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Remembering Darryl Greenamyer, Air Racing Champion

Posted on Tue, October 30, 2018
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Darryl Greenamyer, 1936 - 2018

Darryl G. Greenamyer passed away on October 1, 2018. He had a legendary career in aviation as a fighter pilot and test pilot, a championship air racer and record-breaker, and warbird owner and entrepreneur.

Born in South Gate, California, on August 13, 1936, Greenamyer took his first airplane ride with his father when he was 10 years old. He graduated high school in 1954 and earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Arizona four years later. During college and shortly after, Greenamyer served with the US Air Force and Air National Guard, where he accumulated over 1,000 hours of flight time in North American F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre, and Lockheed F-104 Starfighter aircraft. After leaving military service, Greenamyer joined the Lockheed Skunk Works in 1961 as a civilian test pilot in the Blackbird program and attended the Air Force’s Test Pilot School in 1963.

Greenamyer's Conquest I in flight, seen flying upside down.

Greenamyer's Conquest I in flight. Credit: National Air and Space Museum, NASM 2B11045.

The speed and competition of air racing drew Greenamyer to the National Championship Air Races, held every September near Reno, Nevada. World War II fighters were some of the most powerful propeller-driven, piston-engine aircraft ever made, so they were ideal for the Unlimited Class, which dictated no restrictions to limit performance. He and a team of fellow Skunk Works employees modified a Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat into a purpose-built air racer. They won the Unlimited championship six times between 1965-1969 and in 1971 with the Bearcat, which they christened Conquest I in 1969.

On August 16, 1969, Greenamyer and his team broke the 30-year-old speed record for piston-engine aircraft held by German pilot Fritz Wendel in the Messerschmitt Me 209. (The documentary Man for the Record captures that achievement.) The Society of Experimental Test Pilots recognized Greenamyer for outstanding professional accomplishment in the conduct of flight-testing and specifically for the record flight with an Iven C. Kincheloe Award for 1970. He shared the honor that year with the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat "Conquest 1"

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat "Conquest 1" on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Greenamyer continued his private quest for speed. In 1977, he captured the Unlimited championship in the iconic RB-51 Red Baron at Reno and another speed record in his junkyard-sourced F-104 Starfighter Red Baron. He raced a Lancair Legacy in the newly created Sport Class at Reno beginning in 2001 and captured four national championships between 2002 and 2005.

Darryl G. Greenamyer

Darryl G. Greenamyer, pilot, championship air racer, and entrepreneur. Credit: National Air and Space Museum, NASM 2B11047.

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