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Autopsy: Reno Air Race

by spike.com   July 30, 2009 at 11:52AM  |  Views: 1,657

Jesse James is a fan of speed. He has been constantly pushing the limits in land vehicles for years. But for the first time ever, Jesse will try to set a speed record in the fastest sport in the world: airplane racing!

Of course, it generally helps if you have had even a little practice when trying to break a record, but for Jesse, he will try to learn how to master one of the legends of flight, the P-51 Mustang, in just a couple of days! That’s right -- he has never piloted any kind of plane…ever!

The P-51 Mustang was the pride of the American Air Force in World War II, flying countless missions before being decommissioned in the 1980s. Introduced in 1940 after undergoing several modifications, including the Rolls Royce-designed Merlin powered engine and being fitted with 6 Browning machine guns, the P-51 Mustang became one of the most revered warbirds of all time. Surviving the last 70 years, and now flown only by civilians, it is both an air show favorite as well as air race top gun. It has the ability to maneuver quickly through tight courses and has power to push the limits in low-flying sports like air racing. From the nearly 16,000 P-51s built, less then 300 are still in existence with only about 155 still actively flying. Talk about a cool opportunity to fly a legend that few have ever experienced! It makes this task the perfect opportunity for Jesse to test his ability at defeating death and becoming a fighter plane ace.

Besides the obvious dangers associated with flying, in regular flight, ejection is an option in the worst case scenario. Not that ejecting ensures saving lives, but it beats the alternative. The problem: at low-level altitude you cannot eject. For that matter, even small mistakes mean huge consequences. The real challenge: the P-51 must fly the course at only 50 feet of altitude. And at 325-plus mph, the plane will travel nearly 2 football fields every second. That means an error lasting even one tenth of second would put his plane within a few feet of the ground before anyone even realized what happened. Another issue is learning how to control an airplane while the horizon is constantly changing. Most of us drive by looking at what is in front of us. When trying to get somewhere, we use a navigation system, our memory, and look for street signs and landmarks to get to our destination. In the air traveling at half the speed of sound, you cannot look around hoping to get your bearings straight. Instead you have to control the plane using your instruments. That means, if you cannot fly by instrument rather then sight, you cannot fly a plane. For Jesse, this may be his biggest challenge. The super cool, relaxed, and confident Jesse uses his instinct, sight, and feel to navigate his vehicles. Since this is Jesse’s first time trying to pilot a plane on an unfamiliar course, memory is not even a consideration. Teaching Jesse to trust his instruments and keep his eyes on the dials rather then ground will be his toughest test yet.


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