I went up to the Yolo County Airport and met Will Whiteside at the awesome Davis Flight Support to do an interview about Will's 2009 Reno race week. It was great getting to hang out with him and here's our interview. Will gets extra special thanks because after I transcribed it and my dad helped me edit it, Will fixed it up and made it look great! Hope you like it!
Will, can you tell me about your 2009 race week and what happened with Steadfast? I was really sorry to see that Steadfast didn't come up - what happened?
Well, we took SteadFast down to the Chino airshow and it worked great on the way down and on the way back. We flew at the airshow and had a great time. It was an awesome airshow; it's the best one to go to. We got it home and then Bob Button threw a big barbecue where he was having a lot of warbirds come and we were invited with Steadfast. Voodoo wasn't flying so there wasn’t a conflict. So I brought Steadfast over and on descent the engine started to run really rough and I made an emergency landing. We basically had Steadfast all part in the Voodoo hanger for, oh about a month or month and a half, trying to fix things, trying to troubleshoot the problem. Never came up with the problem though we thought we had it under control. We thought we had it fixed and we flew home to Santa Rosa and then once on descent into Santa Rosa, it started up again with the running rough part. So we worked from all the way from May until the very last week that we could enter it in the Reno Air Races which was probably about five days prior to the Sunday at Reno. We rebuilt every system that feeds the engine, Mags, harness, fuel and carb. Even at Reno during the time we were out practicing and qualifying Voodoo, I would practice with Voodoo and then a friend of mine named Mike Stevens would fly me home in his Beech Baron. During this the crew was working on Steadfast all day and all night for a week, the bill for Fuel for flight testing was mounting and the parts bill for changing to new parts was big even though we had a giant amount of help from sponsors like Ray Anderson, Marty King and Norman Stubbs. We worked with Pete Law, Dave Cornell and Bill Kerchenfaut just to name a few and in the end, we just couldn't get it running well enough to take it over the Sierras into Reno. We're not sure what's wrong with the engine but the engine is off and it's being repaired at Anderson Aeromotive up in Idaho by Ray Anderson, who is one of our sponsors. The airplane is about 500 percent nicer, systems-wise now that all the systems have been overhauled and replaced.
I can't wait to fly it when I don't have to make an emergency landing! When the engine blew at Reno in Voodoo, I wasn't worried about the landing as I had just dead sticked SteadFast enough times to be practiced at that maneuver! I know in the end the fix to the engine will be simple as it is everything major checks out. Now Ray will find the smoking gun. It seems that fuel delivery becomes a problem once the engine heat up to operating temperature.
Will you be bringing Steadfast to Reno next year?
The idea is to bring Steadfast back to Reno next year. You know, hopefully we can get it into the gold and if in fact it makes it into the gold, I'll have a backup pilot standing by ready to jump in and race in the gold while we are in gold winning the Gold in Voodoo. Hopefully!
Can you tell me about your 2009 race week at Reno with Voodoo?
That started out about two months before race week. At about that time I had just gotten back from flying with the Collings Foundation. Last year I spent about two months out on the road with the Collings Foundation flying their C model Mustang. I had some time off from my job as a corporate pilot and it allowed me to be out on the road with them and I was able to fly the Mustang quite a bit. We didn't have any problem with their Mustang which was really nice as I had been fighting the Yak for 2 months up to that point.
We got the airplane ready here at Yolo and about the time I got back from the Collings tour, I found out that we'd be working with my friend, Bill Kerchenfaut, the most winning crew chief up at Reno. He's got a lot of wins under his belt, and is a really nice guy, and I was very excited about that. He really brings a lot of direction, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of his past experience with all these little things that can go wrong at Reno. No matter how good your program is, it takes just a little thing to throw you out of the running. And it only happens once a year and everything has to be perfect. So he and a number of other great guys like Frank Young, JC Caulkins, Steve Lamb, Mikey Wilton, Mike Luvara and just numerous other guys that are knowledgeable. They got airplane ready and we took it up to Reno.
There were a lot of things that we didn't have time to improve on aerodynamically. Ever since it was built, let's say was built as a racer, it wasn't refined say like Strega. They are 20 years ahead of us on that front. It's going through that refinement now. Essentially they got airplane ready to race reliably. In the end I say it was extremely reliable as the failure on Sunday was not a crew failure just a part failure. We got up to Reno and of course I had my hands full getting Steadfast ready and my attention was becoming divided between the two and I didn't really want that. I just wanted Steadfast to run flawlessly like it always does. I wanted to just focus on Voodoo and fly Steadfast when it was time to fly Steadfast. I knew I could handle both as long as my Yak wasn't getting in the way like other years.
We got up to Reno and we practiced a bit it was about the fastest I had gone with Voodoo, we've made some changes this year that helped the airplane fly faster and maybe fly little bit differently. The power settings we were running were higher than any I had ever run before and all that was new. It really turned into a different race being in the top two as we were, compared to running Steadfast in the silver. It really becomes a much more serious race. I hadn't felt like this in years. I like racing in the unlimited but I LOVE running at the top of the Unlimited Gold! Everything is more intense! We start everyday at about in the hotel at about 0430 in the morning. We get in the van and we drive out to the airport. At sunrise we take off and go fly, basically we go test. We run the power settings and use that time to judge whether or not our changes helped, how the engine’s running, are the sparkplugs good, if the magnetos are working, just to make sure that everything is working just right and all the changes or adjustments that we'd made the night before are in fact valid. So we'll go out and run power that will run race power up there over the field and that's really fun. It's referred to as “Dawn Patrol” and it’s always something I've wanted to do. We got to fly every day which was nice. So it’s kind of nice to go out and fly the airplane in the morning, it’s the best way to start the day! Usually the weather's nice, the sun’s in your eyes a little bit but it's not a big deal. There are a couple other fast racers up there at the airport with you and you’re all running power and it sounds great from down below, and it's really just a fun thing to be involved with to get to do that. So we do that and then we basically ready the airplane for the race that day and that literally takes all day. We'll come back in from that dawn patrol flight and then I rush off to a pilot briefing, sometimes we come in so late I have to show up to the briefing in my flight suit because I don't have time to change. You get there and you sit for an hour on a pilot briefing and talk about what happened the day before safety wise or just event wise, to just to make sure that everybody's on the same page, that everybody's operating safely; they know what the rules are and how to handle certain situations. In the unlimited division, we have one of our main instructors, Matt Jackson who gives a great briefing every morning on how to stay alive being an unlimited race pilot. It's a wonderful briefing because his insight is great because he’s had to use all of the stuff. He certainly had his share of engine failures and situations that have come up for him on the racecourse...and off.
We get back from the briefing and basically get back to being with the crew and getting the airplane ready and sometimes there are interviews to give. You can easily have the entire day go away just sitting there in the pit being part of the crew getting the airplane ready.
Well, before you know it, it's time to start thinking about going racing. An hour before the race, I start to get ready. I put my suit on, make sure my helmet is ready to go, get my race face on, start really getting serious about doing this and that's fun. I always really look forward to that part because you see, that's what I've waited all year to do. If you think about how little you get to do that. Yet you only get to do that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in general if you're in the gold. The top six airplanes stand down on Thursday. We didn't get to race Steadfast on Thursday and I was really disappointed because I was really looking to kind of breaking the ice with Steadfast and getting more practice laps in it. Sort of, "get the rust off". It's always something that you'd like to do before you dive in at almost 500+ miles an hour on Friday and try to mix it up with a bunch of experienced fast guys, going fast.
So we get ready, they pull the airplane out, I start to mill around a bit more, I'm not really engaging in any serious conversation and kinda go off on my own, go sit on top of the trailer and maybe watch the silver race or watch another race of the sport class race and I just enjoy getting up there and doing my own thing, not discussing the subject. This is the method I used when I raced Speedway Motorcycles 4 nights weekly for a living. It helps me focus.
So then it's time to go get up into the airplane and you know Bob Button (He says his wife Christine) owns the airplane and he usually has a few choice words for me like “Don't break the airplane!” The other guys wish me luck and that's great and they wish you well and you go out there start up and then taxi out. You just kind a look around and you're looking at airplanes like Strega, Rare Bear, Czech Mate, and Dreadnought. You're looking at these airplanes that you dreamed of just seeing in person let alone racing with and these guys are all my heroes, by far. You know these are the guys that I've watched and wanted to emulate, to race with. Of course I had no idea I'd ever be able to play with these guys. It truly is an honor to be doing this.
When we take off, you want to have a good join up and you want to be right there, you don't want to be behind because no matter how much power you have, it seems like you don't want to run a lot of power to catch up with the group so you want to have a good solid formation join up to see that don't have to use up a lot of power. I'm always impressed on how Tom Camp uses "Cut Off" so well in that little F4F Wildcat. It's funny that you go out and run 120+ inches of manifold pressure but on the join up, if you're running anything over about 46 inches, you feel like you're running too much power! So it's kind of funny the way that we racers think about saving these engines. We are really concerned about making the engine last just as long as we can even though we'll go out and under race conditions, we’ll punish these things. But if we're not racing, it's a really hard thing to do when you pull the gear up after takeoff, is to not pull back almost all the power you can just to maintain level flight. You just want to baby this engine all the time. And that's the way we fly World War II airplanes because the engines are costly, they’re rare, and hard-to-find parts and there's just so many things about them that makes you want to make these engine last, aside from your little fanny being in the seat and not wanting to have to walk home! So once we join up we come down the chute and the race is on!
I heard that you maydayed during the Sunday race what happened? I wasn't there.
Yeah we did, but let me tell you about Friday first. Let me give you the recap. On Friday we had qualified in I believe it was fifth or sixth place, which is what we were aiming for. They told me we want to be in sixth place and anything you did above that is great. Because we want to run as low power as we can to get sixth position. I mean it's a strategy that every racer is using so it's nothing secret. Some guys don't mind going out there running a lot of power and say, getting the fastest qualifying position, which is great. We just want to make sure that we were able to keep that engine running all day on Sunday, which didn't happen as a matter of fact, but we did our best to try to do that.
So on Friday went out and started outside of Dreadnought and he was in fifth and he was on the inside of us and after the release I ended up catching and flying on the wing of Dreadnought. With that power setting, we were pretty evenly matched and I got to work on my formation flying and trying to pass him and really had a great time out there working the angles. Basically just practicing as there was no reason to pass him there was no race to win. Friday really doesn't mean anything. Some guys go into the idea that on Sunday they want to be on the pole position well I think that it could be a good thing or could be a bad thing, I don't know, it's just a thing. I think no matter where you start if you've got a faster airplane and fly a good line you're going to be triumphant in the end. We went out on Friday and I think somebody cut a pylon, I think it might've been Czech Mate and somebody got past and I think we ended up moving up to fifth-place.
Then on Saturday we started in fifth and we came down the chute and we were using a lot more power on Saturday which was nice because other than Strega, we were able to out accelerate the group. So all of a sudden you know, we were going down the chute and frankly in Voodoo it's very hard to tell the difference between going for 400 and going 500. Once at airplanes get going fast, it's just fast. We saw speeds coming down the chute almost 550 miles an hour, so that's very fast for a P-51. The airplane modified in its race form is very tolerable of high indicated airspeed without the control forces getting really high. We came down the chute and immediately were in second place and we held that second place so we thought. We were in second until the end of the race and it was a great accomplishment for us. So basically we pulled off the course at the end of the race and we came in behind Steve in Strega. As I landed they told me that Strega had cut a pylon. That penalty that he got put him behind us and we ended up winning the Saturday race, which was a major event for me and I never thought that I would ever win a gold race in the unlimited at Reno! I mean it was unbelievable! Someday maybe we'll be able to do the same on Sunday however it happens I'd be happy with. After we taxied in on Saturday and everybody was so happy, I told everybody, I said, “Hey look you've got about 23 hours to really revel in this victory because we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow at this time. So just enjoy it.” That's what we're here to do but it's a really big thing to be in this position.
So Sunday was really nice. We started on the pole which is really saying something for Voodoo, and the team was really happy. Strega passed us right out of the gate, right at the start; it was just going faster this year. He had about 5 or 6 miles an hour on us at times and he'd just shot right ahead of us and he was gone. I got into his wake twice and that slowed us down a little. It was nice to be rolled out of the turn instead of into like some have experienced. Then I'm not sure if he started coming back on power, but we were able to start putting a little time on but eventually we blew up on lap five. Just earlier the engine was running great and everything was just super smooth - until lap five. Coming around pylon two it started to shake and then by pylon three I was coming out of the power and put in the nose up and started looking for a place to land. It's really nice to have 500 Miles per Hour behind you when the engine goes South. It wasn't a multiple emergency like I keep getting asked. Someone must have said something about smoke in the cockpit because most questions revolve around that. For the last two years up here I've had to mayday the airplane from very fast speeds, I have also been fortunate that the windshield wasn't covered with oil and that could mean the propeller had turned into a big speed brake or worse smoke or fire!
Wow, that sucks!
Will had some great videos from inside the cockpit of Voodoo. It was awesome getting a play by play narration of the race week and even lap by lap!
Any performance modifications you can tell us about for next year?
Well I think everybody knows that all these airplanes go through extensive aerodynamic programs where you work really hard at sealing airflow from going in and out of the airframe, in and out of the ailerons, the flaps, the wings, gear wells, the elevator, the canopy, you know everything you work really hard trying to keep air from going in and out of the airplane and that's just pure speed. Anytime you can keep air from having to decelerate and then re-accelerate as it enters and exits is drag reduction.
Engine program, I am unsure of that, not because it's a secret, but because I don't know if they know exactly what they're going to do yet. I know that there is, has been talk of a boil off system but I don't know if that's for this coming year or another year. But I've heard that that could be something in the future, and that would be really neat. I'd love to see a Mustang with a boil off system and see how much difference that made, if any. I know that Jimmy Leeward and his “Galloping Ghost” this year has a boil off system and no scoop, and I'm really excited to see what it looks like because I think it looks really great and also how much performance increase that yields by going that route. I mean I'm as much of a fan of this stuff as I am a participant and I want to see everybody go fast. It's a great show and I am I'm a big fan! No, I love these airplanes, I just love the way they look. They’re the neatest airplanes on the earth and there's no airplane cooler than an unlimited racer!
So what's the difference between flying with the standard canopy and the turtle deck? Why do they call it a turtle deck?
Well I don't know about the latter but I can tell you that the difference between flying with the stock canopy and the race canopy is that the obstructions to your vision are much less with the little race canopy. I would like to say obviously the little canopy is more aerodynamically cleaner but I don't know that for sure because I have never seen a piece of paper showing wind tunnel data that shows that it is or isn’t. I'd never talked to somebody that said, ‘I just went out and tested my airplane today in these conditions with this canopy and that canopy. I honestly can't say I know for sure but look how fast Dan Martin went with the stock canopy. I'm pretty sure it was stock and I know that he turned speeds of 480+. We’re looking at speeds not much faster. And we're totally modified airframe wise with short wings, short tailed different scoop, granted he's got that stuff but he didn't go as crazy with the mods as Strega and Voodoo. So I can tell you that I like looking out of it. I tend to sit lower for some reason this year than I did last year. I don't know if it's the cushion that we had or I just felt more hunkered down because I felt less protected without the bullet proof glass! I like the looks and I think it makes airplane look racy and look like the way it should've been originally. I just love it. The turtle deck is a really neat way of finishing the job.
What are the plans for Voodoo next year? Will you be flying Voodoo next year?
The plans for Voodoo are yes, I’ll be the pilot for Voodoo next year and I think that if I can keep doing it right then that should keep working out well.
Thanks for a great interview Will!
Here is a previous interview I did with Will including his 2008 Reno race week
Will Whiteside is a Reno air racer who races his beautiful Yak 3 “Steadfast.” It has a Pratt and Whitney R-2000 and Will has proven it’s a definite contender. He also raced Bob Button’s incredible race P-51 Mustang “Voodoo.” My dad and I went to the 2008 Reno Air races and loved it. We were by the hilarious “Section 3” fans and we noticed something interesting. When “Strega”, “Dago Red”, or “Rare Bear” taxied by, the crowd would cheer for that plane. But when Will would taxi by, the crowd cheered “Will!” He’s obviously got a lot of fans!
My dad and I met him at his hanger where I got to check out Steadfast up close and I got to interview Will about his 2008 Reno race week. He told us about the week flying Steadfast and also about his mayday in Voodoo.
An early start:
"I would say that I was probably about 4 or 5 years old when I first fell in love with flying. My dad was really into radio controlled models and I really thought that was cool. He had a lot of Mustangs and some trainers too, but it was the P-51 that really had my interest. I have a lot of pictures of me holding this big model running around with it. But probably the day I was most infected by flying and I knew it was something I was really interested in was a quiet Saturday morning when a S2 tanker flew over our house at tree top level. It just scared the daylights out of me. I thought WOW – that is the coolest thing I’d ever seen! I was about 7 or 8 years old and it made such a huge impression on me that I just had to do that. I built lots of plastic and balsa wood models with my dad (Sounds familiar to me!) and pretty much anything I could get my hands on that flew was pretty cool. I probably went for my first airplane ride when I was about 7 or 8 in a Navion. Some family friends had one and I got to fly it and I thought this was really great!"
"I got into air racing originally with radio controlled airplanes. Over in Sacramento they would hold a race every year, they did this in Arizona and other places but they had a mini Reno with a pace plane with smoke, and it was actually a deal where they would judge your airplane and everyone would qualify. They’d break them up into gold, silver, and bronze classes and you’d start out in each heat. There was three days of flying and you’d start out following the pace plane. There would be only two pylons because it’s very hard to judge from the ground a third pylon so you’d go back and forth between the two pylons. We did pretty well at this and I kind of thought these airplanes are really neat."
"I’d been to an air show before and I’d seen a Mustang and I thought this was something I was really interested in. I loved motorcycle racing but you know but I love airplanes more than I love motorcycle racing, so I thought why aren’t I racing airplanes? When the opportunity came up to learn to fly a couple of years later my main goal was how in the world am I going to get enough experience to be able to get into the Unlimiteds at Reno? With a lot of work and a lot of time that I thought – lets say that I lost sight of the goal because I had an airline job, and a corporate job, those kind of jobs happening with no way to get away to Reno. It was difficult to see how that was going to work out. Money is always an issue and the opportunities weren’t available."
"I had to figure out what my way into this was going to be and I bought an RV-4 so I could learn formation flying with C.J. Stevens. C.J.’s been my mentor, kind of my surrogate dad sort of and he’s been my way that this has all worked out. My first warbird ride was in a Bristol powered Sea Fury. I’d flown up to Reno in the back seat of the Sea Fury, “Baby Gorilla,” of Lloyd Hamilton with CJ. CJ got me a ride up to Reno in that and we went around the course with a bunch of Mustangs. These were the first laps I’d ever made at Reno. It was overwhelming no doubt, but that’s when I knew that it’s what I wanted to do."
"I took my airplane up, got my race license in 2000 in Sport Class, but the airplane wasn’t fast enough to race. I probably could have brought it up to race but it would have been pointless because I would have dragged everybody down. So I had to just kind of cool my heels until I could find someone to let me race their airplane. In the end it took from 2000 until 2005 when it worked out that I would race CJ’s airplane, and it was probably that long to find a work schedule that would work with going to Reno. I sold the RV after I’d learned aerobatics and a lot of formation time. I bought a T-6 so I could learn how to fly that kind of airplane. I moved back here from Southern California and immediately Art Vance had it in his mind that I was going to do this. He let me start to fly and train me in his T-6. Dan Vance was one of my instructors as well. And that led him to say “if you buy your own T-6, I’ll teach you how to fly the Mustang.” And I did and he did. He said he’s got to pass this on to the next generations, we’ve got to build up a pilot group that can build up the next pilot group for warbirds and that vintage type aircraft. It’s such a dwindling group of guys because it’s so cost prohibitive."
"I bought the T-6 and flew it for about a year. I built probably 200+ hours in the thing. I had a big chunk of money and I just spent it on gas. I flew it every day and did a lot of formation and a lot of aerobatics and I really learned to fly the T-6. I just loved it and that worked its way into flying “Speedball Alice” and “Lady Jo.” Then I bought the Yak from Eddie Andreini. It was a brand new airplane and it had a lot of issues and it was basically cranked out of the factory really fast and brought over here unfinished. He got it flying but didn’t finish it so I’ve been finishing it for the last two and a half years."
Flying a warbird:
"There are things that arise all the time with these warbirds. They weren’t made to last more than a couple hundred hours. These airplanes are exceptional. If you compare these WWII airplanes to something that’s built today you’d just want to throw rocks at the stuff that’s built today. This stuff is built so much stronger and obviously it’s a war machine. Civilian and war machine are completely different idea in design. They’re exceptional airplanes and they fly wonderfully! I love my Yak. It’s a great flying airplane. It’s sort of like the RV-4 of warbirds. It’s extremely maneuverable, its very light, great performance and very easy to take care of. It’s harder to fly than any P-51. The ailerons at high speed are very heavy, the visibility over the nose is poor in general, and it’s not quite as civil as a P-51, even Voodoo running around the course at 460."
"To take this around the course at 400 is a lot more work – its way more work. It’s more work for the pilot to make it go around the course nicely. Whereas the Mustang is so well designed that it’s made to go 500 and this is made to go 300. Sure, it does it fine but if you’re very perceptive to what the airplane is doing and what it’s feeding back to you, when you get this thing over 400, you know it and it’s talking to you. It’s saying, “ok, were going over 400, I’ll do it but are you sure you want to?” I don’t want to say it like that because it’s pretty easy to do, the more we refine it, the easier it is to take it fast, but the difference between going fast in a Mustang and going fast in this is night and day. And going fast in a Sea Fury, I have some back seat time in a Sea Fury and I can tell you that’s effortless. You might as well be in a fighter jet. It’s made to love 500."
"One of the main reasons why this doesn’t love that high speed is the flat bottom wing. What they call a Clark YN airfoil. It’s a flat bottom trainer wing. It’s really nice up to a point and once you get beyond where it’s made to live it tells you that it’s unhappy."
"So it’s really neat. It’s hard to compare because they’re so different, an early design, a Mustang, and a Sea Fury. When you jump in that Sea Fury after you’ve flown the other two, you go WOW! This is so cool! Especially if you like to go out and do aerobatics and pay attention to how the stick feels and how the rudder pedals feel and how much vertical penetration these things have. We went around in the back seat of Argonaut with Dennis Sanders last year at PRS (Pylon Racing School) and we were following Steve Hinton Jr. in Strega and we were back there playing around in his wake, and there is so much aileron authority, and the ailerons are so nice on the Sea Fury that we could just sit in his wake and continue to fly the airplane comfortably. In my plane wake turbulence is such a tough deal for the reason of heavy ailerons at high speed."
"Wake turbulence can feel like crossing a boats wake on a pair of double water skis. If you were in the right point you would feel the airplane go up over it and smooth air and back across it. But if you get into the wing tip vortices or even propeller wash from a big propellered airplane and you’re in a little airplane like this Yak, the ailerons are very heavy at the high speeds we’re at. So I’ll fly the airplane with both hands on the stick and the problem with that is the elevator is so light on the Yak. It has an incredible amount of elevator authority so it’s really easy to pull too much G at high speed. So the controls become very out of harmony. The elevator becomes very sensitive and the ailerons become very heavy, so you have to keep that in mind that every time you move that stick that you’re not pitching it too much because any time you load up with G’s, you’re slowing the airplane down. It’s very easy to make the airplane go slow on the course but it’s also really easy to make it go fast. As long as you’re really cognizant of the way you’re flying the airplane, you can make one of these go really fast. This year we’ve added servo tabs to the ailerons but we just didn’t have enough time to play with the geometry and flight test the geometry of a high force servo tab before Reno. They do help and it’s probably about 10% better. If we can get 50% better that would be great. We want to ease into the aerodynamic changes like that with a lot of flight testing. You don’t just throw things on and take it out to see what happens! It’s a one shot deal."
"A heavy airplane with little wings causes the most disruption of air because he’s creating a huge amount of lift out of a very little wing. So that’ll make really big wingtip vortices. Now, if he has a little propeller, that’s not going to be too terribly bad, but a big propeller really does disturb the air. The biggest problem that I find from wake turbulence isn’t so much the slowing me down, which is the easiest part of the equation, but here you are down on the pylons, and you go through someone’s wing tip vortices or wake turbulence from someone’s propeller at 50-75 feet off the ground and you get rolled and up getting inverted. As soon as we get into one of these situations, the idea is to push away from the ground, which is essentially going to get you out of the wake turbulence. In PRS, we teach implicitly that you don’t pull once you’re inverted. We’ll take the students up and we’ll have them roll upside down and we want to watch them push their way out of this and gain altitude or even hold altitude, and then have them roll themselves back out with out pulling the nose through back to the ground and losing altitude. The instinct is to pull back on the stick when something scary happens because were all used to level flight, not inverted. It’s like when somebody loses the engine and their stalling toward the ground and mom never taught you to push toward the ground – toward danger!"
“Reno 2008 for us was interesting because I had two deals going. With Steadfast it was wondering how propeller and nose case would work. We went on to try the old propeller with the new nose case and it didn’t work. We changed back to the configuration we went up with, fast nose case an little propeller and the airplane flew great once we had the bugs worked out, which was a manifold pressure problem, then a cracked exhaust stack, a bad plug and a bad mag. We essentially had more problems this year that we’ve ever had before. We didn’t actually get all those things identified until we got back home and found all those problems. We aimed for 400 and didn’t quite get there because of the mechanical failures. We learned a lot about what is possible to fix out there. Even though we went slower than we had expected, because of the mechanical problems, we still went faster than last year. That’s because of our aerodynamic cleanup program, and the mechanical changes we did, it all made sense what we did and it all came to fruition with a speed increase despite the mechanical problems. We shot for 400, we went 388 in qualifying, 394 in the race, and we had race speeds higher this year than we had last year in qualifying while down on power. So that says a lot. Race speeds in this airplane are generally down 20 mph compared to qualifying. Cleaning up the aerodynamics, rebuilding the wings, propeller, and nose case is what did it. The paint I’m sure helps by being smooth instead of primer. For next year what we’re hoping to do is bring out a solid airplane with a different propeller again and maybe a higher horsepower engine. We’re looking at using three shortened Mustang propeller blades and modifying an R-2000 from making about 1600 hp to about 2000 hp. We think it’s pretty doable. If we go too much horsepower we may destabilize the airplane and have to add tail like was done to Czech Mate. Frankly we don’t want to do that because it wouldn’t look like a Yak anymore. If we can add 15 mph to what we’re doing here, there is a really good chance that we’ll be in the gold. We’ve spoken with an aerodynamicist and he says if we add 400-500hp, you’re looking at another 20 mph. That would be great and we’d say end of program - to try to go any further than that wouldn’t make any sense really.
"Hopefully we can secure some sponsorship. 30-40k to build and test this engine and once we feel it’s reliable enough, to put on the airplane. It’s not going to be too exotic; it’ll be standard old R-2000 that we massage so we can run more RPM. We run currently at 2,800 RPM. Beyond that it becomes a problem of rod stretch and floating valves so if we go with lighter pistons and valve train, with heavier valve springs, maybe a redesigned piston, port and polish the heads, and maybe even a redesigned blower of modern day efficiency. All that should give us several hundred more horsepower over where we are now. One horsepower per cubic inch is pretty doable.”
Here is Will’s mayday story with Voodoo:
“It was the first time I’d been on the course with Voodoo and I wasn’t supposed to fly the airplane until Tuesday. This was Sunday and Bob Button came up to me and he was in his shorts and flip flops and said “if you want to fly the airplane, you can fly it”. It was out and ready to go so how was I going to turn that down?! To fly one of those airplanes at big power and fast speed you really want to get your head wrapped around it. I hadn’t woken up that morning or gone to bead the night before thinking about doing this. I was thinking Steadfast. So I said give me 30 minutes to get myself ready for this. I sat down and had a coke to get my head ready. We talked power setting and these were power settings I’d never heard. Keep in mind that the most power I’d ever run on a Mustang was probably in “Speedball Alice” on take off of 61” manifold pressure at 3000 RPM. That’s stock maximum takeoff power. Wartime power they could go to 67” if they were running away from somebody. I think an inspection ensued and it was kind of like, I’m going to guess it’s something they didn’t do a lot of. I don’t know that. But 61” was the power of the day out here all the time. That was a lot of power. Generally we take the boost controller of a stock Mustang and we’ll turn it back to 55” so the most power you can get is 55” manifold pressure. Bob say, “Ok, here are the power settings I want you to run when you fly it. I want you to run 70” and 3200 RPM.” I’m thinking well, that’s pretty doable but I’ve never been there so I’m not sure. Then he says, “I want you to make two laps at that then I want you to make two laps at 90” and 3400 RPM.” I grabbed a Sharpie and wrote it really big on my arm. (70”–32…90”-34) I thought COOL – this is going to be really fast! I said to Bob, “Are you going to be ok if I never get beyond 70” because I don’t want to set myself up for failure. I’ve never flown the course that fast and I know I can do it but I want to ease into this.” You want to do this in an educated manner. Everything you do you want to be pre-thought and calculated. You don’t do anything out there that you haven’t sat down and raced in your mind already. He says, ‘No problem if you only get 70”, but you’re going to love 70”!”
“So I jump in and taxi out. Of course I’ve got this other system I’m working with now. A race Mustang is quite a departure away from a stock Mustang, not just in the speed and power settings, but internally the way you operate things and the way things operate is totally different. Different switches, different ideas behind the systems. This thing is totally different and it’s barely a Mustang on the inside. “
“I take it up and I’m overhead for about two circuits and I’m thinking well it’s now or never! So I turn on the ADI, you open this valve we get from True Value Hardware we call the “tweedle valve,” and you’re watching the induction temp as you bring up the power. I lower the nose and I enter the course right at pylon 8 and I come ripping through there and I’ve got 70” and 3200 RPM, and the thing feels great. Frankly Voodoo feels great when you fly it. The faster you go, the happier it is. At slow speed it kind of wallows around a little bit and you know a stock Mustang would like this better. Voodoo has a lot of roll due to yaw. I think is because of the shorter wings and it doesn’t have all the dihedral working against each other. You would think it would be more stable because it has more tail per wing, but it’s not.”
“So it feels great, I’ve got about ¾ of the lap done, and I say, “Hey Bob, this is easy, I love it, I’m in heaven and I can’t believe how nice this is to fly. I’m going to go up to the next power setting.” I pushed it up to the next power setting, 90” and 3400rpm, and used the “tweedle valve” to adjust the ADI as I’m watching the manifold temp. We try to keep it under 80°-85° C. I get down on the course at this speed and the airplane definitely accelerated and it made a huge difference. I was looking at indicated speeds of between 410 and 420mph and the airplane was just singing. I mean it felt dead smooth. I was amazed at that because people had told me how loud and how violent it is in the cockpit at those power settings. Now maybe above 100” it’s different, I’m not sure. I just can’t say. But it felt great. My airplane, Steadfast, is rough and loud and shakes and is hot. It was great.”
“The airplane’s laid over and you’re looking up through the top of the bubble canopy to find the pylons and you have to look instead of two pylons ahead now three pylons ahead and you’re trying to aim this thing for three pylons away. At that speed there’s only about three to four primary pylons you’re flying off of. So the course becomes totally different in not flying pylon to pylon, or pylon, skip one got to the next. This is pylon, skip two, and go to the next one. You definitely have to be way ahead of the plane. There was a point where I was coming around the home pylon looking at the situation thinking this is so much easier than my airplane. Bring on the traffic! I just couldn’t wait to get in a pack of guys and race this thing. The ailerons were nice, the elevator was nice, the rudder’s nice, it’s smooth, great visibility, it’s a P-51 so you feel comfortable that the thing’s not going to come apart around you and I felt like racing!”
“I made two laps like that and I said Bob this is great. Our plan was to make two laps like that and come off back at four and come in and land. “Well,” he says, “Why don’t you push it up all the way.” I said, “Say again.” He says, “Push it all the way.” I started pushing it up at about pylon six and I finished at eight. It took quite a while to get the power up nice and easy while watching the induction temp. I had the temp at between 80 and 85C. The engine was running great. I knew that fourteen and a half years of working toward those four laps was worth every bit. If you told me all your going to get out of this is four laps, I’d do it all again. It was that good. It was the neatest thing I’ve ever done. I loved it. I was born to do that. I can see why these guys spend millions to go 460 plus. I would do it in a heartbeat if I had the money. Those laps were at 460 mph.”
“As I came around pylon two, everything is just working great and I feel this little hiccup – a tiny little stutter and I’m wondering if that’s what they meant when they said it was starting to blow up. I got through ¾ of that statement in my head then the plane did it again. I thought these are becoming more frequent. So I started coming back on the power and started pulling back on the stick, pulling probably 5+ G’s. I got the nose up quick, laid on the G’s, and got the thing pointed up while I still had a lot of energy and I was going for altitude. This thing started to shake like crazy with smoke coming out of the right side. I had a little bit of the denial that everybody talks about during an emergency so I have to that I didn’t not have the denial but I got through it really, really fast, faster than I had expected. All I did was execute a plan. When I was taught to do this by C.J. Stevens, he said, “Look, you don’t go out there and make up anything if you can help it. You have a plan for everything. If you have an engine failure on takeoff, you execute the plan engine failure on takeoff. That’s what I did.”
“I was amazed when I looked over the canopy rail and I had to look a long way down and drop the wing because I couldn’t believe how high I was. I’d never had that much energy before. Four hundred and something and you come off the power and you’re suddenly a mile high and I’m thinking, how am I going to get this thing back down on that runway?! What’s the path between here and there. I’m way back on the power and C.J. pulls up next to me in the chase plane and says, “Bob, you’re smoking out of the right side and you’ve got some oil coming out.” He thought it was Bob flying. I said, “CJ, it’s not Bob, it’s Will, I sure wish it were Bob right now.” CJ said later on. “I knew you were going to be fine when you were cracking jokes!” He asked, “What runway are you looking at?” I said, “Runway 14, how’s that look to you?” “Looks great,” said CJ. I thought I could chop the power all the way, throw the flaps and the gear down and go one shot down to this runway but I thought I’ve never done that from this high up. I could do it, no problem, but I thought the engine is still running and making some power so I decided why turn this major emergency into a major emergency. Why not just come back on the power some and make a normal, stay over the airport and circle and land, landing? So I made a pretty steep approach, power off with no chance for a go around. I can only say that it does change your outlook on it when you’re doing it and you know you can’t go around. I was committed to landing and made one of the nicest landings of my life. I put this thing on the mains and I made sure I had a little extra speed and little extra float. I rolled out at the end, pulled off to the side, and put the tail out into the dirt just like they had told me, and got out. I have to say that the thing I kept thinking was “how am I going to act normal in from of those guys when they see me?” I mean, I just got to go 460 and I just got to handle a mayday in a race Mustang at Reno? I thought this is the best thing in the world! It doesn’t get any better than this! And I survived it and didn’t wreck the airplane too! There were a lot of plusses to this deal. So it was probably my best flight in my life!”
“We tow the airplane back to the pits and all the guys are there watching me and I have to keep my head down and not smile too much. It was just fabulous and I have to play it down! Bob came up, patted me on the back, and said, “Great job. Thanks so much. We’re going to put the stock motor in there now and I’ll fly the rest of the week. You just concentrate on your airplane and if you want to race Voodoo next year, you’re more than welcome.”
“It turned out I’d burned a piston. In reality it’s not that big a deal when compared to CJ’s mayday when his engine almost split in half.”
“Bob put the stock motor in and had a mayday on Thursday from a small problem. He said to me that I could race it, which I did.”
Will flew Voodoo with a stock engine on Sunday and took 1st in the final Bronze race with it at 371mph. He raced Steadfast that same day and took 3rd in the final Silver race at 385mph.
Will is a great guy and I had a lot of fun hanging out with him. He stands a very good chance of getting Steadfast into the gold races next year. I hope he gets a sponsor because I’d love to see him race Steadfast in the gold. The crowd would really love it too!
Will has a really cool website - check it out here!
Interview by Evan Isenstein-Brand. Pictures by me and my dad