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Barnstormers Logo ISSUE 11 - March 2008
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Last week we learned that David Rose and his crew down at the “Squirrel Works” in San Diego had designed a unique aircraft intended to be used in the ‘Unlimited Class’ air races. Their plans included a construction time of just ten months which would seem a tall order for most of us, but these guys took it in stride and were taxiing the bird after just eight months. They then showed their creation to the officials of the Reno Air Race Association and the Unlimited Class. The effort was roundly applauded; everyone liked the bird.

At the time the aircraft was built, the only requirements to enter an aircraft into the “Unlimited Class” was that it had to have a reciprocating engine and a propeller. But unknown to our heroes, events, which would eventually prove terminal to their efforts, were already afoot.

Concerns had been raised over the question of large and small aircraft racing together. Thunder Mustangs wanted to race with the Unlimiteds; so did the fast Lancairs; then there were four or five other scratchbuilt racers out there that might qualify in the Unlimited Division. The question needed to be addressed.

The Unlimited boys meet on the question and decided they were OK with it. They would race against anything with a reciprocating engine and a propeller that could qualify at the minimum speed already defined by their rules.

But the Reno Air Race Association had another problem. It wasn’t just the size factor for them. They held ultimate responsibility for the safety of their event and saw potential liability issues imbedded herein. On the other hand, they were also loath to quell any racing activity as after all, that’s what they were all about.

Ultimately, they instead of a complex set of rules that governed size, speed, power, etc., the officials decide to simply require a minimum empty gross weight of 4500 pounds for all Unlimited Class racers participating in the Reno National Championship Air Races. The Association recognized that there were military fighters out there that didn’t weigh much more than that, and that fighters had raced successfully for 60 years. They reasoned correctly that the weight limit would insure a basic similarity among the racers making liability issues difficult to raise.

They enacted the rule. It was the articulo mortis for our boys. Their little racer had an empty gross weight of just 1800 pounds. No place to add 2700 pounds; no way to carry it if they could add the weight; if there was room and it could carry the weight the expensive 1200 HP engine would need to be replaced, and so on and so forth. They parked it.

But “wait” you say – the point of the story was to find out what they did with this beautiful bird which now had no useful purpose what ever.

The little bird sat alone in a hangar, out of sight and out of mind for a year. Then one day as David was considering selling its engine (after all, it was an expensive, serious 1200 hp, normally aspirated race engine with only two or three hours run time on he realized that this aircraft could qualify in the Jet Class! It was perfect. The recently drawn Jet Class rules admitted any non-afterburning jet aircraft with a maximum wing sweep of 15 degrees. The wing on the racer was exactly 15 degrees, there were a lot of jet engines out there to compete against and the racer’s engine was already mounted behind - the swap would be a natural. Perfect.

Two weeks later, a running J-85 sat on a stand next to the little racer. It would be a perfect marriage. With the big V-8 engine removed there was plenty of room for the J-85, plus another fuel cell. Now the gross takeoff weight would be 2800 pounds and the thrust available would be 2950.

So that’s their plan. Sour lemons to lemonade. The pretty little racer will fly as a jet next year so look for this beautiful little Jet Class racer at Reno in ’09.

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