| Lee Behel pilots the one-off George Pereira-designed GP-5 with his son Jay Behel and Vicky Benzing piloting the GP-4 (photo by Tyson V. Rininger)
By Randy Dufault
August 2, 2013 - In 1989 George Pereira and some friends believed they could build a competitive airplane for the Unlimited Class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada.
"At the time if you could make the airplane go 400 mph you could be competitive," said Lee Behel of San Jose, California. "A lot has happened since then, and it takes 500 mph now.
"But 400 is competitive in the Sport Class."
Behel now owns Pereira's 2005 racing creation, the GP5. Behel first raced it at Reno last year; he brought the little red craft here to EAA Oshkosh 2013.
Pereira engaged Behel to fly it at Reno in 2010. The engine failed before qualifying.
Behel acquired the airplane and spent two years to rebuild it.
Then on a test flight with the new engine the right main gear unlocked in-flight. He was going fast; when the gear came down the force broke the side brace, and he made a one-wheel landing and ran off into the infield.
Behel stuck with the small-block Chevy configuration around which Pereira originally designed the airplane - but built by a race-car engine shop.
Despite being built for a single mission the airplane has very nice flying qualities.
"There is no fuel in the wings. So it makes the airplane quite nimble," Behel said. "It is really a delightful airplane to fly."
Behel believes he is ready for this year's Reno races.
"[Last year at Reno] I qualified at 363 mph and placed fourth overall in the race," Behel said. "I've done some development work so I expect to be faster this year.
Unfortunately so will everybody else so I probably will be working very hard to hang on to fourth place in the Sport Class.
Behel finished with the best overall time for a piston aircraft in this year's AirVenture Cup; son, Jay, flew Pereira's GP4 prototype. The GP4, which Lee Behel also currently owns, is the 1984 Homebuilt Grand Champion.
Lee brought the GP5 to AirVenture mainly because it has a legion of fans that have followed its progress for years. Taking a plane meant only to fly short distances, for short periods of time, halfway across the country, however, is not something to take lightly.
"It was no small adventure getting here," Behel said. There is just no redundancy anywhere.
"If something happens, it takes all the decision-making out of the equation. It is just not something that you are going to go out and fly on a lark to go have a $100 hamburger."