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Aberle breaks own speed record in winning Reno air races

Tom Aberle won the Sport Biplane class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, while breaking his own speed record for the division.

Aberle, who also won both heat races and had the fastest qualifying time, lapped six of the seven other planes during the Gold Race on September 14, 2008. He averaged 251.975 mph, breaking his own record of 251.958 mph set in 2006.

“Just enough for a new record,” Aberle said.

In 2007 Aberle set a qualifying record with an average speed of 251.573 mph and was leading the first heat race before a melted piston on the second lap forced Aberle to exhibit caution. In the Gold Race a piston once again melted on the second lap, and

Aberle pulled out of the race. During the 2008 qualifying session September 8, Aberle averaged 249 mph.

Although Aberle did not break his own record from the year before, he was satisfied with his qualifying speed. “We were a little gun-shy because we had our engine failure last year, so we approached this thing very conservatively,” he said.

Thus Aberle, who became the first Sport Biplane pilot to average 250 mph both in the Gold Race and on the qualifying laps, was not disappointed about qualifying at an average speed of under 250 mph. “That was pretty much self-induced,” he said. “We were not inhibited other than by ourselves.”

Aberle still had the division’s fastest qualifying speed. “This was a good year,” he said.

Other then repairs, the only change to the plane called Phantom was smaller and lighter wheel pants. “I think the airplane’s got more in it,” Aberle said.

Pilots fly the 3.1-mile 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.

The top eight qualifying planes competed in the Gold Division. The heat races and the main race consisted of six laps apiece. Aberle won the first heat race September 11 with an average speed of 234.6 mph and won the second heat race September 13 while

averaging 239.7 mph. “We played it pretty conservatively, ran it just as hard as needed to do the job,” he said.

The heat races convinced Aberle that he could be more aggressive in the Gold Race. “Sunday’s race we pretty much had it full-on,” he said.

That was evident when he lapped all but one of the planes. “Another lap and we’d have had him, too,” Aberle said.

While most of the plane’s speed is derived through the plane’s power, some advantage is also gained by leaning.

The 65-year-old Aberle first flew the Reno course in 1966 and has been competing since 1967. 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 occurred 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.

In the 2003 Reno air races Phantom posted the division’s top qualifying speed at just over 221 mph, but after one propeller was damaged in the qualifying session and other propeller was damaged in the first heat race Aberle withdrew from the second

heat race and the Gold Race.

In 2004 Aberle qualified at an average speed of 241.05 to set a record and also set a record in the Gold Race with an average speed of 237.9 mph.

Aberle co-owns Phantom with Andrew Buehler. In 2005 Buehler piloted the plane during the Reno air races.

In 2006 Aberle broke his own record by qualifying at an average speed of 249 mph and won both heat races before winning the Gold Race while establishing a new speed record in that race with the 251.958 mph average.

Approximately 20 crew members helped Aberle during the National Championship Air Races.

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