Special Delivery

Flying the NXT to its new home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

1

There are events in your life where you‭ ‬will always remember the time‭, ‬place‭ ‬and what you were doing when they‭ ‬happened‭: ‬September 11‭, ‬2001‭; ‬your‭ ‬first solo‭; ‬and‭, ‬for me‭, ‬a phone call and proposal from an air-racing legend‭. ‬

It was 2:30‭ ‬in the afternoon and I was putting gas in my car in Concord‭, ‬California‭. ‬I felt my phone ringing and it was‭ ‬Jon Sharp calling‭. ‬Yes‭, ‬that‭ ‬Jon Sharp‭.‬

Jon and his group built the winningest team in pylon air racing history and have a record in Formula One of winning 47‭ ‬of the 50‭ ‬races entered between 1991‭ ‬and‭ ‬1999‭, ‬and collecting 15‭ ‬Gold Reno championships in both‭ ‬the Formula One and Sport classes‭. ‬After he proved his point in IF1‭, ‬he‭, ‬his wife Patricia‭, ‬propeller designer Steve Hill‭, ‬and a group of talented individuals put‭ ‬their minds together and a brand new racer was born‭. ‬

The new emerging Sport class was‭ ‬exciting and had potential to take air racing to a refreshing new level with far less restrictive rules than IF1‭. ‬The main rule‭ ‬the team had to work around is that all Sport class entries have to be kitted‭ ‬aircraft‭, ‬with a minimum of five kits‭ ‬manufactured‭. ‬All and all‭, ‬that’s not an‭ ‬ideal requirement for a purpose-built‭ ‬racer‭, ‬but the team got to work and the outcome was the Nemesis NXT‭. ‬Small wing‭, ‬tailwheel‭, ‬and a really big angry engine up front‭, ‬it fit the bill of a purebred racer‭. ‬Two seats made it more attractive during the other 51‭ ‬weeks of the year‭. ‬

Fueling up for the first flight.

As the old saying goes‭, ‬“If it looks fast‭, ‬it will go fast‭,‬”‭ ‬and fast it did go‭! ‬It looked like it was moving 400‭ ‬mph just sitting there‭. ‬In the following few years‭, ‬Jon and the team dialed it in to set the bar pretty high in the Sport class‭. ‬In his last year of racing in 2009‭, ‬Jon set a new course record every day‭ ‬throughout the week and two more records on Sunday while taking the overall win‭. ‬Jon retired from racing that year‭, ‬and other than‭ ‬setting some impressive closed-course‭ ‬speed records in New Mexico in 2015‭, ‬the NXT has silently sat‭. ‬

Airshow coverage sponsor:

In the realm of air racing‭, ‬IF1‭ ‬racing and Jon’s racing career‭, ‬I’m barely a blip on the radar‭. ‬I’ve attended the Reno Air Races every year since I was about 14‭, ‬soloed at Stead at 21‭, ‬and finally earned my private license there in 2003‭ ‬at 23‭. ‬From there I started flying professionally in 2004‭ ‬and raced my first year at Reno in 2012‭ ‬in the Formula One‭ ‬class‭. ‬Fast forward six years and I’ve been fortunate to race four different racers on three different continents‭, ‬flown over 12‭ ‬different Formula One racers‭, ‬and built a Shoestring and Cassutt racer with my brother‭. ‬

The lines don’t get much better than this for a racer.

So while the call from Jon wasn’t out of the norm as we would chat occasionally‭, ‬his question is what got me‭: ‬“We’re donating the NXT to the Smithsonian‭. ‬We’ve talked about it and would like to ask‭: ‬Are you interested in flying it there‭?‬”‭ ‬

Seriously‭? ‬A legend of that caliber is‭ ‬asking me to fly his plane‭, ‬one of the coolest and fastest modern racers‭, ‬to the most prestigious museum in the‭ ‬aviation world‭? ‬One doesn’t say no to‭ ‬that opportunity‭. ‬Absolutely‭! ‬It took‭ ‬a few months for all the pieces to come together‭. ‬Jon and Patricia were putting‭ ‬on a presentation at the Smithsonian‭ ‬and it would be great to all be there at the same time‭, ‬so we aimed for arrival at Washington Dulles on March 25‭, ‬2018‭. ‬

Steve (left) and I are all smiles after we crammed and strapped in for the first departure.

Flight Preparations

With full optimism we set the plan‭ ‬in motion‭. ‬The plane had been moved‭ ‬to Moriarty‭, ‬New Mexico‭, ‬for Jon’s‭ ‬record runs under the watchful eye of Steve Hill‭. ‬The plan was for me to fly to New Mexico on a Sunday and work with Steve on getting checked out in the NXT with a few flights‮—‬then load and go‭. ‬Steve had been Jon’s crew chief for most of his racing career‭, ‬and their friendship goes back probably longer than I’ve been alive‭. ‬I know Steve from the F1‭ ‬class as he made the race propellers that have dominated the winner’s circle for the last 20‭ ‬years‭. ‬To say I was in great company was an understatement‭. ‬

Hauling butt somewhere over the Midwest at 13,500 feet.

First things first‭; ‬I had to get a few minutes in the NXT‭. ‬Jon had sent me an outline of operating procedures and talked me through it over the phone‭. ‬“On takeoff only go to 45‭ ‬inches and 2600‭ ‬rpm‭. ‬It will go higher but don’t go there unless you need it‭; ‬it is there‭, ‬but I don’t recommend it‭.‬”‭ ‬What was I getting myself into‭? ‬Is this what it’s like to grab an angry lion by the tail‭? ‬Jon made‭ ‬it clear that 150‭ ‬mph was the happy‭ ‬number for rotation‭, ‬gear and flap‭ ‬speeds‭, ‬and approach speed‭. ‬Landing a taildragger at 150‭ ‬mph‭? ‬This will be fun‭. ‬

To add some complication to the‭ ‬excitement‭, ‬I was hit by a car on my motorcycle the day before‭. ‬Although I was bruised and sore‭, ‬I was fully functional and wasn’t going to let that stop the plan‭. ‬Those who have met both Jon and me know he has almost a foot of height on me‭, ‬so there were rudder pedal extensions and quite a few seat cushions in place‭. ‬Among all this was the thought in the back of my mind that this is an‭ ‬irreplaceable artifact valued at over‭ ‬$1‭ ‬million‭, ‬and I’m delivering it to its final resting place in a very high profile museum‭. ‬Don’t mess this up‭! ‬

A favorite photo of mine: The last rays of sunset in Carbondale, Illinois, as Steve tidies up a few items before getting out.

The NXT sits so nose high that raising the tail during takeoff feels like‭ ‬a 7-foot elevator ride‭. ‬Visibility goes‭ ‬from nonexistent to great in an instant‭, ‬and the rudder is more than powerful enough to cope‭. ‬Power and prop set‭, ‬tail‭ ‬up‭, ‬and here comes 150‭ ‬mph in a few‭ ‬seconds‭. ‬Rotate‭, ‬gear and flaps up‭, ‬and you’re over 200‭ ‬mph before you know it and climbing over 2000‭ ‬fpm‭. ‬Level off at 3000‭ ‬feet above the field‭, ‬pull back the power and prop‭, ‬and try to catch up with the plane and take a breath‭. ‬

Checking the fluids before our early morning launch from Carbondale

I circled around for a bit getting the feel of it‭, ‬then came back for the first landing‭. ‬Jon said due to the long nose‭, ‬a descending left carrier type turn works best‭. ‬And it does‭. ‬Approach at 160ish‭, ‬wheel-landing touchdown at 150‭ ‬mph‭, ‬and hold the tail up as long as possible for visibility‭. ‬Tail down‭, ‬taxi clear‭, ‬clean up‭, ‬shut down and breathe‭. ‬Steve came over and asked me what‭ ‬did I think‭? ‬“Well‭,‬”‭ ‬I said‭, ‬“not many planes make‭ ‬my hands sweat when I fly them‭, ‬and‭ ‬with this one I was wiping my palms on my pants the whole time‭!‬”‭ ‬

We got in a few more flights‭, ‬worked‭ ‬out a few little bugs and then starting‭ ‬prepping for the trip eastbound‭. ‬The only issue we encountered was the gear doors occasionally didn’t lock closed‭. ‬Other than that‭, ‬the NXT was ready to go‭, ‬which was pretty impressive given its last flight three years earlier was Jon’s speed record run‭. ‬

The NXT has slightly staggered seating‭, ‬and with Jon slightly forward and‭ ‬Patricia slightly aft‭, ‬the CG worked‭ ‬well for them on their cross-country flights‭. ‬Well‭, ‬I was up as far as I could go with my short legs and Steve was in the rearward spot‭, ‬so we had to run the few numbers and add a bit of ballast to the front to keep the CG happy‭. ‬The cockpit is aft of the‭ ‬trailing edge of the wing‭, ‬so there is a long moment arm for the crew to affect the CG‭. ‬The crew had built a little box in the lower cowl behind the spinner where weight could be added to adjust the CG‭. ‬We filled it as required and then looked at where we‭ ‬were going to put our necessities‮—‬basically only a toothbrush and a change of clothes‭. ‬The NXT was built to go fast and cargo hauling was not in the design‭. ‬There were two small compartments‭ ‬in the seat backs‭, ‬and two even smaller compartments under our knees to stash‭ ‬stuff‭. ‬Unlike Steve‭, ‬who was heading‭ ‬back home after the delivery in D.C‭., ‬I was continuing on to Missouri to ferry a Cessna 195‭ ‬back to the West Coast with its new‭ ‬owner‭, ‬so I had to really think‭ ‬about what was needed or not‭. ‬

A bit of reflecting on the flight into Clarksburg, West Virginia—and frowning about the bad weather.

Cruising to Carbondale

Steve and I got everything sorted and were ready to launch Tuesday mid-day‭. ‬The NXT will cover 800‮–‬1000‭ ‬miles‭ ‬comfortably on a tank with reserves‭. ‬I didn’t need to prove anything with‭ ‬short-field operations‭, ‬so we mapped‭ ‬out the route to keep our stops at airports with about 6000‭ ‬feet‭ (‬or more‭) ‬of runway‭. ‬Loaded‭, ‬fueled‭, ‬everything checked and cameras rolling‭, ‬Steve and I squeezed in and fired it up‭. ‬

There were a few firsts on this flight‭. ‬Steve had never had a chance to fly in the NXT because the cockpit wouldn’t‭ ‬accommodate two large occupants‭. ‬And‭, ‬as loaded for the trip‭, ‬the plane was sitting at the most weight it had ever flown at‭. ‬Built for Jon to race‭, ‬there’s the typical center stick‭, ‬throttle on the left side‭, ‬and no rudder pedals or brakes on the right side‭, ‬so Steve was definitely‭ ‬going for a ride‭. ‬

We took off and after two attempts got the gear door closed‭, ‬locked and happy‭. ‬We climbed to 13,500‭ ‬feet over the New Mexico desert and set a course for Tulsa‭, ‬Oklahoma‭. ‬Everyone enjoyed hearing‭ ‬how fast the plane goes wide open‭. ‬We all know it hauls butt at race speed‭, ‬but it’s equally impressive at cruise‭. ‬Level at 13,500‭ ‬feet‭, ‬40‭ ‬inches of m.p‭. ‬and 2500‭ ‬rpm‭, ‬it was running 400‭ ‬mph true‭. ‬The hottest cylinder was 330‭°‬F and oil was barely getting warm at 176‭°F‭. ‬It made me think‭, ‬how much more does this plane have in it‭? ‬We will never know‭. ‬

How does it fly‭? ‬It is a very demanding plane‮—‬of your attention‭. ‬A short time of playing with the GPS‭, ‬and it was either climbing 1000‭ ‬feet per minute or the ball was heading to the side of the inclinometer‮—‬or both‭. ‬It’s a very jealous plane when you stop paying attention to it‭. ‬Jon told me it flies like it’s on rails‭. ‬Well‭, ‬the next day I found that characteristic‭. ‬

Base to final as the Udvar-Hazy museum slides under the wing.

After being asked a few times what kind of experimental we were that was showing 370‭ ‬knots across the ground‭, ‬we set up for an arrival into Tulsa‭. ‬Tulsa tower cleared us to land number 2‭ ‬for an 8-mile straight-in behind a slow 737‭, ‬so a steep approach gave‭ ‬us some visibility back‭. ‬After a long taxi through‭ ‬the airline ramp‭, ‬we made a quick turn for fuel and a bathroom stop‭. ‬When we walked out of the FBO‭, ‬the line guys were all around the plane and the fueler asked us‭, ‬“Does this thing take jet fuel or avgas‭?‬”‭ ‬Smart guy though‭, ‬as he doesn’t normally see this fast of a plane‭. ‬Remember‭, ‬it looks like it’s going 400‭ ‬mph sitting there and has a pretty good size cowl to hide the engine‭. ‬

Off from Tulsa we had the cranky gear door‭, ‬so we kept our speed down a bit‭. ‬After a hundred miles or so‭, ‬the‭ ‬clouds below started to cover more‭, ‬so we hopped down under the layer and brought the speed back to under 10,000-foot limits‭. ‬We made Carbondale‭, ‬Illinois‭, ‬at sunset and called it a night‭. ‬One of the coolest pictures I took was as I was getting out of the NXT and Steve was wrapping up a few‭ ‬things in the cockpit‭, ‬the setting sun was coming through the canopy and the plane was silhouetted‭. ‬

The NXT cooling down after its final flight to the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Under the Overcast

We topped off the fluids and were‭ ‬ready to go first thing the next morning‭. ‬Jon told me the horizontal was plenty powerful for its size and also that there’s plenty of thrust up front‭, ‬which I noticed but hadn’t played with much‭. ‬With brakes on and lined up for takeoff‭, ‬while getting the power and prop rpm set for takeoff‭, ‬the tail started slowly rising up‭. ‬Almost a 7-foot elevator ride‭, ‬remember‭? ‬I looked at Steve‭, ‬smiled and added a bit more power‭, ‬slight forward elevator and gently‭ ‬released the brakes for a 100%‭ ‬tail-up takeoff roll‭. ‬We both got a kick out of that‭, ‬but it wasn’t long before we were back stuck under the overcast at 1500‭ ‬feet continuing east‭. ‬

There are lots of towers near Cincinnati‭, ‬Ohio‭, ‬so I was busy following the course line and working out our next airport while Steve was following along‭, ‬pointing out all the obstacles‭. ‬We were running a bit under 30‭ ‬inches of power‭, ‬and it still was pushing the 250-knot‭ ‬under-10,000-foot limit‭. ‬I can only‭ ‬imagine what someone on the ground thought when they looked up and saw this sleek speedster just hauling butt 1200‭ ‬feet up at almost 300‭ ‬mph‭. ‬

Steve and I are all smiles—the NXT delivered and mission accomplished!

As the weather continued to deteriorate and the rain started closing‭ ‬in‭, ‬we settled on Clarksburg‭, ‬West Virginia‭, ‬and found the airport just as a rain cell was moving over the area‭. ‬The tower cleared us for right traffic‭, ‬and Steve made the concerned comment about total lack of visibility on the right-hand approach‭. ‬I was fine before he said that‭, ‬then started to doubt myself as his concern made me a bit nervous‭. ‬But it all worked out fine‭, ‬and the‭ ‬approach and landing were perfect‭. ‬We taxied in‭, ‬fueled up and rechecked weather‭. ‬

There was a bit of a complication with the plane’s operating limitations that we were working on along the way‭. ‬This NXT’s operating limitations prohibited it from being flown over populated areas and into Class B airspace‭, ‬which is a much greater limitation‭ ‬than Experimental/Amateur-Built‭ ‬aircraft typically work under‭. ‬Well‭, ‬Washington Dulles meets both those‭ ‬categories‭, ‬so we were working that‭ ‬aspect out too‭. ‬Steve and I looked at the weather for the last 200‭ ‬miles and decided to depart and see if we could make an airport just on the edge of the D.C‭. ‬Special Flight Rules Area‭. ‬We took off and stayed low‭, ‬working our way around some of the ridgelines and hoping to get to the other side of the mountain range‭. ‬Well‭, ‬we didn’t make it too far as 50‭ ‬miles out the weather started coming down‭, ‬and we ended up circling in a valley figuring out what direction to go‭. ‬While Steve was looking at the valleys and how to get to our‭ ‬destination‭, ‬I was staying under the‭ ‬overcast and playing with the GPS to look for airport options‭. ‬

Steve getting the NXT ready for restoration tech Rocky Weihrauch to start prepping for display.

While we were circling the valley at almost 300‭ ‬mph‭ (‬still a very low power setting‭), ‬it hit me‭. ‬Loaded up in a turn‭, ‬the NXT tracks like it’s on rails with no bad habits‭. ‬Pitch and yaw were super stable‭, ‬and it wasn’t nervous at all‭, ‬just rock solid‭. ‬That’s what Jon was talking about‭. ‬Steve and I came to the conclusion to turn back to Clarksburg and call it a day‭. ‬The overcast was‭ ‬dropping down and the pass we came in through was now just a small gap‭, ‬but we got back and started working on Plan B‭. ‬Weather and paperwork were against us‭, ‬so we decided to park it in West Virginia‭. ‬

The NXT is not a plane one wants to leave outside‭, ‬so we called around looking for a hangar for a few weeks until we could come‭ ‬back and get it‭. ‬I chuckled when the lady on the phone asked what year and type of plane it was for the hangar space‭. ‬How could‭ ‬I explain that one‭? ‬Anyway‭, ‬we were lucky to come across‭ ‬Ed Waske from Engine‭ ‬&‭ ‬Airframe‭ ‬Solutions Worldwide‭, ‬LLC‭. ‬We quickly found out that Ed is a big Reno race fan and knew of the NXT‭. ‬We had no doubt the NXT was going to be in safe hands for the next few weeks‭. ‬

The official “push in” ceremony to the museum main gallery.

Driving to D.C.

Steve and I rented a car and drove the‭ ‬rest of the way to D.C‭. ‬to meet up with the rest of the group‭. ‬The next day we toured the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum‭, ‬and it was awesome to see the predecessors of speed such as the Hughes H-1‭ ‬racer‭, ‬Wittman Bonzo‭, ‬and Curtiss R3C-2‭ ‬that Jimmy Doolittle raced‭. ‬Jon and Patricia had their presentation that evening and then we‭ ‬were off headed westbound while we‭ ‬continued to plan the last leg‭. ‬

The paperwork and weather sure‭ ‬weren’t on our side to finish the flight easily‭. ‬That time of year there‭, ‬the rain‭ ‬seemed to never stop‭. ‬The FSDO in‭ ‬D.C‭. ‬had a different interpretation‭ ‬of the operating limitations than the FSDO in Albuquerque where it was‭ ‬issued last‭. ‬Between Steve‭, ‬Jon‭, ‬General James Crum in D.C‭. ‬and Bill Hudson of the Soaring Museum in Moriarty‭, ‬we got the paperwork sorted out over the next few weeks‭, ‬found some open time in our schedules‭, ‬and at last the weather lined up‭. ‬We finally got‭ ‬a waiver to enter‭ ‬the Class Bravo with the NXT‭. ‬

There were certain time windows we had to arrive in that were only a few minutes long‭. ‬We kept getting advised that they would basically have to shut down the airport to allow us to arrive‭. ‬I got a little fed up with the extreme‭ ‬procedures and reminded all parties‭ ‬that the NXT will fly faster on final than most of the airliners‭, ‬and that‭ ‬they would be slowing us down and not the other way around‭. ‬

All was a go‭, ‬so Steve and I headed‭ ‬back out to West Virginia‭. ‬We were‭ ‬happy to see Ed and the NXT‭, ‬and he was stoked to have us‭. ‬As much as he enjoyed having it on display in his hangar‭, ‬he was excited to see it fly and knew it was on its way to a place in history‭. ‬While we were waiting for the fog to clear and fueling it up‭, ‬I was wiping the dust off it and Steve made the comment‭ ‬that I missed a spot‭. ‬Actually‭, ‬he said‭ ‬I missed the same spot twice‭, ‬so I was‭ ‬wondering what was going on‭. ‬I took‭ ‬a closer look at where he was talking about‭, ‬and sitting there under the crew names was a sticker saying‭, ‬“Last flown by Justin Phillipson‭.‬”‭ ‬What a big honor to be named‭. ‬

A small list of the many people who helped make this plane a reality and a success.

The Final Flight

Steve and I strapped in for the last takeoff of the NXT and fired it up‭. ‬Ed had quite the group present for our departure‭, ‬and we gave him the best flyby we could while still being speed legal and‭ ‬neighbor friendly‭. ‬Ed posted a short‭ ‬video on YouTube entitled‭ ‬“Nemesis‭ ‬NXT Final Flight.”‭ ‬The last‭ ‬40‭ ‬minutes of the‭ ‬flight to Dulles were uneventful‭, ‬and‭ ‬Steve and I enjoyed the scenery as the clouds slowly cleared‭. ‬

Before entering the SFRA‭, ‬we contacted ATC and were right on time to enter our arrival window‭. ‬Steve planned it all perfectly‭. ‬We were assigned Runway 1R for landing‭, ‬but I realized I would have a 17-knot direct crosswind‭. ‬While I was comfortable and it didn’t bother me to land with that‭, ‬there was no reason to challenge myself on the last landing when a more suitable runway was available‭. ‬We asked Dulles tower for a left base short approach for Runway 30‭ ‬and were cleared to land‭. ‬

Steve shot one of my favorite pictures of the trip as we were turning base‭. ‬We looked over and saw the Udvar-Hazy Center slide under the right wing‭. ‬He snapped a picture of the museum with the wing and big pink 3X on it‭. ‬I can only imagine what the three corporate jets and two airliners thought as they were holding short and Steve and I made a quick short approach and landed in front of them‭. ‬

Final resting place for both aircraft
under the protective wing of the
Boeing 367-80 prototype.

After a taxi to the terminals‭, ‬through the cargo ramp‭, ‬then all the way south past Runway 1R to the museum‭, ‬we shut it down for‭ ‬the last time‭. ‬That chapter‭ ‬in history is closed‭. ‬Bittersweetly‭, ‬we‭ ‬pushed it into the restoration hangar‭ ‬for its preparation to be on permanent display‭. ‬Steve went over with museum tech Rocky Weihrauch how to perform the tasks involved of draining all fluids‭, ‬removing batteries‭, ‬and accessing certain components on the NXT‭. ‬

Six weeks later the aircraft was ready for its entrance into the main exhibit hall at the Udvar-Hazy‭. ‬Jon‭, ‬Patricia‭, ‬and a large‭ ‬group that made this plane so successful were all on hand to help push the NXT from the restoration center to the exhibit hall‭ ‬aircraft entrance‭. ‬Museum curator Jeremy Kinney went above and beyond to accommodate us before and after the NXT arrived‭; ‬he coordinated to have the original‭ ‬Nemesis‭ ‬racer pushed out‭, ‬and for the first time in history Jon‭, ‬Patricia and the crew got to see‭ ‬Nemesis‭ ‬and the NXT next to each other‭. ‬We took plenty of pictures before we rolled both racers to their resting spots under the wing of the Boeing 707-80‭ ‬prototype‭. ‬

The first time both these racers have ever seen each other.

What an incredible adventure and a perfect way to retire this plane into history‭. ‬Thank you to the Sharps and Steve Hill for letting me be a small part of the story‭.

Photos: Justin Phillipson and Steve Hill

1 COMMENT

  1. Great read, I really enjoyed your article. NXT is a beast! Do you remember what the fuel burn was when you were 400mph true at 13,500‭ ‬feet‭, ‬40‭ ‬inches of m.p‭. ‬and 2500‭ ‬rpm?

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