"Mr. Awesome" Returns!

Having been around the Reno Race circuit for the last few years, I have heard many a rumor and tall tale of past events. This includes mention of planes of old that have been retired or went to the four corners of the earth, seemingly, never to be heard of again. Sometimes I'd hear mention of one plane in particular, known as "Mr. Awesome", usually when talking about Thomas Camp’s "Maniyak" (AKA Mr. Awful <g>). All kidding aside, I've often wondered what happened to OL’ Mr. Awesome - after getting a lead from my good friend, Brad Haskin, I finally found out!

But before we get too much further in this story, let’s back up a bit and talk a little about the aircraft’s history..... The date is 1988 at the Reno National Championship Air Races. This year will live as perhaps the most interesting in the 34 year history of the event, with more potential winners and new ideas than had ever been seen at one time - Tsunami - Vendetta - Precious Metal - and the most powerful of them all (horsepower wise) Mr. Awesome..... all were the center of pre-race attention.

Mr. Awesome was a highly modified Soviet Yak-11 WWII fighter, built for Joe Kasperoff by Matt Jackson and the talented group of air-race enthusiasts of Van Nuys California . The aircraft Click for larger image (50k)sported a 3,700 hp Wright R-3350 Turbo - Compound radial engine (equipped with Power Recovery Turbines), swinging a broad-bladed prop from a Douglas Skyraider. In an attempt to balance out the vast weight increase at the front of the beast, the aircraft’s fuselage was lengthened aft of the wings. Skip Holm piloted this aircraft to it’s first Reno qualifier at a speed of 417 mph. Not the fastest of the lot, but quite respectable. During the first heat race it was discovered that there were some serious shortcomings in the stability department when Skip encountered some wake turbulence, causing the aircraft to visibly wobble. Skip flew the remainder of the race with caution but still posted an average speed of 406 mph. The aircraft was parked for the remainder of the event.

Click for larger image (52k)1989 saw the aircraft under the new ownership of legendary air-racer, Daryl Greenamyer. Mr. Awesome had received some heavy duty modifications since it’s last outing that were obviously intended to cure the stability issue. Now outfitted with the tail section from a Lockheed T-33, the aircraft was ready to perform up to her potential.. Don Pennington did a sweet job designing and making all the T-33 fairings for the aircraft. Both Greenamyer and Neil Anderson had high hopes for the aircraft, saying only good things about how the instability was cured. Alas, it was never meant to be as the aircraft was all but destroyed in a crash landing after the engine failed shortly after takeoff.

The cause of the crash is a story in itself- After Skip debuted the monster at Reno '88 and had his nerve-curling experiences with it, the plane was victim of a drive-by shooting while parked at Van Nuys over the winter. Someone had shot at the plane through the fence at the airport putting several bullet holes in it. Some sheet metal work was done to the airframe to patch the holes, and everything looked ‘good to go’ for the races. While at Reno, during takeoff for qualifying, (with Neil Anderson at the helm) a loss of hydraulic pressure and engine failure occurred, precipitating an emergency landing attempt. This saw only one gear come "almost down & locked" an incredible cartwheel breakup resulted. Neil was only banged up a little bit and, fearing fire, immediately high-tailed it on foot as soon as he could get himself out of the cockpit (fortunately there was none). The sections were thoroughly inspected and the cause was determined to be an errant bullet fragment which had somehow found its way into the oil system and picked that time to dislodge and run through the line until it stopped along the way and caused the fluid pressure/engine power loss.

The damaged Yak was then stored for several years until it was acquired by Roger Von Grote and Dale Williamson. Together, these two talented men decided to take on the task of rebuilding the aircraft. Describing what they faced was easy, the rebuilding task would be far far harder. The area around the cockpit was for all purposes undamaged, beyond simple cosmetics. However the rear fuselage, tail section, wings, landing gear and firewall forward were almost (if not totally) a write-off.

After two years of rebuilding, the aircraft had entered the final stages of being returned to flying condition. I had a chance to talk with Dale about the project and found out a few things of interest. The aircraft, now called Red Heat, will again be outfitted with a Wright R-3350 TC radial. Dale said that doing the engine run-up prior to test flying was not without it’s problems. The first engine was blown, almost setting the project back on the skids. If it wasn't for the help of Jeff Blakey (of Blakey Engine Services - Hondo, TX) who got them another engine, this story would not have a happy ending. Jeff secured this second engine from a Lockheed P-2V and was most helpful in getting Dale and company back up and running. Along with that, Red Heat retains the stock Yak-11 airfoil and T-33 tail feathers. A few new things were also incorporated into the rebuild - CTI carbon fiber ailerons, Aero Commander main gear and a new cowling (thanks to the generosity of Mr. Chester Roberts, of Collinsville, TX) which came off a Canadair CL-28 Argus (a much better cowl than the DC-7 unit that was originally used).

Unfortunately for Dale, his involvement in the new Hangar 10 Aviation Museum started taking most of his time and resources. Red Heat was put up for sale. Now in the hands of Jack Frost (no, it’s the guy’s name - he didn't ship the plane to the North Pole <g>) the aircraft will again see the pylons of Reno soon. After Jack’s first Reno event last year
click here to see Jack's T-6 Frost Bite)
he had been looking for something that would take him into the unlimited category *and* to the winners circle. Red Heat will certainly give him a fighting chance. With Dale being retained as a technical advisor on the project - it's all but assured we'll all get to see this aircraft in the upcoming 1998 Reno Air Races.

Well, that’s it for now. Say tuned for more Reno Ramblings in the near future.

Cya in the pits (as always <g>),