Flying an Aero L-39 Albatros Jet

Please excuse a little departure from covering race events and racecar modifications.  I figure there is a lot of overlap between interest in racecars and jets.  I have no flying experience but did grow up in the age of Top Gun and went to several air shows as a kid.  Jets have always fascinated me.  Seems like the ultimate performance machine.  Thanks to my wife (coolest wife ever!), I was given a ride in an L-39 Albatros for a birthday present.

The L-39 is a Czech Air Force high-performance jet trainer aircraft produced between 1971 and 1996.  This particular plane was built in 1976.  The Albatros is the most widely used jet trainer in the world and has also flown combat missions in a light-attack role.  The plane weighs 7,600 lbs dry and has a max takeoff weight of 10,300 lbs.  Maximum speed is Mach 0.80 (609 mph).  The Albatros is a two-seat airplane with the seats in tandem orientation.  Both seats are equipped with full instruments and controls.

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MigFlug (Migflug) offers several flying experiences in many cities and countries.  I flew the L-39 Albatros in Chino, CA.  The pilot and plane owner, Istvan “Steve” Kalmar has a lifetime of experience and was fantastic.  The day started off learning about the plane, emergency procedures, and getting familiar with the cockpit and controls.  You are strapped into a parachute harness and seat harness.  Ejection seats are no longer functional but in the event of an emergency, such as fire, you manually pop open the canopy, unbuckle your seat harness and jump out with the parachute.  Steve moved the plane out of the hanger and fueled up the tanks with 2,000 lbs of jet fuel.  I then hopped in with Steve in the front seat, fired up the engine and taxied to the runway.  I’m not a highly emotive person but I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as we rolled down the runway and lifted into the air.  Once airborne, we banked hard to the left and flew south to an open test area above some foothills.  Steve gave me the controls and instructed me to perform some turns and eventually some rolls.  The controls are very sensitive and require very little effort.  Plane seems extremely stable and easy to fly.

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With Steve back in control, we performed a number or aerobatic maneuvers including rolls, loops, cuban eights, etc.  Then we flew down into a canyon for some low altitude canyon carving.  This was really fun as you get a better appreciation for the speeds (roughly Mach 0.5 / 350 mph).  There was a pretty strong wind coming over the foothills which made the canyons a bit bumpy.  We exited the canyons and hugged a field just above the tree line (maybe 40-50 feet off the deck) and then went near vertical with some rolls thrown in.  Steve then picked a target on the ground and performed some bombing maneuvers which consisted of a steep descent directly on top of the target and pulling up at the last second, going vertical, and looping around to dive bomb the target again.  At that point, we gained some altitude and started heading back to the airport.  Steve was playing with the clouds, diving in and out and finding routes between them.  It was really fun and I loved that Steve has this playful nature after performing this same flight hundreds of times.  I always imagined flying a jet to be a very free experience similar to a bird and playing in the canyons and clouds brought that concept to life.

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After 45 minutes of flight time, we landed with minimal drama despite some high cross winds and burned a total of 170 gallons of fuel.  Overall, the experience was fantastic.  I learned so many new things and after some reflection realized 3 big takeaways that I hadn’t realized or expected:

  1. There are no lateral forces.  Seems fairly obvious but I’m so used to racing cars on race tires with downforce and expecting very high cornering forces.  In racing, you are never coasting.  You are either accelerating, braking, cornering, or ideally, a combination.  In racecars, transitions are fast and violent.  The jet was very smooth and most of the time was spent in a neutral state.  Even carving through canyons was primarily neutral with some hard cuts here and there.  When the plane is rolled so it’s wings are vertical, there are still no forces until you pull the stick back.  All the forces in a plane are vertical with respect to the pilot/passenger.
  2. Human limit vs machine limit.  In car racing, you often operate right on the edge of the car’s limits.  You exceed the limits and recover.  The limits are dictated by grip and are easily exceeded within the human operating window.  With the jet, the g-loading of the pilot determines the limit.  The plane can easily exceed the human limits especially with no g-suits used.  Steve explained the effects of g-loading which start with a “grey-out” where your vision turns grey.  This is followed by tunnel vision until you pass out completely.  Passing out while operating a jet is not advised.  The body’s reaction to g-loading depends on amplitude and time.  You can sustain a moderate g-load for a long time or a high g-load for a very short time but once you add duration to high g-loads, you lose blood flow/oxygen to the brain and pass out.  Steve started with low g maneuvers and added intensity while checking on my condition.  We ended up at about 4-g loops which was close to my threshold.  I did start to grey-out at one point but by the time I was ready to alert Steve, the maneuver was over and I was fine.  The effect disappears nearly instantly once the g-loading is reduced.  The L-39 is capable of 8-g’s.
  3. Controls are physically calm and delicate.  When operating a racecar at the limit, your inputs should be smooth but smooth doesn’t mean slow.  Especially with a twitchy short wheelbase car, you need to quickly counter steer to recover.  Driving full tilt is physically demanding.  This plane has such light and precise controls that there is a bit of a disconnect for me between the g-loads you feel vs the light touch used.  It’s a bit analogous to playing video games or driving a modern performance car with digital nannies keeping you on track.

I’d highly recommend this experience to anyone that doesn’t get car/sea sick.  It’s not cheap but well worth the entry cost to check this off the bucket list for me.  Steve is very personable and knowledgable and I never felt scared or unsafe.  The plane is obviously well taken care of and spotless.  Every part of the experience met or exceeded expectations.

Car Life: Beauty in Refinement – Honda S2000 – SingularEntity.com

I met individuals of the Singular Entity crew at various track events over the last few years.  Nice guys with a passion for cars and telling a story in a unique way.  I’ve been a fan of their photography and videos for a while.

Austin and I spoke often about supercharging and data logging because he built a track Miata with a Rotrex supercharger and there’s a pretty small group of us that are running these hard on the track.  Austin asked me if I’d be interested in being featured in one of their videos and my response was an enthusiastic “yes”.

It was fun to see the filming side of the process.  We spent probably 2 hours filming the interview portion in my shop and another few hours filming street driving shots near my house and on Chuckanut Drive.  It’s really interesting to see how they condensed all that into 6 minutes.  It was a chilly spring day in the Northwest with overcast skies.  Not ideal driving or filming conditions.  Chuckanut Drive is an amazing road that follows the coastline of Bellingham and has really fun corners and beautiful views.  The massive trees lining the road kept the asphalt shaded and wet.  Grip levels were low especially with cold temps and R888’s.  Fortunately, traffic was also low and all but one shot was done in one take.

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Here’s the description of the YouTube video:

Born a natural Honda nut, Jared brings new meaning to “DIY”. With a background in mechanical engineering, every part added to this car was designed and meticulously planned by himself. From working as a Honda technician to doing full blown CAD and custom fabrication work, Jared brings new meaning to a grassroots build. Everything with this car has a purpose from removing the A/C compressor and replacing it with a different compressor, to the V-mount intercooler and custom aero. Jared takes us through his Honda journey from his adolescent Civic days to the mature ownership of the S2000.

Power is one thing, but control is another. Having learned suspension setup from working directly with Ohlins engineers, Jared’s performed his own suspension construction magic of taking an ATV shock and applying them to an automotive chassis.

Addressing the torqueless Honda with a supercharger has allowed him to keep up with the high horsepower cars, with a measly 345hp to the rear wheels. Nowadays you’re more likely to see Jared blow away in the straights and in the corners if you ever see him coming up in your rearview mirror.

Special thanks to Jared for the additional footage

Cinematography & music produced by Singular Entity – Gary Chan, Austin Tsai, Ken Au-Yeung & Jonathan Lau

Thank you to the Singular Entity crew.  Check out their other videos and content:

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/singularentity
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SingularEntitycom/
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIXaRuRWhQVwDsZAWoiPoZQ

FSAE Returns

I guess Formula SAE / Formula Student never left but it’s been many years since I’ve been involved.  That changed this summer when I brought Western Washington University’s Viking 26 FSAE racecar into my shop (Thanks Paul!) and, along with the help of several original teammates, rebuilt it to running condition.  In the fall, we raced it at a Pacific NW Porsche Club auto-x in pouring rain.  This car was originally designed and raced in 1995 and also competed in 1996 when I joined the team as a freshman.  It is a very unique car with lots of unconventional designs and construction.  It was also very light, powerful, and successful.  V26 placed 4th at FSAE Michigan in 1995 and 22nd in 1996 (thanks to a blown motor during the endurance event – would have placed top 5).  Some notable features of V26 are the 6″ filament wound carbon tube chassis, turbocharged fuel injected CBR600 engine, spool rear end (no differential), and suspension geometry designed to promote jacking to enable rotation with the spool.  The car also used 10″ wheels, inside-out front disk brakes, and dual floating inboard rear brake rotors.

Here’s V26 20 years after it last competed:

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Some welding work on the fuel tank:

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Here are some videos from this fall:

The car is a handful to drive with a hard hitting turbo and locked rear end (especially in wet conditions on 8 year old Hoosier Wets or 20 year old Hoosier Slicks).  It’s surprisingly easy to slide around but once you get too sideways it comes around fast.

Here are some pictures of Viking 26 (from 1996) and Viking 28 (1998) along with some of the original team members.

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More FSAE projects in the shop.  News to follow…

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J32 V6 Engine Swap

I’ve been considering an engine swap for a while.  The F20C/F22C is an absolutely amazing engine; engaging to drive and responds well to forced induction.  On top of all that, it’s pretty cheap to operate and can take track punishment for a long time and when it fails, rebuilding is easy and inexpensive.  All that being said, the original intent to supercharge my S2000 was to give it the power needed to run with the fastest cars on track.  With the stock engine I was stuck behind them in the corners and unable to pass on the straights.  The supercharger changed that.  Of course, now there are lots of 500-600 hp cars on the track that still walk away on the straights but I guess that’s the ever evolving progress of technology.  I am actually really happy with the current speed of the car and have no desire to have higher top speeds.  140 mph through turn 1 at Pacific Raceways is scary enough.

I really enjoy the instant response of a naturally aspirated car or supercharged car.  My daily drivers are a 2015 WRX and a 2001 Dodge RAM Turbo Diesel 24V.  I’m not against turbos at all but I really don’t like them for track use.  Turbo lag, throttle response, heat, etc all add up to frustration for me.  For the racing I’ve been doing lately, the classes are power-to-weight based and my small displacement high revving 4-cylinder makes a very peaky power curve.  Adding a Rotrex supercharger bumps the whole curve up but still only makes peak hp in a very limited rpm window which means 95% of the time, I’m not operating at peak power.  The top cars in these classes are detuning the engines to create a flat hp curve in the operating range using throttle by wire mapping, inlet restrictors, or programmed wastegates.  To get a flat hp curve, you really need a positive displacement supercharger, turbo, or bigger engine displacement.  For me, a larger naturally aspirated engine seems like the best choice for optimal throttle response, minimal complexity/maximal reliability, minimal heat, etc.

An LS swap makes a lot of sense.  It’s been done many times, the motors are powerful, light, and compact.  For the track, these motors have more power than I want/need.  This would require a new and heavy transmission and differential to handle the increased torque.  To get to my ideal hp/wt ratio, I’d need to detune the engine quite a bit so now I’m dragging around a bunch of heavy components to support a detuned engine.  Also, there are some clearance issues including firewall and steering rack.  I’d rather not relocate the steering rack and any modifications to the subframe results in penalties under the race class I run in (treated as a tube frame chassis).
The J-series V6 from Honda is the option I’m pursuing.  I’m starting with a J32A2 from a 2001-2003 TL Type-S and will likely swap in a crankshaft from the MDX 3.7 and 3.5 rods and pistons at some point to create a 3.6 liter high compression motor.  No replacement for displacement – as they say.  Some of the advantages include the ability to use the S2000 transmission (which is one of my favorites ever) and differential which has been reinforced to handle increased power.  I can also use my existing Exedy Hyper Single clutch.  This means stock axles and prop shaft can be used as well.  The engine is very compact and has no interference issues other than the oil filter which can be solved with a remote mounted oil filter.  Ultimately, I’m hoping for around 325 whp and lots more torque than I currently have with the supercharged F22C.  I think the weight will come within 20-30 lbs of the current engine/supercharger/intercooler.  The torque and lack of revs will change the character of the car for sure.  I’m keeping my SC’d F22C in case I don’t love the J-swap.

This will be a slow project as I’m currently rebuilding a Formula SAE car which I plan to race in 2017.  The FSAE car will be priority, however, I’m pretty excited for this swap project so I’ll be working on it fairly often.  There will be lots of learning, fabrication, and likely a few mistakes along the way.  This is still a fairly rare swap and not well documented so lots of this project will require custom solutions.  You can also follow the progress on Instagram: @sectoronedesign

Here are some progress pictures so far:

Lots of “Honda Power” in the shop at the moment

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Adapter Plate and engine mounts needed some modifications to fit:

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Picked up a magnesium intake manifold from a 2009 TL SH-AWD

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Much lighter than the J32A2 aluminum intake manifold and with larger T-body opening:

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Spokane County Raceway

My cousin recently purchased a Mustang GT and took it to his local track.  He sent me some pictures and an invitation to join him at the next track day.  Seemed like a great opportunity to learn a new track and visit with family.  The weather was beautiful and it was looking like a perfect day.  A few drivers warned me about some humps on the back straight so I asked a driver that I recognized from some NASA events if I could follow him for a few laps to see the line.  Spokane County Raceway is a fairly simple 2.25 mile track as it’s relatively flat and has only 10 turns.  There is a slightly blind crest on the back stretch but otherwise visibility is pretty good.  It has an interesting mix of very high speeds and some very low speed corners and I was using every gear but first.  I started off very conservatively as there was no rush in going full tilt and the runoff areas are not forgiving, plus I wanted to stay behind the M3 for a few laps until I felt confident in the line before giving it the full beans.  First lap was warming up the tires and seeing the track for the first time.  Second lap was a bit faster but still finding turn-in locations.  Started pushing a little harder on the third lap (still turning in much too early for T3) but felt a slight hesitation accelerating out of a corner.  I didn’t see any smoke and it seemed to run OK but I slowed down and noticed that the oil pressure seemed a bit low.  I coasted around the track for a lap and when I pulled off, the car died.  In the pits I pulled the plugs and #4 was black and wet.  The others looked perfect.  I figured the most likely cause was broken rings or ring lands.  In hindsight, I have been noticing a bit more blow by accumulation recently.  Not something I was going to fix at the track so I spent the rest of the day hanging out with family and did get a ride in my cousins Mustang which was super fun.  I then packed up and drove home.  It was a long 800 mile round trip for 2.5 laps!

There was an interesting mix of cars and a bunch of very friendly drivers.  I’m looking forward to making it back to Spokane.  I ran a high 1:39 on lap 2 (while coasting in several areas) and would really like to see what time I could run after learning the track and pushing it.

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I reviewed the data and found that the oil pressure started slowly dropping on lap three.  Blue trace is oil pressure from Lap 2 and Pink traces is oil pressure from Lap 3.  Knock voltage looked pretty normal until the middle of lap three where there was some very high readings.  Could be detonation due to the increased blow by gasses or it could be picking up the sound of the now-loose main bearings.  I didn’t see any significant knock prior to the failure.

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Once home, I pulled the oil pan and found a lot of bearing material.  I just had the pan off recently and there were no signs bearing material so it must have been a very fast catastrophic failure.  This explains the low oil pressure but didn’t explain the hesitation and fouled plug so I pulled the motor and removed the head.  Looks like broken rings and a very scored #4 cylinder.

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Ridge Test and Tune

Attended a Test and Tune at the Ridge Motorsports Park on July 5th 2016.  Attendance was very minimal (day after the 4th of July) which provided plenty of traffic-free open lapping.  Primarily, this day was used as a shake down of the car after 8 months of minimal activity.  I experimented with a few aero changes and ran all but one session on new R888’s.  The open lapping format is perfect for running some laps, reviewing data, making changes, rinse and repeat.  The weather was overcast and low 60’s all day which also helped maintain track consistency.  Overall, a great day for testing.

I was initially planning to test some major aero changes but while doing some routine maintenance about a week before this event, I found some major issues that needed to be addressed before spending time on aero.  I dropped my oil pan and discovered some stringy plastic debris which looked like timing chain guide material.  A quick inspection revealed that the oil pump chain was damaged.  The three inner plates on one link were fractured and cutting into the chain guides.  I’m amazed that the chain didn’t fail completely as only the side plates on that link were intact.  I have no idea how this could have happened but very lucky I caught it before the chain failed and I lost all oil pressure.  I threw some new plugs in, inspected my original valve spring retainers, and adjusted the valves along with an oil and filter change.

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I mounted a new set of Toyo R888’s (245’s) to a set of Forgestar 17 X 10’s.  I figured I’d try a “track day” type tire rather than burn up more Hoosiers if I’m not currently competing anyway.  This represented a major change to the cars dynamics.  The overall grip is lower than the Hoosiers as expected but the tires have significantly more slip angle and massive squirm.  Not sure if it’s tread squirm due to full tread depth or tire construction but the car was a handful.  The tires would take a set with a lot more yaw vs the Hoosiers and then they would rebound at transition.  The tires were very consistent and took repeated slides with no complaints.  Right out of the gate, I was running consistent 1:51’s on the R888’s.  After lunch, I put a set of Hoosiers (245 A7’s mounted on the same wheels) on the car and dropped 2 seconds with way less drama.  These Hoosiers are far from peak condition as they had over 10 long abusive heat cycles and are 2 years old.  I’m guessing they are a few seconds off the pace of a sticker set (estimated laptime difference between new R888’s and new A7’s is 4 seconds).  My fastest lap using 245 Hoosier A7’s at the Ridge is a 1:46 but that was before the change to T12 which I believe added about a second to my time.  The car is incredibly precise and crisp with the Hoosiers which confirmed my suspicion that the the R888’s were the cause of all the yaw action and not a chassis/suspension set-up issue.  I tried running higher pressures in the R888’s and it didn’t seem to improve the response.  I hear that this squirm gets better after a few track days – we shall see.

Observing the data shows a few things regarding track layout and tires.  The R888’s achieve nearly the same peak grip (as seen in max and min lateral G) but don’t achieve as much combined loads (as seen in G-G plot).  I’ve found the same results with sticker vs old Hoosiers as well.  You lose time in the areas of combined loading where you turn and brake or accelerate at the same time.  Below are screen shots of data comparing my previous 1:46 on Hoosiers (prior to T13 change) with the 1:49 on old Hoosiers and also comparing my fastest laps of the day on old Hoosiers vs R888’s.  A big difference with the R888’s is the instability under braking with minor steering transitions.  This instability required earlier and lighter braking especially into T11 (Thumb).  Red lines below are the 1:49 on Hoosiers in all data plots.

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I went out for my last session a little after 4:00 PM and ran some cat and mouse laps with a very nice guy in a 996 GT3 with a 450 whp 4.0 liter.  The car was on Hoosiers and was fully prepped for track work (stripped interior, lexan windows, big wing, 2650 lbs, etc).  It was a very fun session as we were running the same times despite the GT3 pulling many car lengths on the straights.  Of course my GoPro battery died on the first lap of the final session so I didn’t get any video.

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Fire Extinguisher Install

This post is a little behind chronologically. The Maryhill Hill Climb event required an on-board fire extinguisher.  I cut out and bent a mounting bracket from aluminum and bolted it down to the cross rail in front of the passenger seat using rivet-nuts.  Easy reach for the driver, doesn’t interfere with the passenger seating, and weight is nice and low.

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I also added a spring loaded stopper for my oil dipstick as it popped out the last time I was at the Ridge Motorsports Park and made a real mess.

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