BLAINE, Minn. (WCCO) — With each turn of a bolt and every packed box, the anticipation is growing inside an Anoka County Airport hangar. A team of 12 volunteers is preparing the aircraft “Sawbones” for competition in the world’s fastest motorsport.
Tom Lymburn is among those volunteers and recalls his initiation into the spectacle of air racing.
“My first time there was in 2009 where I saw a souped up Mustang doing 500 miles per hour,” he said. “And that’s in a piston-engine airplane.”
Speed is everything at Reno, where planes have been competing at the National Championship Air Races since 1964. This year, everything from bi-planes to jets will compete in six different categories. Each of them striving to be the fastest to complete multiple laps around a circular racetrack in the sky.
It’s expected this year’s races will draw more than a quarter of a million spectators when racing begins on Sept. 14.
“So it’s well attended but not well known, because it’s kind of like NASCAR for airplanes,” Dr. Robin Crandall said.
Dr. Crandall, a Twin Cities orthopedic surgeon, makes his living in the operating room but his passion sits in a hangar. He owns the 1949 Hawker Sea Fury he’s named, “Sawbones.”
The plane is a 3000 horsepower, post World War II piston aircraft that’s built for speed. It’s previous racing at Reno clocked its top speed at 411 miles per hour.
“It’s dangerous,” he said. “You’re flying with 10 other airplanes and pretty much 50 feet off the ground, often wingtip to wingtip.”
And, much like surgery, air racing is done with teamwork. Winning at Reno is the ultimate goal of Crandall and his team, but being safe and having fun is the real payoff.
“It’s kind of like being a gear head. It’s interesting to work on the mechanical aspects and watch the crew really work together,” he said. “There’s no one person who can do this — it’s a team effort.”
Crandall plans to fly “Sawbones” to Reno on Friday to begin time trials on Sunday. If you are interested in keeping track on the race results and watching videos of the plane’s performance the team will post information on its website, www.sawbonesair.com.