San Antonio, TX
Operation: Western USA
Wing Span: 30' 6"
Length: 28' 3"
Height: 13' 10"
Max Speed: 540 mph
Gross Weight: 11,000 lbs
Power Plant: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W
Fuel Capacity: 180 gallons
Air Legends Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat "Rare Bear"
Lewis Air Legends, of San Antonio, Texas, is the owner of
this famous Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat (BuNo 122629), which
is available for airshows, flybys, film and is also a
regular unlimited racer at the Reno National
Championship Air Races.
The Rare Bear is a World War II era Grumman F8F
Bearcat. It has been restored, substantially modified
and equipped with a Wright R3350 engine producing in
excess of 4000 horsepower. This has allowed the Rare
Bear to establish the Closed Course World Speed Record
(528.3 mph) and 3000 Meter Time-To-Climb Record (91.9
The Rare Bear was discovered as a severely damaged
wreck in 1969 by Lyle Shelton. It had been abandoned
next to a runway in an Indiana cornfield after a crash
in 1962. The once proud airplane had been stripped by
parts hunters, so Shelton found a fuselage, wing center
section, landing gear and a right wing panel, but little
The pieces were trucked to Orange County, and
restoration began. Volunteers donated their time and
expertise to the task of locating impossible-to-find
Bearcat parts, including a Wright R3350 - 2700
horsepower engine. The first flight was made on
September 13,1969 from Orange County to the Chino
Airport. Just a week later, the Bearcat appeared in its
first National Championship Reno Air Race - sporting its
first name "Able Cat", where it finished a respectable
5th (356.4 mph), despite the lack of preparatory and
flight test time.
Bitten by the air racing bug and with their sights
set on future races, the crew knew hard work and
modifications were in order to make the airplane a
winner. This lengthy preparation was
rewarded in 1971 when the newly renamed "Phoenix I"
tasted its first victory at Cape May, New Jersey,
winning the event with a speed of 360.15 mph. The
"Phoenix I" then went on to Reno that September to place
2nd, finishing only .32 seconds behind the winner.
In February of 1972 the airplane challenged and broke
the long standing Time-to-Climb record by ascending
3,000 meters in a mere 91.9 seconds. 1974 - 1975 brought
further wins in Miami, Mojave and Reno. With the plane
grounded from 1976 through 1979, Lyle Shelton managed
and directed the Mojave Air Races. In 1980, the Bearcat
was brought out of the hanger, dusted off, and renamed
for the last time. The name chosen was "Rare Bear", and
what a rare commodity she is. The next few years proved
to be frustrating. Much of the restoration work had to
be done without the funding necessary to cover the costs
of repairs and refurbishing. In order for Rare Bear to
be competitive, a major sponsor had to be found.
This was accomplished in 1986. Wichita Air services
provided the support for a thorough overhaul of the
aircraft, hired a crew chief and secured a hanger for
the team. Every restorable piece of the Bearcat was
returned to its original condition. Those not available
were individually manufactured and retrofitted. The
extensive rebuilding project was completed in 1987, and
it paid off as the Rare Bear flew the 3rd fastest
qualifying time (452.90 mph) at Reno that September.
The winning tradition began in 1988 when the Rare
Bear and her dedicated crew won both the Hamilton Air
Races and the National Championships at Reno, where new
qualifying and championship records were set. With
victory fresh in their minds, the team never looked
back. Lyle Shelton and his crew set their sights on
capturing the 3Km World Speed Record for propeller
driven aircraft - then 499.018 mph. Could the elusive
500 mph barrier be broken? A site for the challenge was
scouted, and Las Vegas, New Mexico was selected for its
high altitude and desert air. On Monday, August 21, 1989
the Rare Bear faced the challenge, sprinting the four
legs of the course at an average speed of 528.33 mph -
shattering the previous record by almost 30 mph! In
September 1989 the Rare Bear (now hailed as "The fastest
propeller driven aircraft in the world"), returned as
defending champion to Reno. "Could the Rare Bear be
beaten?" asked the headlines. The answer was a roaring
"NO!" as she took the Gold Medal and victory once again.
1990 brought another challenge for the Rare Bear as she
was fitted with a new three-blade propeller, the result
of removing one blade and repositioning the remaining
Undaunted, the airplane not only won the race, but
established a new Unlimited speed record of 468.20 mph.
In 1991 the results were even more impressive, with a
Gold win at over 481 mph, yet another Unlimited race
The Rare Bear is the crowd favorite. The plane's
absence following the engine failure in the 1992 Reno
final has reduced the degree of competition in the race,
as evidenced by the lower winning speeds since 1995.
In 2006, the Rare Bear was purchased by Rod Lewis and
has undergone a complete overhaul and inspection at the
"Bear Cave" at the Reno Stead Airport, Reno, Nevada. At
the 2007 Reno National Championship Air Races, John
Penney flew "Rare Bear" to a first place finish in the
Unlimited Class Gold Race on Sunday afternoon at a speed
of 478.394 mph.
Please fill out your contact information
below if you are interested in contacting
the operator, or representative,
of this Warbird and you require more information for booking this
aircraft at your Airshow