In which we survey the variety of objects to which a jet engine can be affixed.
- By Roger A. Mola
- Air & Space magazine, May 2004
MANFRED RADIUS PERFORMS AT MOST AIRSHOWS without an engine—and at some shows without an aircraft.
Performing beautifully controlled, low-level aerobatics set to classical music, Radius flies a ballet of a routine in his model H101 Salto sailplane. An airshow role he began five years ago, though, is a little less graceful.
As Fan Man, Radius dons a clown suit and rides around on a bicycle propelled by an 18-horsepower paraglider engine. Fan Man chases objects, such as a prop rabbit, up and down a ramp past spectators. “I have the throttle in my left hand,” says Radius. “I don’t even have to start pedaling. Just throttle, make sure the bicycle is balanced, straighten out, and it goes up to 30 mph. I spend most of my time braking.” Describing the act as “nutty,” Radius performs it during down times, such as in the morning before flight demonstrations begin and any time aircraft are grounded due to low cloud ceilings. “When the kids wave back it’s a positive response, and you know you’re entertaining the people,” says Radius. “I’m not doing it for my own pleasure.”
Another non-aerial act with kid appeal is Paul Stender’s Port-O-Jet, an outhouse fitted with a 1,000-horsepower jet engine. “We do a back-and-forth with the [airshow] announcer,” says Stender, the founder of Speed For Hire, Inc., a motorsport entertainment company based in Big Bend, Wisconsin. The announcer will say, “Clear the way—this guy’s really gotta go! He needs to find an outhouse quick!” Stender then runs for the john and slams the door. Fire blasts from the outhouse’s chimney, and when Stender ignites the jet engine, the outhouse sprints down the runway at 40 mph. Cool!
Besides the outhouse act, Stender performs at airshows with his “School Time” Jet Bus, a hotrod made to look like a schoolbus with flashing lights, a fold-out stop sign, and, naturally, a Westinghouse J-34 jet engine.
Les Shockley prefers Pratt & Whitney J34-48 jet engines. Three of them to be exact. That’s what Shockley uses to shoot the ShockWave Jet Truck, a 7,000-pound Peterbilt semi, down the runway at more than 300 mph. The ShockWave’s engines generate an eye-catching plume of flame and gulp 120 gallons of diesel fuel per run. After the Peterbilt accelerates for 11 seconds, two parachutes pop out to slow it; if the main chutes fail to deploy, reserves are at the ready.
Unlike some airshow performers, Shockley has no need for a day job during the off-season. He started out racing stock cars in 1960 at age 16 at a drag strip in San Gabriel, California, and had a successful career in funny cars before he switched to jet-powered vehicles, winning the National Jet Car Championship in 1979. With solid airshow bookings, Shockley’s business earns enough from the Peterbilt and a second truck, a 1957 twin-jet-engine Chevrolet pickup, to support his wife, two sons and daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Shockley, 60, has now turned over the driving of the two trucks to his sons, Kent and Scott, while he tinkers with new ways to put jet engines where they weren’t intended. (He helped airshow pilot Jimmy Franklin add 3,000 pounds of thrust to a 1940 Waco biplane.)
Shockley has been a pilot for more than three decades, and after admiring the aerobatics of airshow pilots for years, he bought an aerobatic airplane at age 57 and learned how to do all the standard maneuvers. He’s now in the process of building the ShockWave Firebird, a scratch-built, twin-engine afterburning jet airplane that he hopes to exhibit at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin fly-in this summer.