SteadFast Unlimited Air Racing

Will Whiteside is a familiar face and name around the Reno pits.  Whether it’s the varieties of planes he’s raced over the last couple years or his warm personality and seemingly permanent smile on his sunglasses-clad face.

Once the Voodoo race team disbanded after the 2011 races, along with the overall uncertainty in the future of air racing at Reno, it took something significant to bring the team back together in the off season.  Enter:  SteadFast.  Even though Voodoo wasn’t around anymore, it was still of some use.  SteadFast gave the Voodoo team something to band together and fight for; Unlimited Gold racing.

Racing in Unlimited Gold was something that should have been guaranteed to Voodoo every year, now it’s the goal with SteadFast.  In addition to Unlimited racing, Will and the SteadFast team have been working their way through the record books.  Luckily the way speed records for aircraft were classified was reorganized to have multiple classes and make records achievable to the masses; SteadFast fit almost perfectly into the 1C1D class.  Starting with the 3km 1C1D speed record and ending with the 100km 1C1D speed record, and breaking the 10,000 and 20,000 foot time to climb records in the 1C1D and 1C1E classes, Will and SteadFast have been filling the record books.  They’ve even broke the 15km record which had been held by a Spitfire since the 1950’s.  Will and SteadFast set these records in the same class Rare Bear and Strega would compete, a feat which Will is quite proud accomplishing.  He’s even sent the challenge out to the high horsepower aircraft like those two – break the record and let’s start a competition outside of the Reno pylons.  Racing is too much fun for these guys to only race one week a year.

Will and SteadFast are always pushing to go faster, perform better, and place higher.  Other than prestige, award money motivates higher placement; contrary to popular belief, its money and not Bernoulli which makes airplanes fly.  SteadFast has made it to the Unlimited Gold race once before, in 2010, when the Gold race was cancelled due to high winds – a bittersweet accomplishment.  That being said, SteadFast is the lowest horsepower plane in the upper Unlimited class and runs on the smallest of budgets; just making it to the Gold race is an amazing feat.

SteadFast started life in Romania at the Avioane aircraft factory in 2005, the last factory-built propeller driven Russian fighter ever.  The aircraft is a Yak 3U, powered by a Pratt and Whitney R2000 radial. The Yak 3 is more of a Sunday flier than a proper race plane.  This is the type of plane a person would take a friend out on the weekend, fly cross country, or do aerobatics – it just happens to be fast which makes it a racing candidate as well.  Will does aerobatics in SteadFast at airshows in the off season.  After turning a 355mph pass the first year at Pylon Racing Seminar, 2005, Will decided SteadFast needed more speed.  Modifications were made, relatively minor ones – oil cooler spraybars, ADI, a bigger spinner, and aileron servo tabs.  The modifications all aimed to increase cooling, reduce drag, and make the aircraft more stable during racing – all while maintaining the weekend flyability of the aircraft, and with full dual controls this plane is an absolute hoot on and off the course.  Most air racers shoehorn in a huge engine to increase speed around the pylons; Will’s goal is to beat the other racers with brains, not money.  Decreasing drag is just as good as increasing power, sometimes doubly so.  Winning the Unlimited Silver race with only 1,700 horsepower has psychological advantages than can’t be bought with money.

Since last year, no major modifications have been made to SteadFast.  The one big change since last year is sponsorship; air race teams live and die by sponsorship and things are starting to look up for Team SteadFast.

Will has got plans for the future already.  The plans may include a Yak 11 which has multiple wings, one for pylon racing and climbing records and a wing for straight line speed, a bigger engine, and a propeller which was not designed for a 160 Knot WWII Bomber or transport. Certainly these Yaks have a cool factor to them – like many of the Unlimited racers – but they are still 1930’s and 1940’s designs which lack the performance many of the Unlimited Gold racers have incorporated over the years.  Optimizing the aircraft for the application can only ensure success.  Unfortunately, homebuilts and one-off Unlimited racers have a poor track record; every entry has crashed and killed the pilot.  Will’s position on the subject of following down the same path as many racers before is through knowledge and expertise the team can safely pursue that goal and with good planning they can ensure success.

Behind the Scenes with Will Whiteside…  Racing is the most incredible privilege out there.  Growing up Will would make models of various aircraft, including Rare Bear.  Now having the opportunity to firewall it down the chute with Rare Bear gunning for an Unlimited win, it’s unparalleled and something he’s very thankful to have the opportunity to participate in.  Hopefully as he rounds the pylons, there are kids in the audience being inspired, much like he was.  He will not give up until he wins Unlimited Gold, unfortunately a lack of sponsorship has been somewhat of an anchor as of late.  Finally, huge thanks go out to the whole SteadFast team, especially crew chief Larry Childs for many months of 16-18 hours a day, for a couple seasons, getting SteadFast to the point it is at now.  Learn more about Team SteadFast and Will Whiteside at www.teamsteadfast.com and www.willwhiteside.com.

Finally, the author would like to thank Will and the whole SteadFast team for the hospitality and the time the spent talking with me.  I am very grateful the whole team and Will were kind and willing enough to pull themselves from the aircraft and the goal of winning to spend time helping create this article.

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