This morning he hit 3,000 meters in 2:05, a full minute and 28 seconds better than the record set in 1978.
The team seems to thrive on a shared purpose that Whiteside works hard to foster. His goal is “to direct this group of guys to the finish line and to do it really well.” He adds: “We’ve had our highs and lows, but we’ve built that trust over the past six years.” He cites the difficulties they had with the engine’s carburetor, as this R-2000 engine came from a de Havilland of Canada DHC-6 Caribou. The air inlet above the Yak’s cowl was designed originally for fighter speed in the high 300-mph range, but the Caribou cruises at about 180 mph, and this was a colossal mismatch that cost them a lot of time when they couldn’t race.
They’re still working on improvements to the airplane and engineering a new impeller for the supercharger. Whiteside has become a record-book hound, and he’s sniffed out a whole list that the Yak can break with its wheels down. In addition to the time-to-climb records, in late April, Whiteside grabbed four more (all awaiting FAI approval): the three-kilometer and 100-kilometer speed records in weight subcategory E and the 15-kilometer speed record in both D and E.
Going after that three-kilometer record puts SteadFast in direct competition with one of the most famous aircraft at the air races. Rare Bear, the powerful Grumman Bearcat that has won three Unlimited Golds since 2002, set the bar at 528.33 mph in 1989 in a category no longer used. This summer, the Bear will take another run at the record in weight subcategory E. Whiteside says, “Bring it on.” He believes that competition for records among the big Reno racers will help publicize the sport.
A former NAA president, Malvern Gross, likened his organization to the U.S. Olympic Committee because of its role in promoting competition and recognizing achievement. Being the best in the world may be its own reward, but it’s even more satisfying when it comes with a medal, or an inscription in a record book where names like Charles Lindbergh and John Glenn are written.
George C. Larson has been writing about aviation since 1972. The former editor of Air & Space/Smithsonian, he’s got a serious jones for large reciprocating engines.