Once again a piston melted on the second lap, and Aberle pulled out of the race.

Aberle, who owns Aberle Custom Aircraft and co-owns Fallbrook Air Service with his mother, designed Phantom and built the plane over a seven-month period. Its first flight took place in August 2003. Phantom weighs 738 pounds and has a wingspan of approximately 20 feet. Its four-cylinder, 360-cubic-inch Lycoming engine generates more than 250 horsepower.


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