Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Super Snoopy!

From the vaults of the Mojave Transportation Museum...

DC-7BF Super Snoopy on the ramp at the 1970 California 1000 race in Mojave.
Cathy Hansen photo via the Mojave Transportation Museum
"Curses, Red Baron," said Snoopy...

While it's unclear whether the famed Beagle's appearance at the 1970 California 1000 Unlimited Air Race at Mojave was officially sanctioned by Charles Schultz, it was one certainly worth Snoopy's reputation. Unlike the much shorter Unlimited-class races held at the Reno National Air Races, Mojave's California 1000 was just that: 1,000 miles of closed-course, low-altitude flying around a set of pylons in the Mojave desert, the longest such race ever held. It caused the teams to have to rethink their strategies, as the race length would far exceed the typical Unlimited's fuel range. Thus, pit stops would be part of the mix.

Famed pilot Clay Lacy was no stranger to Unlimited racing, his bright purple P-51 Mustang was a regular at Reno. But for the California 1000, held on November 15, 1970, he came up with a different strategy: find a plane with long legs. He came up with the idea of using an ex-American Airlines DC-7BF freighter, N759Z, which was owned by California Airmotive's Allen Paulson. In raw speed, it was no match for the highly-tuned Mustangs, Sea Furies and Bear Cats that normally raced, but what it lacked in flat-out, it made up for in stamina, able to fly the entire race non-stop, with no visits to the pits.

The plane wore Lacy's traditional race number 64, and was flown by him along with Paulson (they shared the title of "co-captain", along with Snoopy himself) and FE Joe Matos. The race was started differently than the ones at Reno, with all the aircraft lined up on the runway at the same time, with position based on qualifying times...except the DC-7, which had to start last because of its size. But Snoopy came through, and finished a respectable sixth out of twenty, in a race won by a Sea Fury that averaged 344 mph. Clay said at the time, "We used METO power (Maximum Except Take-Off) and flew at an indicated airspeed of 355 mph. Speed averaged about 325 mph because of time lost on the pylons. The G load was limited to 2.2 and we used an average 60-70 degree bank. The aircraft consumed 4,100 gallons of 145 octane fuel and 80 gallons of 70 SAE Pennzoil!"

The presence of Super Snoopy certainly got the racing community's attention, and when Paulson decided to race a Lockheed Super Constellation (named the Red Baron) against Snoopy in a 1000-mile Unlimited race in San Diego, the rest of the racing community cried foul and refused to participate. In the end, the two four-engine propliners sat out the event, never to race again. The DC-7 was eventually scrapped in Beruit, Lebanon, in 1985.

Want to see the Red Baron? Check out this web site, which tells much the same story.

A wonderful old film of the race can be seen here.

1 comment:

  1. John J. McKennaMay 5, 2012 at 9:04 PM

    I saw the Super Snoopy at Mojave in 1970. Lacy said that they didn't have to pit stop (if I remember correctly, they did one out of courtesy to the shorter-legged racers). Said while the other racers made their fuel stops, Super Snoopy crew would eat sandwiches and drink cokes as they did their circuits...

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