"The secret to winning is 1/3 engine, 1/3 prop, 1/3 airframe, and 1/3 pilot."
Jon Sharp is the team manager/owner/builder of the most successful airplane racing legacy ever. The above quote adds up to 1.33repeating, I know. Despite that, Sharp is a very talented engineer and mathematician. Let me start with an explanation of air racing.
The Reno Air Racing Association hosts the National Championship Air Races every year. Of the 6 classes, one of the most popular classes is the Formula One class. The rules are simple: One must use a Continental O-200 engine, which is usually found in a Cessna 150. The gear and prop must be fixed. All engine parts must be made to stock specs. Aircraft must have 66 square feet of wing area. The empty weight must be at least 500 pounds.
Jon Sharp first started getting his speed fix as a kid. He started on Go-Karts, then went on to play with model airplanes, finally settling in a real one in 1978. He used a Cassutt 111 kit plane built by a friend. The Cassutt is a kit racing plane designed to Formula One regulations. As an aside, it is one of the most affordable ways to get into racing. The complete kit is $15 000 USD plus about $10 000 for a decent used engine and minimium instruments. Sharp laid out an improvement plan that slowly increased the speed of his plane. In 1982, he won the Reno Air Race with the Cassutt. He decided that he wanted more performance, so he set out to design his own F1 class plane. In 1989, he had finished his new design, so he went and built it. This is no small task. The fluid dynamics equations get quite hairy at the 300 miles an hour range, and even worse for the propeller, which is always moving right under the speed of sound. The key members of his team were Cory Bird, Dan Bond and Steve Ericson.
In June 1991 the plane was mostly finished, in time to test it for the September air races. Sharp's little known team ended up at the Reno air races with a plane called Nemesis. This plane had a revolutionary design. The major structual components were made out of carbon fiber and molded plastic. Despite the early date, the design was completely computerized, which enabled the wing to be designed around much more efficient laminar flow concepts. He took the military concept of using a side stick, instead of the traditional ball-pinching pole between the legs. The plane even had support for collecting live constant telemetry data. His team designed and built the majority of the components from scratch.
He had a winning streak any competitor would be envious of. It started with that win in september 1991. He then proceded to win the next 31 races he entered. On number 32, the trusty Continental O-200 threw a piston rod and lost him the race.
During this 6 year run of memorable victories, Sharp has been awarded the prestigious Bleriot Medal twice, and remarkably has also been the recipient of the Pulitzer Trophy three times and the George Owl Design Award four times. Such ongoing recognition in so short a time span is unprecedented in the world of motor sports. He set a speed record of 283.75 miles per hour in 1996. Nemesis took a formal retirement in 1999. The average speed in 2003 for the same race was about 246 mph. Nemesis is now at the EAA museaum in Oshkosh, awaiting transfer to the Simthsonian's Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center.
Currently, the team is working on the next generation NemesisNXT. It is a two seater high performance plane. Not too many details have been released about it.
"Chase the Dream, not the Competition"
---Nemesis team motto. The plane and the man are like a samurai and his sword, so they are noded as one.
Written for Everything Quests: Athletes and Sports Figures