Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Guest Post: By Don Berliner, The Society of Air Racing Historians

Pylon racing with Formula One airplanes has been a staple of the European aviation calendar for more than 35 years, though it is little known on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean. In 2008, there will be one F/1 air race in the USA and five in France.

The “midgets” first appeared in the Old World in 1970, racing on the Isle of Man, which is in the Irish Sea, just off the Scottish coast. Two British-built Cassutt Racers and three locally-designed Rollason Betas introduced American-style class racing to an audience that had previously seen only handicap racing. Unlike the latter, in which the airplanes start separately and finish close together, the “midgets” started together, raced wingtip-to-wingtip and finished even closer, the margin of victory being just 4/10ths of a second.

This was real racing and the crowd ate it up. Unlike handicap racing, in which everything from VW-powered Turbulents to Tiger Moths, 172s and Beech Barons motor around pylon courses as long as 15 or 20 miles, the little 100 hp machines tore around in full view of the amazed crowd.

That first year saw five races and rising speeds. Soon, other types joined the fray: a Shoestring, then a pair of Cosmic Winds and finally taper-winged Cassutts. While speeds still have not equaled those achieved in the USA, it is not unusual to see races in which the leader finishes no more than one airplane-length ahead of the runner-up.

In 1976, the sport added France to its list of venues, with a Grand Prix at the le Castelet road racing circuit near the Mediterranean. The sole American, Kentucky State Senator Bill Sullivan, shipped his modified #51 Cassutt “Anaconda” to France and won over his French and British rivals.

Other Continental races followed, most of them in France, but also in Belgium and Denmark, as the class spread its wings. By 2007, more than 100 races for Formula One had been conducted in Europe, with not a single fatality.

The outlook for 2008 includes these races in France, which typically will involve 8-10 airplanes, including Cassutts, Max Plan 205 Busards, a Shoestring and maybe even someone from England or even the USA:

June 13-15 – Castres, in south-central France, 70 miles east of Toulouse

June 27-29 -- St. Flour, in the central part of the country, 30 miles south of Clermont-Ferrand

July 25-27 – a few miles south-east of Rouen, which is in the northwestern part, 50 miles southeast of the English Channel

August 15-17—St. Flour (see above)

September 26-28 – Albert Airfeld, near Cambrai, which is in north-central France, 50 miles northeast of Amiens.

All these races will be organized by the Association des Pilotes d’Avions de Formule (APAF), headed up by racepilot Pierre Yout, who can be contacted at pierre.yout@orange.fr

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