Thursday, March 22, 2012

Making Waves

Designed by legendary aerodynamicist and Lockheed Skunk-works member Bruce Boland, and entrepenuer/air racing enthusiast John Sandberg, Tsunami is unique for several reasons. The main reason being that it holds the distinction of being the first unlimited air racing aircraft to be 100% scratch built.  Designed from the ground up to be as aerodynamically perfect as possible, tsunami was able to reach front runner speeds without having to utilize the same amount of horsepower as the more common WWII fighter based racers. The design immediately evokes visions of Tsunami's world renown competition the Republic p-51 Mustang, though in truth, Tsunami is 6 feet shorter and has 100 square feet less wing area than the mustang, When viewed side by side, tsunami is a much smaller and more compact craft. In spite of the similarities in silhouette the 2 aircraft actually have very little in common. The engine, Was actually a merlin 720. Originally designed by Rolls Royce for use in commercial aircraft, this is not the same merlin that was used in the p-51 and was actually a little lighter than the model used in the Mustang. The aircraft competed for 5 years without ever achieving the a championship. The design suffer standard early teething problems but had flashes of brilliance at Reno. Most notably at Reno in 1991 on the last lap when tsunami came from very far behind the leaders to basically catch the lead pack. It is possible that to do this tsunami was running 20-30mph FASTER than the front running aircraft, this is unheard of and there are no precedents for this kind of performance. Unfortunately the biggest flaw in Tsunami's wasnt actually anything to do with the actual aircraft, it was the designer. John Sandberg was notorious for being a "tinkerer" and proceeded to make too many changes to the airframe from year to year which stalled the teams progression. By all accounts Sandberg took an airframe that was a purpose built racer and transformed it into more of a "sport plane" by moving the wing to give it a more foreward CG and adding flaps to a flapless design. Unfortunately John was killed ferrying the plane when he sufferd a flap failure on lading which rolled the aircraft into the ground. I believe that this racer could have gone down as one of the great aircraft designs of history, it is unfortunate that we will never know what heights John, Bruce, and Tsunami could have reached together.


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