By Karen Morss
Mustang, last year that he decided to do it again. But like most air racing efforts,
nothing comes easy. The last week in June, my husband and race pilot, Dave Morss,
flew down to Hollister, CA, to do a test flight with a new alternator. Everything seemed
A-ok when he taxied back to the hangar after delighting the locals with a few low
obvious problem. The new Allison engine installed for last year’s race, was making
metal. The engine had twelve hours total time so we were stumped. To make matters
worse, the local shop that did the engine overhaul was overflowing with Reno projects
so no help to be had there. An engine shop in Washington agreed to take the project
so Dick and Jerry pulled the engine, put it on the back of a borrowed pick up truck
and off Jerry drove to Arlington, Washington.
The disassembled engine revealed a failure of one main crankshaft bearing which
also severely gouged the crankshaft journal. It became apparent that the crankshaft
also needed to be replaced. No easy task on these Allison engines. The engine shop
located a new crankshaft and soon it was on its way to Seattle. Somewhere along the
way, its shipping crate was pierced by a fork lift. This caused a delay of several
weeks, as it had to be X-rayed for possible damage, insurance claims dealt with, and
finally re-crating and shipping back to Washington. It got “lost” for a few days along
In late August, Jerry drove back to Washington and picked up the engine. New rings,
NOS main thrust nose bearing, all main crank bearings and another crankshaft were
installed along with all new seals and gaskets. They ran the engine for four hours.
With just two weeks to spare, the engine was on its way, back to Hollister. Many, many
late nights later with the entire oil cooling system removed for cleaning and the engine
re-installed, Polar Bear was ready for flight test by Dave. The power wouldn’t come up
smoothly through the mid-range rpm. The carburetor was removed and Dave flew it to
Tehachapi for flow testing and tweaking, and picked it up the next day. Re-installed,
everything checked out and it was time to go racing.
Dave qualified Polar Bear at 334.995 mph, 23rd in a field of 27. The good news was
that the new oil cooler worked but the engine wasn’t making as much power as last
year. Dave went to our trusty engine theorist, Dan Whitney, and discussed the
problem. Dan thought and was correct that the intake air to the carburetor was not
sealed sufficiently. Our McGyver-like crew chief fabricated a fix using a Folgers coffee
can, some clamps, safety wire and aluminum tape. It worked.
Dave finished 3rd in the Medallion race on Thursday with a speed of 341.995 and 4th
in Saturday’s race at 345.424. Lo and behold when we got the pairings for Sunday’s
finale, the Bronze race, Polar Bear had the pole. The planes ahead of us moved up to
Silver because other planes broke or their speeds were faster. But that meant we
would go head to head with the fabulous Race 57, Super Corsair, a veteran of the
Cleveland Air races. Bob Odegaard flew the F2G Corsair starting from the last
position. Dave had the lead but each lap Bob moved up a spot until he finally caught
Dave right in front of the grandstands on lap 5. Then just moments later on the
backcourse, he pulled off and called a mayday. You hate to win because somebody
else breaks but that is part of air racing. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Bob
touched down and made a beautiful landing. But no one cheered more than the crew
of Race 25, as Dave flew Polar Bear on that final lap to take the checkered flag for
our first Unlimited win at Reno. Can’t wait till next year.
History of P51-A N51Z
Polar Bear, #43-6006, was built by North American at Inglewood, CA for the United States
Army Air Corps. The aircraft was accepted by the AAC at Mines Field (now LAX) on April
3rd, 1943. On that same day, the aircraft left Los Angeles for Ladd Army Airfield in Alaska
with stops at Long Beach, Hill Field, Gore Field and Edmonton, Canada, arriving at Ladd on
May 1, 1943.
February 18, 1944 with only 43 hours total time, the aircraft crashed near Summit, Alaska in
heavy snow on a VFR flight plan. The pilot, Second Lt. Edward W. Getter was killed. The
aircraft remained on that mountain, exposed to the weather and occasional visits by local
hunters, who scribed their names on the engine valve covers.
In the fall of 1977, more than thirty years after the crash, a very determined Waldon “Moon”
Spillers, with the help of two friends, removed the wreckage from the side of the mountain,
too steep for helicopters. The aircraft remains were shipped to Ohio, where Waldon rebuilt
the aircraft. Working on it almost everyday, Polar Bear flew again on July 3, 1985.
In the spring of 1995, with just over 100 hours flying time since rebuild, the aircraft was sold
to its current owner, Jerry Gabe, who lives in Hollister, CA. A twelve-cylinder Allison V1710
engine and Curtis Electric three-blade propeller power the aircraft.
|Polar Bear Pilot - Dave Morss
|Polar Bear's Allison engine
|Special Thanks to
Naomi West and Dan Whitney
for their spectacular photos.