It’s billed as the fastest motor sport on the planet. Pilots in race planes streak across the desert sky in perilous packs at speeds exceeding 400 miles per hour.
Sawbones, one of those race planes, is based at Anoka County-Blaine Airport and will be on display and — weather permitting — in the air as part of Discover Aviation Days on Saturday and Sunday.
Volunteers, including pilots, businesses and residents, formed the nonprofit Discover Aviation Days more than two decades ago and host the event annually.
“People can come out and learn about all aspects of aviation,” said Craig Schiller, the nonprofit’s president. “Anything unique to aviation, we try to have on display.”
Other attractions during the two-day celebration include experimental, home built, civil, military and vintage aircraft on display and in flight. Attendees can purchase helicopter and airplane rides and tour the Golden Wings Museum’s historic collection, which includes planes flown by Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. There will be exhibits, food booths and children’s activities. Organizers are also hosting a World War II-era hangar dance with Dave Andrew’s Big Band on Saturday night.
Sawbones, the only race plane in the unlimited category based in Minnesota, is a crowd pleaser.
North Oaks pilot Robin Crandall purchased the plane about five years ago. Crandall, an orthopedist, named it Sawbones after his livelihood as a doctor. He’s been a licensed pilot for three decades, but it took him three years to learn to fly Sawbones, a 1949 Hawker Sea Fury FB11.
“It has a lot of complex systems like a jet has,” Crandall explained. “It was a labor of love. I was about ready to give up. It was just kind of one of those passions in life you persevere and you can be rewarded.”
Sawbones has competed at the National Championship Air Races in Reno four out of the last five years. The crew is now preparing for the 2013 races in September. Astronaut Curt Brown piloted Sawbones in the 2012 races, taking home first place in the unlimited silver heat and fourth place in the unlimited gold heat.
“At Reno, we had it going 424 miles,” Crandall explained.
“NASCAR can’t hold a candle to the Reno Air Races,” said Schiller, who is part of the Sawbones pit crew.
Crandall and the rest of the pit crew watch the races standing atop their semi tractor-trailer.
“You are really excited. You want the airplane to do well,” he said.
Asked about the risks, Crandall said, “That’s just part of it. It’s worth it.”
Crandall does not pilot the plane during races, but said he flies the plane a couple of times of month. It burns 100 gallons of fuel per hour, so it’s no cheap thrill. Crandall describes it as a “heavy, fire-breathing” machine.
“It’s sometimes difficult to get the airplane to go so slow,” Crandall said. “A really easy cruise speed is 300 miles per hour. That’s pretty fast for just loafing around.”
To learn more about Discover Aviation Days at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport, go to www.discoveraviationdays.org/.
Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804