On Sept. 2, 2017, Steven Hinton flew “Voodoo” – a highly modified P-51 Mustang – over a 3-kilometer course in Central Idaho at an average speed of 531.272 mph. That speed is the fastest ever achieved for a piston engine propeller-powered airplane.
Voodoo’s record attempt was made as an “Aeroplane” in Class C-1 (Landplanes), in weight classification “e.” According to Section 2 of Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s (FAI) Sporting Code weight classification “e” is 3,000 kg to less than 6,000 kg. C-1e for short.
When Hinton’s flight becomes official, it will easily surpass the current record of 318.011 mph set by Will Whiteside on April 23, 2012.
As I poked around the interweb regarding Hinton’s soon-to-be world record, I found a few comments that led me to wonder what it takes to set a speed record. In this case, I looked at the FAI Sporting Code for “Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,” the same record Hinton’s flight seeks to set.
To set a record, you must do more than merely eclipse the current record. You must improve on the record performance by a defined amount.
That’s what Section 3.1.7 “Improvements in Record Performances” of the Sporting Code talks about. It requires the following improvements:
- Altitude – 3% or 300 meters, whichever is less.
- Distance – 1% or 100 kilometers, whichever is less.
- Efficiency – 3%.
- Greatest Payload – 1% or 500 kilograms, whichever is less.
- Speed – 1%.
- Time to Climb – 3%.
The Flight Attempt
The envelope in which the pilot must fly for a speed record is rather exacting. Section 4.6 of the Sporting Code references “Speed Record Tasks.”
4.6.1 Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course
188.8.131.52 The objective of this record task is to achieve the greatest average speed over a 3,000 meter course.
184.108.40.206 The course shall be approved or declared in writing prior to takeoff.
220.127.116.11 The course shall meet the following dimensions:
- The course shall be a minimum of 3,000 meters in length;
- The course shall have defined approaches of at least 1,000 meters; and
- The course and its approaches shall have a maximum width of 500 meters.
18.104.22.168 The flight performance shall be flown as four consecutive runs over the course, with each consecutive run flown in the opposite direction.
22.214.171.124 The average of the elevations of the start and the finish points shall be the basis for determining the maximum height allowed.
126.96.36.199 The altitude of the aeroplane at the finish line shall not be more than 100 meters below the altitude at the beginning of the approach.
188.8.131.52 The aircraft’s height shall not exceed 500 meters above the average of the elevations of the start and finish points (as described in 184.108.40.206) during the flight performance.
220.127.116.11 The flight performance begins upon entering the approach to the first start point and ends at the last finish point.
18.104.22.168 The flight performance shall be completed within 30 minutes.
22.214.171.124 The achieved speed shall be the average speed of the four individual runs.
126.96.36.199 The timing of the event shall be accomplished by timing each run individually using synchronized timing devices to determine start and finish times. The course length shall be divided by the elapsed time to determine the speed for each run.
188.8.131.52 The aeroplane shall not land or refuel during the flight performance.
That’s all and good for current records, but what about records from the past? Some discussion I found online harkens back to the “good old days.”
Like back in 1989 when Lyle Shelton set the now retired C-1 (internal combustion) 3 Kilometer speed record at 528.31 mph in his highly modified Grumman F8F Bearcat “Rare Bear.” In the hearts and minds of some, because Hinton failed to beat Shelton by 1% (5.2831 mph) or more, Shelton’s ultimate — and retired — record lives on.
If you happen to believe the flight attempt parameters favored Hinton, think again. A.W. “Art” Greenfield, the director of Contests and Records for the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), sent me an extract from the rules (published in 1986) that he believes were in effect at the time of Shelton’s record.
Rule 184.108.40.206.1.3 states, “The maximum altitude over the course and its approaches shall not exceed 150 metres and the maximum altitude at any time during the flight shall not exceed 500 metres.”
That’s pretty close — as I read it — to the “tasks” Hinton completed.
“Some of the changes to the rules for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course were made over time and are a reflection of the change in technology used to certify these types of records,” noted Greenfield. “Since that time, we have gone from using high-speed film cameras to using a high-speed (20 Hz), dual-frequency, differential GPS system.”
Ain’t No Participation Trophy
It is pretty obvious — at least to me — the FAI added weight classifications so more opportunities could exist for more pilots to set more records. I’m sure there is an official reason, but I didn’t bother to look it up. And I’m certain the haters will point to this and say, “see, they just watered down the records.”
Lest you think adding weight classifications makes setting a record akin to collecting a participation trophy, then by all means, hop in your tricked-out Glasair III and tell me when you hit an average speed of 533.59 mph over a 3 Kilometer Course. That’s the speed you’ll need to break Shelton’s retired record. Good luck.
A record in one weight classification doesn’t trump a different record in a different class. That tricked out Glasair III would probably complete in C-1b. When it beats the existing C-1b record of 405.86 mph by 1%, those involved in the flight will be world record holders. And that is exactly the point.
So go find a record — there are thousands — and see if you can add “World Record Holder” to your resume. Good luck.