I write this short piece with some humility realizing that we had a significant “structural failure” during the Reno air races. Sunday I got a call from Curt Brown, our race pilot, that the canopy had blown off the airplane in flight and we were essentially out of the race. Believe me that is a lot to take in in a few seconds!! Amazingly Curt was not injured and safely landed the 400 mph convertible. The canopy essentially exploded, scattering itself over about a quarter mile of Reno desert around pylon 2. The canopy debris impacted the horizontal stabilizer also causing some damage to the leading edge.
Having been to the Reno national air races ten times, we were familiar with various “malfunction” problems but nothing this major. One year we blew off an exhaust stack, another year we had hydraulic failure of our tail wheel retraction mechanism. We have had primer pump failure and other ignition system problems. This however was sobering because it could easily have been fatal. The canopy blew off with significant force knocking Curt’s helmet and oxygen mask upward, the mask covering his eyes. In spite of deafening noise he was able to safely land the five ton racer
We were obviously missing many critical canopy parts. With the assistance of my amazing crew the desert was walked for many hours over several days. We were joined by other volunteers here at Reno, including some of our section 3 friends. Finally after eight multi hour walking sessions the final steel rail parts were found, which will make reconstruction much easier! Ed Ryan discovered the final missing piece in the dusty sagebrush. This damage can be fixed and we will fly another day.
I wish to thank all the members of the Reno air racing community. This includes friends and spectators who have followed us for years. Many have come forward donating funds to help with repair of the damage. Our sponsors have been extremely supportive. We have had many expert mechanics volunteer their services and machinists volunteer their shop facilities.
I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the racing community support, especially the unlimited air racing group who all want us to get our plane back and competing again!
One really realizes how many friends you have when facing some adversity. To all of you I give you my heartfelt thanks....,especially my sunburned desert walkers!
We will let you all know when our beloved “Sawbones “ takes to the air again.
With sincere and deep thanks,
Robin and Jackie Crandall
Between Oshkosh and Reno, which I cover for the Minnesota Flyer magazine, I announce “The Tribute to Beck, A Gathering of Airplanes.” This year was the 13th annual tribute to Gerry Beck who died in a Mustang crash at Oshkosh in 2007. I was there.
Snuggled next to West Battle Lake, just outside the town of 875, about 20 miles east of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, it is the only grass field I’ve called airshows at in 28 years of announcing. A bit under 3000 feet by 200 feet with hangars and a corn field on one side and a bike path, pine trees, and the lake on the other, the neatly mowed turf slopes gently upward to the northeast. A slightly faded orange windsock whispers quietly in the fair early morning breeze.
Opened in 1963, Battle Lake Municipal is a private city run field south of Otter Tail Lake, open from May to November, field elevation 1365 feet. It uses the CTAF 122.9. In 2013, I was asked up to announce the fly in. My first response was, “Where is Battle Lake?” Good old Rand McNally to the rescue. Since then, it’s become my favorite venue. Grass field, great community participation, and genuine rural welcome. The event supports the Battle Lake Community Fund, which provides grants for city, school, and youth activities.
The drive up I-94, with a stop at the Perkins in Alexandria for supper, was uneventful, especially for a Labor Day weekend. No rain, very little construction, and the anticipation of, with the great weather, good fly in traffic. Take the ramp off 94 toward Ashby, admire the stately swans on Pelican, Christina, and Eagle Lakes, and follow Minnesota 78 to the four way stop with Minnesota 210 outside the city. It’s a resort town, with seasonal residences along the lake, tourist businesses along the hill that leads up to a scenic view, then down to the lakeside and boat launching area. Follow the road to the Battle Lake Inn and Suites, known for its comfort, cleanliness, and signs about not cleaning fish in the rooms. It’s home for a night.
Sue and I drive to the airport early. I like, even though I’ve been here before, to walk the field ahead of time. When I start announcing, I never get to see anything. Early morning is my best time – drink in the atmosphere and savor, however briefly, the newly mown grass, listen to the birds that swoop low over the runway, and get my old Rockports damp with dew.
Officially listed as a 1000 to 1400 event, cars and aircraft begin to arrive early. Brad and Jane’s Avenger sits, wings folded in the golden morning light. They have a cabin there and drove in just after Sue and I, parking by the berm, Brad complaining about the self-locking door mechanism on his Jeep. Pat arrived with a carload of food for the luncheon, and cheerful volunteers, climb out of pickups to begin the final prep for the day. Greg and Lyndy’s RV is half hidden next to a hangar. They arrived last night and are not up yet.
The announcer’s “stand” is a low flatbed trailer normally used by a lawn service. Chunks of sod are imbedded in the mesh surface. Brad moved it with his yellow tug to a position where I’ll have a better view. After it’s leveled, John and I wrestle unsuccessfully with the ramp, until he grabbed a hammer from the hangar where we draw power for the sound system and whacked away at the curved pins until they finally relent and the springs consent to work. John’s girlfriend will bring her son’s sound system at 0900. We’ll have to figure out where the tangle of cables go without his help, as he’s at NDSU.
Trash and recycling cans out, pop-up picnic tables in place, long tables with teetering gray folding chairs in the shade of a hangar that holds an old Cherokee, and in drives the caramel corn truck. They have a red and white striped pop up tent. Their stand is a very popular venue. Cars begin to turn in to the airport’s gravel road, curving off the two tracks, down a small hill, though the cut weeds, and without need for direction, neatly line up with small red flagged wooden stakes. The Battle Lake Fire Department’s largest rig grumbles in and parks near the two gray porta-potties by the entrance. Children are immediately drawn to the fire truck and its shiny chrome. Volunteers, in the shade of a white tent, will sell raffle tickets for the generously donated prizes to support the Community Fund.
There’s no tower, only the 122.9 CTAF. Greg runs the ramp, actually grass taxi and parking areas, with locals marshalling the visiting aircraft to spots in front of the hangars for warbirds, classics, ultralights, and helicopters, while the old-fashioned general aviation birds pass through a gap between the hangars to west to tie down.
To drum up interest, Brad cranks the TBM, unfolds the wings, and with a growl from the R-2600, sends grass clippings flying, and crawls up the slope to launch on runway 24. Vehicles continue to arrive – pick-ups, SUVs, more supply drop offs for lunch, and another vender, this time with sunflower seeds. The power comes up, and the Avenger deftly lifts its skirts and heads into the early morning low sun. The TBM makes the first flight of what will be an amazing day of flying.
As the morning and early afternoon proceed, cars continue to arrive and are forced to park along the entrance road, then both sides of the county road. Bicycles, joggers, and strollers meander along the paved path on the far side of the field. The vehicle parking area at the airport is full from fence to fence.
The old record for aircraft attendance was 62. The parking problem becomes true for aircraft, too. From the south end to the cornfield, west behind the hangars to another cornfield, and along the taxi way edge, they keep arriving. Old garden variety straight-back, straight-tail 172s, some in need of new paint, and four-seat Cherokees with wheel spats. Five or six sleek, fast Mooneys, a covey of STOL Super Cubs and Huskies with big tires, and numerous Van’s RV homebuilts squat on the grass, warm engines cooling after their flights.
Still, the beauty of Battle Lake is the variety of vintage and classic machines that call in 10 or 12 miles out, make a downwind over the edge of the lake, and swing in for landing on the forgiving grass. Maybe a skip and a hop, but settling comfortably down and proudly taxying to the display area.
Cindy Beck, Gerry’s widow is a gracious host, joining me at the mic, moving from group to group, greeting people by name, and exuding charm. Daughter Whitney becomes the local Vanna White for the raffle drawing, deftly pulling tickets from the barrel and helping me decipher the hand written names on the stubs.
At one point, with things calmed down for a few moments, I eat my sandwich, answer a question about gallons per hour, and survey the grassy ramp area near the stand. A Mustang, three Texans, the TBM, two classic Beech Staggerwings, a brown and gold Fairchild F.24W, the Warner radial model, six classic Boeing-Stearmans, three with 450 hp Pratts, one a former Red Baron Pizza ship, a Beaver amphibian, a rare Bellanca Cruisemaster, the “cardboard Constellation,” and three of its grandchildren, the Bellanca Viking. T-craft, Luscombes, Beck’s blue RV-4 come home, and from FCM, John Sinclair flew the F4U-4 Corsair Beck restored and flew, staging out of Fergus Falls. John made great display passes, displaying the unique inverted gull wing for the photographers.
The unofficial aircraft count today was an amazing 81, a new record.
Formation flights by the Mustang with two Texans, the Avenger and the Corsair saluting the Navy, and a pair of Stearmans from the Twin Cities, smoke systems on, take us back to WWII training days. And it’s all ad lib.
Departing aircraft hold it down over the grass as they leave, smoke systems on, or a cheery wing waggle, and a curving right turn past the spectator area, to head home. The pilot flying the farthest was from Missouri, a gentleman with a Cessna 182, who was invited by relatives, and thought, “What the hell, why not?” and came for the weekend.
There’s nothing like this event. At Oshkosh, it’s everything from the dawn of flight to the latest technology, all carefully choreographed and compartmentalized. At Reno, it’s six classes of speed – low over the desert floor, “The World’s Fastest Motor Sport.” Between these huge commercial events, Battle Lake is a retreat to simpler times. For one day, it’s back to aviation’s “grass roots.” The corn fields and pine trees, wing waggles and mown grass blowing in the prop wash - a Saturday small town outing shared with visiting planes and pilots – low passes with smoke – vintage, classic, warbirds, general aviation, some flying from farm strips, dropping in on the grass at Battle Lake, back to the days of the Barnstormers.
And when the last car and airplane have gone, the visitors headed home, and the toys put away, we can stand quietly and still smell the freshly cut grass.
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