The Very Best In Aviation and Air Race News and Photography

Air Racing History
Story Date: Summer-1998
Graphics by: Mark Kallio

Bill "Kerch" Kerchenfaut
Interview by: Wayne Sagar
and Mark Kallio
The "Crew Chief's - Crew Chief" Bill "Kerch" Kerchenfaut
People Who Race: "Kerch" - continued from part one

Kerch: Well it's a little different, most people aren't as interested in the mechanical end of it as the flying end.

aafo: I think the interest in the mechanical end of things might surprise you. Getting the background for the "nuts&bolts" crowd is something we really want to do for our readers.

Kerch: There's so much behind the scenes drama and so many stories, things that are happening, that hardly anyone knows about that are just as interesting as the all leads up that final event. Win or lose there is tremendous potential for stories there.

aafo: we agree! Our last installment in this series covered Bill Rogers and the effort with "Miss Ashley II". A ton of R&D and much BS&T went into that airplane, you don't really see this until the debut of the aircraft. It's been a popular story.

Kerch: He did a magnificent job on that aircraft! He's a unique guy in that his perseverance with that project continued on, I've talked to him over the years about it...he's just got a great attitude.

aafo: your main involvement is with the unlimited class, but we hear your name come up among many racers in other classes.......

Kerch: I've got a lot of formula guys that are friends of bi-plane and on and's some real competitive racing. They are every bit as competitive as any other racing...they are real racers. I can't tell you how many airplanes I worked on this year, sport biplanes and formulas were all bringing up stuff to get welded and whatever. To me there's no differentiation...a racer is a racer. The guy can't afford a P-51 Mustang .....this is as far as he can go with what he's got and he's out there racing. And they are very innovative people, and I am proud to say that I have stolen a lot of Formula One ideas for Strega!

aafo: you mentioned something about a plastic spoon mod. when we talked last year...

Kerch: Exactly... you take a plastic spoon and remove the stem.... then you make it fit over whatever is sticking out into the air stream, a bolt or whatever, you attach it with silicone, so you can remove it when you have to. That was stolen right off of a formula racer. It is a wonderful idea! You go down there and look at what they are doing, and they have to do it...if this one little thing gives you a tenth of a mile an hour, we'll do ten of these little things and now we got one mile an hour! You just keep adding them on and it's a cumulative thing. Those guys have got the aerodynamics down, it's just magnificent what they can do.

aafo: earlier you spoke of the camaraderie in racing...

Kerch: I've often said why don't we just come up here and have a Bar-B-Q and tell lies about how fast we *can* go <laughing> When you get to the event, though, you don't have the opportunity to get together much, there's just no time.

aafo: on that subject.... What about running more events was tried in Phoenix.. and Mojave.... Could this ever be more like auto racing with a "circuit" of races?

Kerch: It is hard, two isn't too bad...the most we've done is four in a year and that's real tough. Two is possible. There are a number of things you need to put on an unlimited race. One, of course, you need an un-populated expanse for the course. The other is you need accessibility to the airfield in terms of roads. We've had other races, one of them at Brown Field San Diego. It was fine but the problem was, it was a two lane road going into the field, traffic was backed up they couldn't get in, people were turning around and going home. The third thing is the hotel and restaurant situation...You need to be able to absorb that number of people. I remember at the races at Mojave, there's nothing there, one motel and one cafe and that was it, you had to go a long way. That's a problem you need to contend with. There's one thing that Reno and Las Vegas have that a lot of other places don't have, they have the ability to absorb that. Actually even Phoenix had a problem with hotels because the race was held during spring training for baseball there, hotels were filled up.........

aafo: we'd like to see more....Vegas would probably be the most likely other place that could pull off a second event, provided enough airplanes could be fielded for the events.

Kerch: With a racing airplane it's pretty difficult, it's a whole different animal than an automobile. A lot ofpeople have tried over the last few years to use a NASCAR type format, they would like to have 6 or 8 races a year. To develop an airplane, and go through all of the testing that's required, is not something you can just go out and do in a couple of months. In a car if you set it up differently than you did the week before it's an easy adjustment, relatively, you can always go back to what you had. In an airplane if you try a different setup.... change the airfoil, angle of incidence of the main wing or the tailplane, whatever you do to it...the center of gravity....there's a lot of things you can do to it to monkey around with, you might run into a catastrophic problem. It's a whole different ballgame. There's a whole bunch of things you can do to enhance the flying qualities that you want from the airplane....Airplanes are all compromises, a fighter plane is no different than any other airplane. What we have done, for example, to to take out some of the nice things in the airplane, we've sacrificed those for the single purpose of going fast. Consequently the landing speed is higher, the doesn't have a good rate of climb, it's got a long take off roll, it has flying qualities that are a little bit different in the low end. There are things that made the airplane really a delightful airplane, we've sacrificed some of those things in the compromise for the high speed.

aafo: to a certain extent this is also done in racing cars, sacrificing straight ahead stability for cornering ability etc.

Kerch: The thing with a race car, you can go out on a test track to see if the adjustments work.... In an airplane, for example, if you alter some aerodynamics you can run into a problem with flutter, you may or may not come back with all the pieces! Changing the propeller, for example, we've been doing that for a number of years, to get a guy to come out and do flutter tests on a propeller we're talking a weeks worth of work, and it's expensive to get the testing to insure the propeller won't encounter a resonant frequency that will destroy it. You have to be real careful when you start doing these things because you're talking a catastrophic event. continue>>

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