Monday, 30 April 2012
I would personally like to thank Dick Keller for making
The Honda Hawk Streamliner Week possible.
Without Dick Kellers info and pictures this fantastic journeay down memory lane would not have been possible.
I hope you all injoyed the stories and the documentation of the Honda Hawk projetct, and hope that we will see you soon here on COFDL.
With warm regards, The Pilot
DICK KELLER - SPACE AGE SPEEDSTER
Father of the Honda Hawk
Few men have realized the acclaim and successes in land-speed-record (LSR) racing and motorsports design innovation as Richard “Dick” Keller; project manager of Reaction Dynamics’ successful The Blue Flame rocket-powered LSR racer which streaked to the world record speed of 630 miles per hour; designer and builder of the Honda Hawk motorcycle streamliner; rocket engineer, chassis consultant and designer for the Pollution Packer and Pollution Packer Bonneville Dragster race cars which set numerous national, international, and world records on the Bonneville Salt Flats; and designer of the first successful rocket-powered race car, the X-1.
How did this fascination with speed and rockets begin? As a boy, Dick saw a photograph of auto magnate Fritz von Opel’s rocket car that had achieved a speed of 121 miles per hour at Berlin’s Avus track in 1928. Emblazoned on the car in large letters were the initials RAK2, a German abbreviation for the word “raketen”, or rocket, number two. Young Dick, whose initials are RAK III, imagined the coincidence to be Destiny pointing a finger at him. Thereafter, rocket propulsion and motor racing became his greatest interests and enjoyment.
Dick seemed always in a hurry to get somewhere fast. He earned a reputation amongst his playmates in his Chicago neighborhood for modifying bicycles to go faster, stripping off excess weight and changing the sprockets for more speed. Using war surplus CO2 cartridges for jet propulsion, he built (and wrecked) numerous balsa wood model Bonneville lakesters.
While a teenager he built and drove “hot rods” on Chicago streets and dragstrips as a founding member of the Igniters Auto Club. Then, in the late Fifties, he was further inspired when he became an occasional “go-fer” for the greatest dragracing star of all time, Don “Big Daddy” Garlits.
Continuing his education after high school at Notre Dame University and Illinois Institute of Technology, his professional career has spanned fundamental and applied research as well as engineering design, development, and management. Early career highlights include research on aircraft boron fuels and silicone lubricants for the US Air Force, design of high vacuum test equipment used in developing new semi-conductor materials and integrated circuits, chemical warfare projectiles, military satellite defenses, NASA rocket-fueling monitors for the Saturn I and Saturn V Apollo booster rockets, and a study of the gas reaction kinetics of methane and oxygen.
Experience gained at Phoenix Chemical Laboratory, IIT Research Institute, and the Institute of Gas Technology, in industrial and government contract research, led to his co-founding Reaction Dynamics, Inc. with Ray Dausman and Pete Farnsworth in 1965 to design, build, and develop new concepts in prototype and racing vehicles. There, he and Ray, who also worked with him at IIT Research Institute, designed and developed the first hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) rocket motor for a racing car, the X-1. Its record-setting speeds on Midwestern dragstrips eventually helped Dick convince the American Gas Association to sponsor what was to become a successful attempt on international speed records. On October 23, 1970, Gary Gabelich, Long Beach, California native, drove The Blue Flame rocket to a new FIA-recognized kilometer world land-speed-record of 630.388 miles per hour.
In 1971 at Reaction Dynamics, Dick and Pete designed and built the Honda Hawk, a turbocharged dual 750cc 4-cylinder motorcycle-engine powered land missile that zoomed across the Bonneville Salt Flats at 286 miles per hour, more than 30 mph faster than the FIM world record at that time. Unfortunately, due to poor surface conditions that year, the required backup run for the official record could not be made.
After leaving Reaction Dynamics in 1972, Dick continued racing car design and building rocket propulsion systems as Keller Design Corporation. His engines have powered the Pollution Packers, Miss STP, Conklin Comet, and American Dream Rocket Dragsters, and the Spirit of ‘76, Captain America, Moonshot, Chicago Patrol, Vanishing Point, and Natural High rocket-powered Funny Cars.
The Pollution Packer Bonneville Dragster, a unique monocoque-chassis Rocket Dragster, was designed by Keller and built by Tim Kolloch at R&B Automotive in Kenosha, WI. In addition to the World Land Speed Record, Dick’s cars held, at the same time, all FIA world acceleration and speed records up to one kilometer distance (see FIA Recognized International Record list). Numerous dragstrip records set coast-to-coast included the all-time NHRA low elapsed time (4.62 seconds) and top speed (344 mph) for the 1/4-mile in an NHRA national event by Dave Anderson driving the Pollution Packer at the NHRA Summernationals in 1973, and the 1/8-mile (3.40 seconds ET at 248 mph) in 1974. Sammy Miller ultimately blasted his Keller Design-powered Rocket Funny Car, the Vanishing Point, to over 400 miles per hour in 4.04 seconds in 1977!
Dick’s competitive urges turned full circle when, as a Masters Category competitor, he returned to his early love, bicycle racing. He was won several national track championships as well as setting European (UEC) and World (UCI) masters track cycling records.
Beginning with a young boy’s fascination with (sp)rocket technology, continuing through a young man’s determination to excel, Dick Keller’s quest for speed has certainly been
rewarded with success.
To quote Dick in his 70s, “Life is short; the road is long; ride fast!”
Thursday, 26 April 2012
The Motorcycle World Speed Record?
It is the big day, and the Honda Hawk needs to show the world that it is ready to fly into the history books, and take the motorcycle world speed record. The FIM observer has just been flown in from Europe, and he stands next to maybe the greatest American pre-World War II motorcycle racer, Joe Petrali, here on the salt flats of Bonneville. Joe Petrali is here as timekeeper for the USAC, and together with FIM they are the ones who will perpetuate this great event in the years to come (if succesful).
Left: FIM observer Right: Joe Petrali
Everything on the Honda Hawk is being checked and re-checked before pilot Jon McKibben will take the first test run down the salt. The side panels is sitting next to the Hawk, as the Honda mechanics makes the final adjustments to the speed machine. Anytime from now could be "Go" for the first run of the day...
Jon McKibben's instrument panel looks like it was taken out of an airplan. The far left gages read the cylinder head temperatures of the two CB750s, and the two gages on the center right read pressures to the two stabilizing struts that are deployed to keep the Honda Hawk upright as it slows down and stops. Top right is the clutch servo-assist cylinder pressure, the lower right is the turbocharger manifold pressure with the fire extinguisher knob visible below. Not seen [on the picture below] is a panel between the rider’s legs with two columns of lights, one for each gear plus neutral. Because both transmissions were shifted with a common linkage, McKibben would check after each shift that both gears were engaged before releasing the clutch lever. On one run they did get out of synch and the run had to be aborted.
Jon McKibben gets into the cockpit of the Hawk, and the crew push the Hawk to a running start... But already on this first run it is clear that something is wrong!The steering geometry is not stable, and the steering trail is wrong. It is clear that the front ends four-bar linkage steering design, is not working as intented. Reaction Dynamics wants to adjusted the trail, but, the pressure from above is very much “don’t just stand there – do something”. After several failing attempts to run the bike, due to instability, it is decided to revert to a proven “center-point steering” design such as Don Vesco had developed for his successful record run in 1970 with his Yamaha.
Dick Keller then calls Don Vesco, and asked for the bearing part number he had used – which he gladly provids. Dix Erickson then drives back to the American Honda shop in Gardena to machine the hub and pick up the bearings. And with minimal machining of the existing parts, there is now a possibility that the Honda Hawk will run straight.
But the Hawk is followed by bad luck... The Bonneville salt flat was not smooth in 1971, and at high speeds the rear wheel would lose traction and sometimes became slightly airborne after hitting a rut or wavy portion of the surface. When this happened under power the engines would rev up quickly, before McKibben could roll off the throttle, and the tire would speed up. On several occasions the high revs resulted in engine damage. On other occasions the over-speeding tire would impact the surface again with a sudden change in speed due to the tire immediately slowing down to match the ground speed and over-stress the drive chain. Drive train failures were of two types, a breaking drive chain, or a chain link separating and penetrating the gearbox casting.
The Honda Hawk made several runs in the high 200s, and made one 286.556 mph run in 1971. But with the FIM two hour rule, stating that you need to make two consecutive runs to make a record, the Honda Hawk team never manage to make a return run in the two hour window given by FIM.
Pete Farnsworth and Dick Keller's small company Reaction Dynamics, that had been so succesful with the record holding Blue Flame, closed after the failure of the Honda Hawk record attempt. The financial situation in Reaction Dynamics had depended on a bonus Honda would have paid them, had they set the record.
American Honda took over ownership of the Honda Hawk in 1971, and returned to Bonneville in 1972, with a re-work rear suspension on the Hawk. In 1972 the Honda Hawk crashed at high speed, ending its career. Rider Jon McKibben walked away from the accident, and the program was terminated.
Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Arrival at Bonneville
It is early morning on thursday the 10th november 1971, and Pete Farnsworth and Dick Keller is driving their van out to the salt flats, towing the Honda Hawk in its new trailer, nicknamed "The Hawk's Nest". They pull into the small town of Wendover, west of Bonneville salt flats, an interesting small western town stradding the Utah and Nevada state line. Due to the predominantly Mormon population in Utah, this is absolutely No Alcohollic Beverages territory! Wendover is also the last urban setting before the small group will enter the uninhibited wide-open planes of Nevada - the holy ground for land speed records. Although tired, both men are anxious to get out on the salt the next day. Their around-the-clock work schedule will not end until they (hopefully) set the motorcycle world speed record.
With the 1970 world speed record succes, The Blue Flame, in fresh memory Farnsworth & Keller are both very discouraged when they see the state of the salt surface! While the salt was perfectly flat and dry in 1970, 1971 is quite another story. Recent construction work on the nearby Interstate 80 highway has left loose debris, mud, and clay, which has washed out onto the course during the winter rains. The course is filled with pockmarks and undulations which promis a bumpy ride for the Honda Hawk.
On the salt flats this day is a very concerned timing crew (Joe Petrali, and his son David), the AMA steward Earl Flanders, and FIM officials. Honda had a film crew ready, and Motorcyclist magazin writer Bob Greene is taking notes in the background.
Taking the pressure into consideration, Farnsworth & Keller are thankful for the confidence expressed by the entourage. The Honda PR people still think they just need to fire up the CB750s, set the record, and go home.
Everyone fiddeling with speed machines, knows that a new bike is really a development project. While a lot of effort goes into the engineering, design, and fabrication, the first running of a racer is a test program. On this day all the people from Reaction Dynamics is aware of this, and would like to spend the first runs with just working crew present, to work out the kinks in the motorcycle. There will be issues, but no one knows what the issues will be yet.
The Honda crew was led by Bob Young and Dix Erickson. Dix had worked for Reaction Dynamics on The Blue Flame the previous year, before taking a job at Honda in California. Dix was actually the guy responsible for bringing American Honda and Reaction Dynamics together on this venture, by showing some preliminary designs of the Hawk to his boss at Honda.
The American Honda crew had brought with them a supply of engines, and several engine adapter kits (sprockets, chains, mounting frames, etc.), which they assembled in the Western Mobil gas station garage. The 3 to 4 Honda mechanics worked their tails off rebuilding the motors and helping wherever they could, under the amazing guidance from Bob Young. The two very different organizations start working as a functioning team, and as a result they were able to overcome the challenges they faced in 1971. The team kept pushing towards the world record, but the weather brought the record attempt to a halt just as the record was in their grasp...