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When Unlimited really meant Unlimited
May 12, 2014 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Way back in 1970, there were some air racing organizers who felt that the answer to the too-short Unlimited air races at Reno might be to have a longer race, so long that it would require pit stops. In Unlimited-class piston airplanes. Thus was born the California 1000.

Held on November 15, 1970 at Mojave, the California 1000 would be 66 laps of the pylons instead of just 8 or 10. The thinking was that by putting some strategy back into air racing, it might add some excitement.

One pilot, Clay Lacy, who usually flew a P-51 numbered 64, called "Snoopy", thought a bit outside the box. Deciding that pit stops would cramp his style, he adopted a somewhat Tortoise and the Hare approach to the race, eschewing the cramped, single-seat ex-fighter planes for a comfortable, if slightly slower, Douglas DC-7B airliner. Lo, the Super Snoopy.

The presence of Super Snoopy got the racing community's attention, and when Lacy's Co-captain on the Super Snoopy, Allen Paulson; decided to race a Lockheed Super Constellation (appropriately named the Red Baron) against the Super Snoopy in an Unlimited race in San Diego, the rest of the racing community cried foul and refused to participate. In the end, the two four-engine propliners sat out the event, never to race again.
posted by pjern (15 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post. It's something special when thinking outside the box to win a competition involves a giant piston-powered airliner. This past winter I saw the father and son Hintons speak at a presentation of the Air Races documentary at the Air & Space museum. Cool stuff.
posted by exogenous at 7:39 PM on May 12


I was going to post something about how outclassed the DC-7 was, but its stock max airspeed is 405mph compared to the P-51's 437mph. Slower, but not that much slower. I imagine turning radius was more of an issue.

Everything about pylon air races is just terrifying to me. Skip to 5:42 to see the two planes adjacent. The DC-7 is about 4 times the length.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Allen Paulson was also the founder of Gulfstream. The Super Snoopy was owned by Paulson's California Airmotive Corp., the success of which enabled him to buy the scraps of Grumman, which eventually became Gulfstream (all this is via Wiki - I just had the occasion to research Gulfstream because they are part of a recent Savannah airport expansion - I went to SCAD and it's interesting how small a footprint Gulfstream has in Savannah in terms of local political/cultural life).
posted by 99_ at 8:12 PM on May 12


that was great!
posted by garlic at 8:54 PM on May 12


giant piston-powered airliner

Oh those were the days. You reminded me, when I was a kid we rode the Ozark Airlines F-27 quite often.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:59 PM on May 12


Great watch thanks. I was all like "tum tee tum ... dee sum (spits coffee) A DC7 AIRLINER!!!!!???"
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:12 PM on May 12


the rest of the racing community cried foul and refused to participate. In the end, the two four-engine propliners sat out the event, never to race again.


This continues to happen in yacht racing. "Oh, you have an unusual boat, and it looks like it might win? Let's just disqualify it by changing the rules about eligible types of boats."
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:21 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Also happens in Formula 1 car racing.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:32 AM on May 13


As shown by the Tyrrell P34 six-wheel F1 car, raced in the mid-70s.
posted by Harald74 at 12:43 AM on May 13


Huh. I would have bet on the P-38 Lightning designed by Kelly Johnson which had twin Allison V-12 piston turbocharged engines. It had a 1,300 mi service range and a max speed of 414 mph (667 km/h).

I would have lost that bet it seems.
posted by vapidave at 12:49 AM on May 13


I would have bet on the P-38 Lightning designed by Kelly Johnson which had twin Allison V-12 piston turbocharged engines.

The reason that Mustangs, Sea Furies, and Bearcats dominated pylon racing is that they were the planes the services involved chose to keep after WWII. The rest of them were scrapped. Getting a P-51 or an F8F was easy (and isn't that hard today,) getting a P-38 was *hard* (and is basically impossible today.)
posted by eriko at 4:08 AM on May 13


So why did they all refuse to fly? Simply because the big planes would beat them? Or they were afraid to get sucked into the props? Or...something?

(I love those Super Connies: great big sleek things!)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:16 AM on May 13


What's that twin-engine at 1:58?
posted by daniel_charms at 6:36 AM on May 13


Looks a lot like a Douglas A-26 Invader. That hunkered-down profile and the squared-off tail looks right.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:28 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Ah, thanks! I had it confused with the (other) B-26.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:46 AM on May 13


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