Owl Racer Article & 3-View
April 1971 American Aircraft Modeler
Don Berliner claims that, "[The Owl Racer] is the easiest racer
to model for RC pylon." Curiously, given that claim, no plans were
published for it, but there are 3-views. Designer George Owl (I
kid you not) applied knowledge gained from the School of Hard Knocks
in the field of airplane racing on top of his ample experience with
"brains-and-slide-rule" design to create this winning craft. Did
you catch that? "Brains-and-slide-rule."
Unique because of new ideas,
the Pogo proved it has winning potential in its first two races.
Smooth lines make it suitable for any model project.
The owl is a pussycat. And a tiger. And a 'possum.
pussycat, because Bud Pedigo, first pilot to race this new Formula
One, says he'd turn a student loose in it.
A tiger, because
it blasted around the three-mile oval at St. Louis at 209 mph its
first time out.
A 'possum, because it's now named Pogo,
who is one of the better-known 'possums of the Okeefenokee Swamp.
And the Owl Racer because it was designed by George Owl, who has
been involved in the brains-and-slide-rule part of airplanes ranging
all the way from Midget Monocoupe to X-15.
Only engine performance information really matters in any racer.
Pogo is not flown cross-country to the meets, so minimum instruments
Designer theorized that less wetted area and fewer cowl intersections
offer less drag than the typical tight-fitting cheek cowl. This
is the easiest racer to model for RC pylon.
Pogo's color scheme is metallic olive green striping and numerals
on solid white, with a black antiglare panel in front of the
cockpit. The tail wheel is tiny.
a general rule, don't make very good raceplane designers, for they
tend to build airplanes that are too big and too heavy. But an engineer
with racing experience is another matter, and that is the exclusive
category into which George Owl fits quite snugly.
into the raceplane racket in 1947, when the Goodyear Racers flashed
onto the scene and it seemed as though just about everybody was
starting to build one - or at least was talking about building one.
George was no exception, but his airplane was. It was the one and
only high-wing ever proposed for the 190 cu. in. class. He built
it for Woody Edmundson, then a rather successful pilot of racingP-51's
and aerobatic Monocoupes, and now a very successful charter flying
The racer was called the Midget Monocoupe, and
looked like one, with a Monocoupe's classic tapered wing atop a
very small fuselage. It was ready in 1948, but Woody found it entirely
too hot to handle, so it never got to Cleveland, although Woody
and his other airplanes did. The Midget Monocoupe drifted around
for years, finally becoming the property of an EAA type in Miami,
name of Henry Watts, who improved its flying characteristics and
entered it in the 1969 Florida National Air Races. Everyone was
impressed by its sporty looks, but the officials frowned on its
wobbly flight path and ordered it to stay on the ground, where it
will probably remain, at least when other planes are racing.
Owl had long since moved on to bigger and better things, changing
jobs from Aeronca to McDonnell and then developing possibly the
most radical racer in history-the P.A.R. Special. This slick little
craft boasted an engine buried behind the pilot and driving, by
means of a six-foot extension shaft, a Fairey pusher prop "mounted
aft of the Y-tail. As if that weren't enough, it also had a variable-incidence
wing. But no amount of fine engineering, workmanship and piloting
could overcome the drawbacks of the long shaft, which distorted
during high-g turns, and so it was retired after achieving a best
performance of 181 mph at Chattanooga in 1952.
ideas having brought no success, George Owl vanished from the racing
scene and busied himself at North American Aviation, designing such
run-of-the-mill flying machines as the B-70 and X15, neither of
which made so much as a ripple in the air racing pond, although
they reportedly were fairly fast.
Shortly after air racing
returned in 1964, so did George Owl, this time well armed with ideas,
vastly more experience, and an expert builder named John Alford.
Together, they developed the Owl Racer. Hardly anyone knew of its
existence until, as if by magic, it appeared on the ramp in front
of the race hanger at St. Louis in August, 1969.
machine was beautiful, no doubt about it. Its lines were smooth
and artistic. Its construction and finish were the equal of any
racer in the country. But it looked a bit on the large size, especially
in the front end. Polite questions about the reasons for the bulky
cowl brought a painstaking explanation from its designer. And while
it was obvious that a lot of racing veterans were far from convinced
by the explanation, none of them was equipped to argue aerodynamics
with a guy like George Owl.
other half of the team was John Alford, an air tanker pilot flying
Grumman F7F Tigercats. A qualified mechanic as well as pilot, John
had converted Stearman trainers to dusters, restored Beech Staggerwings,
and flown B-17s in forest fire operations. In addition to an outstanding
job of construction, John will soon make a further contribution
to the story of #87. His wife, Joan, will be its pilot for 1971,
and thus the first woman to compete in Formula One.
A lot of brand new racers are exceedingly fast on the drawing board,
in the workshop and at the home field. And a lot of pretty bubbles
are burst in that first spin around a race course, when the unbiased
stopwatch converts dreams into reality. But this time there was
nothing for the Owl crew to apologize for, as pilot Bud Pedigo clocked
208.90 mph, good for sixth place in an amazingly fast field of 13
racers. Four years of careful planning and hard work began to payoff.
The Owl Racer didn't become the Cinderella plane of the
year by beating Rivets. In fact, it didn't even make the Finals
in its first try, being plagued by poor takeoff acceleration. Still,
it topped 200 mph in the Consolation Race and put everyone on notice
that more would be heard. A few weeks later, at Reno, Pedigo earned
over $1000 by flying #87 into fifth place in the Formula One Championship
Race at almost 204 mph.
Such performance for a completely
new design, while not unheard of, is certainly rare. How did Owl
and Alford do it? By careful detail work, by precise alignment of
every important piece, and by knowing which tried-and-true techniques
to use and which to ignore when their own calculations pointed down
an untried path.
The main deviation from conventional design
in the Owl Racer is its cowl - large, but simple. The Owl cowl,
according to George, has less surface area, no sharp intersections,
more interior space and a better shape for withstanding pressure.
Moreover, it has a blunt front where the cooling intakes are located,
to accommodate a steep angle of airflow without stalling, thus producing
maximum cowl thrust, similar to wing lift.
exhaust and cooling systems were worth note, with both exiting on
the bottom of the airplane, just ahead of the firewall. The stacks
were located at either side of a cowl flap in a very clean arrangement.
After the 1969 season, the exhaust system was lightened and simplified
by switching to individual stacks cut off flush with, ports on either
side of the cowl. Other changes, mainly aimed at reducing weight,
are to include elimination of the oil radiator, replacement of the
thick galvanized firewall with aluminum and asbestos, and switching
from copper pitot and static lines to plastic or aluminum.
Construction is straightforward. The wing has a one-piece laminated
spruce main spar, half-inch thick spruce ribs and plywood covering.
Aileron control is via a one-inch torque tube which can be disconnected
for easy wing removal by pulling a single bolt in the cockpit without
affecting aileron rigging. The fuselage is welded chrome-moly steel
tubing with metal covering to the front of the cockpit and fabric
aft. The tail has a spruce frame covered with plywood. The canopy
is a single piece of molded Plexiglas with a composite wood/ foam/fiberglass
frame and rear fairing.
Power is supplied by the typical
stock Continental 0-200, properly balanced and with a racing prop
which enables it to turn about 3750 rpm and develop about 125 hp.
One season of racing, even when it is as successful
as the Owl's in 1969, still doesn't prove a design. At best, it
can only indicate potential. The Owl Racer unquestionably has speed
and good flying characteristics, which is about all that should
be asked of a racer. Its future is bright but completely uncharted.
Plans, available from John Alford (291 Beech Ave., Santa Rosa, Calif.)
for $125 a set, consist of 56 individual drawings including all
structure, primary controls, fuel tank and canopy, as well as full-size
ribs and fairing contours. Their acceptance by builders could make
the Owl Racer one of the truly significant racer designs. In the
meantime, #87 will be busy trying to win races.
Basic airplane is white with metallic
olive green striping and numbers.
Black pilot name,
airplane name and emblem on vertical stabilizer, wing-walk and footprint
on upper surface of left wing, and cowling anti-glare panel.
Span - 16'
Area - 66 sq. ft.
Airfoil - 63 A 210
- 1 degree
Aspect ratio - 3.88:1
Incidence - 0 degrees
Twist - 0 degrees
Span - 5' 11"
Area - 8.5
Aspect ratio - 4.12:1
Area (projected to fuselage reference
line) - 5.10 sq. ft.
Owl Racer Top View
for larger version>
Owl Racer Side View
for larger version>
Owl Racer Front View
for larger version>
Posted April 28, 2012
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