Insight for Improvement
Air Racing Engineer Pete Law Shares Some Documents from the Red Baron Program
By Scott Germain / Warbird Aero Press

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Air race fans seldom get a behind the scenes view on how unlimited racers are designed, built and developed. It isn't a simple matter of chopping off wing tips, slapping together a racing canopy, and telling Dwight Thorne or Jack Hovey to build up a racing engine. Physics, engineering and experience go into each aircraft to come up with modifications that meet the owner's goals. Within these goals, aircraft weight, horsepower, wing area, angle of incidence and a plethora of other factors are taken into consideration when coaxing more speed out of a specific airframe.

Back in the '70's, Ed Browning's Red Baron Air Race team was very popular with the fans. It was also a very successful program in terms of winnings, team talent and legacy. By today's standards, the aircraft might be in the bottom of the gold, but in it's heyday, the reliability and horsepower made it difficult for Merlin-engine Mustangs to keep the pace with any degree of reliability. The men in the cockpit also had a hand in its success.

But they always get the glory... What about the guys with slide rules, calculators and sharpened pencils?

Two such people were generally responsible for creating the modifications that would turn the Merlin engine Red Baron P-51 into a Griffon engine brute. Both worked for Lockheed at the Skunk Works on such programs as the A-12/SR-71, U-2, Have Blue and the F-117. Their names are undoubtedly attached to many other programs that we will never hear about. They had met after being recruited by Lockheed's Ben Rich, and cut their air racing teeth on Darryl Greenamyer's Conquest One Bearcat. Right off the bat, the simple rules they followed at the Skunk Works were transferred to the air racing endeavors they became involved in. The result was a long list of successes.

What is more important to the story of air racing, is that these two men very also very close friends and kindred spirits. On the systems side of The Red Baron, Pete Law would design and help build the engine induction system, the radiator and oil cooler spray bars, and the ADI injection system. His expertise in heat transfer and systems design has been transferred to almost every unlimited air racer since 1966. Aerodynamicist and structural engineer Bruce Boland was the other half of the "Dynamic Duo." Boland would come up with modified structure to suit specific racing applications; wing clipping, taller tails and engine mounts. Such was the case with the Red Baron program.

(As an interesting side note; Boland is widely credited with saving Steve Hinton's life because of the extra structure built into the Red Baron. During the 1979 Gold race, Hinton finished second behind John Crocker's Sumthin Else. With a failing engine and prop blades that were going flat, he crashed the racer short of the runway. The aircraft hit the ground and ran into a rock pile; the impact forces were absorbed by the aircraft's structure as it broke apart. Hinton, while badly injured, survived and is with us today. -SG)

Detailing the Red Baron program could fill volumes; the stories are many and varied. WarbirdAeroPress.com is happy to share some documents from Pete Law that allow some insight to the thought process and the level of professionalism the principles within the Red Baron program adhered to. The paper was prepared by Law after the Griffon engine had been installed while they were searching for more speed. While the airframe was already cleaned up aerodynamically, Law started thinking about airflow within the induction system as a means to gain efficiency and horsepower. The analytical thought process flows from basic ideas to the changes they thought should be incorporated. The end results would be verified with flight tests.

WAP would like to thank Pete Law for sharing these documents with us; there are many more within the WarbirdAeroPress.com archives, and as time allows, more will be shared in the future. Please click on the links below to view .jpg's of each page.

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Story Copyright 2003 by Scott Germain - WarbirdAeroPress.com. All Right Reserved.