A View from Broadway

The author at the Speed pylon in Salem, Ore. Flying Lines photo.

Breaking Speed pylons and influencing people

By Ken Burdick
April 2021

Yes Folks, it’s true.

Once upon a time, in the 1980s, I broke a Speed pylon off at the ground.

A pylon is supposed to keep the pilot from leading the model (whipping) to gain speed, which is considered cheating. The other thing the pylon does is take up the pull produced by the larger models. The pull can be significant, which is why our D Speed models (10cc engine) are pull tested at over 100 lbs!

Let’s set the stage

Vancouver British Columbia. The Northwest Speed champs. A warm summer day.

Pilot: Me, Kennyb, seen above at a similar pylon.

PIT crew: Paul Gibeault (seen below with his wife, Dianne).

Equipment: D speed plane, wood, seen below at home.

Engine: OPS .61 Zimmerman valve, seen below.

Fuel: “Man's fuel” mixed by Howard Rush. 80% nitro, 12% soybean oil, 3% propylene oxide.

I had not flown monoline since 1975; it had been a while and I thought I might be rusty.

Deadline arrives

I had been stalling. I was flying my Formula 40 and helping others. What I was avoiding was that big block growling over in the pits. I didn’t really want to admit I was a bit afraid of it.

It was finally time and I was called to the circle. I said to Paul “set it off fat, I just want to get used to flying monoline again.”

“Well, I can’t set it off too fat — it won’t take off!

“Okay” I said. “Just don’t kill me.”

I was standing at the handle watching Paul expertly fire up the OPS. I was nervous. It barked a few times and then caught, Paul tuned it rich and we were on our way.

I let the plane pick up speed and gave it up control at about the half-lap mark. To my surprise, it gently lifted almost perfectly and burbled along. I started looking for the pylon. I was too far away from it and stepped in closer. The ship was pulling about 40 pounds at that point, and I missed the yoke. I tried again, it seemed to be picking up some speed and again I missed.

“Crap” I said, and stopped looking at the airplane, but instead looking at the pylon.  I saw it but at the same time heard a noise and looked up — the airplane was gone! In my peripheral vision I saw a red blur over my right shoulder. Yep, it was the D job, but it wasn’t burbling along, it was HONKING

There is no time to think when stuff like this happens, you have to act. I swung the monoline handle around over my head and made a last-ditch grab at the pylon yoke.

What happened? It broke, huh!

Aren’t you getting ahead of the story?

My last-ditch effort almost worked — almost. I missed the yoke and the pull was now around 80 pounds. I caught my armpit around the yoke and could not pull myself off of it.

I remember thinking, “This isn’t the first time I’ve been hung on the pylon; I’ll just ride this one out.”

Then things got serious

There are worse things than being hung on the pylon, but without warning I found myself being launched into space. The substandard pylon had broken off at the ground.

When in crisis the mind goes into a hyper state, processing information at many times the normal speed. It became clear to me what had happened, and that I was going to slam into the ground like being thrown down by a wrestler on TV. I grabbed the handle with both hands and braced for the impact. All the while thinking, “No matter what, I can’t let go, those are my friends out there.”

Those words were the last thing I remember. There were people scattering like pigs from a gun, running for whatever cover could be found.

In an article I read later, the author said I hit on my stomach, but kept flying the plane, and when it went behind me, I flipped over on my back and kept control looking at it upside down. Apparently, I did this until it ran out the tank.


I remember sitting up from the ground and saying, “You guys ever have one of those days?”

I was a bit bloody because of the cut-off jeans I was wearing and the T-shirt. I didn’t know all the details until they told me. Partner (Chris Sackett), who had taken shelter behind a car, kept the watch going. I had broken the Northwest record for D speed! It was unofficial because there of course was no pylon, but the best news of all, all my friends were safe and the only injuries were to me.

That was just the first run on the OPS; it clocked in at 181 mph. A few years later, Ron Salo clocked it at 198 mph in a practice session after some mods were made.

The engine and I have an understanding now. It stays in the box. I leave it alone and it leaves me alone.

Stay safe, lil' Geezers!

-- Kennyb

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This page was upated April 7, 2021