This article originally appeared on FLYINGmag.com. Ongoing coverage from FLYING Media Group sites during the Reno Air Races will continue this weekend.
The beginning of heat races for the Unlimited Class on Thursday at the National Championship Air Races marked an increase in excitement for spectators, higher intensity among competitors, and more drama in the pits and on the grid.
For the final running of the races at their longtime home at Reno/Stead Airport (KRTS), FLYING is focusing on the Unlimiteds by following the Yak-3U named Miss Trinidad. The aircraft, designed in Russia during World War II, began life as an advanced trainer, like a Russian version of an AT-6 Texan. For coverage on the Sport class and other heats, see reports from KITPLANES.
Miss Trinidad owner Sam Davis, crew chief John “Dusty” Dowd and pilot John Maloney worked together with a half dozen or so volunteers to prepare the airplane for competition against a field dominated by P-51 Mustangs. It was not easy.
Today the Yak has a Pratt & Whitney R-2000 under the cowling that is more than double the size of its original engine, yet small for a radial by Reno standards. Still, as Dowd, who owns a similar racing Yak notes, the Russian aircraft is smaller and lighter than others on the grid and can remain competitive without the enormous Wright 3350 and Pratt & Whitney R-4360s that have found their way into a number of air-cooled racers.
The R-2000 seems like the ideal engine for the Yak, but it has given this team trouble. In the weeks leading up to the Reno races, problems with the oil system led to an engine replacement. As race week began the new engine still needed a bit more time for break-in and tuning. Meanwhile the pneumatic system that operates the retractable landing gear and flaps had sprang a few leaks that needed attention. There was a brief wave of confusion over the time for which the heat was scheduled, leading to fear that the team had somehow missed its cue to…