Douglas A/B-26 Invader

#76 Fast and furious - John Lear

HOME | SUB INDEX | Preface | Features | Site Navigation | Reg'n cross ref. | S/No's & Prod'n codes | MILITARY VARIANTS - History, Data & Photos | CIVIL VARIANTS - History, Data & Photos | About the author/Contact | Info Req'd | LATEST


John was very good to send me some unique shots of when he flew N3328G at Reno in '68. I have put together this feature with a view to adding further data when john can spare the time to forward more info on his time with the aircraft, meanwhile I would like to thank John for sending in the documentation he has and I hope all you guys out there enjoy this feature.

John wrote the piece below, around nine years ago and thought it represented the environment that existed when he flew at Reno in '68.
He suggested I use the piece as a datum to reflect the actions and risks that pilots took in order to break the barriers that awaited men and machines back in the early days of air racing.



I couldn’t go to the races this year.  I was on standby in LAX  .But I remember the Reno air races in 1965. I remember them because I went out to Van Nuys airport on Saturday to hang out with the guys and everybody was gone.  I asked where everybody was and I was told, Reno Air Races .The first Reno Air Race was held in 1964 at a dirt strip north of Reno owned by Bill Stead. 

Greenamyer won in the Bearcat but because he refused to land the highly modified Bearcat back at this little dirt strip he was disqualified. 

The next year the race was moved to the former Stead Air Force Base to the northwest of Reno I was interested in racing a P-51 but I didn’t have one.

I moved from instructing in Cessna 150's at Hawthorne Airport to selling pots and pans door to door, then to flight instructing at Norm Larson’s Beechcraft in Van Nuys to flying a Learjet for the Flying Tiger Line in Burbank.

Though many other household bills needed paying I managed to borrow $3000 from Beneficial Finance to buy a little biplane which I intended to race in the sport biplane class.  I flew it into Santa Monica airport and took it apart to take it up to the house to do the necessary modifications.

But before I took it apart, me and some friends, after a few beers decided to just put the tail wheel in the trunk of my car and tow it up to Marquez Knolls.  We pulled out of the airport and turned left on Bundy Drive .  After about a 1/4 mile a sobering thought came to me. Some cop may stop us for towing an airplane through the city streets without a permit and smell beer on my breath.  We turned around and went back to the airport.

Later, I took the airplane apart and took it up in pieces to our garage.  I took the engine out and found somebody to soup it up. I tried to get some other friends to help me put it back together but after sitting all day Saturday and Sunday with a tub of chilled beer it was apparent to me that they were not interested in spending their weekend helping me for free beer.

So I started putting it back together myself.  The fuel tank, by regulation had to hold 16 gallons.  Mine only held 12.  So I had to highly modify the fuel tank to meet the requirements.  I also knew nothing about sheet metal work or nuts and bolts or anything else for that matter, heck, I’d only been on this planet for less than 24 years.  But through perseverance and blind dumb luck managed to get it together.

I borrowed some money from Dad to pay for the souped up engine and got that installed

The FAA has to inspect it before you put it all back together so I made an appointment for them to come up to the house.  After they missed several appointments I realized that they were not interested in driving from Burbank , where their maintenance office was to my house.

I put the plane and all the parts on a trailer and towed it down to the inspectors office and he came out in the street and signed off the paperwork.

I then towed it to Van Nuys and started putting it together.  I painted it yellow and named it "Flower Power". I did a few test flights  which showed that I did not properly baffle the new engine so that, as a consequence, it constantly overheated.  I modified the baffling so that it just barely cooled the engine enough.  But I was no mechanic and certainly had no sheet metal experience. I just wanted to race.

September rolled around and I flew the biplane to Reno and parked it.  Then I went back to Los Angeles to get my support equipment  which included tables and chairs, a rug and the little red piano. Marcelle and I and Chuck McClelland towed all that up to Reno where we set up our little area in the pits. Marcelle was in Amax pissed off  mode most of the time because there were other girls in the pits.

I went to the race pilots briefing. As usual and as subsequently in life, I managed to miss some of the more important points of the briefing. But I miss them at any briefing. I have always had dyslexia of the brain but have managed to cope. I have always found it impossible to listen, think and remember all at the same time.  To protect myself I grab every piece of paper and read up and usually I’ll get the drift of what I am supposed to do.

But that didn’t happen on my very first air race.  I taxied out to the line up. The race is conducted from a standing start.  There were 8 biplanes.  The fastest qualifier starts at the far left and the slowest at the far right. I was at the far right. The starter started waving his flag and we all revved up our engines.  Around and around the flag went.  Finally he dropped it in our direction and we were off. 

Being the slowest qualifier also meant I had quicker acceleration because of the pitch of the prop and in about 5 seconds I looked out to my left and was a good 50 feet in front of everybody.  So what did I do?  I aimed for the closest pylon.  What the hell did I know?  I roared into the first pylon, rounded it and headed for the next.  Planes were all over the sky, around me, on top of me, beside me but most thankful of all, in front of me.  I am glad someone was in front of me because the pylons are painted bright international orange, a color that is invisible to my eyeballs.  So you ask what do I see when I look at international orange.  I see nothing.  Its invisible.  I actually look for the white part of the checkerboard.  Anyway, pretty soon everybody had passed me and the leaders started to lap me.  But what the hell.  I was air racing.  I had placed fourth and it was a thrill.  But it was too soon over and I came putt putt putting back in to land.

We all go to the debriefing and there is deathly silence.  Something has happened.  But what?  Finally the debriefer says in a hushed, serious voice. AOK, we all know what happened today.  We can only hope that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. I look around. What happened?  What happened?  I don’t say it out loud because I noticed that everybody is looking at me.  Nobody ever confronted me directly but later, through innuendo I discovered that I had committed the greatest of all sins. On the start I had cut in front of everybody heading for the first pylon when the briefer specifically said, Everybody stays line abreast until AFTER the first pylon. Oh.

But I had far more serious things to worry about.  Marcelle was pissed because there were more girls in the pits.

A few months later I met an airplane designer who wanted to build a biplane specifically for racing.  If I would supply the engine he would supply the airframe.  He designed it so that the top wing was a gull,  which means that instead of the wing going across the cockpit it was canted down at about a 45 degree angle to each side of the cockpit.  This made it easier to see the pylon you were rolling into.  In a normal biplane, as you roll into the turn the top wing blocks your view of the pylon.

Rim Kaminskas was his name and he laboured all winter and spring until the airframe was finally finished.  We towed the airplane down to Chino airport and installed the engine from my other biplane.  I made the first flight and everything seemed normal.

There was one small catch.  There is a regulation in the Sport Biplane class rules that for an airplane to be eligible to race it must have accumulated 500 hours.  It was now May and the races were in September.  That meant that I would have to fly our gull wing over 100 hours a month to qualify.  I had neither the money or the time to do that so there was nothing left to do but phoney up the log books.  Unfortunately there were plenty of witnesses to testify that I never flew that 500 hours and consequently, among other reasons, was never allowed to race the gull wing.

But before I was disqualified I actually got the airplane to Reno and was allowed to qualify. 

Meanwhile for another business of mine I had acquired a Douglas B-26 medium bomber and I thought that it might be fun to race this at Reno .  So the plan was to race both the B-26 in the Unlimited class and the gull wing in the Sport Biplane class.  I don’t remember with all the confusion and logistics of trying to get both airplanes up to Reno, whether the red piano made it or not. I don’t think it did. 

I flew the B-26 up first and then went back for the gull wing which had a total of about 5 hours on it.  The gull wing was inspected and I set out to qualify. It was a clear but cold and windy day. I revved up the engine and went tearing down the runway. The air was turbulent. I rolled into the first pylon and aimed for the second.  Rolled out of the second and aimed for the third. As I rolled into the third pylon I hit a gust of wind and felt a tremendous staccato-like shuddering and the airplane headed for the ground. I thought that the prop was hitting the cowling.  Just before I hit the ground the shuddering stopped and I climbed up and went into land.  I taxied over to the pits, cut the engine and told Rim what had happened.  We looked at the cowling and there was no evidence that the prop was hitting the cowling.

So I gassed up and went out again.  Same thing. In the third turn, just as I rolled into the pylon another gust and this staccato shuddering started.  I looked down and to my left and to my surprise there appeared to be no wing.  Then I saw that the wing was vibrating up and down about 18 inches in what is know as flutter.  Very few pilots have survived flutter simply because in a matter of seconds the wing vibrates off the airplane.  But for some reason the flutter stopped and I went back into land.

After much discussion and input from other pilots it became apparent that Rim and I had violated one of aviations most sacred laws.  And Though shalt balance thy ailerons beforest thou shalt fly. I should have caught this because that’s how we lost No.2 Learjet airframe.  Dad and Ron Pucket took out number 2 one day after some elevator work and didn’t rebalance the elevators. They got into serious flutter (is there any other kind?) over Oklahoma and barely got it back to Wichita .  Because of the severe structural damage No. 2 never flew again and now hangs in the Smithsonian.

What balancing means, is to have the greater weight of the flight control forward of the hinge point.  This was the last day to qualify and we had no time to lose.  We towed the airplane up to the old hangar at the east end of Stead.  There was a little tab attached to the aileron which extended forward of the hinge and I figured if we could get enough weight on the tab that our problem would be solved.  I sent one of the guys into Reno to find a tire place that would have a few of the lead balances they use for automobile wheels.  I meanwhile traced out the shape of the tab and found some 1/4 inch steel and using a band saw cut the shape of the tab out of the 1/4 inch steel.  When the guy came back with the wheel weights we found an acetylene torch and began filling up the hole in the steel with melted lead.  When the lead cooled it was the exact shape of the aileron tab.  We popped the lead out of the steel form, drilled a hole in the lead and then a hole in the tab and took a bolt and affixed the lead to the tab.  We did it for the other aileron too.

It was now evening, about 1 hour before sunset.  Last day to qualify,  I’m nervous,  this should work,  but if it doesn’t...  I did the only sensible thing.  I chugaluged 2 beers. 

20 minutes later I felt just fine. I strapped on my parachute and climbed into the gull wing.  It was freezing and windy but the timers with their stop watches, where still at the table on the start finish line waiting for any last minutes qualifiers.

Now when you qualify, you can make as many laps as you want but on the lap you want them to time, you waggle your wings furiously so that they will know this is the lap that you want timed.  Off I went into the freezing sunset.  The gull wing flew beautifully but it was still gusty and I had my hands full of airplane.  I made 2 or three laps but since I wanted them to take the fastest lap I reasoned that it was so gusty that any lap would have looked like I waggled my wings.  To no avail.  No time was taken and, among other reasons, I was disqualified. But I had other things to worry about.  After qualifying the B-26 earlier that day the right engine had started to run rough and after I landed we determined that the magneto was bad and I needed another.  The only other magneto for a Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engine was in San Francisco and I arranged to have it hand carried to Stead.

After I parked the gull wing I went into the hangar where the B-26 was parked and found that the magneto had arrived.  We worked for the next 8 hours to take the old magneto out, install the new one, and then time the engine, a feat that was only possible with the help of an ace mechanic whose name I have forgotten.

I got to River House around 3am and got up at 7 to be out for the pilot briefings. It was then that I learned that I was given no qualifying times for the gull wing and had been disqualified.  I concentrated on getting the B-26 ready.

2 pm rolled around and it was time for the Silver Race.  I think there were 8 of us. I put on my parachute and climbed in the cockpit as all the other guys were starting their P-51's, Corsairs and Bearcats.

One minor problem, The left engine wouldn’t start.  Boost pump on, mixture off, mags on, a little prime.  The prop turned and turned and turned but wouldn’t start.  I figured that the starter was now about ready to explode with heat.  Everybody else was in the air.  This was going to be very disappointing.  Finally the R-2800 fired and started.  I quickly taxied out and with little or no run up charged on down the runway.

Unfortunately for me I had 3 handicaps going.  The first one was that I was exactly one half laps behind Bob Hoover and the other race planes.  Second, the radio in the B-26 might have well been a tin can with a string for all I could hear with 2 giant R-2800's turning at full power and three, I hadn’t listened carefully at the briefing.  All I heard at the briefing was “DON’T CUT ACROSS THE RACE COURSE UNLESS YOU HAVE AN EMERGENCY”. But that rule only went into effect AFTER the race had started, not before.  I could have cut across and caught up with the field and this is exactly what Hoover was telling me to do but I couldn’t hear anything on the radio.  Bob tried to slow everybody in order for me to catch up but finally he had to start the race and I ended up about 6 or 8 airplane lengths behind the pack.

But it was fun.  I had both throttles as far forward as they could go. I had the pitch backed off 50 RPM (on the advice of Col. Ted Sturmthal who was a B-70 pilot, my friend and someone who knew about these things).  I had the cowl flaps full closed.

I was racing the largest airplane ever raced at Reno , a twin engine World War 2 medium bomber. I was flying with my left hand and my right hand was on the elevator trim wheel to help me equal out the trim forces between level flight and tight turns.  I concentrated on maintaining an exact altitude of 75 feet. This was for 2 reasons.  First, any lower and my wing tip would hit the ground in the turns and second, any changes in altitude, however minor, cause you to lose speed. When there was no airplane directly in front of me I had great difficulty making out the pylons.  They were just plain invisible.  I had to come up with other landmarks to guide me until I could pick out the structure of the pylon. I figured my greatest accomplishment in that race was not the fact that I raced such a large airplane but that I didn’t cut a pylon.  On the fourth lap I actually passed a P-51.  It was Tom Kuchinsky.  I was told later that (you have to understand the contempt with which fighter pilots hold bomber pilots) when I passed Tom that 3 fighter pilots committed suicide over the back of the grandstand. The race too soon came to an end and I dropped into trail formation, landed and taxied into the pits.  It was anticlimactic. Someone asked my what is was like to race that large an airplane and I told him it was great fun.

That was 1968 and I never raced again for various reasons.  No time, no money, no airplane were a few that I can think off.

In 1969 Dad had taken over the hangar at the west end and we watched that year.  1970 was Marilees first air race.  I remember I made her wear her pink jumpsuit in the freezing cold. We were all full of Vodka tonics at the end of the day so Marilee drove us home in one of Dads cars, driving like a maniac over the dirt road to the west of the main exit road thereby punching a hole in the gas tank.  1971 I think I was in DC-8 school.  1972 I was in Cambodia . 1973 I went. 1974 I went, 75 and 76 I was in Lebanon flying 707's for Trans Mediterranean Airways, 1977 I was in Egypt flying 707's for Aero America . 1978, 79 and 80 I made one or 2 of those.  1981 and 1982 I was in Egypt flying for Egypt Air.

I don’t remember after that until like maybe 93 or 94 Darryl Greenamyer and I were walking around the pits. 7 time National Air Race Champ Darryl commented They don’t remember us do they.


I couldn’t make it this year, but I know I would have loved talking to all my friends at Mom’s party and gorging myself with giant shrimp. Telling and retelling all the same stories over and over again. Sneaking up to the penthouse for a refill of XO.

I would have driven out to Stead with Moya, Jill and Alexandra walked into Mom’s office, gotten our badges, had a snack and out to the pits in the clean, clear air to watch the hustle and bustle.  To see a few friends who come up and shake my hand and ask me what’s going on and if I’d seen so and so lately and so on. After the friend leaves someone always asks who was that. Beats me. I can’t remember faces much less names. I’ve only been on this planet 56 years and on the planet I came from I don’t think we had to worry about that problem.

The upside of this years air races was that at the exact time of the unlimited races I was sitting in the patio of the Hacienda Hotel at LA International.  There was a cool breeze and I could imagine exactly what was going on at Reno .  The throaty roar of the unlimiteds whizzing by, the press of the crowd at the ropes, the afternoon sun and, best of all, I was already home.

For more of John Lear see


From Johns personal collection











Link to another shot of the above aircraft

Link to another shot of the above aircraft


Above is N3328G ( C-FPGP) now owned by Randal W McFarlane, and seen arriving at Archerfield Airport, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia after her ferry flight in 2006.



Above is Darcy Hankins [engineer], Randall, Doug Gerrard [pilot] after the ferry flight.

Serial #: 44-35898
Construction #:
Civil Registration:
Model: A-26C
Name: None
Status: Airworthy
Last info: 2007


Lear Inc., Santa Monica, CA, 1961-1964.
- Registered as N3328G.
Lear Siegler Inc, Santa Monica, CA, 1966.
Aerospace Modifications, Coatsville, PA, 1969.
- Flew as race #76.
Air Spray Ltd, Edmonton, Alberta, July 1971-1976.
- Registered as CF-PGP.
- Flown as tanker #2.
Air Spray Ltd, Red Deer, Alberta, 1976-2003.
- Registered as C-FPGP.
- Flown as tanker #2.
Randal W McFarlane, Archerfield Airport, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 2006-2007.
- Ferried to Australia, Oct. 2006.