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1 Year After Tragedy, Minn. Team Prepares For Reno Air Race

BLAINE, Minn. (WCCO) -- In a large airplane hangar at the Anoka County Airport a team is putting final touches on a high speed competitor. The 1949 Hawker Sea Fury will once again compete in the unlimited class of aircraft at the 2012 Reno air races, Sept. 12 through Sept. 16.

"We just flew it yesterday and the day before, it's flying good and it's ready to go," said the airplane's owner, Robin Crandall.

With excited anticipation, Crandall and his Sawbones team have the plane polished and prepped. Their bags are packed for another try at Reno -- an American air racing tradition.

"Hopefully, this year everyone is going to be safe and it will be a good race," said Crandall. "We plan to be in the gold top level race. The plane's been running good."

The 2011 races came to a horrific and sudden stop when a competing P-51 Mustang airplane crashed into the crowd. The veteran pilot was killed as were 10 spectators seated in the VIP section. Another 60 spectators were injured. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation recently blamed modifications made to the plane, in an attempt to make it fly faster, eventually led to the crash.

The report concluded that "deteriorated locknut inserts allowed trim-tab attachment screws to become loose." The condition resulted in reduced stiffness in the elevator trim system, ultimately led to aerodynamic flutter at racing speeds (512 mph) that broke the trim tab linkages, resulting in a loss of controllability and the eventual crash.

As a result of their findings, the course is being moved 150 feet further away from the spectator section. All competing aircraft will undergo closer inspection and scrutiny, requiring them to show up much earlier in Reno. Finally, race pilots will be put through awareness training to help them recognize and cope with the effects of increased G-force.

"This will be the 49th year of Reno Air Races and our safety record has been perfect until last year," said veteran space shuttle astronaut, Curt Brown.

The accomplished Brown will pilot Sawbones for Crandall and his team. He's raced at Reno many times in the past in different categories of aircraft.

Brown says the 3,000 horse powered Hawker Sea Fury will be in the running for the hardware in the unlimited class -- just as it was in September 2011 when misfortune brought the unexpected.

"Sunday, we'll be there and hopefully we'll be in the Gold and bring home a nice trophy," Brown said, smiling.

To follow Sawbones during the 2012 Reno races, click here.

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