Author Archives: William Pearce

Smith Enterprise tow

Fred H. Stewart Enterprise (Smith-Harkness) LSR Car

By William Pearce

In 1930, Australian driver Norman Leslie “Wizard” Smith attempted to set a Land Speed Record (LSR) on Ninety Mile Beach (which is actually 55 miles / 88 km long) in New Zealand. His car, the Anzac, was built by well-known race driver, engineer, and fellow Australian, Donald James Harkness. Harkness was also the riding mechanic for the Anzac record runs. Smith and Harkness knew the 360 hp (268 kW) Anzac was not capable of setting an absolute speed record for the flying mile (1.6 km), but they hoped to set national records for Australia and New Zealand as well as a 10-mile (16-km) world record. Technically they were successful, but the 10-mile (16-km) record was not verified on account of a single run being made without a return run in the opposite direction. The Anzac was also used to gain experience that would be applied to the design and construction of a much more powerful car capable of 300 mph (483 km/h).

Smith Enterprise Harkness

Norman “Wizard” Smith and Don Harkness pose with the nearly completed Fred H. Stewart Enterprise in 1931. Note how the body sloped up in front of the cockpit. This was done in an attempt to increase downforce at the center of the car to aid stability at high speeds.

Setting world speed records is an expensive endeavor. While Smith and a few friends funded most of the Anzac, the much larger and faster LSR car would need financial resources beyond that which Smith and his partners could provide. Fortunately, Smith was able to leverage his success with the Anzac and as a racer to gain the financial backing of Australian businessman and politician Frederick Harold Stewart. The one stipulation set by Stewart was that the new LSR car be named the Fred H. Stewart Enterprise. The car was originally to be named Anzac II, but at the time, Australian policy stated that ANZAC can only refer to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and cannot be used in any other fashion without prior permission. As a result, Smith had to take the name off his previous racer and select a different name for the new racer. The financing terms were agreed upon, and Smith and Harkness focused on building the LSR car, the Fred H. Stewart Enterprise (Enterprise).

To power the Enterprise, Smith and Harkness needed an engine much more powerful than anything they could obtain themselves. They sought a 1,600 hp (1,193 kW) Rolls-Royce R engine developed for the 1929 Schneider Trophy contest. The Enterprise team turned to the Australian government for assistance, and the Australian Prime Minister, James Scullin, reached out to the British government. Ultimately, the British Air Ministry loaned Smith the latest Napier Lion VIID W-12 engine, capable of 1,450 hp (1,081 kW) at 3,600 rpm. This was the same type of engine that Malcolm Campbell was then installing in his latest Blue Bird revision. At the time, the engine’s particulars were considered secret, and the Air Ministry stipulated that only Smith, Harkness, and two Enterprise crew members be allowed to work on it. Some reports indicate that the Rolls-Royce engine was expected right up until the crate was opened to reveal the Napier. The taller and less-powerful Lion necessitated a slight redesign of the Enterprise, and the car’s estimated top speed decreased to 280 mph (451 km/h).

Smith Enterprise build

The Enterprise under construction at Harkness & Hillier Engineering Works. Smith is sitting, with Harkness at his right. In front of the Napier Lion engine is Smith’s wife, Harriet. Note the screw jacks at the rear of the car, the leaf-spring rear suspension, and the size of the frame rails.

The Fred H. Stewart Enterprise was designed by Harkness and built at the Harkness & Hillier Engineering Works in Five Dock, near Sydney. The car resembled the 930 hp (694 kW) Irving-Napier Golden Arrow, which Henry Segrave had used to set the then-current LSR at 231.362 mph (372.341 km/h) on 11 March 1929. Like the Golden Arrow, the Enterprise had a chisel-shaped front end leading to a tightly-cowled Lion engine. Its wheels were set outside of the bodywork, and the cockpit was positioned toward the rear and flanked by driveshafts connected to the rear axle. One major difference in appearance was that the Enterprise had two stabilizing tails, each extending back behind the rear wheels. With an additional 520 hp (388 kW) and 17-percent less frontal area, Smith and Harkness thought the Enterprise would go faster than the Golden Arrow.

The Enterprise’s chassis consisted of two large frame rails connected by various cross members. Each corner of the frame had provisions for a screw jack to easily raise the car. The Lion engine was nestled between the frame rails and connected to a three-speed transmission. Output from the transmission was split into two drive shafts that passed through armor-plated housings on both sides of the driver’s seat. Each drive shaft connected to a drive box that was connected to a rear wheel. The front wheels appear to have had very minimal suspension, and the rear wheels were supported by leaf springs positioned above the frame. The frame, powertrain, and suspension were all designed to minimize the Enterprise’s height.

Smith Enterprise debut

At its christening on 26 October 1931, the Enterprise was fitted with relatively small aerodynamic fairings behind the rear wheels. It is not clear if this was Harkness’ final vision for the car, as other photos show no front fairings at all.

Separate drag links extended from the steering box positioned in front of the cockpit to the front wheels. A tie rod connected the front wheels together. The steering system enabled 20 degrees of wheel movement. A close-fitting body covered the Enterprise. The body was designed to push the middle of the car down at high speeds. A hump on each side of the cockpit enclosed the suspension for the rear wheels. The humps tapered down to form a wedge at the rear of the car. The body surrounding the cockpit tapered back to a point. The stabilizing tail fins, built from steel tube frames and covered with fabric, extended behind the rear wheels. A flat-plate windscreen was mounted at an angle just before the cockpit, and the fuel tank was positioned behind the cockpit.

The Enterprise was 26 ft (7.92 m) long, 69 in (1.75 m) wide, 36 in (.91 m) tall in front of the cockpit, 42 in (1.07 m) tall at the top of the cockpit, and 48 in (1.22 m) tall at the tail fins. The car had 7.5 in (191 mm) of ground clearance and weighed around 6,700 lb (3,039 kg). Only the rear wheels had provisions for brakes. Smith purchased a set of special Dunlap slicks guaranteed to 310 mph (500 km/h) for the speed runs. These tires were 37 in (940 mm) tall and 7 in (178 mm) wide. Like Smith’s Anzac, the Enterprise was finished in a golden color and had Australian flags painted on its tails. While the Enterprise was being built, Campbell set a new flying-mile (1.6-km) LSR at 245.736 mph (395.474 km/h) on 5 February 1931.

Smith Enterprise tow

The Enterprise without any front wheel fairings and with Smith in the cockpit. As designed, the Enterprise was a rather sleek machine. Note the brake link extending from the cockpit back to the rear wheel and the lack of brakes on the front wheels.

The Enterprise was anticipated to be completed around February 1931. However, delays with the car’s construction along with separate business matters preoccupying Smith, Harkness, and everyone else involved with the car, resulted in the Enterprise not being completed until the end of 1931. During this time, the Auckland Automobile Association built a garage at Hukatere, near the mid-point of Ninety Mile Beach. The garage was constructed for Smith and for others who might pursue future record attempts, as Donald Campbell was considering using Ninety Mile Beach. A side effect of the new garage was that Smith would no longer use Star Garage in Kaitaia, and some locals saw this as a slight against the town. This issue, combined with the lengthy delays, made many on the northern tip of the North Island have a general disdain for Smith and his record runs.

The incomplete Enterprise made a few public appearances in April and August 1931. Part of the delay in finishing the car was caused by a disagreement between Harkness and Smith on how to cool the Napier Lion. Harkness had designed the Enterprise to use ethylene glycol chemically cooled in a heat exchanger by methyl chloride (Chloromethane or Refrigerant-40). This method would leave the car aerodynamically clean without incorporating any radiators. Because of the relatively untried nature of chemical cooling and its high cost, Smith wanted to employ conventional water cooling with a radiator housed in a streamlined fairing at the front of the car, which was the method used on Campbell’s latest Blue Bird. It should also be considered that Napier may have demanded that water-cooling be used on the loaned engine. Frustrated and running out of time, Harkness designed and constructed a pair of conventional radiators that mounted just before the front tires. Fairings mounted behind the front tires would serve as water reservoirs for the cooling system. With the exception of bracing for the radiators, this left the front of the car aerodynamically clean, and the radiators probably did not create any more drag that the tires just behind them. However, the system looked cobbled-together and very unrefined. Smith felt Harkness’ design was totally inadequate.

Smith Enterprise radiator

The Enterprise most likely seen arriving in Hukatere. The truck in the background transported the car from Awanui to Hukatere. The large radiator at the front of the car has been shrouded in a canvas cover. The new reservoir fairings are attached behind the front wheels, but the tail fins are not installed.

When the Enterprise was christened on 26 October 1931, it still had no visible means of cooling the engine, and small fairings behind the front wheels were installed for aerodynamic purposes only. The strain of everything had become too much, and Harkness suffered a nervous breakdown at the beginning of November. The Enterprise was started for the first time on 18 November, and preparations were made to ship the car to New Zealand.

At the request of Smith, and without the knowledge of Harkness, Lawrence James Wackett, perhaps Australia’s foremost authority on aviation and aerodynamics at the time, had analyzed the Enterprise’s cooling system and submitted a report to Smith a few days before the trip to New Zealand. Wackett had noted that the radiators did not have sufficient capacity to cool the Lion engine and that their installation would likely fail at high speed. When the Enterprise arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on 8 December, the disagreement on engine cooling had yet to be resolved. The radiators were not installed, but they had been shipped with the car to be added once the Enterprise arrived in New Zealand.

Around 10 December 1931, the Enterprise was fully assembled with its twin radiators and underwent a safety inspection, which it failed. The mounting of the radiators was deemed insufficient and was predicted to collapse at high speeds. Harkness persisted with the twin radiator design, and the tremendous strain that Harkness was under really began to show—political maneuvering brought an end to his company’s main source of income; his other business ventures were failing, and he was experiencing issues in his personal relationships. With the failed safety inspection in hand, Smith made his move and served Harkness with a restraining order, ousting him from further involvement with the Enterprise. Smith was not happy about the situation, but he felt that his priority needed to be fixing the Enterprise so that he could proceed with record attempts. Harkness stayed in Auckland while the rest of the party moved north, and he left New Zealand around 8 January 1932.

Smith Enterprise AAA garage

The Enterprise being towed out of the newly-constructed garage at Hukatere. The large, odd radiator truly spoiled the car’s looks and aerodynamics. Note the Dunlop road tires.

Before leaving Australia, Smith had made arrangements to design, build, and mount a new radiator to the Enterprise. Since Smith now had control of the car and knew the twin radiator design was flawed, he moved the Enterprise to an Auckland garage to fabricate a conventional radiator. The radiator work was conducted somewhat secretly, and the changes to the Enterprise surprised many when the car arrived in Awanui by skiff on 3 January 1932. The massive rectangular radiator absolutely ruined the lines of the Enterprise, but the radiator was an emergency fix done with little time. Smith defended the cooling system, comparing it to the type then used by Campbell on the Blue Bird. While the configuration was similar, the implementation on the Enterprise was not as refined as the radiator installation on the Blue Bird. The large, flat-faced, three-core radiator was covered in a fairing that stretched from the front of the car back to the engine cowling. In addition, the large wheel fairings constructed as water reservoirs had been installed behind the front wheels in place of the original, smaller fairings. The radiator added around 300 lb (136 kg) of weight and almost 2 ft (.61 m) of length, making the Enterprise approximately 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) and 27 ft 11 in (8.51 m) long.

Bad weather and poor conditions kept the Enterprise in its garage at Hukatere and off Ninety Mile Beach until 11 January 1932, when Smith made his first practice run. A speed of 125 mph (201 km/h) was achieved, and this was basically the first time the Enterprise was driven at any speed. Smith was satisfied with the shakedown run and prepared for an attempt on the 10-mile (16-km) record. The bad weather and poor conditions persisted, and it was not until 26 January that Smith felt the still-mediocre conditions were acceptable enough for an attempt. As the Enterprise ripped southeast on the beach, the wet sand literally sandblasted Smith and the car. At a speed around 228 mph (367 km/h), the car went out of control as it hit a patch of wet sand. Smith had to slow to 90 mph (145 km/h) before recovering, and then he pressed on to finish the run in 3:59.945 with an average speed of 150.034 mph (241 km/h). The toheroa shells on the beach had ripped up the special Dunlop slick tires during the run, and Smith decided to install the treaded road tires for the return run. The road tires were 36 in (914 mm) tall and 6 in (152 mm) wide. Because of the tires and conditions, Smith kept the Enterprise at a more sedate and even pace on the northwest run, completing the distance in 3:22.097 with an average of 178.132 mph (286 km/h). The average speed over both 10-mile (16-km) runs was 164.084 mph (264.077 km/h), breaking the previous record of 137.206 mph (220.811 km/h) set by Gwenda Stewart on 13 February 1930. Of course, Smith had hoped for and anticipated much more.

Smith Enterprise slicks

Smith sits in the cockpit before making a 10-mile (16-km) record attempt on Ninety Mile Beach. The Enterprise is equipped with the Dunlop slicks. Note the fuel filler cap behind the cockpit and the fabric covering of the tail fins distorted by the steel frame.

Smith was battered and bruised from the run; wet sand covered everything, including his goggles and the Enterprise’s windscreen. Better conditions were an absolute necessity before further attempts could be made and higher speeds attained. Curiously, various news outlets reported that Smith and the Enterprise made an LSR attempt on 27 January, with 224.945 mph (362.014 km/h) on the first run and 199.285 mph (320.718 km/h) on the second. The speeds averaged to 211.115 mph (339.757 km/h), more than 34 mph (55 km) short of Campbell’s record. However, Smith, Harkness, and New Zealand and Australian newspapers deny that such an attempt was ever made. Where the erroneous report originated is not known.

After the run on 26 January 1932, Smith and the Enterprise took some time off. A new, smaller radiator was fitted because the previous radiator had worked a bit too well. The new radiator was only about 10% smaller and did not improve the Enterprise’s looks. Smith took the Enterprise out for a test run on 24 February and confirmed the new radiator was working well. That same day and half a world away, Campbell increased the 5-mile (8-km) record to 242.751 mph (390.670 km/h), the flying mile (1.6 km) record to 253.968 mph (408.722 km/h), and the flying kilometer (.6 mi) record to 251.340 mph (404.493 km/h).

Smith Enterprise Beach

The Enterprise running along Ninety Mile Beach with Dunlop road tires. With its radiator slightly out of frame, the car does not appear too odd.

Smith and the Enterprise made ready for future attempts at the 5-mile (8-km) and absolute speed records on 25 February, but the weather did not cooperate, and tensions were brought to an all-time high. A disagreement at the hotel resulted in Smith and his party checking out and retuning to Auckland; the Enterprise stayed in the garage at Hukatere. The party returned to a different hotel around 19 March, hoping for improved conditions and a smooth beach. However, some of the worst weather in 30 years continued to prevent any record attempts. More bad luck came in early April with legal proceedings filed against Smith by Harkness. Harkness, who was in Sydney, was absolutely furious when he saw the radiator modifications applied to the Enterprise. In addition, Smith’s constantly-delayed attempts on the record caused many to question his abilities, but most of these individuals were far from Ninety Mile Beach and did not have a grasp on its unsuitable condition.

On 5 April, Smith took the Enterprise on a brief drive along the unsuitable beach. The following day, Smith packed up the Enterprise and started the journey back to Auckland. While in Auckland, a new windscreen that revolved to clean itself of sand was installed. By the end of April, Smith and the Enterprise had returned to Hukatere, where the wait continued as rough weather made the conditions unacceptable for a record run. Because so many delays had occurred with the car’s arrival in New Zealand and with the record runs, detractors coined a new nickname: “Windy” Smith, implying he talked a lot about his plans but failed to come through. Locals had long since grown tired of the spectacle and inconvenience Smith’s record runs had caused.

Smith Enterprise wet run

This photo of Smith in the Enterprise, on what is most likely one of the 10-mile (16-km) runs, gives a good impression of the wet and less-than-ideal conditions on Ninety Mile Beach. The heavy rain created a couple of shallow streams that ran across the course, making it very unsuitable for a car traveling at high-speeds.

After all of the waiting and associated drama, Smith was ready to make another run in the Enterprise on 1 May 1932. Ninety Mile Beach was wet and still not in a good condition, but something had to be done, and Smith targeted the 5-mile (8-km) record. As the Enterprise traveled northwest on Ninety Mile Beach and accelerated through 170 mph (274 km/h) toward the start of the course, the Napier engine began backfiring and caught fire. Saltwater spray had inundated the engine compartment and caused arcing from the magnetos. The sparks ignited fuel around the Lion’s carburetors. Smith slowed as fast as he could and jumped from the car as it was still moving. The fire was quickly brought under control, and the Enterprise was returned to the garage at Hukatere. The damage was judged as not too severe, but Smith had spent a rough five months in New Zealand and was not interested in staying any longer.

Smith vowed to return the next year to go after the record, but he never did. Smith, his entourage, and the Enterprise returned to Sydney, and the car was tucked away in the garage of Smith’s friend Ted Poole. The cost of the record attempts began to set in as Harkness and others accused Smith of being either afraid to make a record attempt or incapable of driving at the speeds needed. Neither of the accusations were true. The truth was that pursuit of the LSR had cost Smith much of his savings, some of his dignity, and a few of his friendships. Eventually, Smith prevailed in a slander suit he brought against an Australian newspaper, but the rift with Harkness was never closed. In mid-1933, Smith talked about racing the Enterprise on Lake George, but plans for the site never came to fruition. Later in life, Smith was happy to talk about his racing exploits, with the exception of the LSR attempts. Smith stored the Enterprise for a time, but the car was ultimately disassembled, and the Lion engine was sold for use in a speedboat. The Enterprise’s frame sat outside of Smith’s shop until at least 1958, the year Smith passed away, but no part of the car is known to exist.

Smith Enterprise engine fire

The damage to the Enterprise after the Napier Lion caught fire during the 5-mile (8-km) attempt was fairly isolated. The coolant line to the radiator extended from the center of the cowling. The return lines ran outside of each frame rail.

Sources:
Wizard of Oz by Clinton Walker (2012)
The Real Wizard Smith by Steve Simpson (1977)
The Land Speed Record 1930-1939 by R. M. Clarke (2000)
“Australian Fails To Beat Campbell’s Auto Speed Record” The Syracuse Herald (27 January 1932)
“Radiators On Racing Cars” The Sydney Morning Herald (2 February1932)
“Did “Wizard” Smith Attempt Record?” Truth (3 April 1932)
http://www.gregwapling.com/hotrod/land-speed-racing-australia/land-speed-racing-australia-enterprise.html
http://www.gregwapling.com/hotrod/land-speed-racing-australia/land-speed-racing-australia-norman-smith.html
http://www.gregwapling.com/hotrod/land-speed-racing-australia/land-speed-racing-australia-don-harkness.html
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-norman-leslie-8481

Smith Harkness Anzac test

Smith-Harkness Anzac LSR Car

By William Pearce

Norman Leslie Smith was an Australian professional racing driver. In the 1920s, he began to dominate hill climb, endurance, and point-to-point speed events. The nickname “Wizard” was bestowed upon him in December 1922 after his uncanny abilities behind the wheel were demonstrated while he won a 1,000-mile (1,609-km) Alpine rally in Melbourne. Earle Croysdill was Smith’s riding mechanic, and more than 50 racers had entered the event. Smith drove his racer from his home in Sydney, completed the race, and then drove the 560 miles (900 km) back to Sydney.

Smith Harkness Anzac nearly complete

The nearly-finished Anzac LSR car sits outside of the Harkness & Hillier Engineering Works in Five Dock. The car is missing its windscreen, seats, and gold paint. An additional louver was added under each exhaust stack, and the Australian flag painted on the tail would later be moved higher with “Advance Australia” written under it. Don Harkness is on the extreme right; he is looking at Norman “Wizard” Smith, who is holding one of the two black shop cats that, for a time, made the Anzac their home.

During 13 and 14 March 1928, Smith captured the Australian records for distances covered in 6, 12, and 24 hours while driving a Studebaker Commander that was stock, with the exception of an additional fuel tank. The respective distances and speeds traveled for the records were 455 miles at 75.8 mph (732 km at 122.0 km/h), 857 miles at 71.4 mph (1,379 km at 114.9 km/h), and 1,701 miles at 70.9 mph (2,737 km at 114.1 km/h). Not quite done, Smith, with Ted Poole and Len Emerson, drove from the western coastal town of Fremantle (near Perth) to the eastern coastal town of Brisbane by way of Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. Their 6-day, 5-hour, and 22-minute journey spanned from 31 March to 6 April and covered some 3,700 miles (5,955 km), including backtracking. The trip set new point-to-point records between all of the major Australian cities they visited.

In late 1928, Smith happened upon Jack Mostyn, former Mayor of Sydney, who was fixing a flat tire. It was during this impromptu roadside meeting that the idea of creating an Australian Land Speed Record (LSR) car was born. At the time, the speed record stood at 207.552 mph, set by Ray Keech in the White Triplex Special on 22 April 1928. Smith and Mostyn did not intend to go directly after this record. First, they would build a car that could achieve around 175 mph. This car would be capable of setting Australian speed records and records over longer distances. If everything went well, a second LSR car would be built with a top speed of 250 mph in mind. But to achieve such lofty goals, the men needed an engineer to design and construct the cars.

Smith Harkness Anzac test

Finished, the Anzac is taken on a test run by Smith and Harkness. The name “the Anzac” was not painted on the car until later. It is not clear when the name was assigned to the car. Note that both front tires are essentially off the ground.

Smith and Mostyn turned to Donald James Harkness, a well-known race driver and engineer. Being around the same age, from the same area, and competing in the same events, Smith and Harkness had known each other for some time. Harkness agreed to partner with Smith and Mostyn to design and build the LSR cars for just the cost of their parts. The first car was the Anzac, named as a tribute to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which had fought in World War I. Smith had joined to fight in World War I, but rheumatic fever ended his service and returned him to Australia.

The Anzac was designed by Harkness and built at the Harkness & Hillier Engineering Works in Five Dock, near Sydney. The car was of a conventional layout and about 20 ft (6.1 m) long with an 11 ft (3.4 m) wheel base and a 4 ft 8 in (1.4 m) track. The Anzac was built on a heavily modified and strengthened Cadillac frame and powered by a 360 hp (268 kW) Rolls-Royce Eagle IX V-12 engine. The Eagle IX was the latest and last of the Eagle line, the first of which was designed in 1915. Purchased as surplus from the Royal Australian Air Force, it was the most powerful engine Smith and Harkness could acquire.

The three-speed transmission, originally from the Cadillac, and drivetrain of the Anzac had been configured for an engine with a clockwise rotating crankshaft. As installed in the Anzac, the engine’s crankshaft rotated counterclockwise. A special transfer case was built and installed to take the counterclockwise input from the engine and convert it to a clockwise output for the drivetrain. The transfer case added weight and complexity and consumed some engine power. However, the transfer case had a 2:1 overdrive gearing. Modifications to the engine enabled 2,800–3,000 rpm, which gave the Anzac a theoretical top speed of 175–188 mph (282–303 km/h).

Smith Harkness Anzac Mobil

Smith looks on as Harkness pours oil into the Anzac’s tank during this publicity shot. Note the Vacuum Oil Company’s Mobiloil BB (SAE 50) oil can with the gargoyle logo. The Vacuum Oil Company was one of the few sponsors of the Anzac. When Vacuum merged with the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) in 1931, the “Mobil” name was retained for the oil, but Socony’s red Pegasus was used as the logo.

Efforts were made to keep the Anzac relatively clean aerodynamically, but it was not very streamlined. The Eagle’s individual exhaust stacks protruded from the engine’s cowling, and a radiator cap with a temperature gauge sat proud at the front of the car. A large triangular opening at the front of the car brought in air to the radiator, and the air exited from louvers cut into the sides of the engine cowling. The cockpit accommodated a driver and a riding mechanic. A small windscreen protected the driver, but the riding mechanic was exposed to the slipstream. The fuel tank was positioned behind the cockpit, and an oil tank was located behind the rear axle. The car’s body tapered behind the cockpit, and a stabilizing tail was attached to its extreme rear. The Anzac was funded primarily by Smith, with few sponsors. When it was finished, the car was painted gold with an Australian flag on its tail.

When the Anzac was completed at the end of 1929, the LSR stood at 231.362 mph (372.341 km/h), set by Henry Segrave in the 930 hp (694 kW) Irving-Napier Golden Arrow on 11 March 1929. A number of other record contenders were preparing cars, including Kaye Don in the “4,000 hp” Sunbeam Silver Bullet and Donald Campbell, who was reworking his Blue Bird from 900 hp (671 kW) to 1,450 hp (1,081 kW)—both Don and Campbell were eyeing 250 mph (402 km/h). Smith and Harkness knew the 360 hp (268 kW) Anzac was at best capable of 175 mph (282 km/h) and would not be able to compete with the LSR monsters. The absolute LSR was far out of reach, but the Anzac was capable of setting local speed records and of setting records over longer distances. The Anzac also served to gain LSR experience that would be applied to the construction of a faster car.

Smith Harkness Anzac beach group

Smith and Harkness, both on the far left, pose with others and the Anzac on Ninety Mile Beach. Note the louvers added under the exhaust stacks. The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company provided the tires for the record runs.

Smith had spent some time searching for a suitable location to run the Anzac and had found Ninety Mile Beach, which is actually 55 miles (88 km) long. Ninety Mile Beach is situated just north of Kaitaia, at the north end of New Zealand. Apparently, Smith did not investigate Lake Eyre or Lake Gairdner, both in Australia and both the future sites of many speed runs. Before shipping the car off to New Zealand, test runs were conducted on Seven Mile Beach near Gerringong, about 80 miles (130 km) south of Sydney. The Eagle engine was started and warmed up using a set of “soft” spark plugs, which ran hotter to burn off deposits but were prone to heat damage. Once at temperature, the engine was shut down, and the 24 “soft” plugs were replaced with “hard” plugs, which ran cooler and better withstood the high temperatures inside the engine at power. On 1 December 1929, Smith, Harkness (as a riding mechanic), and the Anzac set a new Australian absolute speed record at 128.571 mph (206.915 km/h). The previous record stood at 107.14 mph (172.43 km/h) and was set by Harkness on 17 October 1925.

Smith and the Anzac had arrived in Auckland, New Zealand by 31 December 1929 and made their way to Kaitaia. On his previous visit, Smith had arranged with Fred Mitchell, owner of Star Garage in Kaitaia, to use the garage as his base of operations. In addition, the garage’s chief mechanic, Charlie Bowman, would assist Smith with maintaining the Anzac. With the car ready and the weather acceptable, Smith drove the Anzac around on public roads for a little extra publicity before the record attempts. While the large and loud Anzac certainly turned heads, this escapade also damaged the clutch. Repairs were subsequently completed at Star Garage, but the job was made much more difficult because of the added transfer case. Rather than fix the clutch and risk it failing again, the transmission was coupled directly to the transfer case. From then on, the Anzac was started and stopped in gear, and Smith shifted without the aid of a clutch.

Smith Harkness Anzac beach run

The Anzac in its final form makes a test run on Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand. The filler cap for the fuel tank can be seen on the rear of the car.

A storm had made Ninety Mile Beach temporarily unsuitable for any record attempts, but the tides quickly repaired the damage and returned the beach to a near-perfect condition. However, sharp toheroa shells littered the beach and cut into tires. On 11 January 1930, Smith and Harkness pushed the Anzac and established a New Zealand flying mile (1.6 km) speed record. The southeast run was completed in 24.6 seconds for an average speed of 146.341 mph (235.513 km/h)—this speed is often mistakenly reported for the event. Rain slowed the northwest run, which was completed in 25.4 seconds at an average of 141.732 mph (228.096 km/h). The average of the two runs was 144.037 mph (231.805 km/h). Six days later on 17 January 1930, Smith and Harkness made an attempt on the 10-mile (16-km) World LSR, then held by Leon Duray* at 135.333 mph (217.798 km/h). The Anzac averaged 148.637 mph (239.208 km/h) on the southeast run, which took 242.2 seconds. Smith was told that because of the distance, no return run would be necessary and that a new 10-mile (16-km) world speed record had been established, breaking the existing record by over 13 mph (21 km/h).

Despite the Anzac’s impressive performance, Smith and Harkness learned in April 1930 that their 10-mile (16-km) record was not officially recognized because of the one run and the outdated equipment used to time the event. Perhaps there was some disappointment, but before even leaving for New Zealand, Smith and Harkness had begun design work on the second car, a true LSR monster with a 300-mph (483-km/h) top speed intended to bring the absolute speed record Down Under. That LSR car would become the 1,450 hp (1,081 kW) Fred H. Stewart Enterprise. Smith had planned to use the Anzac for future record attempts, but preoccupation with the Fred H. Stewart Enterprise took all of Smith’s time, and the Anzac made no further record runs.

*Some sources state the then-current 10-mile speed record exceeded by Smith was held by Céasar Marchand (France) at 133.540 mph (214.912 km/h) and set on 12 January 1928. However, records indicate Leon Duray (USA) broke this record on 10 August 1929.

Smith Harkness Anzac model

Full of hope, Smith and Harkness celebrate as they sail from Australia to New Zealand. The men hold a floral model of the car with “Anzac” written behind the rear wheel.

Sources:
Wizard of Oz by Clinton Walker (2012)
The Real Wizard Smith by Steve Simpson (1977)
The Land Speed Record 1930-1939 by R. M. Clarke (2000)
“Wizard Smith’s Record Drive” The Mercury (28 April 1928)
“Wizard Smith’s Story of New Record” The Referee (15 January 1930)
“Record Breaking: Norman Smith’s Car” The Western Mail (13 February 1930)
http://www.gregwapling.com/hotrod/land-speed-racing-australia/land-speed-racing-australia-anzac.html
http://www.gregwapling.com/hotrod/land-speed-racing-australia/land-speed-racing-australia-norman-smith.html
http://www.gregwapling.com/hotrod/land-speed-racing-australia/land-speed-racing-australia-don-harkness.html

Packard X-2775 front

Packard X-2775 24-Cylinder Aircraft Engine

By William Pearce

In late 1926, Lt. Alford Joseph Williams approached the Packard Motor Car Company (Packard) regarding a high-power engine for a special aircraft project. Williams was an officer in the United States Navy and believed that air racing contributed directly to the development of front-line fighter aircraft. The United States had won the Schneider Trophy two out of the last three races, and another win would mean permanent retention of the trophy for the US. However, the US government was no longer interested in supporting a Schneider team.

Packard X-2775 front

The original Packard X-2775 (1A-2775) was a direct-drive engine installed in the Kirkham-Williams Racer. A housing extended the propeller shaft to better streamline the engine. Two mounting pads were integral with the crankcase, and a third was part of the timing gear cover at the rear of the engine. Note the vertical intake in the center of the upper Vee.

Williams was assembling a group of investors to fund the design and construction of a private racer to participate in the Schneider contest. In addition, the US Navy was willing to indirectly support the efforts of a private entry. With the Navy willing to cover the development of the engine, Packard agreed to build a powerful engine for Williams’ Schneider racer. On 9 February 1927, the US government officially announced that it would not be sending a team to compete in the 1927 Schneider race, held in Venice, Italy. On 24 March 1927, it was announced that a private group of patriotic sportsmen had formed the Mercury Flying Corporation (MFC) to build a racer for the Schneider Trophy contest that would be piloted by Williams. The aircraft was built by the Kirkham Products Corporation and was known as the Kirkham-Williams Racer.

Packard had started the initial design work on the engine shortly after agreeing to its construction, even though a contract had not been issued. Once the Navy had the funds, Contract No. 3224 was issued to cover the engine’s cost. To speed development of the powerful engine, Packard combined components of two proven V-1500 engines to create a new 24-cylinder engine. The new engine was designated the Packard 1A-2775, but it was also commonly referred to by its Navy designation of X-2775.

Packard X-2775 case drive rod crank

The X-2775’s hexagonal, barrel-type crankcase, timing gear drive and housing, connecting rods, and crankshaft. Note the walls inside of the crankcase, and the crankshaft’s large cheeks that acted as main journals.

The Packard X-2775 was designed by Lionel Melville Woolson. The engine was arranged in an X configuration, with four banks of six cylinders. The upper and lower banks retained the 60-degree bank angle of the V-1500. This left 120-degree bank angles on the sides of the engine. As many V-1500 components were used as possible, including pistons, the basic valve gear, and the induction system. At the front of the X-2775, the propeller shaft ran in an extended housing and was coupled directly to the crankshaft, without any gear reduction. The extended housing allowed for a more streamlined engine installation.

A single-piece, cast aluminum, hexagonal, barrel-type crankcase was used. Two engine mounting pads were provided on each side of the crankcase, and a third pad was incorporated into the side of the timing gear housing, which mounted to the rear of the engine. The crankcase was designed to support landing gear or floats connected to the forwardmost engine mounting pad. Seven integrally cast partitions were provided inside the crankcase. The partitions were hollow at their center and were used to support the crankshaft. The seven single-piece main bearings were made of Babbitt-lined steel rings, shrunk into the crankcase’s partitions, and retained by screws from the outer side of the flanged partition. The partitions had a series of holes around their periphery that allowed for the internal flow of oil as well as enabled assembly of the engine’s connecting rods.

Packard X-2775 manifold and valve spring

Upper image is the valve port arrangement that was integral with the valve and camshaft housing. The drawing includes the ports to circulate hot exhaust gases around the intake manifold to ensure fuel vaporization. The lower image is the unique valve spring arrangement designed by Lionel Woolson. Helically-twisted guides (left) held the seven small springs (center) to make the complete spring set (right).

The crankshaft was positioned about 1.5 in (38 mm) above the crankcase’s centerline and had six crankpins. The crankshaft’s cheeks acted as main journals. The cheeks were perfectly circular and were 7.75 in (197 mm) in diameter. This design increased the main bearing surface area to support the engine’s power but kept the crankshaft the same overall length as the crankshaft used on the V-1500 engine. A longer crankshaft would result in a longer and heavier engine, as well as necessitating the design and manufacture of new valve housings and camshafts. At 161 lb (73 kg), the crankshaft was around twice the weight of the crankshaft used in the V-1500 engine. The X-2775’s crankshaft was inserted through the center of the crankcase for assembly.

Each connecting rod assembly was made up of a master rod and three articulated rods. The end cap, with its two bosses for the articulating rods, was attached to the master rod by four studs. The articulated rods had forked ends that connected to the blade bosses on the master rod. The forked end of each articulated rod was tapped and secured to the master rod by a threaded rod pin. Once assembled, two bolts passed through the connecting rod assembly to further secure its two halves and also secured the pins of the articulated rods. To accommodate the crankshaft being approximately 1.5 in (38 mm) above center in the crankcase, the lower articulated rods were 1.5 in (38 mm) longer than the other rods. When the engine was viewed from the rear, the master rods were attached to pistons in the upper left cylinder bank.

Packard X-2775 section

Sectional view of the X-2775 engine. The engine mount is depicted on the left, and the landing gear or float mount is on the right. Note the spark plug position. The revised engine had provisions for four spark plugs—two on each side of the cylinder.

Individual steel cylinders of welded construction with welded-on steel water jackets were mounted to the crankcase via 10 studs. The cylinder’s combustion chamber had machined valve ports and was welded to the top of the cylinder barrel. Five studs protruded above each cylinder’s combustion chamber and were used to secure the cast aluminum valve and camshaft housing. Each bank of six cylinders had a single valve and camshaft housing.

Each cylinder had two intake and two exhaust valves. The valves were arranged so that one intake and one exhaust valve were on the Vee side of the cylinder, and the pairing was duplicated on the other side of the cylinder. The valve and camshaft housing collected the exhaust gases from two adjacent cylinders and expelled it out one of three exhaust ports. The valve and camshaft housing also had an integral intake manifold that fed three cylinders. The valves for each cylinder bank were actuated by a single overhead camshaft driven by an inclined shaft at the rear of the engine. The two inclined shafts for each Vee engine section were driven by a vertical shaft geared to the crankshaft. The lower vertical shaft was extended to drive one fuel, one water, and four oil pumps. The shafts were enclosed in the timing gear housing that mounted to the back of the engine. The valve covers of the lower cylinders also formed sumps for engine oil collection. Oil was circulated through various passageways in addition to the hollow crankshaft and hollow camshaft. The exhaust valve had a hollow stem for oil cooling.

The valve springs were designed by Woolson and were a unique design. Rather than the valve stem passing through the center of one or two valve springs, a set of seven smaller springs encircled the valve stem. Each of the seven springs was mounted on a guide, and the set was contained in a special retainer. The seven spring guides were given a slight helical twist. The special valve spring set distributed the spring load evenly around the valve stem, reduced the likelihood of a valve failure due to a spring breaking, prevented valve springs from setting, and also rotated the valve during engine operation. The valve rotation was one revolution for about every 40 revolutions of the crankshaft.

Packard X-2775 front and back

Front and rear views of the original X-2775 illustrate that the engine was narrow but rather tall. The ring around the propeller shaft was a fixed attachment point for the engine cowling.

Each cylinder’s combustion chamber had a flat roof with a spark plug on each side of the cylinder. The spark plugs were fired by a battery-powered ignition system via four distributors driven at the rear of the engine. Two distributors were positioned behind each 60-degree cylinder bank Vee. In each cylinder, one spark plug was fired by an upper distributor, and one spark plug was fired by a lower distributor. Separate induction systems were positioned in the upper and lower cylinder Vees. Each system consisted of a central inlet that branched into a forward and rear section. Each section had a carburetor and fed six cylinders. This gave the engine a total of four carburetors—two in each upper and lower vee. Control rods linked the carburetors to the distributors so that ignition timing was altered with throttle position. A port in the valve and camshaft housing fed exhaust gases through a jacket surrounding the manifold to which the carburetor mounted. The exhaust gases heated the intake manifold to better vaporize the incoming fuel charge.

Packard’s V-1500 engine had a 5.375 in (137 mm) bore and a 5.5 in (140 mm) stroke. The X-2775 had the same 5.375 in (137 mm) bore, but the stroke was shortened to 5.0 in (127 mm). However, the three articulated connecting rods had a slightly longer stroke of 5.125 in (130 mm). Each of the six cylinders served by a master rod had a displacement of 113.5 cu in (1.86 L), and each of the 18 cylinders served by an articulated rod had a displacement of 116.3 cu in (1.91 L). The total displacement for the engine was 2,774 cu in (45.5 L). The X-2775 produced a maximum of 1,250 hp (932 kW) at 2,780 rpm and was rated for 1,200 hp (895 kW) at 2,600 rpm. At 2,000 rpm, the engine had an output of 800 hp (597 kW). The X-2775 was 77.5 in (1.97 m) long, 28.3 in wide (.72 m), and 45.2 in (1.15 m) tall. The weight of the initial X-2775 was 1,402 lb (636 kg).

Packard X-2775 no 2 supercharged

The second X-2775 incorporated a Roots-type supercharger driven from the propeller shaft. Difficulty was encountered with fuel metering since the carburetors were positioned on the pressure side of the supercharger. The supercharged engine was never installed in an aircraft.

The X-2775 engine was completed in June 1927 and subsequently passed an acceptance test, which involved the engine running continuously at full throttle for one hour. Williams was involved with testing the X-2775 at Packard to gain experience with its operation. The engine was then shipped out for installation in the Kirkham-Williams Racer, which was finished in late July. The racer and the X-2775 made their first flight on 25 August. Despite achieving speeds around 270 mph (435 km/h), the racer had issues that could not be resolved in time for the Schneider Trophy contest, scheduled to start on 23 September. The Kirkham-Williams Racer was subsequently converted to a land plane, and Williams flew the aircraft over a 3 km (1.9 mi) course unofficially timed at 322.42 mph (518.88 km/h) on 6 November 1927. However, that speed was with the wind, and Williams later stated that the true speed was around 287 mph (462 km/h). Higher speeds had been anticipated. The aircraft was then shipped to the Navy Aircraft Factory (NAF) at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Around late June 1927, rumors indicated that the Schneider competition would be faster than the Kirkham-Williams Racer. As a result, the Navy added a second X-2775 engine to its existing contract with Packard. The second engine incorporated a supercharger for increased power output. In the span of 10 weeks, Packard had designed, constructed, and tested the new engine. The second X-2775 engine was, again, direct drive. However, the propeller shaft also drove a Roots-style supercharger with three rotors (impellers). A central rotor was coaxial with the propeller shaft, and it interacted with an upper and lower rotor that supplied forced induction to the respective upper and lower cylinder banks. For the upper Vee, air was brought in the right side of the supercharger housing and exited the left side, flowing into a manifold routed between the upper cylinder banks. For the lower Vee, the flow was reversed—entering the left side of the supercharger and exiting the right. The supercharged X-2775 weighed around 1,635 lb (742 kg).

Because of the very tight development schedule, the rotors were given generous clearances. This reduced the amount of boost the supercharger generated to only 3.78 psi (.26 bar), which increased the X-2775’s output to 1,300 hp (696 kW) at 2,700 rpm. Tighter rotor tolerances would yield 4.72 psi (.33 bar) of boost and 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) at 2,700 rpm. However, it is not known if improved rotors were ever built. Although completed around August 1927, the supercharged engine was never installed in the Kirkham-Williams Racer.

Packard X-2775 NASM left

The first X-2775 engine was reworked with a propeller gear reduction, new cylinders, new valve housings, and a new induction system. This engine was installed in the Williams Mercury Racer. (NASM image)

The Navy felt that adding a propeller gear reduction to the engine would be more beneficial than the supercharger. To this end, the unsupercharged engine was removed from the Kirkham-Williams Racer as the aircraft was disassembled in the NAF around early 1928. The engine was returned to Packard for modifications. A new aircraft, the Williams Mercury Racer, was to be built, and the first X-2775 engine with the new gear reduction and other modifications would power the machine.

A planetary (epicyclic) gear reduction was built by the Allison Engineering Company in Indianapolis, Indiana. This gear reduction mounted to the front of the engine and turned the propeller at .677 crankshaft speed. Other modifications to the X-2775 included using cylinders and valve housings from an inverted 3A-1500 (the latest V-1500) engine and revising the induction and ignition systems.

The new cylinders increased the engine’s compression (most likely to 7.0 to 1) and had provisions for two spark plugs on both sides of the cylinder. Still, only two spark plugs were used, with one on each side of the cylinder. The new induction was a ram-air system with inlets right behind the propeller. The air flowed into a manifold located deep in the cylinder bank’s Vee. Two groups of two carburetors were mounted to the manifold. Each carburetor distributed the air/fuel mixture to a short manifold that fed three cylinders. The revised ignition system used two magnetos and did away with battery power. The magnetos were mounted to the rear of the engine and driven from the main timing gear. The improved X-2775 was occasionally referred to as the 2A-2775, but it mostly retained the same 1A-2775 Packard designation of its original configuration. The geared X-2775 produced 1,300 hp (969 kW) at 2,700 rpm and weighed around 1,513 lb (686 kg). The gear reduction added about 3 in (76 mm) to the engine, resulting in an overall length of 80.5 in (2.04 m). The width was unchanged at 28.3 in (.72 m), but the revised induction system reduced the engine height slightly to 43.25 in (1.10 m).

Packard X-2775 NASM front

The revised X-2775 took advantage of ram-air induction. Intakes directly behind the Williams Mercury Racer’s spinner fed air into manifolds at the base of the cylinder Vees. Note the spark plugs on both sides of the cylinders. (NASM image)

The updated X-2775 engine was installed in the Williams Mercury Racer in July 1929. In early August, flight testing was attempted on Chesapeake Bay near the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While the aircraft was recorded at 106 mph (171 km/h) on the water, it could not lift off. The Williams Mercury Racer was known to be overweight, and there were questions about its float design. The trouble with the racer caused it to be withdrawn from the Schneider Trophy contest, scheduled to start on 6 September in Calshot, England. Later, it was found that the Williams Mercury Racer was some 880 lb (399 kg), or 21%, overweight. Some additional work was done on the aircraft, but no further attempts at flight were made.

Of the original X-2775, Woolson stated that the engine ran for some 30 hours, and at no time was mechanical trouble experienced or any adjustments made. Williams made some comments about the X-2775 losing power, but he otherwise seemed satisfied with the engine and did not report any specific issues. Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics David S. Ingalls did not make any negative comments about the engine, but he said Commander Ralph Downs Weyerbacher of the NAF felt that the engine was not satisfactory. However, the basis for Weyerbacher’s opinion has not been found.

There were essentially no X-2775 test engines. Only two engines were made, and the second engine was never installed in any aircraft. The very first X-2775 built was installed in the Kirkham-Williams Racer, and the majority of the issues encounter seemed to come from the aircraft, and not the engine. This scenario repeated itself two years later with the Williams Mercury Racer. The X-2775 did not have any issues propelling the updated racer at over 100 mph (161 km/h) on the surface of the water, but it was the aircraft that was overweight and unable to take flight. If the engine were significantly flawed, it would not have survived its time in the Kirkham-Williams Racer, have been subsequently modified, and then installed in the Williams Mercury Racer. This same engine, Serial No. 1, was preserved and is in storage at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Packard offered to build additional X-2775 engines for anyone willing to spend $35,000, but no orders were placed. In the late 1930s, Packard investigated building an updated X-2775 as the 2A-2775. The 2A-2775 was listed as a supercharged engine that produced 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) at 2,800 rpm and weighed 1,722 lb (781 kg). Some sources indicate the engine was built, although no pictures or test data have been found.

Packard X-2775 NASM top

Top view of the X-2775 illustrates the two sets of two carburetors, with each carburetor attached to a manifold for three cylinders. The intake manifold can be seen running under the carburetors. (NASM image)

Sources:
“The Packard X 24-Cylinder 1500-Hp. Water-Cooled Aircraft Engine” by L. M. Woolson S.A.E. Transactions 1928 Part II. (1928)
“Internal Combustion Engine” US patent 1,889,583 by Lionel M, Woolson (granted 29 November 1932)
“Valve-Operating Mechanism” US patent 1,695,726 by Lionel M, Woolson (granted 18 December 1928)
“Lieut. Alford J. Williams, Jr.—Fast Pursuit and Bombing Planes” Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-first Congress, second session, on S. Res. 235 (8, 9, and 10 April 1930)
“Packard “X” Type Aircraft Engine is Largest in World” Automotive Industries (8 October 1927)
Master Motor Builders by Robert J. Neal (2000)
Packards at Speed by Robert J. Neal (1995)
Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1929 by C. G. Gray (1929)
https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/packard-1a-2775-x-24-engine

Williams Mercury Racer

Williams Mercury Seaplane Racer (1929)

By William Pearce

In 1927, Lt. Alford Joseph Williams and the Mercury Flying Corporation (MFC) built the Kirkham-Williams Racer to compete in the Schneider Trophy contest. Although demonstrating competitive high-speed capabilities, the aircraft had handling issues that could not be resolved in time to make the 1927 race. Williams, backed by the MFC, decided to build on the experience with the Kirkham-Williams Racer and make a new aircraft for an attempt on the 3 km (1.9 mi) world speed record.

Williams Mercury Racer model

R. Smith, chief draftsman of the wind tunnel at the Washington Navy Yard, holds a model of the original landplane version of the Williams Mercury Racer. Lt. Al Williams was originally not focused on the Schneider Trophy contest but was later convinced to enter the event.

Although there was no official support from the US government, the US Navy indirectly supported Williams and the MFC’s continued efforts to build a new racer. Williams’ previous racer was designed and built by the Kirkham Products Corporation. However, Williams felt that Kirkham lacked organization, and he was not interested in having the company build another aircraft. Williams had already shipped the previous racer to the Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) to undergo an analysis on how to improve its speed. With the Navy’s support, the NAF was a natural place to design and build the new racer, which was called the Williams Mercury Racer. The aircraft was also referred to as the NAF Mercury and Mercury-Packard.

In mid-1928, a model of the Williams Mercury Racer landplane was tested in the wind tunnel at the Washington (DC) Navy Yard. However, the decision was made to design a pair of experimental floats and test them on the aircraft, since there was a pressing need to explore high-speed seaplane float designs. It appears all subsequent work on the aircraft was focused on the seaplane version. Williams did not originally intend the Williams Mercury Racer to be used in the 1929 Schneider race. But the US had won the Schneider Trophy two out of the last four races, and another win would mean permanent retention of the trophy. With the Williams Mercury Racer now a seaplane, Williams relented to pressure and agreed to work toward competing in the 1929 Schneider Trophy contest and to attempt a new speed record.

Packard X-2775 NASM

The Packard X-2775 engine installed in the Williams Mercury Racer was actually the same engine originally installed in the Kirkham-Williams Racer. It has been updated with a propeller gear reduction, new induction system, and other improved components. This engine is in storage at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. (NASM image)

Under the supervision of John S. Kean, work on the racer began in September 1928 at the NAF’s facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On first glance, the Williams Mercury Racer appeared to be a monoplane version of the previous Kirkham-Williams Racer. While some parts such as the engine mount and other hardware were reused, the rest of the aircraft was entirely new. The Williams Mercury Racer was powered by the same Packard X-2775 engine (Packard model 1A-2775) as the Kirkham-Williams Racer, but the engine had been fitted with a .667 propeller gear reduction, and its induction system had been improved. The 24-cylinder X-2775 was rated at 1,300 hp (969 kW), and it was the most powerful engine then available in the US. The X-2775 was water-cooled and had its cylinders arranged in an “X” configuration. The engine turned a ground adjustable Hamilton Standard propeller that was approximately 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m) in diameter. A Hucks-style starter driven by four electric motors engaged the propeller hub to start the engine. Carburetor air intakes were positioned just behind the propeller and in the upper and lower Vees of the engine. The intakes faced forward to take advantage of the ram air effect as the aircraft flew.

The Williams Mercury Racer consisted of a monocoque wooden fuselage built specifically to house the Packard engine. The racer’s braced mid-wing was positioned just before to cockpit. The wing’s upper and lower surfaces were covered in flush surface radiators. A prominent headrest fairing tapered back from the cockpit to the vertical stabilizer, which extended below the aircraft to form a semi-cruciform tail. A nine-gallon (34 L) oil tank was positioned behind the cockpit. The wings and tail were made of wood, while the cowling, control surfaces, and floats were made of aluminum.

Streamlined aluminum fairings covered the metal struts that attached the two floats to the racer. The underside of the floats had additional surface radiators, which provided most of the engine cooling while the aircraft was in the water at low speed. However, the radiators were somewhat fragile and required gentle landings. The floats housed a total of 90 gallons (341 L) of fuel. Some sources state the fuel load was 147 gallons (556 L). The Mercury Williams Racer had an overall length of approximately 27 ft 6 in (8.41 m). The fuselage was 23 ft 7 in (7.19 m) long, and the floats were 19 ft 8 in (5.99 m) long. The wingspan was 28 ft (8.53 m), and the aircraft was 11 ft 9 in (3.58 m) tall. The racer’s forecasted weight was 4,200 lb (1,905 kg) fully loaded. The Williams Mercury Racer had an estimated top speed of around 340 mph (547 km/h). The then-current world speed record stood at 318.620 mph (512.776 km/h), set by Mario de Bernardi on 30 March 1928.

Williams Mercury Racer Packard X-2775

Lt. Al Williams sits in the cockpit of the Williams Mercury Racer during an engine test. The Hucks-style starter is engaged to the propeller hub of the geared Packard X-2775 engine. Note the ducts above and below the spinner that deliver ram air into the intake manifolds situated in the engine Vees.

The completed Williams Mercury Racer debuted on 27 July 1929. On 6 August, the aircraft was shipped by tug to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland for testing on Chesapeake Bay. Initial taxi tests were conducted on 9 August, and a top speed of 106 mph (171 km/h) was reached. The first flight was to follow the next day, and Williams had boldly planned to make an attempt on the 3 km (1.9 mi) world speed record on either 11 or 12 August. To that end, a course had been set up, and timing equipment was put in place. However, it was soon discovered that spray had damaged the propeller. The propeller was removed for repair, and the flight plans were put on hold.

Although not disclosed at the time, the aircraft was believed to be 460 lb (209 kg) overweight. Williams found that the floats did not have sufficient reserve buoyancy to accommodate the extra weight. The spray that damaged the propeller was a result of the floats plowing into the water. Williams found that efforts to counteract engine torque and keep the aircraft straight as it was initially picking up speed made the left float dig into the water and create more spray. Williams consulted with retired Navy Capt. Holden Chester Richardson, a friend and an expert on floats and hulls. Richardson recommended leaving all controls in a neutral position until a fair amount of speed had been achieved. As the aircraft increased its speed, the water’s planing action on the floats would offset the torque reaction of engine and right the aircraft.

Williams Mercury Racer rear

The racer being offloaded from the tug and onto beaching gear at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The rudder extended below the aircraft and blended with the ventral fin. Note how the fairings for the lower cylinder banks blended into the float supports.

Weather and mechanical issues delayed further testing until 18 August. Williams lifted the Williams Mercury Racer off the water for about 300 ft (91 m) while experiencing a bad vibration and fuel pressure issues. After the engine was shut down, the prop was found damaged again by spray. Like with Williams’ 1927 Schneider attempt, time was quickly running out, and the racer had yet to prove itself a worthy competitor to the other Schneider entrants. Three takeoff attempts on 21 August were aborted for different reasons, the last being a buildup of carbon monoxide in the cockpit that caused Williams to pass out right after he shut off the engine. Attempts to fly on 25 August saw another three aborted takeoffs for different reasons.

The general consensus was that the aircraft’s excessive weight and insufficient reserve buoyancy prevented the racer from flying. With time running out, one final proposal was offered. The Williams Mercury Racer could be immediately shipped to Calshot, England for the Schneider contest, set to begin on 6 September. While en route, a more powerful engine and new floats would be fitted. It is unlikely that the more powerful engine incorporated a supercharger, as supercharger development had given way to the gear reduction used on the X-2775 installed in the Williams Mercury Racer. The gear reduction was interchangeable between engines, but it is not clear what modification had been done to the second X-2775 engine at this stage of development. Regardless, the improved Mercury Williams Racer would then be tested before the race, and, assuming all went well, participate in the event. However, given all the failed attempts at flight and the very uncertain capabilities of the aircraft, the Navy rescinded its offer to transport the racer to England.

Williams Mercury Racer

The completed racer was a fantastic looking aircraft. A top speed of 340 mph (547 km/h) was anticipated, which would have given the British some competition for the Schneider race. However, the speed was probably not enough to win the event.

The Williams Mercury Racer was shipped back to the NAF at Pennsylvania. Williams wanted to install the more powerful engine, which had already been shipped to the NAF, and make an attempt on the 3 km record. The Williams Mercury Racer arrived at the NAF on 1 September 1929, but no work was immediately done on the aircraft. The Navy had not decided what to do with Williams or the aircraft. At the end of October, the Navy gave Williams four months to rework the racer, after which he would be required to focus on his Naval duties and go to sea starting in March 1930.

Studies were made to decrease the Williams Mercury Racer’s weight and improve the aircraft’s cooling system. It was estimated that the suggested changes would lighten the aircraft by 400 lb (181 kg). When the four months were up on 1 March 1930, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics David S. Ingalls felt that enough time, effort, and energy had been spent on the racer and ordered all work to stop. Ingalls also ordered Williams to sea duty. This prompted Williams to resign from the Navy on 7 March 1930. Williams had spent nearly all of his savings on his two attempts at the Schneider contest and knew that the MFC and the Navy had also made a substantial investment in the racer. He wanted to see the project through to some sort of completion, even if it did not result in setting any records.

No more work was done on the Williams Mercury Racer. In April 1930, Williams testified before a subcommittee of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee regarding the racer, his resignation, and other Navy matters. During his testimony, he stated that he wanted another year to finish the aircraft. This time frame would have made the racer ready for the 1931 Schneider Trophy contest, but even in perfect working order it probably would not have been competitive. Williams said the aircraft was 880 lb (399 kg) overweight and that this 21% of extra weight was the reason it could not takeoff. The racer actually weighed 5,080 lb (2,304 kg), rather than the 4,200 lb (1,905 kg) forecasted. Williams said he was initially told that it weighed 4,660 lb (2,114 kg), which was 460 lb (209 kg) more than expected. But Williams thought they could get away with the extra weight. It was only when Williams requested the aircraft to be weighed upon its return to the NAF that its true 5,080-lb (2,304-kg) weight was known.

Williams Mercury Racer Al Williams

The Williams Mercury Racer being towed in after another disappointing test on Chesapeake Bay. Williams stands in the cockpit, knowing his chances of making the 1929 Schneider contest are quickly fading. Note the low position of the floats in the water.

Williams stated that he wanted to take the Williams Mercury Racer to England even if it was not going to be competitive or even fly. Williams said, “I felt we should see it through no matter what the outcome was. If she would not fly over there—take this, to be specific—I was just going to destroy the ship. It could have been done very easily on the water. I intended to smash it up; but I did intend and [was] determined to get to Europe with it. It made no difference to me what the ship did.”

Ingalls also testified before the committee. He had been involved with the Williams Mercury Racer, was a contributor to the MFC, and had friends who were also contributors. Ingalls said that Williams had informed him about the possibility of crashing the Williams Mercury Racer in England if it was unable to fly. Ingalls said that it was ridiculous to send an aircraft to England that may not be able to fly just so that it could be crashed. It was this consideration that led him to withdraw Navy support for sending the aircraft to England. Ingalls also said that of the aircraft’s extra 880 lb (399 kg), around 250 lb (113 kg) was from the NAF’s construction of the aircraft, and around 600 lb (272 kg) was from outside sources, such as Packard for the engine and Hamilton Standard for the propeller. Ingalls reported that Williams supplied the engine’s and propeller’s weight to the NAF, but those values have not been found. Perhaps the original engine weight supplied to the NAF was for the lighter, direct-drive engine and smaller propeller—the combination installed in the Kirkham-Williams Racer.

On 24 June 1930, the Navy purchased the Williams Mercury Racer from the MFC for $1.00. Reportedly, $30,000 was invested by the MFC with another $174,000 of money and resources from the Navy to create the aircraft. It is not clear if the Navy’s investment was just for the Williams Mercury Racer, as the Packard X-2775 engine was also used in the earlier Kirkham-Williams Racer. The Navy stated they acquired the racer for experimental purposes, but nothing more was heard about the aircraft, and the Mercury Williams Racer faded quietly into history.

Williams Mercury Racer taxi

Williams taxis the racer in a wash of spray, most likely damaging the propeller again. Note how the floats are almost entirely submerged, especially the left float. The aircraft being very overweight severely hampered its water handling.

Sources:
Schneider Trophy Seaplanes and Flying Boats by Ralph Pegram (2012)
Wings for the Navy by William F. Trimble (1990)
Master Motor Builders by Robert J. Neal (2000)
Racing Planes and Air Races Volume II 1924–1931 by Reed Kinert (1967)
“Lieut. Alford J. Williams, Jr.—Fast Pursuit and Bombing Planes” Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-first Congress, second session, on S. Res. 235 (8, 9, and 10 April 1930)
“Making Aircraft Airworthy” by K. M. Painter, Popular Mechanics (October 1928)

Kirkham-Williams Racer no cowl

Kirkham-Williams Seaplane Racer (1927)

By William Pearce

Lt. Alford Joseph Williams was an officer in the United States Navy and a major proponent of aviation. Williams believed that air racing contributed directly to the development of front-line fighter aircraft. In 1923, Williams won the Pulitzer Trophy race and later established a new 3 km (1.9 mi) absolute speed record at 266.59 mph (429.04 km/h). In 1925, Williams finished second in the Pulitzer race, but his main disappointment was not being selected as a race pilot for the Schneider Trophy team. Williams was also not selected for the 1926 Schneider team. That year was a particularly bad showing from the United States despite its advantage of hosting the Schneider contest.

Kirkham-Williams Racer front

The Kirkham-Williams Racer was built to compete in the 1927 Schneider Trophy contest and to capture the world speed record. Note how the large Packard X-24 engine dictated the shape of the aircraft.

Williams could see that racing was not a priority for the US military and decided to take matters into his own hands. In late 1926, Williams sought the support of investors to build a private venture Schneider racer. Since the US had won the Schneider Trophy two out of the last three races, another win would mean permanent retention of the trophy. Williams received further support from various departments in the US Navy, and the Packard Motor Car Company (Packard) was willing to design a new engine provided the Navy paid for it. On 9 February 1927, the US government officially announced that it would not be sending a team to compete in the 1927 Schneider race, held in Venice, Italy. The plans that Williams, the Navy, and Packard had implemented moved forward, and a syndicate to fund the private entry racer was announced on 24 March 1927. The Mercury Flying Corporation (MFC) was formed by patriotic sportsmen for the purpose of building the racer to compete in the 1927 Schneider Trophy contest, with Williams as the pilot.

Although the US government was not directly supporting MFC’s efforts, the US Navy was willing to lend indirect support by transporting the racer to Italy and providing a Packard X-2775 engine for the project. The X-2775 (Packard model 1A-2775) was a 1,200 hp (895 kW), water-cooled, X-24 engine that had been under development by Packard since 1926. The engine was a result of the talks initiated by Williams for a power plant intended specifically for a race aircraft. Ultimately, the engine was covered under a Navy contract. The X-2775 was one of the most powerful engines available at the time.

Kirkham-Williams Racer wing radiator

The racer had some 690 sq ft (64.1 sq m) of surface radiators covering its wings. Fluid flowed from a distributor line at the wing’s leading edge, through the tubes, and into a collector line at the wing’s trailing edge. Tests later indicated that the protruding radiator tubes doubled the drag of the wings.

Williams had decided that the racer should be designed along the same lines as previous Schneider racers built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company (Curtiss). MFC contracted the Kirkham Products Corporation (Kirkham) to design and construct the racer. Kirkham’s founder was engineer and former Curtiss employee Charles K. Kirkham, and a number of other former Curtiss employees worked for the company, such as Harry Booth and Arthur Thurston. Booth and Thurston had been closely involved with the racers built at Curtiss. The aircraft was named the Kirkham-Williams Racer, but it was also referred to as the Kirkham-Packard Racer, Kirkham X, and Mercury X.

The Kirkham-Williams Racer was constructed in Kirkham’s faciality in Garden City, on Long Island, New York. The biplane aircraft consisted of a wooden fuselage built around the 24-cylinder Packard engine. The engine mount, firewall, and cowling were made of metal. The upper and lower surfaces of the wooden wings were covered with longitudinal brass tubes to act as surface radiators for cooling the engine’s water and oil. The specially-drawn tubes had an inverted T cross section and protruded about .344 in (8.73 mm) above the wing, creating a corrugated surface. The tubes were .25 in (6.35 mm) wide at their base and .009 in (.23 mm) thick. Around 12,000 ft (3,658 m) of tubing was used, and the oil cooler was positioned on the outer panel of the lower right wing. The water or oil flowed from the wing’s leading edge to a collector at the trailing edge. The aircraft’s twin floats were also made from wood and housed the racer’s main fuel tanks. The floats were attached by steel supports that were covered with streamlined aluminum fairings. The forward float supports were mounted directly to special pads on the engine. The cockpit was positioned behind the upper wing, and a headrest was faired back along the top of the fuselage into the vertical stabilizer. A framed windscreen protected the pilot. A small ventral fin extended below the aircraft’s tail.

Kirkham-Williams Racer starter

The Packard X-2775 engine barely fit into the racer. The engine cowling mounted to arched supports running from the cylinder banks to a ring around the propeller shaft. The Hucks-style starter, powered by four electric motors, is connected to the propeller hub. Note that the forward float strut is mounted to the engine’s crankcase.

The Kirkham-Williams Racer had an overall length of 26 ft 9 in (8.15 m). The fuselage was 22 ft 9 in (6.93 m) long, and the floats were 21 ft 3 in long (6.48 m). The upper wing had a span of 29 ft 10 in (9.09 m), and the lower wing’s span was 24 ft 3 in (7.39 m). The racer was 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) tall and weighed 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) empty and 4,600 lb (2,087 kg) fully loaded. The aircraft carried 60 gallons (227 L) of fuel, 35 gallons (132 L) of water, and 15 gallons (57 L) of oil. The direct-drive Packard engine turned a two-blade, ground-adjustable, metal propeller that was 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m) in diameter and built by Hamilton Standard. A Hucks-style starter driven by four electric motors engaged the propeller hub to start the engine. Carburetor air intakes were positioned in the upper and lower engine Vees and were basically flush with the cowling’s surface.

Packard was involved with the aircraft’s construction, and Williams was involved with the engine’s development. The Kirkham-Williams Racer was finished in mid-July 1927 and transported later that month to Manhassest Bay, on the north side of Long Island. Weather delayed the first tests until 31 July. Taxi tests revealed that the float design was flawed and caused a large amount of spray to cover the aircraft and cockpit. The spray resulted in damage to the propeller during a high-speed taxi test. In addition, the aircraft was around 450 lb (204 kg) overweight.

Kirkham-Williams Racer launch

Lt. Al Williams prepares the racer for a test on Manhassest Bay. The cockpit was designed around Williams, and he was the only one to taxi or fly the aircraft. Note the support running between the vertical and horizontal stabilizers.

With the Schneider race just over a month away, little time was left to properly test the aircraft and transport it halfway around the world. Williams requested a postponement of the Schneider race for one month, but the British contingent declined the request. To make matters worse, Williams had been very optimistic about the aircraft’s test schedule and repeatedly promised an attempt on the world speed record. Issues with the Kirkham-Williams Racer resulted in a continual push-back of Williams’ proposed speed flights.

With a repaired propeller and new floats, the Kirkham-Williams Racer was ready for additional tests on 16 August. An oil leak and air in the water-cooling system caused Williams to cancel the day’s activities before any real testing had been done. On 17 August, high-speed taxi tests were finally sufficiently completed. Williams announced that the Kirkham-Williams Racer’s first flight would be the following day, but unfavorable weather caused that date to be pushed back. The racer’s first flight was on 25 August, and it should be noted that this was the first flight for the X-2775 engine as well. Some sources state that Williams made two speed runs at an estimated 250 mph (402 km/h). However, Williams stated that no speed runs were attempted on the first flight. While 250 mph (402 km/h) is an impressive speed for the time, it was most likely an estimation made by observers and not achieved over a set course. The second flight that day was cut short because of engine cooling issues caused by air in the cooling system.

Kirkham-Williams Racer runup

Williams is in the cockpit running up the X-2775 engine. The registration X-648 has been applied to the tail. The fuselage was painted blue, with the wings, floats, and rudder painted gold. Note the rather imperfect finish of the fuselage, just before the tail.

Unfavorable weather resulted in more delays, and it was not until 29 August that Williams was able to take the Kirkham-Williams Racer up for another flight during a brief break between two storm fronts. Williams made a high-speed run, and the racer was unofficially timed at 275 mph (443 km/h). Later, Williams would say the speed was probably around 269 mph (433 km/h), but he and others felt the aircraft was capable of 290 mph (467 km/h). Weather again caused delays, and three takeoff attempts on 3 September had to be aborted on account of pleasure boats straying into the aircraft’s path and causing wakes.

On 4 September, a good, extended flight was made, after which Williams reported the aircraft was nose-heavy and became increasingly destabilized at speeds above 200 mph. The issue was with the orientation of the floats. Modifications were made, and the aircraft flew again on 6 September. Williams reported improved handling, but some issues remained. The Navy had held the cruiser USS Trenton at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with the intention of transporting the Kirkham-Williams Racer to Italy in time for the Schneider contest, which was to start on 23 September. However, Williams cancelled any attempts to make the Schneider race on 9 September, citing the nose-heaviness and also float vibrations.

Kirkham-Williams Racer no cowl

Williams stands on the float, with work going on presumably to clear air from the cooling system, which was a reoccurring issue. The copper radiators covered almost all of the wing’s surface area. Note that the interplane struts protruded slightly above the wings.

During the time period above, it was felt that the Kirkham-Williams Racer may not have been competitive, and Packard was asked to build a more powerful engine. In the span of 10 weeks, Packard designed, constructed, and tested a supercharged X-2775 engine. The Roots-type supercharger was installed on the front of the engine and driven from the propeller shaft. Liberal tolerances were used because of the lack of time, and the supercharger generated only 3.78 psi (.26 bar) of boost. The supercharged engine produced 1,300 hp (696 kW), which was only a slight power increase. The engine was not installed, because the minor gain in power was offset by the added weight and complexity of the supercharger system.

With the Schneider race out of reach, the Kirkham-Williams Racer was converted to a landplane with the intent to set a new world speed record. The floats were removed, and two main wheels attached to streamlined struts were installed under the engine. A tail skid replaced the small fin under the aircraft’s rudder. In addition, the X-2775 engine was fitted with a new cowling and spinner that gave the aircraft a more streamlined nose.

Kirkham-Williams Racer landplane front

Williams reported making four emergency landings in the racer at Mitchel Field, but the causes of the forced landings have not been found. The aircraft was fitted with the same direct-drive X-2775 engine as the seaplane. The intake of the upper Vee engine section can just be seen above the cowling.

The modifications to the Kirkham-Williams Racer were completed by late October 1927, and the aircraft was taken to Mitchel Field on Long Island, New York. Williams’ initial tests found the plane heavy with a landing speed of around 100 mph (161 km/h). Williams felt Mitchel Field was not an ideal place for experimental work with the aircraft, but the MFC did not have funds to seek a better location. Williams ended up making four forced landings at Mitchel Field in the Kirkham-Williams Racer.

On 6 November, Williams flew the aircraft over a 3 km (1.9 mi) course and was unofficially timed at 322.42 mph (518.88 km/h). This speed was significantly faster than the then-current records, which were 278.37 mph (447.99 km/h) set by Florentin Bonnet on 11 November 1924 for landplanes, and an absolute record of 297.70 mph (479.10 km/h) set by Mario de Bernardi on 4 November 1927. Some were skeptical of Williams’ speed, especially since it was achieved in only one direction and with the wind reportedly blowing at 40 mph (64 km/h). Williams announced that an official attempt on the record would soon be made, but no further flights of the Kirkham-Williams Racer were recorded. Later, Williams stated that the racer’s still-air speed on the 6 November 1927 run was around 287 mph (462 km/h), which was much lower than anticipated.

Williams had the aircraft disassembled and shipped to the Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to further evaluate ways to improve the racer’s speed. A section of the wing was removed and tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in their wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia. The test results indicated that the corrugated surface radiators decreased lift, doubled drag, and slowed the aircraft by some 20 mph (32 km/h). While at the NAF, the disassembled Kirkham-Williams Racer was used as the basis for Williams’ 1929 high-speed aircraft—the Williams Mercury Racer.

Kirkham-Williams Racer landplane

In landplane form, the Kirkham-Williams Racer had a more streamlined nose and an added tailskid. The machine looked every bit a racer and was one of the fastest aircraft in the world, even at only 287 mph.

Sources:
Schneider Trophy Seaplanes and Flying Boats by Ralph Pegram (2012)
Schneider Trophy Racers by Robert Hirsch (1993)
Master Motor Builders by Robert J. Neal (2000)
Racing Planes and Air Races Volume II 1924–1931 by Reed Kinert (1967)
Full Scale Investigation of the Drag of a Wing Radiator by Fred E. Weick (September 1929)
“Lieut. Williams’ Racing Seaplane” by George F. McLaughlin, Aero Digest (September 1927)
“Lieut. Alford J. Williams, Jr.—Fast Pursuit and Bombing Planes” Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-first Congress, second session, on S. Res. 235 (8, 9, and 10 April 1930)