Bittersweet victory: breaking Dad’s speed record

Speed record track
The winning flight, from GAI to ENW, in a D55 Baron.

When Air Facts resurrected the speed records that it started in 1968, it brought back a flood of memories of my Dad’s participation in the program. Growing up in the 1970s, those official-looking certificates hung on a wall in our basement surrounding a wooden propeller clock with “Rowland H.S. Bedell MD” typed on the official-looking certificate with yellow ribbon insert. As a child, I often gazed up at those and imagined my Dad as a hero pilot. Did it provide inspiration for me to fly? Well, it certainly couldn’t have dampened them.

Of course, years later I learned from my family that these weren’t real records, just a fun way for pilots to enjoy flying their airplanes beyond the usual point A to point B. Dad died suddenly in 1990 at the age of 55. As a freshman in college, I figured the airplanes would be the first things to go. But, with two older brothers as professional pilots and flight instructors, and a renewed interest in doing something to make a living, I pursued flight training with ever more vigor. Today, we still own Dad’s Cessna 172M and Beechcraft Baron D55.

Some years back, my brothers and I won the 1997 Marion Jayne Air Race flying my Dad’s Baron, so I knew a thing or two about making airplanes go fast. So when a planned family trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin, was on the calendar about the time Air Facts resurrected the speed record program, I figured this was a good time to attempt to beat Dad’s record—well at least one of them.

Dad and Richard Collins used a Piper Turbo Twin Comanche to fly the first two speed records on January 5, 1968 from the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland, near Washington D.C. to Chicago’s Midway Airport. As is typical of a winter flight, the winds were howling out of the northwest. Their outbound flight at 6,000 feet was recorded at a sedate 144.5 mph. Coming back, however, they utilized the Twinkie’s turbos and scorched back to Washington D.C. at an average 282.5 mph.

My July flight made it clear that the our normally-aspirated Baron wouldn’t be beating that time back home, so I set my sights on toppling the westbound record. Since Kenosha is served by Milwaukee Approach, it met the requirements of being considered a “Chicago area” airport. Game on!

On the morning of July 21, 2012, accompanied by my wife and daughter, we departed GAI into a low ceiling with rain showers. I wasn’t even around when my Dad and Collins made their flight but it’s safe to bet that ATC is a whole different animal these days. Efficient IFR clearances are definitely not the norm for departures out of the D.C. area and arrivals into Chicago. No matter which direction you’re going, the clearance out of GAI is always to fly northeast. Since we were going the wrong way, I stood the Baron on its tail to climb as fast as possible to our assigned 8,000 feet. Once turned the right direction, I ran the Baron’s twin IO-550s the way pilots did in the 1960s when fuel was cheap—full throttle, 2,400 rpm, and rich-of-peak EGT. This made good for 200-knots true at an alarming 32 gph.

Beech Baron 55
The record-setting airplane, a D55 Baron.

We dodged some rain showers through West Virginia and western Maryland using the XM WX picture on our Garmin 496 handheld. The zigging and zagging wouldn’t help our time, but I wanted to keep the paint on the airplane. At 8,000 feet, the winds were out of the north at about 20 knots making the headwind component relatively light. We broke out of the clouds in Ohio and enjoyed a smooth trip until Lake Michigan when ATC threw its first reroute on us.

AirVenture was only a few days away, filling up the airways with inbounds to Oshkosh. We also had to cross the final of that other busy area airport, Chicago’s O’Hare. The reroutes weren’t too bad, but the winds turned into a direct headwind at the same 20 knots. Those realities, and the need to slow down for a slower inbound to Kenosha, caused a little tooth grinding on my part. In the end, we landed on Kenosha’s Runway 25 Right exactly three hours after departing GAI. FlightAware logged us at 3:02—close enough not to argue it. Average speed clocked in 181 knots or 208.1 mph using the Air Facts speed record format from years ago.

While Dad’s record was felled, the caveat is the fact that our 600-hp Baron falls in a different horsepower class than the 360-hp Twin Comanche that Dad flew with Collins in 1968. So, in a way, I didn’t really beat his record. By the way, I didn’t even attempt to beat his eastbound record. I went back to our usual lean-of-peak operation and cruised home using about as much fuel as that Twin Comanche—the modern reality of six-dollar-a-gallon gas.

So I respectfully cede the eastbound record to my Dad while leaving a mark of my own with an Air Facts record. My father, brothers, and Collins were all pivotal in inspiring me to fly, and perhaps, just-for-fun programs like the Air Facts Speed Records will instill a spark in future pilots.

4 Comments

  • Pete: I was flying the ol’ vintage V-tail the same day, same way – New Jersey to Sandusky (I’ve got 54 gallons usable), then direct to OSH. I usually stop at Kenosha, too, but the calm winds left me with lots of gas (enough to keep my underarms dry, anyways) for the beehive arrival into Wittman. The trip home a week later was a lot more interesting…

  • Pete,

    Really good story, and so true about the reroutes and deviations we end up with.

    However, you really made good time, considering.

    Sorry I missed you at Kenosha. Spend the week at OSH, now back in Kenosha for a few days. Hope to see ya on the next trip.

    Larry Olson

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