‘Dreadnought’ Sidelined for the Remainder of Reno | Aviation


After dramatic footage spread like wildfire earlier this week of Dreadnought’s engine failure at the final National Championship Air Races at Reno, fans were fairly mortified. Some worried it could spell the end of the crowd-favorite racer that has chugged around the pylons at Reno for four decades. 

Dreadnought, the flagship of the Sanders race team, is a fixture at the Reno Air Races. Since the heavily modified Sea Fury’s first race in 1983, it has been a constant menace to the souped-up racers who gathered each September at Stead Field (KRTS) to race for the Sunday Unlimited Gold. In the words of Matt Russell, longtime race enthusiast, “Dreadnought kept everyone honest. Without ‘The Buick’ in the field, there was considerably less pressure to push the racers to the limit. That ship kept everyone motivated.” 

Chatter between fans and Dreadnought crew in the pits at Stead makes it clear that after the Mayday call during qualifying this year, Dreadnought’s engine is toast. “You can push on the prop if you want, but it won’t turn,” one mechanic told a fan. After landing, the crew pulled the oil screens and found slivers of metal likely indicating the master rod bearing failed. The damage was such that the crew didn’t even bother opening the cowlings. Dreadnought was down for the remainder of the race. While fans hoped desperately for a miracle—a Pratt & Whitney R-4360 race engine materializing was beyond the pale of the miracles one might encounter on the ramp at Reno. 

This race engine has been on Dreadnought for 15 years; the crankshaft was installed in the prior engine that ran 13 years before that. Needless to say, 28 years of life on a crankshaft in a racer is remarkable—but it was apparent Dreadnought’s caretakers are concerned the failed master rod bearing could have caused irreparable harm to the beating heart of the beloved racer. 

In a radial engine, the master rod is a connecting rod from the crankshaft to a…

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