Interview date: September 13, 2008
Fred Cabanas is not a stranger to the Reno National Championship Air Races. Fred started racing in Reno in 2005 in a Hawker Sea Fury named Cotton Mouth, which was later renamed Conch Fury. He was named the 2005 Rookie of the Year, skipped racing in 2006, and returned in 2007 as the pilot of the P-51 Luscious Lisa. This year he raced American Beauty and finished 6th in the Unlimited Silver Class at 357.85 mph. Fred started the races in the Bronze Unlimited and was bumped up to the Silver Class on Saturday.
American Beauty is racing for a cure. All the prize money and proceeds from merchandise sales will be donated to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Being bumped up a class was good news for the team. Fred said that moving to the bottom of the next class meant an extra three to four thousand dollars in prize money that could go to the foundation. During the interview, Fred predicted, "we will not be the fastest plane on the course, but the most beautiful".
During the air races, the team put a lot of children in the cockpit of the P-51 Mustang. The team enjoys teaching children that there is no limit to what a person can do. Fred mentioned that there was a young girl that stopped by each day who shared that she plans on joining the Air Force. He tried to get her to switch to the Navy (his daughter is in the Navy) but the young lady could not be convinced to change her mind. The team also enjoys assisting people in wheel chairs. Fred shared that they will do whatever they can to try and get a visitor into the cockpit and let them take a look and learn about the plane.
The team's association with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is not an accident. John O'Conner's son is paralyzed. Fred's mom was paralyzed. "No one understands paralysis until you experience it in your family".
The Henley's are good friends with Fred. He shared during the interview that there is an air show coming up in Florida where all the top air show pilots will donate their time and give the proceeds to the Henley family (story on Airshowbuzz). Alan was paralyzed in an accident at his home earlier this year (story here).
The team is serious about racing for a cure. They are looking for a competitive racer for next year. When asked if it would be a P-51, Fred said that is "up in the air." Fred said the Merlin engine is a cantankerous machine. When they are right, life is good; however, radials are more predictable and reliable. He said that Merlin engines are tough to predict in race conditions, hard to fix and hard to find parts for.
[At this point in the interview, Fred had to leave for a pilots briefing, and John O'Conner took over the interview...after a brief interruption by Tiger Destefani, the eventual winner of the Unlimited Gold Class]
American Beauty was manufactured in 1944 and served 8 years in Texas as a guard plane until it was decommissioned. In the early 1960's it was sent to Miami where the Cavalier Corporation configured the plane as a D model. It was then sent to Bolivia. Upon completion of Bolivian service, the plane went to the Canada Air Guard for 5-6 more years until it was decommissioned again. It was sold at auction and became a regular on the air show circuit as "What's up Doc?" In 1999, the plane was bought by a New York investment banker who wanted the plane completely restored. The plane was sent to Ft. Wayne, Indiana for all the sheet metal work. After restoration, John found out the plane was being sold and sent his mechanic, Sam Tabor, to check out the plane. Sam called John back and told him to buy it. There were 71 hours on the restored plane when John bought it. Since then, it has been to a number of shows, to include Oshkosh. John said he hasn't had any problems with the plane until Reno, where the chromed lines became problematic in race conditions. The lines cracked and created a small engine fire. The team did an amazing job getting the plane repaired.
John emphasized that they are racing for a cure. Seven years ago his son was celebrating his 30th birthday when he had a swimming accident that left him paralyzed. The family went through many procedures and began to search for the best doctors. It was after this search that John and his family realized that the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation had already picked out and funded the best doctors. John said he is proud to be associated with the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation and that he is looking forward to the positive steps the foundation will continue to make. The foundation does a good job at allocating funds in the right areas and John hopes that finding similarities between the various injuries will yield positive steps to a cure.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Interview date: September 13, 2008