AEROACES CR-3 Kit Review by Gary Baughman

This review was published in the Thermal Thumbers newsletter and the December 2001
issue of the NFFS Newsletter !

I have always had a fascination for racing planes even though I am not quite old enough to have experienced the days of Roscoe Turner and the Granville Brothers. When I was about eight years old, someone in my hometown built a Goodyear racer. My Dad and I saw it sitting in a hangar at the hometown airport during an airshow. I remember how small it was, not much higher at the canopy than my head. How shiny the fuselage and wings were and how neat and colorful the trim and racing numbers looked! When the builder asked if I wanted to sit in the pilot's seat and pretend to fly his plane around the pylons, I didn't have to be asked twice. My love for racing planes was kindled that day.

The FAC movement has brought scale modeling back to life. I hope to go to Geneseo some day to fly in the FAC Nationals. The photos of the NATS scale models I have seen plus the beautiful models of Wayne Brock, Ollie Benton, and Oscar Smith in our area, motivate me to hone my skills for building and flying models of airplanes from the Golden yesteryear of my youth.

I read advertisements for Michael Morrow's CR-3 racer in several magazines for sometime before I made a commitment to purchase the kit. There was something about the look of the little yellow and red racer and the Cessna heritage that piqued my juices. My dad was a Cessna employee and I have always been fond of the Cessna lineage. I usually don't build kits, but I couldn't resist this purchase. I wrote out a check for $33 and sent away for the CR-3.

I remember the anticipation of childhood days when the postman finally delivered my orders from America's Hobby Center or some other supplier. I couldn't wait to open the box and to see and smell the wood, unroll the plans, and discover which tissue color was included. There were chores to do and homework to finish first. After supper I raced to lay out the plans on my building board and begin construction. Using childhood imagination, I flew the model a hundred times in my mind before I could complete the real one. Somehow, the model never flew as well in reality as in those imaginary flights.

My CR-3 kit arrived from Mike Morrow in Seattle. I was transported back in time with the anticipation of a kid. I opened the box and found beautifully printed, quality balsa wood. Oh, the aroma! The balsa wood smell hasn't changed since 1950. The strip wood was of equal excellent quality. The yellow tissue and red decals would create a color scheme just like that one of that little racer in the hometown hangar. The vacu-formed canopy, turtledeck, rocker arm cowl bumps and pilot figure were superbly detailed. The plans were very accurate and well drawn. I considered the kit well worth $33. After I finished my "homework" and "honey-dews" I began construction.

While waiting for glue to dry during construction, I dug out my copy of "The Golden Age of Air Racing" by Schmid and Weaver and looked up the history of the Cessna CR-3. The owner and pilot, Johnny Livingston, had been flying a Monocoupe in the early 30's but the fast Cessna CR-2 began to be a challenge for the meager purses of the Depression era racing seasons. Something new had to be designed and built to compete.

In 1933, Livingston contacted Clyde and Eldon Cessna in Wichita and commissioned them to build him a new Cessna CR-3 design. He pulled the 145 -horsepower Warner engine out of his Monocoupe and shipped it to the Cessna brothers for installation in the new machine. Livingston took delivery in June of 1933. He did some testing and shakedown flights to rid the diminutive (l8.6' wingspan) racer of the post- construction "bugs". There were some minimal problems but these were quickly retired.

The next races were the American Air Races in Chicago on July 1, l933. In its first competition, Livingston put the new racer through its paces around the pylons at over 201 mph. Livingston won first place and a purse of $2,250. He had purchased the CR-3 for $3,000 so the payback started quickly. Not one to just sit on his parachute, Livingston climbed back into the racer and put on an airshow with rolls on the deck, hammerhead stalls, and his signature "cobra" roll. The CR-3 was a good handling little machine.

On the 4th of July, Johnny raced the CR-3 against the Howard Ike, a Folkerts, a Laird and some other racers of the day. Again the CR-3 won first place at just over 204 mph. Another payday! On July 5th Livingston set a world speed record for straight lined courses at 237 mph. It was a big accomplishment for a racer with less than 500 cubic inches of displacement.

On August 4, Johnny and the CR-3 had finished three more airshows and were flying from Detroit to Columbus, Ohio. Arriving in Columbus, Johnny made his customary 360 degree overhead approach (soon to be utilized by fighter planes in WW II) but the right landing gear would not lock down. Many different procedures were used to try to get the gear to lock but none were successful. After 30 fruitless minutes, Livingston took the aircraft north of the field and bailed out. The post-mortem on the remains revealed a broken cold weld in the construction, making lowering the retracted gear impossible. Without a roll bar and in a tiny airplane with a landing speed of 100 mph, Livingston made a difficult, but correct, choice in vacating the little racehorse in lieu of a life-or-death one-wheel landing. The CR-3 was destroyed after only 65 days on the racing circuit! The legacy lived on in my model shop.

While I built the model, I imagined feeling the force of a 250 mph slipstream tearing at my leather helmet and goggles while I pulled 3-G turns around the pylons hoping that the blurs of airplanes I saw to my right and above couldn't pass before the checkered flag. I could conjure the vibration of the airframe, the smell of oil and gasoline, and the immediate response to the throttle of those seven cylinders pounding a steady staccato just in front of my feet. What a life that must have been; depression-era racing in front of grandstands full of thousands who came to see daring men flying and dying in a desperate quest for fame, glory and cash purses.

Oh yes, back to the Morrow model. It was not a beginner's project but it went together perfectly and the finished model looks and flies great! Without rubber and given copious detailing, my CR-3 weighed 57 grams. I modified the horizontal and vertical tail with some geodetic ribs to preclude warps. I also laminated the outlines in model railroad basswood for warp proofing. I used light 1/32" balsa to form the basis of the cowling instead of using typing paper as instructed. In early test flights, the model required a tad of downthrust and right thrust to groove under high torque. After warping in some right rudder, the CR-3 flew more like a scale P-30, climbing in wide right circles to altitude where the sun gave a neon-like glow shining through the yellow covering. The glide was stable and flat albeit a bit fast like one might expect from a sleek racing plane.

The Morrow CR-3 is the best flying scale model in my stable. I can't wait to take her on the "racing circuit" this summer. Does anyone know of a good, inexpensive source of white coveralls, goggles and leather helmets? Look out Jimmy D and Roscoe T, we're coming after you! Crank 12 grams of Tan II to 50 inches of manifold pressure, skillfully add a little top rudder around the pylons, and the CR-3 will surely bring any daredevil modeler home to victory!

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