Air Racing

“MERLIN MAGICIAN” – The Story of Dwight Thorn - Part Two

1980-82 – Merlin Dominance but not the “Mouse Motor”


Skip Holm and "Jeannie" at Reno in 1981

Dwight’s newest creation, the Allison rod “Mouse Motor” had survived its first outing at Reno in 1979. It was somewhat ironic that it was installed in the same airframe that had been Chuck Lyford’s “Bardahl Special” and flown by “Miss R.J.” pilot Chuck Hall. Both men were advocates of Dwight and the magic he could perform with a Rolls-Royce Merlin. For Dwight, the irony that his ultimate Mustang, “The Roto-Finish Special” had been transformed into the Rolls-Royce Griffon powered “Red Baron”. Darryl Greenamyer had joined that team in 1976, and with his input as both a mechanic and test pilot, the RB-51 was transformed into a consistent race-winner. The contributions of Bruce Boland, Pete Law, Randy Scoville, and engine builder Dave Zeuschel to this winning effort cannot be overstated. It was in August 1979 that Steve Hinton set a new 3-km speed record prior to the Reno Air Races. The loss of the “Red Baron after the Gold Race created a void that needed to be filled. Perhaps the “Mouse Motor” could do that. The “Mouse Motor" and Dwight returned in Bruce Ellis’ P-51 Mustang “Section 8”at Reno in 1980. Chuck Hall was again the pilot. They were hoping for better results. Chuck and “Section 8” would occupy the number eight qualifying position with a speed of 387.36 MPH. This placed the airplane in the Silver Race where Chuck would finish in second place to Ron Hevle who won the race in Tiger Destefani’s “Mangia Pane”. His second-place finish made him the first alternate for the Gold Race. When Lyle Shelton and “Rare Bear” could not start the Gold Race Chuck and “Section 8” took over. However, their participation was short-lived as Chuck was forced to pull out of the race on the first lap with engine problems. Although they did make it to the Gold Race the results were not good enough for Chuck and the airplane to continue in competition going forward. Chuck Hall explained this in a recent interview – “I really enjoyed participating at Reno in 1979 and 1980 with Dwight's first “Mouse Motor” installed in Bruce Ellis’ “Section 8”. Unfortunately, after the 1980 Reno Air Races I could no longer afford to continue. Dwight was supplying the motor, but we were “renting” the airplane from Bruce and unfortunately air racing will do damage to an airplane. Bruce was no longer in favor of renting the airplane for the fee he was being given so the program had to end. The other thing was that it was obvious that the “Mouse motor” needed a benefactor that could provide the necessary resources to develop it into a competitive race engine. This was beyond my financial means so unfortunately this enjoyable time came to an end after the 1980 Reno Air Races.” No such benefactor came forward in either 1981 or 1982. Dwight’s time at Reno was confined to doing Unlimited Class tech inspections and consulting on problems for others when asked. In the meantime, the domination of the Unlimited Class was still by Mustangs. First was the Wiley Sanders Mustang “Jeannie”. Dave Zeuschel’s highly tuned Merlin was combined with aerodynamics refined by Bruce Boland and systems optimized by Pete Law which allowed first “Mac” McClain and then “Skip” Holm to achieve Gold Race victories in 1980 and 1981. Holm had hoped to repeat in 1982 but was thwarted by engine problems in practice prior to qualifying. The 1982 victory would go instead to Ron Hevle in a Mustang named “Dago Red”. Owners Frank Taylor and Tiger Destefani had combined efforts to create a new and better version of “Jeannie”. Bruce Boland and Pete Law again provided their technical support, but this time the engine was supplied by a former Dave Zeuschel employee named Mike Nixon. Dwight could only watch from the sidelines. He knew in his heart that his Allison-rod Merlin, properly developed, could beat this current crop of racers but so far, no benefactors were forthcoming.

Read more: “MERLIN MAGICIAN” – The Story of Dwight Thorn - Part Two



Including Some Notes on the Equipment of the "Southern Cross"


FLIGHT, JULY 4, 1930, Page 757 - 761


MANY attempts at crossing the Atlantic by air have been made during the last ten years : several have succeeded and some have failed. The feat having been achieved, we personally look with disfavour upon a continuance of Atlantic flights, which cannot now serve any useful purpose, and only entail a considerable amount of risk to the flyers concerned, and much worry and anxiety to others. In Sqdn.-Ldr. Kingsford-Smith's successful crossing (from East to West (which we briefly recorded in our last issue) there are, however, certain outstanding features which— apart from it being a magnificent achievement in itself— class it rather more than a mere stunt. For one thing, the flight was very carefully organised and thought out, while the machine, land 'plane though it was and not, to our way of thinking, the type of 'bus to be used on long trans-ocean flights, was very efficiently equipped, reducing risk to a minimum. The petrol system, the various instruments, the navigation arrangements, and the wireless installation were all exceptionally well planned.


- Wireless played a very important part—in fact.^but for the wireless, as Kingsford-Smith himself admits, they would not have succeeded. From start to finish they were in constant touch with the world, and so to record the'progress of the flight we do not think we can do this better than to give the wireless messages sent out, which will be found below. We also follow these with some notes on the equipment, etc., of the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross, it will be remembered, left Prirtmarnock, near Dublin, at 4.30 a.m. on June 24, the intention being to fly direct to New York, but a landing was enforced, owing to fog and compass trouble, at Harbour Grace at 11.57 a.m., June 25 ; they were thus in the air nearly 31 £ hr. The journey to New York was completed June 26, when the Southern Cross left Harbour Grace early in the morning. Dense fog banks again hampered them, and progress was slow, and they did not land until late in the evening. However, they received a tremendous welcome, and each broadcast a short speech before being escorted to their hotel.