Fly low, fly fast, turn left

I'm a big fan of engineering on the wrong side of the edge. I've been taking a couple of days of vacation to hang out at the Reno Air Races. People take airplanes of all sorts, hot-rod them, and get crazy in the air. Lots of wierd geeky engineering to slap together amazing craft. People race all kinds of craft: little Pitts Special biplanes, Czech L39s, homebuilts, and everyone's favorite, the "unlimited" class. In the unlimited class, there is one limit: it must use pistons. Anything else is fair game. Most of the planes are hot-rodded WWII era craft, and to have any hope of the big trophy, you have to be able to hit at least 500 miles an hour.

There's something particularly insane about hot-rodding a Rolls Royce Merlin engine (which is a pretty common thing to do at these races). At these kinds of excessive abuse, they frequently come to bad ends. About half a dozen have bit the dust this week. The picture on the left is one that broke a piston rod on Wednesday. The picture on the right is a close up (click on the picture for a large version). The broken piston rod spun around and almost sawed the engine in half. This happened in flight. It takes a good pilot to land one of these things with no engine. Ouch.

September 17, 2006