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What is old is new again
The post war National Air Races were, in a way, dominated by the Corncob Corsairs. The R-4360 powered F2G Corsairs had the power and reliability to compete against some fast Mustangs around the Cleveland pylons. Cook Cleland and team mates Tony Janazzo, Richard Becker and Ben McKillen raced four different F2G airframes, while Ron Puckett also raced his own F2G. All were fairly successful.
Fast forwarding to 1982, Lockheed engineers Bruce Boland and Pete Law, along with the Fighter Rebuilder's Steve Hinton, hatched an idea to bring back a hybrid F2G Corsair built up from a derelict Corsair airframe.. They created the Super Corsair, a wildly popular racer that won the gold race at Reno in 1985. Always a competitor, pilot Kevin Eldridge was forced to step out of the racer after the engine failed and caught fire at the Phoenix races in 1994.
When it was being built, the Super Corsair fell under good-natured enemy fire. People would stop by the hangar and poo-poo the idea. Frank Sanders was quoted as saying, "That thing will never go fast!" As he flew chase on a test flight, the Super Corsair left his stock Sea Fury in the dust during a power run. A light bulb went on. Sanders would mate an R-4360 to a Sea Fury airframe. That turned out to be Dreadnought, the most successful unlimited air racer in terms of expenditures versus winnings. This leads us to another R-4360 powered Sea Fury racer; Furias.
"Everybody is doing it..."
-4360 powered racers were all the rage in the early '80's. Lloyd Hamilton was a natural choice to join the 4360 club and mate that engine to another Sea Fury. His air racing career began in 1971 when he raced an A-26 in the California 1000 endurance race. The next year, he acquired a stock Australian Sea Fury and raced it at just about every venue unlimited races have been held. With so much Sea Fury experience under his belt, he considered the idea of mating the corncob engine to another Sea Fury airframe.
Sea Fury F.B. Mk. II left Hawker aircraft's production line and served in Australia until sold as surplus in 1963. Ormond Hayden-Baillie, a well-known air racing personality in the early seventies, bought the aircraft, and sold it to Spencer Flack in the U.K. After a crash in Germany, Angus McVitie bought the trash, and he sold it to Hamilton.
Hamilton and his crew went to work to repair the damage and modify the airplane for racing. It debuted in 1983 at Reno, but engine problems plagued the aircraft and it sat out the event. Over the years, the racer was improved with some small aerodynamic mods, a lengthened vertical tail, and a turtle deck in place of the bubble canopy.
Compared to its sister racer Dreadnought, Furias never did enjoy the same reliability or success. Hamilton always brought both of his Furies to Reno, so perhaps the financial strain of two unlimiteds prevented the team from perfecting her. But Furias is no slouch; it's best finish was in the 1986 gold race when Hamilton placed second at 429.374 mph.
In 1990, Hamilton put Furias into storage, but brought it back to Reno in 1997 after selling his stock airplane. He placed sixth in the gold race at just over 393 mph. Two years after that, Hamilton passed away, and unlimited class president Art Vance was tapped to sell off Hamilton's aviation assets. When Bill Rogers expressed interest in buying the huge red and gold racer, Art was part of the package. He'd race it.
Rogers, along with Dale Stolzer, bought the racer and went to work on it. The most obvious changes were the reversion to a bubble canopy, a slick new paint scheme reminiscent of the Cleveland era, and a reshaped vertical tail. Rogers brought the racer back to Reno 2000, but problems prevented Vance from getting max smash. With the cancellation of the 2001 event, Rogers and crew are ready to put the whip to the beast and see how they do.
Art Vance is no stranger to high performance aircraft, having logged over 11,000 hours as an airline driver. He also owns his own P-51D, Speedball Alice, and serves as the Unlimited Class President. This year, he also was an instructor and check pilot during the Pylon Racing Seminar. With 1,200 hours of propeller fighter time, Vance provides a competent and professional approach to flying and racing Furias.
"Flying Furias is kind of like doing your girlfriend on the hood of your wife's car at the drive-in while your wife honks the horn. Very exciting, but not too fun..," he says.
Vance has flown and raced Hamilton's stock Sea Fury Baby Gorilla, and has also flown the Sander's R-3350 powered Argonaut. "It's one of the best airplanes I've flown, but I still prefer the Centaurus engine. Furias, with the 4360 engine, is much different. With all of the liquids for the spraybars and ADI and the heavier engine, it isn't always in CG limits. It's not an airplane you want to do aerobatics in."
Furias is not an airplane that is easy on the gas credit card, either. If race gas costs $10 per gallon, and she burns 400 gallons per hour, well... You do the math. "It needs to be on the ground within ten minutes from the end of the race," Vance says.
Furias' main tank, located between the cockpit and the engine, holds only 200 gallons of fuel. Another 33 gallons are carried in the right wing. Spraybar water is carried in the 33 gallon tank in the left wing, while ADI and oil cooler water is carried in the wing's wetted area outside of the 33 gal. tanks. All fluids are carried inboard of the wing fold.
Vance uses 30" and 2,000 rpm for cruise, which gives about 130 gph. Internally, Furias carries a 36 gallon oil tank in the fuselage behind the cockpit, and the systems have been modified to accommodate the 4360.
A R-4360 Sea Fury Racer is "Steady?"
"It's a steady airplane to fly," Vance says. "Although the CG is pretty far aft for the first ten minutes after takeoff. It accelerates well coming down the chute because of its weight, and by that time, all of the systems are on except, possibly, the spray bar system." The team changed that recently, and the new system works well. "It's ne
With the physical size of the airplane, Vance says that wake turbulence is mostly a problem for people behind the 12,000 lb racer. "I get a jolt once in a while," he says, "It rides through it real well."
With the engine putting out something in the order of 3,800 hp, the cockpit environment isn't exactly inviting.
"It gets very hot in the cockpit, but it's not as noisy as the Mustang. I customized the cockpit to suit me, and it works very well. There are lots of systems to monitor, so all the critical gages and switches are now at eye level," he says.
After Rogers/Stolzer bought the airplane, they came up with the retro style paint scheme. It was Vance's idea to paint one blade of the propeller white, like Cleland's F2G racer in 1949. Other changes were made to the airframe. "We went back to the stock canopy mostly because the razorback thing was so butt ugly, and it didn't seem to produce more speed."
The current engine is a R-4360-63A from a C-124. Vance says the high water mark on the power has been 64" and 2,800 rpm, but he says, "There's more! We'll qualify it on Monday, and later again if necessary. It should be in the Gold by Sunday, but I won't whip it until Sunday. Probably..."
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Story and Photos by Scott Germain. Copyright 1983/2002. All Rights Reserved.