How Reno Racers Keep Their Cool
At the Reno air races, pilots know that to go fast, you have to stay cool. That’s where Pete Law comes in.
- By Preston Lerner
- Air & Space magazine, September 2012
(Page 2 of 6)
“So the induction temp is 80 degrees centigrade?” Law asks as T-6s drone overhead. “Does that seem reasonable to you?”
Cornell nods. “Oh, yeah.”
“That’s a number I would expect with what you’re doing with the jets. But the manifold pressure and the torque pressure look weird.”
“Yeah, torque per inch of manifold is cockeyed,” Cornell says morosely.
“Jeez, I’m going to have to think about this.” Law rummages through an omnipresent briefcase. “I have a chart that shows horsepower versus rpm, and it shows deriched and non-deriched fuel flows. It’s in here somewhere.”
Despite his expertise with long-obsolete piston engines, Law had never so much as seen a warbird when he hired on at Lockheed in 1959. He started working on the engineering environmental control systems on the F-104G and enjoyed the challenge. After two years devoted to Mach 2 Starfighters, he got another assignment. “Everybody on the ‘white’ [non-classified] side of the company dreamed of being ‘borrowed’ by Ben Rich to work at the Skunk Works,” Law recalls. “In 1961, he ‘borrowed’ me for six months, and I stayed for 40 years.”
Law’s first assignment was structural thermal analysis of the A-12, the Central Intelligence Agency’s single-seat predecessor to the SR-71 Blackbird. Flying at Mach 3.2, the A-12 reached temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, posing thermodynamics issues that aeronautical engineers had never faced. Rich, a thermodynamicist himself, was a mentor to Law and in 1980, a few years after Rich succeeded aviation icon Kelly Johnson as chief of the Skunk Works, he tapped Law to head the thermodynamics department. Long before that, though, Rich had triggered a watershed event in Law’s other career.
In the fall of 1964, Rich introduced Law to Lockheed test pilot Darryl Greenamyer. In addition to testing the A-12, Greenamyer had just flown his own Grumman F8F Bearcat in the inaugural air races at Reno. He was looking for more speed, and he thought Law could help him find it by revisiting a concept that the Germans had used on the record-setting pre-war Messerschmitt Me 209.