Moments and Milestones: Tiger Beat

Moments and Milestones: Tiger Beat

At the Experimental Aircraft Association's fly-in at Oshkosh in July 1999, I set a new record in Time to Climb to 3,000 Meters (10,000 feet) in the Exxon Flyin' Tiger, a low-wing monoplane I built solely for setting records.  I started planning my next attempt to coincide with the annual fly-in I host at Flyin' Tiger Airport in Angleton, Texas.  I chose the first weekend in November, the month that traditionally provides the best weather.  Festivities at the 2000 fly-in, to be held on Saturday the 4th, would include a crawfish boil, helicopter rides, skydivers, flour bomb drops, radio-controlled model airplanes--and a shot at the Time to Climb to 6,000 Meters (20,000 feet) record, which for piston engine aircraft in class C1.B (those weighing between 1,102 and 2,204 pounds) stood at 7 minutes, 14 seconds.

Things started coming unglued when I called to verify the arrival time of the helicopters I'd reserved for rides.  The operator had sold the business, and all 16 helicopters were gone.  Then, due to unseasonably warm weather, there were no crawfish to be had.  I made a quick menu change to catfish.  The day before the fly-in, we go three and a half inches of rain.  I cancelled the catfish and changed the fly-in to a hangar party.

On Saturday morning about a hundred people showed up.  I filed a flight plan and waited for the clouds to break.  At 3 p.m., we got another inch of rain.  After six hours of waiting, I called off the record attempt that day.  But my guests stayed in high spirits, and the hangar party continued well into the night.

On Sunday it looked like I might get a break.  My main concern was getting off--and back on--the waterlogged runway without ending up on my back.  As I ran up the engine, National Aeronautic Association observer Larry Steenstry stood by the runway.  I slid onto the grass strip, held the brakes and applied power.  At 9:05 a.m., before a throng of 10, I was off.

Once in the air, I checked with Houston Center, which replied, "Experimental 389 Bravo Bravo, radar contact two miles south of Flyin' Tiger Airport, leaving 7,000 feet.  Climb and maintain flight level 200.  Good luck!"  I was cleared straight to 20,000 feet.

I made a mental note of the time as I passed 15,000 feet: 4 minutes, 50 seconds.  Seeing that it took 27 seconds to reach 16,000 feet, I allowed myself a grin.  At this point, maintaining a rate of climb better than 2,000 feet per minute meant the record was about to fall.

When I reached 20,000 feet, I called Houston Center, which vectored me back to the airport.  I thanked everyone for their help and prepared for the scary part: landing in marsh that a couple of days ago was a runway.  I touched down on the highest point of the crown of the runway and eventually slid to a stop.

Steenstry met me at the airplane to tell me my time was 6 minutes, 37 seconds, which meant I beat the previous record by 37 seconds.  Pending NAA verification, the Exxon Flyin' Tiger holds all Time to Climb records in its class: 10,000, 20,000, and 30,000 feet.

--Bruce Bohannon



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