Yak Sets Speed Record

By Stephan Wilkinson
1/19/2012 • Aviation History Briefing

Reno racer Will Whiteside, pilot of the highly modified Mustang Voodoo, has set a significant world speed record—not in big bad Voodoo but in his own airplane, a substantially smaller, lighter and less powerful Yak-3U. But that’s all right, for the record is in the FAI-recognized under-6,615-pound piston-engine cat­egory. The previous record holder was the late Jim Wright, flying his Hughes H-1 replica to 305 mph in 2002. Whiteside obliterated that mark with an official speed of 407 mph last October 10, followed the next day by an unofficial 416 mph over the same three-kilometer course at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. Howard Hughes himself flew the original “Hughes Racer,” the H-1, to an unofficial 352 mph in 1935, which would have been the world landplane record, but the FAI never observed and ratified it (though no doubt that didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to Hughes).

 While the original Yak-3 was a mid-1940s design, Whiteside’s airplane was built in Romania in 2005. It’s powered not by the 3U’s original Shvetsov radial but by a Pratt & Whitney R-2000, thousands of which propelled DC-4s in their stock 1,450-hp form. Whiteside’s Pratt is internally unmodified but enhanced by an anti-detonation water-injection system that allows him to pull a full 1,750 hp at a comfortable 50 inches of manifold pressure.
The Yak, a clean, mini-winged fighter, has remarkable performance for its power-to-weight ratio (3.71 pounds per hp), despite the bluff radial on its nose. Whiteside has smoothed the airflow over the engine with a large afterbody behind the spinner, but he admits there’s more work to be done. “It’s a crude airplane,” he says. “I can stand on one side of it and see daylight through the fuselage, be­tween the butted skin sections. The cooling drag is still too high, and we can do more to smooth up the landing-gear doors and wells.”
Call it a work in progress, and look for Whiteside to return to Bonneville sometime soon, to Yak up the record even more.

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