Conflagration survivor Gordan Delaney, whose wounds were salved by the Concours d'Elegance trophy at the 2012 Northwest Regionals. Jim Corbett photo.
Yes folks, it's true.
Gordan Delaney caught on fire last weekend, and then he set Lee Letchworth on fire ... then he set the field on fire .. then he set his airplane on fire ...
Buzz ran away and was spared.
It all happened during a quiet moment at the Combat circle at the 2012 Northwest Regionals
The button sat on the RCATS battery with nothing to do but wait; it could see what was going on. It waited while Jeff Rein walked to the handle of a beautiful Challenger built by Gordon Delaney. It waited while the bladder was filled and the overly opened needle valve watched in horror as it was connected to the silicone fuel line.
The engine, a gift from Howard Rush, knew but wouldn't say, that it was over primed and flooded.
The glow plug that was hand crafted by Henry Nelson was quietly biding its time.
And thus began the burning of Gordan Delaney.
Gordan Delaney needs no introduction and is an excellent designer and stunt flyer. But there was a time when Gordan was an excellent combat flyer and designer. Every 20 years or so, Gordon get's the itch to build one of his old combat designs, bring it to the Northwest Regionals and wow the crowd by letting Jeffery Rein fly the wings off of it for all to see. The last time was in 1995 and so it was that this year Gordan brought a flawless Challenger dressed in translucent yellow Monokote with the cleanest looking Nelson .36 I have ever seen. The engine pod and fuselage/tail boom was black and showed as only a master finish can produce. Letters in black on the yellow wing announced the name of the airplane; it was nothing short of perfection.
Lee Letchworth, quiet and unassuming, was designated to hold and launch. Jeff Rein was to be the pilot while Gordan did the engine preparation and starting duties. Buzz Wilson was on standby when the whole thing happened.
Gordan was wearing a summerlike outfit that would be presentable to the stunt judges for his flights in Precision Aerobatics. Clean Dockers, a blue shirt and small but stylish dark glasses. It's possible that dark glasses tinted blue prevents one from seeing an alcohol fire.
After filling the fuel tank and priming the shiny Nelson, Gordan began flipping the ill-fated contraption with no indication that it would start. Not a bump or sputter. More prime was added to the already silent motor with vigorous prop flipping. A voice, not heard at first, but later acknowledged, was trying to signal the gaggle of flyers involved in the endeavor.
Push the button.
From sixty feet away, it can be difficult to be heard, but the words came again.
Push the button.
Lee heard and reached down pushing the still waiting button, the RCATS battery sprang to life, waking up the well-soaked Nelson glow plug. The resulting poof was not heard by anyone but as the pilot observed, Gordan threw the finger guard about 10 feet all the while yelling Oww, oww, oww!
Gordan had let go of the fuel line, spraying Lee's pants like a flame thrower. To the Reinman, some 60 feet away, it looked like they were fighting bees as both were jumping up and down hollering Oww, oww, oww Jeff heard Lee say he was going to take off his pants.
Gordan, meanwhile, was yelling THROW ME A RAG! Buzz said there was one in Gordan's back pocket, but it turned out to be a paper towel. The burning paper towel was dropped by Gordan and fuel was starting small grass fires that Gordan was dancing on trying to stomp out. Buzz was now heading for the hills to get as far from this mêlée as possible. The airplane which had been dropped by the two human torches, had caught on fire and was burning on at their feet.
Nelson with Mejlik prop given to him by Howard.
Gordan starting, Lee holding, Buzz standing behind Gordan watching, Jeff at handle.
No drip test, Needle way open.
Gordan connects glow plug and starts flipping. Nothing happens, prime, flip nothing happens.
Jeff yells in, "Oh, you have to press the button on the RCATS."
Lee bends down, pushes button.
Gordan flips, feels hot on plane, like a good Combat flyer starts to spank the bottom of the baby.
Hand starts to burn. Sets plane on ground. Lets go of fuel line.
Fuel gets on Lee's pants leg, Lee starts to run away. Fuel from bladder become Flame thrower. Lee heard yelling "I am on fire." Buzz looks towards the sound of the voice and sees patches of fire and then has a Vietnam flashback and looks for the jet dropping napalm. Gordan yells has anyone got a rag, Buzz says you have one in your back pocket, (it looked like a rag), Gordan applies rag, actually it was a paper towel, adding fuel to the fire. Plane continues to burn creating what looked to be a burnt scrambled egg (the plane was covered in yellow Monocoat. Jeff thought they had been attacked by bees.
Gordan won the best finish award for his stunt plane and when he went to the prize table Buzz yelled, "See if they have a fire extinguisher."
I go to the handle as the pit crew works.
Gordan primes and flips, no go.
Primes and flips again.
I yell, "push the button."
Lee pushes the button.
One or too flips later, Gordan's finger guard flies 10 feet backwards to the ground.
Gordan starts looking to the left, then right, then fidgets, then sets the plane down.
Gordan lets the fuel line lets go, (because by now his hand is on fire) and sprays fuel all over Lee.
The flames followed the fuel.
Lee is now on fire andstarts dancing like a hip hop star. I thought he was swatting a bee.
I come back to the pits.
I here the word fire, look down, and proceed to stomp on the grass.
Fire spread, more stomping.
I hear Lee say something about taking his pants off.
I see Gordan's beautiful, virgin Challenger half burned up.
I get alcohol to spray on Gordens burned hand.
This page was upated June 1, 2012