'Ontario Approach, this is VariEze N99VE, 25 miles east of Homeland VOR at 10,500 ft. Request transition to Homeland for a 180 turn.' "VariEze N99VE, Ontario Approach. We've been waiting for you. Approved as requested. Will call your turn." Two hours down and 14 more to go, I thought. All of that planning over the past 3 months is paying off. Fuel consumption and time are better than planned, the air is smooth, no significant wind, and the moon is full. Couldn't ask for better conditions. Looks like a go for the record.... It was almost ten years ago on the weekend of July 14 and 15th, 1984 that Jeana Yeager set the same closed course world's record for aircraft weighing between 661 and 1102 pounds in the same aircraft, N99VE. Jeana circled a course from Bakersfield, CA to Merced and back for a total of 8 laps and 2428 miles.
Several hours later I followed up with a distance over a straight line departing Mojave, CA and flying non-stop to Martinsburg, WV just west of Washington, D.C. for a total of 2214 miles - two records in one weekend. Turning 50 this month, and needing a mid-life crisis thing to do, nothing seemed more appropriate than to test all the improvements I have made to the plane and getting both distance records in my name. In each of the old records, the plane had averaged about 150 mph and 50 miles per gallon. Since the fully loaded take off weight was right up against the maximum of 1102 pounds allowed for the class, my weight over Jeana's meant that I would be carrying about 10 gallons less. Aircraft improvements since that time had to make up for the difference. Since 1983, 1 have been very active in the CAFE 400 events, taking my share of trophies like those shown in the October '93 Sport Aviation article.
To be competitive with people like Klaus Savier in his very efficient and fast VariEze and Gene Sheehan with his highly refined Q200 prototype, took some dedicated effort to constantly modify and test, looking for every last knot of speed and efficiency. Major changes since the original records are the addition of custom designed high compression pistons for the Continental A65, lower drag wheel pants replacing the original "football' shaped pants, an Ellison throttle body injection carburetor, a modified oil tank and induction system to accommodate a low drag cowl, and an electronic ignition supplied by Light Speed Engineering with manifold pressure regulated spark advance.
After I finish a typical modification, I try to gauge how much effort was expended for the speed gained; some mods are more successful than others. The wheel pants are perhaps the highest payoff of any mod to date adding about 5 knots to my top speed. The pants are carved from a single block of foam with a top planform using a 65-025 symmetrical airfoil. The side view is driven by the requirement for a constant pressure distribution at each station down the pant. To achieve this, the angle that the top and the bottom of the pant make with the waterline is the same as the angle that the left and right side make with the line of flight.
All of the flow lines appear laminar, traveling straight aft without curling back. A plug and female mold were made on which two layers of glass were laid up to give a weight of about 1 1/2 lbs. per pant. The original A65 was designed with 6.5:1 compression in the days when fuel for general aviation over 80 octane wasn't readily available. It is well known that the thermodynamic efficiency of a piston engine increases as a function of compression ratio. After several iterations (some not so successful), I designed and had constructed by a custom automotive piston manufacturer, a set of forged pistons with a 9.0:1 compression ratio. Also, I installed a set of modem technology automotive rings with a 3piece oil control ring and Total Seal gapless 2nd compression ring. As a result, I average about 25 hours per quart of oil and have a very low idle manifold vacuum reading of about 7 inches. Crankcase blow-by is almost nonexistent.
The Ellison throttle body injection unit has become a familiar piece of equipment in the homebuilding community. The ability to lean much beyond a conventional carburetor and still run smoothly gives nearly a 10% savings in fuel consumption. The Ellison is mounted horizontally in front of the oil tank to allow the installation of a low profile cowl. The induction tube passes through the tank and exits at the distribution spider. The induction air heating lowers volumetric efficiency somewhat (reduces maximum power) but provides a longer mixing length to give better fuel distribution prior to reaching the spider. Since efficiency is the primary goal, the trade off was worth it. Also an added benefit of oil cooling eliminates the need for an oil cooler. Over the years, I have had three different engine cooling systems on the airplane. When originally built, being convinced that Burt's way was the only way, I installed a conventional EZ pitot cooling scoop.
Since that time I have had the flush NACA scoop, and now the "arm pit" scoops. The arm pit scoops show a slight advantage over the flush scoops, but this is one of those modifications where the speed increase per hours spent is very poor. The place where this modification is a real winner is in the way it looks and how it cools the engine. Head temperatures in cruise are in the 260-28OF range. Many other aerodynamic cleanup changes can be classified as attention to detail; such as fairings and leak sealing, contribute to the overall efficiency.
The standard magneto is designed with fixed timing to give detonation-free operation during worst case operation (maximum power, hot day, sea level condition). At high altitude, where conditions are cool and power is reduced, the optimum ignition advance is considerably higher to account for a much slower flame travel within the combustion chamber. The light weight electronic ignition supplied by Light Speed Engineering replaces one of the magnetos with an electronic processor and a set of ignition coils. The system senses manifold vacuum and adjusts spark advance up to a maximum of 17 degrees above the nominal setting.
The effect of this advance is dramatically illustrated at altitude by noting a 50 RPM drop switching from the full advanced setting of 43 degrees back to the nominal setting of 26 degrees. All of these efforts to increase efficiency have also paid off in speed. When first constructed, the plane would not quite reach 180 mph. Recently, at an EZ racing event held at Wendover, NV over the Bonneville salt flats, the airplane turned 204 mph on a 125 mile triangular course. Not too bad for a two-place plane with 170 cubic inch displacement engine at 7000 ft. density altitude.
Flying The Record
I had not given much thought to going after a second record and was even unsure that the aircraft had the capability of breaking the existing record until I received encouragement from Dick Rutan at this past year's Oshkosh event. On the trip home, I started doing some serious data taking. Calculations confirmed that indeed the aircraft had the range necessary to beat the old record if the empty weight had not crept up over the years. To my surprise, my attention to weight additions had paid off. The empty weight with auxiliary fuel tank installed was about 10 lbs. more than at the time of the previous record attempt, more than accounting for all those 'essentials' such a LORAN and autopilot. I contacted Art Greenfield of the National Aeronautical Association (NAA) and received a package of all the forms necessary to sanction and certify a World's Record. Tumpoint verification can be accomplished by either a NAA certified observer or the FAA.
I chose the FAA route and contacted the Approach Control people at both Phoenix and Ontario, CA. Both groups were delightful to work with and anxious to help in any way they could. I sent the forms for turn point verification that they were to fill out at each passage. The NAA, the United States certifying authority of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), requires that an NAA observer must witness the aircraft weighing, barograph installation, gas tank sealing, takeoff, and landing. Klaus Savier, who is an NAA member and the present record holder for the 1000 and 2000 kilometer speed records in his VariEze, filled the requirements for a qualified observer. Planning for the right time takes a little bit of common sense and a lot of luck. Since part of the flight occurs at night, I wanted the moon to be as full as possible in case an off-airport landing would be necessary. On the weekend of October 30/31, the moon was at its full brightness.
The closed course turn points of Chandler, AZ and Homeland VOR on the eastern edge of the LA basin were chosen for the flat, low altitude terrain and the safety of paralleling Interstate 10 the entire route. As the time approached, the Santa Ana conditions that fanned the fires in the LA area were developing. The airplane gods were smiling, and what was supposed to be peak wind conditions all weekend actually turned out to be light and variable to 10 knots from the south at altitude. Klaus flew to Phoenix in mid-afternoon on Saturday the 30th to help with final preparations of the airplane. We fueled up, less an anticipated 4 gallons and parked the plane. I went home to try to get some sleep. After a largely unsuccessful attempt to rest, I got dressed with borrowed ski pants, down booties and a warm coat. Leroy Castle, a local EAA member and keeper of the Arizona EAA Council platform scales, showed up at the airport at about 9 pm.
After rolling N99VE onto the scales, I climbed in with all the equipment that I would eventually take off with. After adding the necessary fuel to bring the total weight up to the 1102 pound class limit, Klaus sealed the tanks. Total fuel on board was calculated to be 49.3 gallons. My conservative "how-goes-it" chart said that I would need 48 of those gallons to make it four times around the predetermined course for the record. At 10:50 pm, I departed into the night for Homeland VOR. The rest is history. The plan went off without a hitch. Fuel flows, engine temperatures and all the electronics worked flawlessly. At each turn point, I exceeded my anticipated times, speeds and fuel flows. Taking data with a calibrated fuel flow meter at each point, I generated the following summary: (See chart)
|Turn Point||Elapsed Time (Hours)||Leg Time||Leg MPH||Fuel Burn (Gallons)||Leg Fuel Burn (Gallons)||Leg Burn Rate (Gallons)||Leg MPG|
|Elapsed time (Hr):||15:50||P10 = Chandler, Az|
|Average MPH||157.1||HDF = Homeland VOR|
|Total Fuel Burn||42.49 Gal||Leg Length = 311 Statute Miles|
|Average GAL/Hr.||2.68||Total Length = 2488 Statute Miles|
After all the concern for adequate margin, I landed with almost 7 gallons of fuel on board or almost 400 additional miles possible. At this writing, all the paperwork has been submitted for final approval by the NAA and FAI.
ED. Congratulations, Gary, attention to detail is everthing! 58-1/2mpg at 157mph - WOW!