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concept of Dreadnought looked back to the F2G Super Corsairs of the
Cleveland era, and forward in terms of the Sea Fury’s aerodynamic
refinement. The F2G’s (right) were plenty fast, but they had very
thick wings and little in the way of finesse. They were brutes all the
Hawker, over in England, had matched power and efficiency in their Fury and Sea Fury designs. The idea of hanging a Pratt and Whitney R-4360 on an airframe with an efficient wing and the internal volume for consumables made a lot of sense; especially when the Mustangs were still in the 440 mph speed range. Their refinement would battle against Dreadnought’s reliability and stamina. In the early 1980's, the fight between radial and inline racers was hot.
Dreadnought is not merely a newer airframe with a bigger engine bolted on. There is a fair amount of refinement within the airframe. Witness the fact that Dreadnought and Furias are two R-4360 powered racers; but Furias has never achieved the speed or success that Dreadnought has, even though it is a lighter single seat version. There are numerous other differences, but Dreadnought has the advantage of input from people like Bob Smith and years of racing experience.
Run the Numbers
Airplanes like Dreadnought have impressive numbers. For example, there are 4,360 cubic inches of displacement within the motor. The Sanders race it at 70 to 72 inches of manifold pressure and 3,000 rpm. That’s about four inches and 200 rpm more than a stock R-4360-63B is suppose to run, and it makes about 4,000 hp. Her fastest lap speed was 458.920 mph with Rick Brickert at the controls during his 1988 qualification run. He also holds her fastest elapsed race speed at Reno: 457.014 mph during the same year. Her average race speed since 1983 comes out to something around 434.694 mph. Dennis and Brian Sanders have raced her, as well as Neil Anderson and Rick Brickert.
Why is such a big aircraft so fast? Attention to detail and refinement play a large role. The Sanders looked at many different areas to realize more speed on the horsepower they had. One area that had been studied during and after WW II was the effect exhaust thrust had on aircraft performance. Smith, the Douglas aerodynamicist that had been helping the Sanders, dug up the NACA report that explained how thrust could be extracted from the exhaust stacks and turned into speed.
The idea focused on choking down the exhaust tubes so the outlet area was smaller than the inlet area from the cylinders. This forced the engine to handle more back pressure, so the actual horsepower fell off some. The result, however, was an overall increase in lap speeds. The physics of the modification revealed an addition of 800 lbs of exhaust thrust.
Dreadnought has other impressive numbers; she only carries 180 gallons of fuel - nothing like the long range fighters the United States developed. The fuel is split in two tanks, one main fuselage tank, one 30 gallon spar tank in the leading edge. They are interconnected and pressurized by air from the engine. "The British did a neat thing, and I don’t understand why the US never did it," says Brian Sanders. "It’s the epitomy of user-friendly. You turn the fuel on, and that is it. In the Sea Fury, they put a float valve in the main tank. When the level drops, the float opens a valve and it transfers fuel in from the spar tank. All you have to do is get in the plane, turn the fuel on, and check that there is air pressure for the tanks. Your indication that it’s working is watching the other tanks go down until they are empty, and then the main tanks begins to drain."
For racing at high power settings, the racer has been equipped with a 24 gallon tank for ADI in the left wing, and 40 gallons of spraybar water in three right wing tanks.
"It’s not unusual to see 60 gallons of fuel left after a race, about 10 gallons of ADI left, and most of the spraybar water used up," Sanders said. To ensure enough ADI and spraybar water was carried, the Sanders set the pressure of the pump and timed it for 13 minutes. After they measured the amount of water used in that period of time, it was easy to load the plane with 15 minutes of spraybar water.
Sanders said, "We might even turn the water off when we pull up after the race, let it cool down, then come in and land. The Sea Fury is such that once you lower the landing gear, the over-center locks block the outlet of the oil cooler, so we turn the spraybar back on when we taxi in on a warm day. It’s not unusual to see an oil temperature of 105 degrees when we land. You just turn on the spraybar again and by the time we taxi in and shut down, it will be at 80 degrees. But... Compared to the Mustangs like Dago, we hardly use any water!"
If Dreadnought has ever had an Achilles Heal, it might be a phenomena caused by the oil system for the -4360 and how it works in the airplane. It’s not complex or jury rigged by any means, but there were some problems in the past.
The system is normal in terms of pumps, routing and cooling, but there are pressure limits to the oil coolers. The massive R-4360 engine will put out enough oil pressure to literally blow an oil cooler apart. To prevent this, Dreadnought’s coolers have pressure valves that allow the oil to bypass the coolers instead of failing them. When this happens you have "cored the coolers." The engine oil will now recirculate back into the engine.
"Back in the 1980's, when Hoover was leading the pack down the chute in his stock Mustang, all of the racers were coming down with the power way, way back. Well, horsepower is heat, and we weren’t making any heat within the engine coming down the chute," Sanders said. "At the time, our practice was to turn everything on down the chute; spraybar and ADI. Since there is not much heat going into the oil, turning on the spraybars on the coolers would further cool the oil," he said. The rise in oil pressure would open the relief valve and core the coolers. "Now you hammer the throttle for the start and the engine starts making heat and horsepower... But the coolers are cored; they don’t see any of the oil that is rapidly heating up."
The result is a high oil temperature condition during the race. Any normal pilot would think about opening the oil cooler doors for more airflow through the coolers, but that just makes the problem worse. At the time, there was no indication within Dreadnought’s cockpit that told the pilot the coolers were cored.
This was the exact case during the 1985 Gold race when pilot Neil Anderson was leading Steve Hinton in the Super Corsair. Neil had cored the coolers on the start, and was dealing with skyrocketing oil temperatures. As the race wore on, he kept bringing the power back and entertained the idea of shutting the engine down and coasting across the finish line. He looked down again to see his temperature, and cut the last pylon on the last lap. Hinton had been handed a victory.
"At the time," Sanders said, "there was nothing in the cockpit of Dreadnought that would alert you to the fact that the coolers were cored. I’m sure Neil felt bad, in fact I know he did. Everything you try and do to control the situation makes it worse. And back then, those pylons were really hard to see. I mean, really hard. Now, it’s a lot easier because of the panels they put on them."
After that, Sanders made a pilot change to Rick Brickert. "It wasn’t the one thing that lead my dad to make a change," Sanders said, "it was several different things. You had two very strong personalities that had their own ideas on how to run the show. My dad’s view was, ‘I own the airplane, and you work for me. Or you did work for me...’"
In Brickert, the Dreadnought team had a personable, well liked, educated and deeply talented aviator. Brickert is responsible for the racer’s fastest speeds ever, and had come from the Chino Kids neighborhood. Before racing Dreadnought, Brickert had raced a stock P-51 as well as Dago Red. He would win once, place second three times, and come in fourth. After racing Dreadnought, Brickert piloted the new Pond Racer, in which he would ultimately lose his life in 1993.
These were Dreadnought’s work up years. They eventually found documentation about coring the coolers and installed a pressure gauge to prevent another problem. The racer was a dominating force - a top qualifier and winner - until 1986. Up until that time, Dreadnought was the bully on the block. "In 1987, Strega beat us," Sanders said, "but we gave him a good race."
Since then, Dreadnought has only drifted back to a third place airplane, but you still have to get around her to win Reno. That is not an easy task. What is so interesting about the racer is the amount of support it needs in contrast to its ability to finish in the top three or four places.
Sanders sits back on a couch in the office of Sanders Aircraft Technologies and remembers his brother, Dennis, leaving for the Kansas City Air Races.
"He took one crew guy, and a little bag, and flew Dreadnought back to the races. Destefani comes in with a semi, a tent and a crew. When Dennis got back there, they rented a Lincoln Town car and bought a styrofoam ice chest. They changed the plugs in Dreadnought and Tiger put up their tent and started working on the Merlin. They went out and won the race, and we came in second," he said.
"They hurt the Merlin, and had to change a head and bank on it. They worked all night. Dennis got out the blender and had a couple of margarita’s. Came back Saturday, ran the race. Destefani won it, Dennis came in second. Strega changed the other head and bank on the Merlin, Dennis had more margarita’s. Then we went out and ran the race on Sunday. Destefani won it, we came in second. Dennis topped off the airplane and flew it home with his one crew guy. Destefani won $100,000, and we won $50,000. But how much did Tiger spend? And we went ten years like that at Reno with some pretty high finishes. We changed a mag once, but there have been pretty minimal cash expenditures."
That’s why long time race fans call Dreadnought ‘The Buick.’ They show up with the family station wagon, a bag of tools, and a blender, and they go racing. It’s about as reliable as a Buick, but a lot faster.
"The Sea Fury is one of the nicer and best flying fighter airplanes. Navy fighters have to be good, honest airplanes in the slower regime. They can’t have a airplane with nasty stall characteristics like the Mustang does. The Sea Fury has much better stall manners," Sanders said.
On the racecourse, Dreadnought is different from other racers. At full gross weight, race 8 comes down the chute at 12,500 pounds; nowhere near the weight of the svelte P-51 racers.
"Dreadnought has a lot of mass," Sanders said. "You don’t want to get too far behind on the start. You’ll start accelerating and you might jump the start. And if you time it wrong, you’ll be in the slow down phase when Hinton says, ‘Gentlemen, you have a race.’ In terms of being on the course, I want to fly my own line, but you have to keep the other guys in sight, too. "
With Dreadnought’s weight and mass, it pays to fly the racer a bit loose on the pylons compared to lighter airplanes. "When you go into a turn, you scrub off speed," Sanders said. "If I fly a tight line and pull a lot of G’s, that is really going to slow me down in Dreadnought. So we fly it out a bit and let it float around the pylons. You’re going really fast, but you’re also flying a longer distance."
Although there have been several course changes at Reno over the years, Dreadnought’s favored line around the pylons hasn’t changed much. "You come around one tight, and two and three are loose. There is a hill off of three, and you can’t see four on the back side of the hill, so you have to find yourself a spot on the hill. Aim for that and go around four. Five is down a bit in a valley, so unless you descend off of four, you won’t get close to five. You take six tight, come down that straight and maybe ease it out a little towards the fence line, roll in nice and steady to seven, and that sets you up for eight. So, close to seven, tight on eight, and float it out near the deadline over the runway. That is a typical lap in Dreadnought," Sanders said.
"I’m Getting Out of It..."
There was an audible gasp within the Reno crowd when Brian Sanders transmitted those words over race control frequency. "I got a lot of harassment for that," he laughs. "Everybody with a radio didn’t like my choice of words!"
Brian was coming around pylon six during 1994's heat 2A, and was pulling a whopping 75 inches of manifold pressure - the most he’d ever seen in the airplane. "It was making some really good manifold pressure. The most I had ever seen was 72 inches, and here I was at 75 and 3,000 rpm.," he explained.
The manifold pressure and heat in the cylinders was enough to start breaking down the plugs. "At that point, I heard a change in tone with the engine, and I told Dennis, ‘I’m getting out of it.’ What I meant was that I was getting out of the power... I started to bring the throttle back, and at that point, there was a sag in engine power. The butterfly valve in the carburetor closes but it’s really not backing off the manifold pressure just yet. So, before I could get the throttle back far enough, the engine backfired. When I heard the tone change, I thought, ‘Oops...’ But I didn’t want to saw the throttle off, either. I don’t know which would be worse. Man, it sneezed hard."
"It’s impressive from the cockpit," he said. "RRRRRR... Kaboom! WOW! It blows backward out of the carb. I have the distinction of doing it twice now, and I am catching endless heat from my brother for it. I did it in Phoenix, too. That time, it was bizarre because it backfired and I flew through a cloud of mist. You have 440 gallons per hour of fuel and ADI going through the carb, and it backfires, and you throw all that fuel and ADI out of the inlet at the nose. I thought ‘what the heck was that cloud?’"
Brian brought the power back, got the racer off the course, and heard Dennis ask him a question on the radio. "Whatcha’ doing?"
"I’m still getting out of it," Brian said. Everybody on the ground thought he was going to bail out of the airplane. What Brian really meant was that he was still getting out of the power. "Everybody on the ground is thinking, ‘Shit!’ Well, we got it all squared away, and I landed alright. We looked at the screens, changed the plugs, and everything looked ok."
"There have been a lot of top two finishes - unfortunately being the ‘two..,’" Sanders laughs. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride; but Dreadnought could still easily win at Reno. The question is, how much longer will Reno be there, and how much longer will Dreadnought run?
"We’ll keep going up there if we can get an engine that will stay together," he said. He is addressing the problems they have had with their R-4360's over the past four years.
"We’ve done well with Dreadnought over the years. We had a long stretch there without any real mechanical problems. I would still stand by my statement that Dreadnought has been one of the most financially viable racers out there. Even with the recent problems. At one point Dwight (Thorn) called us a cash cow. We kept coming up with the same engine and going home with prize money," Sanders said.
Dreadnought is old and new. Massive displacement, top ten placement, and an enviable race record spanning over 20 years. While costs, parts and reliability take a toll on all racing warbirds, we will hopefully see "The Buick" back at Reno this year and in years to come. You’ll have to get around her to win.
Story and Photos by Scott Germain - WarbirdAeroPress.com. Furias Photo by Emil Strasser. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Brian Sanders and the entire Sanders family.
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