Reno Air Racing: Thunder mustang Update!

Lloyd Hamilton

By: Brad Haskin


Yesterday, the air racing fraternity lost one of its most revered and respected pilots. Lloyd Hamilton, who for over twenty five years, maintained a constant presence in the Unlimited Class in his two Hawker Sea Furies, "Baby Gorilla" and "Furias", died yesterday in the Bahamas after suffering an apparent heart attack.

Lloyd Hamilton entered his first air race at the 1971 Mojave 1000, flying an On-Mark A-26 Invader conversion. The following year, he made his first appearance at Reno. A 747 Captain for Pan Am Airlines by trade, Hamilton purchased an ex-Australian Navy Sea Fury and shipped it to the states to be rebuilt to flying condition. Based out of Lloyd’s home field in Santa Rosa, California, the Fury was painted a dark green with yellow trim, christened "Baby Gorilla" and given race number 16. The following year, the plane was given a more appropriate Royal Australian Navy paint scheme, which would become a trademark sight on the ramp at races all over the United States. Except for an engine failure and ensuing crash landing following the 1976 Mojave Air Races, which kept the Fury out of commission for two years, Lloyd and "Baby Gorilla" made virtually every Unlimited race ever held between 1972 and 1995.

In the late 1970’s, Hamilton started making noise about building a highly modified Sea Fury strictly for racing. After years of amassing parts and being built bits at a time, "Head Gorilla" made its first appearance in 1983. Race 15 was equipped with an R-4360 radial, similar to the Sanders family’s "Dreadnought" racer. Admittedly operating on a much smaller budget than the "Dreadnought" team, "Head Gorilla" was rather rough looking, sitting unpainted in the pits. When mechanical problems prevented the racer from qualifying for the ’83 Reno Air Races, the name "Havenaught" was hastily scrawled across the engine cowling.

The following year, the aircraft returned to Reno renamed "Furias", resplendent in a beautiful red and gold paint scheme. The aircraft was fast, but disappointment struck again in 1984 in a much more dramatic fashion. During one of the heat races the huge radial backfired, blowing the entire engine cowling off the plane in flight. As pieces slowly drifted down to the ground, Lloyd made a hasty emergency landing on the main runway.

While "Baby Gorilla" always seemed to be a solid, respectable ride, Lloyd’s Luck with "Furias" was much more frustrating. While he was able to garner a strong runner-up position in the 1986 Reno Championship race, it was the best the combination was ever able to muster. By 1990, "Furias" was regulated to the Bronze division due to lack of equipment. The following year, in Lloyd’s own words, "she was put out to pasture."

Hamilton continued racing his faithful "Baby Gorilla" until 1995, when he sold the airplane to an overseas buyer and it was shipped to England. Lloyd holds the record for the most continuous number of races participated in. With "Baby Gorilla" sold, and "Furias" sitting forlornly in the hangar, Lloyd raced one heat in the Sanders’ family #19 "Parts Fury" in 1996 to keep the streak intact. In 1997, Hamilton brought "Furias" out for one last charge and finished sixth in the Gold Championship.

1998 and ’99 saw Hamilton without a ride due to serious medical problems with his back. The doctor had ordered him grounded and Lloyd was the proverbial fish out of water to those who saw him on the Reno ramp. Hamilton, however, had always been a strong supporter in the politics of the Unlimited Class, including several stints as President and Vice-President. Even though he was without a ride, Lloyd continued to make his presence and experience felt, running the safety committee debriefings after every Unlimited heat.

Though in later years, he walked around in his black Hamilton Air Race Team hat, my fondest memories of Lloyd will always be him clowning around in the pits wearing his favorite "Aussie" hat. Lloyd’s legacy will be that of a serious racer, but one who was a friend to anyone who ever met him.

G’Day, Lloyd. It ain’t gonna be the same without you.


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