QuickTalk 9 - FOR THE RECORD
- Category: Q-Talk Articles
- Published: Saturday, 30 April 1983 07:11
- Written by Steve Eckrich (#420), Aberdeen, SD
- Hits: 2078
/A new world record for distance in a closed course was set on March 9, 1983, in the under 662 lb. "ultralight" category of aircraft. The old record was smashed after the 842.2-mile flight by Steve Eckrich (#420) of Aberdeen, South Dakota in his homebuilt Quickie. The following article tells Steve's story of the record attempt./
While many of my classmates at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine were enjoying their spring break in Florida sun or on the ski slopes of the Rockies, I was at home in Aberdeen, South Dakota setting a new world record for airplanes which weigh less than 300 kilograms (662 lbs). The flight was the culmination of four months of planning and preparation, which resulted in a relatively uneventful 8.8 hour, 842 mile flight in my Quickie. My plane had been completed only eight months earlier.
The October 1982 issue of Sport Aviation had an article about how to set new aviation records. The C.1.a/o (under 300 kg) records, especially those for distance, seemed unbelievable. The straight-line distance record was only 38.5 miles and the closed course record only 37.3 miles. I exceeded those records every time I flew home for a weekend! The reason for the short distance is because most "airplanes" in this weight category are ultralights. In the four years that Quickies have been flying, I found it hard to believe that no one had made an attempt at either record. After reading this article, I felt obligated to "right this disgrace" of all Quickie builders.
I initially wanted to attempt the distance in a straight-line record and began to make plans toward that end. A non-stop flight to Sun 'N Fun would be possible. After investigating typical weather patterns during that time of year, I discovered that the odds of getting decent weather from South Dakota to Florida during a one-week period in March are virtually nil. The switch was made to attempt the closed course record since the chances of obtaining a ten-hour VFR weather period in a localized area were much better.
Before deciding on an actual course, I had to calculate how much fuel could be carried. Quickies don't have an overabundance of excess space and the only place to carry extra fuel is in the baggage compartment. Unfortunately, this is considerably aft of the CG. I calculated that eight extra gallons of fuel could be carried in the baggage compartment before I exceeded my predetermined limit of 1/2" aft of the most rearward recommended CG limit. This additional fuel would boost my entire capacity to 15.75 gallons (gross weight of 545 lbs). I am able to carry more fuel than most Quickies for two reasons. One, my Quickie only weighs 278 pounds empty and second, I normally only weigh 139 pounds.
When it came time to calculate the maximum possible range, I didn't have much accurate performance data for the airplane. In addition, winds aloft on the eventual day of the flight could be used advantageously provided moderate velocity differential between high and low altitudes. I decided to use a computer to take all these different variables and calculate the most efficient course to fly. With the help of my brother, Jon, a computer engineer, I set out to design an appropriate program for use on his Apple II personal computer. Given the winds aloft, course headings and distances, and various performance parameters for my Quickie, the program would be able to tell me when to climb or descend in order to use the least amount of fuel. Over Christmas vacation, I made careful flight measurements. I found that 3050 RPM resulted in a 96 MPH cruise, which gives about the best L/D ratio for the Quickie. I then calculated true airspeed climbing and descending, and also measured the time to achieve different levels. The rate of fuel burn was the only parameter, which was not precisely determined because vacation ran out on me. Using data from previous flights, I roughly calculated a fuel burn of 1.9 GPH in a full power climb and 1.4 GPH in cruise.
I decided on a triangular course from Aberdeen to Sioux Falls to Watertown and back to Aberdeen, which could be completed three times with adequate reserves (45 minutes) for a total distance of 960 miles. It was January 1983 when this preliminary work was completed. I still needed to locate a barograph, a small portable radio and figure out some way to carry eight extra gallons of fuel in the baggage compartment. I thought the barograph would be the hardest to find, but locating one proved less difficult than feared. Raven Industries (the balloon manufacturer) is located in Sioux Falls and they found a functioning (albeit old) barograph, which I could use. The next problem - how to fit in all that extra fuel - was answered while rummaging around in the basement. I found a couple of plastic water jugs, which just barely fit, through the small access hole. After glassing in a couple of aluminum tubes for pickup and vent lines, and using a few feet of vinyl tubing...Presto! Instant gas tanks.
The last problem was to locate a radio in order to communicate with ground observers. Three days before the scheduled attempt, I received a special delivery from Terra Corporation. They sent me one of their brand new 720-channel hand-held transceivers. The radio was exactly what was needed, as I expected to have little extra room in the small Quickie cockpit.
The prior planning of alternate courses paid off during the preparation period. I had gained eight pounds since starting school and this extra fat (plus the heavy winter clothes), increased the moment of the airplane. Actual weighing of the Quickie with full fuel and equipment showed that the CG was 1" aft of the most rearward recommended limit. At gross weight the CG range is only 1.8", so one inch aft is over 30% outside the recommended envelope. The decision was made to remove 1.5 gallons of fuel from the baggage compartment, reducing the total capacity to 14.25 gallons. Because of the decreased possible flight time, a different course would have to be flown. One course among the fourteen previously entered into the computer looked ideal - 210.55 miles from Aberdeen to Watertown to Huron and back to Aberdeen. The computer calculated that I could fly this course four times for a total distance of 842.2 miles with adequate reserves. Calls to the respective flight service stations and a slight modification to the computer program were all that was required to make this sudden change of plans.
On Tuesday afternoon the weather forecast for the next day looked good - clear skies but strong winds were expected all day. The final countdown went off smoothly. The fuel tanks were filled and sealed; the airplane weighed and impounded for the night. Early the next morning the actual winds aloft were received and run through the computer. There was a 16 knot differential between winds on the surface and those at 6000 feet. Unfortunately, the new course had such short legs that I wouldn't get as great an advantage from the winds as I could have on the longer course. The computer said to fly 3500 feet MSL for the first two legs and 2500 feet for the last leg. It also calculated that the entire flight would take 8:48 hours and use 12.7 gallons of gas/
My primary ground crew consisted of two people - my brother Paul (who was the official photographer) and QBA member Deen Goehring (who acted as the NAA directing official). We arrived at the airport early Wednesday morning where it was 15 degrees with a density altitude of minus one thousand feet (that's right, -1000 feet). In order to start the Onan in such cold weather, it was necessary to remove the cowl and prime the engine with raw gas directly through the carburetor. After the engine starts, it must be warmed up, shut off, cowling replaced and then restarted before it gets too cold. Luckily, the engine started easily, so we warmed it up and replaced the cowl with little difficulty. I got in, loaded up with food, water, maps, etc. and Deen lead-sealed the canopy so I couldn't get out and we were ready to go. Oops!...I am the only one who has ever propped the mighty Onan, but I was sealed in the cockpit. Deen stepped in front to start it. I yelled, "Contact!" and he flipped the prop...and flipped...and flipped. The engine just would not start. His arm was getting pretty tired while at the same time the canopy became so frosted from my breath that I could hardly see outside. I then noticed that in my excitement, I had flipped the Master instead of the Ignition switch (both of which are clearly marked). "Um, try it again, Deen. I think it should start now." The Onan started on the second try.
Taxiing was very difficult because the taxiway was covered with ice and the canopy was nearly occluded with frost. I managed to clear off a small area of the canopy directly in front of me and after the runup, lined up with runway 31. At 8:50 AM, I poured on the 22 HP the Onan claims to have. As expected, the takeoff run was longer than usual, but was not nearly as precarious as I had imagined. The air was plenty thick which allowed an 80 MPH climbout with not problems. As forecast, the winds were very strong from the north and I found myself several miles south of course as I approached Watertown. Eastern South Dakota in winter has few landmarks, so the first time around the course was rather erratic. I undoubtedly flew more than the straight-line distance of 210.55 miles. I remained pretty tense until the first completed circuit, but upon passing over Aberdeen the first time, it didn't make any difference how much further I flew. The record was broken. I relaxed, stretched out and enjoyed the sunny day.
No major problems surfaced throughout the flight. The Terra radio stayed warm inside my jacket, and with a Dave Clark headset plugged into it, all communications were crystal clear. I was able to communicate many miles from the ground stations with no difficulty. Even though the air was very cold, inside the cockpit was quite comfortable. I was dressed warmly and after two hours of flight the sun burned all the frost from the canopy. I was reminded of the cold, however, when I pulled the water jug from my feet and it had a layer of ice on the surface. The only other "problem" which surfaced was that with every use of the "human element range extender", the canopy fogged up. This discovery was relayed to the ground crew, who seemed to find it quite humorous.
The winds had diminished considerably after the second time around the course, so the computer said to fly all legs at 2500 feet. The prescribed altitudes became somewhat academic, however, since my altimeter quit working after 130 miles. It was calculated that the baggage tank would run out of fuel after 4.1 hours, so every five minutes after 3.5 hours I checked the line for air bubbles. The tank ran for 4.5 hours, which indicated that fuel consumption was less than estimated. I switched to the main tank while directly over the Aberdeen airport. As soon as the switch was made, I felt a liquid permeating my clothes. "GAS!", I thought and turned to the runway. I felt some of the liquid and smelled it...only water. The water jug was knocked over during the fuel transfer.
I had lots of extra fuel on my fourth and final circuit, so I sped up and arrived at Aberdeen four minutes ahead of schedule. After nearly nine hours in the air, I thought that I'd need help getting out of the plane, but this proved unnecessary. With the Quickie's semi-reclining seat and side stick control, I was not fatigued at all and jumped right out the airplane (as Deen and Paul popped a bottle of champagne).
The final statistics of the flight were very interesting. I traveled 842.2 miles in 8:47 hours on twelve gallons of gas. I could have flown to New Orleans and still had plenty of fuel. The computer had calculated an 8:48 hour trip using 12.7 gallons (which is amazingly close to the actual results). The average speed was 95.9 mph at an incredible 70.2 MPG economy. I landed with 2.25 extra gallons of fuel. The original 960 mile course could have been flown, but it's better to know you could have gone further than to wish you hadn't gone that last ten miles.
The new record is now set and I hope that it stays a little while. Quickie builders everywhere are partially vindicated, but the straight-line record is still less than one hundred miles. Let's see one of you Quickie owners do something about THAT "disgrace".
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