to be held at North Weald, I was fascinated and read on. I discovered that Air Racing in the UK was
very much alive and well.
I was highly aware of the role that air racing and in particular the Schneider Trophy Air race had
had a major role in the development of aircraft in particular the Supermarine Spitfire, in fact it was
a direct development of the 1931 Schneider Trophy winning Supermarine S6B. Its engine was also
significant in that it was the forerunner of the Rolls Royce Merlin, probably the most significant
engine of World War Two.
I read on and found there was still time to enrol for the introduction to air racing to find out more.
The course was extremely informative and I was happy to discover that I was eligible to go to the
next race meeting. It was to be held at Leicester which is only a matter of 25 minutes flying time
from my home field at Netherthorpe. I filled in the necessary form and contacted my Insurance
Company to modify my policy to include Handicapped Air Racing and was pleasantly surprised
to find that there was no extra cost. I had an aircraft which was ideally suitable, an RV6 although
any aircraft which is capable of more than 100 mph and can be flown at full throttle for up to an
hour will be fine. As pilot I needed to have more than 100 hours as pilot in command which I have
and that was it. I enquired of the air racing secretary and I was allotted a vacant race number and
allowed to enter the race.
I and a colleague, Glynn arrived at Leicester to find a widely varied collection of pilots of all ages and
backgrounds and for that matter aircraft too. I was immediately accepted and entered into the race
Initially I had to undergo a check flight with one of the check pilots who gave me yet more insight
into the how to effectively race an aircraft. The check flight done to Robert’s satisfaction I had
to provide the handicappers with a flat-out speed for my aircraft, this could be established from
experience or my flying a straight course up-wind and down-wind between two visual points for a
given time and taking an average. In any event I was warned that as the declared speed would be
used to calculate start times and if I was found to have exceeded my declared speed by more than
one percent I would be disqualified. I declared 184mph and off we went to the pre practice briefing.
Here we were given a course overlaid on a standard 1:50000 Ordnance Survey map. Turning points
were indicated and our mission during the practice was to find the turning points and select roll-
out points so that we could turn the corner and roll out as accurately onto out next track without
diverging from the true track. This might be a ground feature such as a prominent building or
perhaps the corner of a wood or lake, anything indeed which could be easily seen during the turn.
Four laps later we were happy that we had imprinted the course on to our brains and we were ready
We fuelled up had a light lunch and we were ready to race. Following a pre-race briefing we were
given a start time which, due to our speed put us quite close to the back of the grid. As this is
handicapped air racing and each aircraft has a different speed all the aircraft start at different times
behind the scratch aircraft (the first away). The aim is that if the handicappers get their calculations
for the start times correct and all the pilots fly a good race then all the aircraft will cross the line at
the same time. This seldom happens but generally all the aircraft in a race, sometimes 25 aircraft get
over the line in around a minute.
As it happened in our case we completely turned inside the first turning point and although we
finished the race we were disqualified for cutting the corner.
The following day the Sunday was a good day and believe it or not this day’s race was the magical
Schneider Trophy. I decided to race despite the fact that my colleague Glynn had to work so I was
alone. New racers are encouraged to fly with a navigator to learn from their experience and to
observe where the other aircraft are especially when approaching a turning point.
One of the officials offered to find me a navigator and he really came up trumps. My new navigator
was to be a female pilot who had already won the Schneider a couple of years earlier. To cut a long
story short we were not eligible to actually win the Schneider due to the cut corner we had cut in
the previous race although we did actually cross the line first, thanks largely to my new navigator, In
fact I learned more during that race from Safaya than I would have on my own during the next two
seasons. She helped me keep the aircraft on track, helped me to get as close to the turning points as
possible, but not too close and not to climb and descend too much along the track.
I took it all in and quickly realised that I had found one of aviations best kept secrets.
There were several races left during that season and I did my best to get to them all, slowly I became
better and learnt the tricks of the trade such as which parts of the aircraft to polish and how to best
align the aircraft with the turning point to get as close as possible without cutting it and how best to
set the aircraft up to become as consistent racer as possible.
I had some success inasmuch as I achieved what formula one guys call podium positions, but most of
all I had found something I could use my hard won PPL for.
As a member of a busy flying club I saw so many students come and spend £5000 to gain their
private pilots licence and then fly their girl or boyfriend to the local airfields for the “£100
hamburger” or even make a more adventurous trip across the channel for lunch in Le Touquet. So
may then came less and less and eventually left aviation for other things.
At last here in Air racing I have found something to use to stretch my abilities and a way to improve
my flying skills. Not only from the point of view of the actual racing but by making me become a
student of meteorology to enable me to judge the best time to fly to a race meeting, I might better
fly on a Friday afternoon to get there before worse weather en route or alternatively leave it till
Saturday morning to get there.
I first found air racing back in 1999 and since then I have raced almost every summer save for one
when I found myself as Chief Handicapper for the season. I was soon back in the saddle as it were
and now flying my newly built RV7 I was blessed with success at the first race of the season winning
both the Saturday and Sunday races. My successful season continued and as well as achieving a
couple of further wins I ended the season having won the magical Schneider Trophy and the British
Air Racing championship.
Since then I have had good seasons and less good but every season has been thoroughly enjoyable
both from the flying side and from the social side. A very experienced air racer once said that “Air
racing at Reno is full blown air racing with a social side attached but here we have a significant social
event with Air racing attached”
We arrive at a meeting mostly on Friday and have a meal together on Friday evening and then
on Saturday evening have a more formal get together sometimes Black Tie. We race on Saturday
following the practice and again on Sunday and following the presentation of trophies and
sometimes prizes we make our way home.
As I said earlier what we have is aviations best kept secret and unless you come and sample the
delights of Handicapped Air racing you will never know what you are missing.
John Kelsall Vans RV7 Race 15