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Sun, Aug 03, 2003

Good -- and Spooky -- Replica LTR-14

Skip Holm Flies Replica Thompson Trophy Winner

"This airplane has gotten my attention as much as anything I've ever flown," said Reno winner (he's flying Dago Red) Skip Holm, at dinner a few nights ago at Oshkosh. He was talking about the Pesco Special, otherwise known as the LTR-14, or the more-poetic Ring Free Special and Miss Champion [but never the Turner Special, something Roscoe Turner demanded but never got --ed]. This incredibly authentic replica is owned by Tom Wathen, the man who is best-known at Oshkosh for bringing the Glasair name and designs back to viability.

The airplane is 25'4" wide, and 25'3" long, and that's longer and wider than it was originally built. When Turner saw the original, he reportedly went ballistic, and, legend has it, destroyed part of the wing. At any rate, the fuselage was lengthened, and Turner got the wing he wanted, before he flew it.

That wing's really not the best part of the airplane, according to Skip. "Roscoe Turner made them put that wing on," Skip explained. This is not a good wing -- it would work better on a supersonic airplane." For one thing, "It's a symmetrical airfoil -- the top and bottom are the same shape; for another, the thickest part is nearly 1/2 way back along the chord." What does that do to a pilot? "There's a lot of separation below 170mph," Holm said. The wing is "much better over 300mph."

Over 300 mph? Yup, and it's fixed-gear, too. How does it do that? Holm offered, "For one thing, it has 1200 horsepower." Oh.

There's another thing: "It's hard to see out of." One look tells the story. The pilot sits low, so even side visibility is crummy; and over the nose -- well, forget it. "It's hard to see on takeoff until the tail is up," said Mr. Holm, "and you can't see when landing, once the tail is down."

Ah, landing. Holm told us, "The visibility out the side is minimal, too." He said that at Oshkosh, with its 300' wide runway, that's not really a problem, "but on a runway that's 50, or even 75 feet wide," he's looking at just one side of the runway, trying to stay even with it.

Good stuff, too:

Skip, Unlimited Champion at Reno, and pilot of some of the trickiest and/or fastest airplanes ever built, liked some of the features, a lot. After all, the original (now in the Smithsonian) did win the Thompson Trophy in 1938 and '39 (and should have, in 1937), it was the last race plane Roscoe Turner ever raced, as well as the last race plane Matty Laird (Solution, Super Solution) ever built.

Holm liked a number of the concepts: "Big motor, little airplane: that's good. Zero trim drag: that's good. They decided on fixed gear, to save weight and complexity; and the rudder was characteristic of the day."

The plane:

The machine that provided the impetus for this replica, now in the National Air and Space Museum (where it went after Roscoe Turner died), was just like this one. It was begun by Larry Brown, and finished by Matty Laird, who put on the wing Roscoe wanted, and lengthened (!) the fuselage, and added a fifty gallon gas tank.

That tank split open in flight in September of 1937, and Turner knew it right away. When he landed, the tail touched off a spark, and the flames became impressive. Turner pulled the machine onto the grass, held the brakes, and kept the engine running, to blow the fire aft. The fire crews arrived immediately, and put the fire out; the plane was not badly damaged, except for needing new covering.

The story says that Turner was pretty angry with Laird, who had made the faulty gas tank. He also owed Matty money; the two came to an agreement that pretty much canceled each of those problems.

The machine was also in the Oakland Air Race of 1938, and finished second. In its earliest iteration, it was known as the Ring Free Special; most of its life, it was Miss Champion. It's known mostly, today as the Pesco Special, but never as the Turner Special. Officially, it's the LTR-14. By the time it had about thirty hours on it, "Roscoe Turner hung it up." The replica, Skip says, "Already has over fifty hours on it."

It was fast. It averaged over 280mph in the pylon races of the day; and its top speed was said to have been around 350. The replica should do the same; and it may just do that, in a commemorative "Golden Age Race" at Reno (NV) this year, where Skip will defend his unlimited title in Dago Red, as well as compete in the L-39 jet race.


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