Aberle wins Reno Air Races
Last updated 11/5/2009 at Noon
Tom Aberle won the Sport Biplane class Gold Cup race September 20 at the National Championship Air Races in Reno.
Aberle also posted the fastest qualifying time for his class, although he didn’t win either of his heat races and exited the first heat race early with engine problems.
“We were having some troubles. We were working on the engine most of the week,” he said.
Aberle, who pilots Phantom, qualified at an average speed of 249.884 mph.
After his qualifying run Aberle learned that Cannon Aviation Insurance, which had discontinued a cash prize to the fastest qualifier, has reinstated that award.
“I wasn’t even aware of it when I qualified,” Aberle said.
Cannon Aviation Insurance provided $1,000 to the fastest qualifier. “It was a thousand bucks in my pocket. I was very happy with that,” 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 compete in the Gold Division. The heat races and the main race consist of six laps apiece.
The qualifying flight along with a September 13 practice flight had drawn some concerns, and in the September 17 heat race Aberle pulled out of the race during the second lap after Phantom’s engine detonated.
“By then we knew we had a bit of a problem,” he said.
It was subsequently determined that the detonation was caused by a plugged fuel injector system which contaminated a piston.
After repairs to the engine, Aberle flew in the second heat race September 18. He operated Phantom at approximately 70 percent of full throttle and finished sixth in the race.
Aberle and his crew worked on the engine and plane all of September 18 and September 19.
Because other divisions were competing, Aberle was not able to test Phantom in the air and had only a ground run of approximately six minutes to determine the effectiveness of the repairs.
“We found out how effective they were on Sunday,” Aberle said. “We went out and were able to run wide open throttle.”
Aberle began the Gold Cup race in the fifth position but moved into the lead early in the second lap. “That produced a comfort level for me,” he said.
Aberle noted that a spark plug cleaned itself out during the first lap.
Aberle lapped all but two of the other seven planes and averaged 236 mph in the Gold Cup race. “We’re happy to be in front regardless of whether it’s a new record or not,” he said.
Aberle noted that pilot factors rather than engine issues contributed to his failure to match the 2008 record.
“This wasn’t my best year as far as piloting,” he said. “I made a couple of mistakes that cost me lap speeds on at least two laps.”
Aberle and Phantom hold the Sport Biplane records for both the Gold Cup race and the qualifying session.
In 2007 Aberle qualified at a speed of 251.573 mph, although melted pistons in both the first heat race and the Gold Cup race forced Aberle to exit those races early that year.
In 2008 Aberle won the Gold Cup race while setting a record with an average speed of 251.975 mph.
While some of the plane’s speed is derived through the aircraft’s power, some advantage is also gained by leaning.
The 66-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 the other propeller was damaged in the first heat race Aberle withdrew from the second heat race and the Gold Cup race.
In 2004 Aberle qualified at an average speed of 241.05 mph to set a record and also set a record in the Gold Cup race with an average speed of 237.9 mph.
Aberle co-owns Phantom with Andrew Buehler, and in 2005 Buehler piloted the plane during the National Championship 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 Cup race while establishing a new speed record in that race with a 251.958 mph average.
Aberle averaged 249 mph in posting the division’s fastest qualifying time in 2008.
He then won both heat races and lapped six of the seven other planes in the Gold Cup race en route to his win and new speed record.
Prior to the September 2010 National Championship Air Races, Aberle will overhaul the engine and will also test a new propeller.
He anticipates a test flight of the plane in 2010 either out of Fallbrook Community Airpark or out of French Valley Airport.