photography

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.

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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

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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