Exxon's Flying Tiger Shatters Climb Record
"Do you wanna hear my prediction for how long this will
That question from Exxon Flying Tiger pilot Bruce Bohannon
Saturday was directed at a bunch of bleary-eyed reporters at
Sun-N-Fun in Lakeland (FL) Saturday. No one responded. Tough
That got some
attention. The previous record -- coincidentally held by Bohannon
himself -- was 15 minutes 35 seconds. In the sparkling sunshine of
a perfect Florida morning, Bohannon had just promised to utterly
destroy his old record by cutting a third off the time to climb to
9000 meters (29,528 feet).
Several reporters stopped shoveling the Exxon-provided scrambled
eggs and sausage into their mouths and picked up their pens.
Bohannon already holds just about every record imaginable for
speed-climbing in his highly modified RV-4. You know, the one with
the turbocharger, black with tiger stripes? Yeah, that one. While
there was no question that Bohannon could set another record if
everything went just right, there were certainly some looks of
Bohannon says he does all his record-breaking flights at noon.
"It may not be the best time of the day, but it's certainly a time
that people can remember." So at noon Saturday, Bohannon took off
from Lakeland Linder Regional Airport and began his climb. Soon, he
was out of sight.
A half hour later, the
Flying Tiger was pushed back into Exxon-Mobile's display area with
Bohannon keeping a pretty close eye on the proceedings. He was
"So," a reporter asked, "how did it go?"
I stupidly predicted we'd do this in ten minutes," Bohannon
deadpanned. "I was wrong. We did it in nine minutes, 51 seconds. Or
That's when he smiled.
"It couldn't have gone any better," he said, amid
congratulations from Exxon-Mobile workers at the display as well as
fly-in attendees who stopped in to shake his hand.
When pressed for details, Bohannon said, "I certainly could have
flown it better. I constantly had to adjust the manifold pressure
and I got distracted several times."
At that point, an air
traffic controller walked in and Bohannon was instantly on his
feet, shaking hands. "This is 'Eddie Munster,'" Bohannon explained.
"He made all the difference in the life and death of breaking a
record." Munster -- aka Albert Ensell -- coordinated with Tampa
Approach and ATC operations in Orlando and Miami to make sure
Bohannon's record attempt wasn't shot down by an altitude hold.
For Bohannon, it was a unique experience, in spite of the file
drawer full of records he holds. "I've never flown this aircraft
above 15,000 feet," he said. "I was learning from 15,000
It's an important lesson. Bohannon plans to attempt another
record-breaking flight at Oshkosh later this year: He'll try to
climb his RV-4 to 50,000 feet. By doing so, his would become the
highest-flying piston aircraft in history, breaking a record
currently held by the B-29 Superfortress. Stay tuned.