A Brief History of the Unlimited Class Racer Rare Bear


The Bearcat that became Rare Bear was a severely damaged wreck when discovered by Lyle Shelton in 1969. It had been abandoned next to a runway in Valparaiso, Indiana after it crashed there from a throttle-on torque roll in 1962. The airplane had been stripped by parts hunters, so Shelton found a fuselage, wing centre section, landing gear and a right-wing panel, but little else.

Shelton bought the wreck and restoration began. One of the major modifications made during the rebuild involved installing a more powerful Wright R-3350 from a Douglas Skyraider.

Just a week after its first flight, the Bearcat appeared in its first National Championship Reno Air Race, sporting the name "Able Cat", where it finished a respectable 5th in the Unlimited Class. During the 1976 air race in Mojave California, Shelton experienced an engine failure and had to perform a belly landing.

The aircraft was not raced again until 1980, when it was renamed "Rare Bear". From 1980 until present day, Rare Bear has scored eleven more victories in the Unlimited Class. A three-blade propeller, consisting of blades from a Lockheed P-3 Orion propeller, in a Lockheed Constellation hub, was fitted to the aircraft in 1988.

Rare Bear has set many performance records for piston-driven aircraft, including the 3 km World Speed Record of 528.33 mph (850.26 km/h) set August 21, 1989, which still stands in this class, and a new time-to-climb record (3,000 meters in 91.9 seconds set in 1972 (9842.4 ft - 6,426 fpm), breaking a 1946 record set in a stock Bearcat.

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