Paul is no stranger to speed, being a retired USAF fighter and test pilot whose career spanned from the F-100 Super Sabre to the F-117 development program. It was while stationed at Edwards AFB that he first became interested in homebuilding through knowing Dick and Burt Rutan when they were developing the original Vari-EZ at nearby Mojave. That led to a Long-EZ build project, which the Tackaburys later raced in events across the Southwestern states. “We finished well back until I figured out how to make planes go faster,” says Paul. “When the family grew, I needed a larger plane and the Lancair IV was just the ticket.” It took Paul and Pam six years to finish SYZ, and it first flew in 2006, winning its first AirVenture Cup two years later.
Screaming Yellow Zonker was born to race; the Tackaburys built the Lancair light and unpressurized to save weight and complexity. Paul describes his Continental TSIO-550 as a “fairly standard setup,” utilizing dual LSE solid-state ignition and swinging an Aero Composites three-bladed propeller. Unlike normally aspirated engines, where standard racing advice is to fly low for maximum power, the turbocharged Continental allows the Tackaburys to race at high altitudes where true airspeed is much greater than indicated. Paul says they typically race at 17,500 feet, utilizing a Mountain High pulse oxygen system; at this altitude the TSIO-550 puts out a walloping 400 horsepower at its race power setting of 41 inches manifold pressure and 2800 RPM.
This high-altitude capability, besides netting excellent true airspeeds, gives the Tackaburys the advantage of flying above much of the weather that challenges low-altitude racers, such as this year’s ragged undercast around Mankato and squally towering cumulus over Wisconsin. Pam Tackabury, Paul’s wife of 43 years and herself a Private Pilot, handles weather, traffic watch, and checklist duties while logging turn points and “watching me like a hawk,” Paul says. He described this year’s tailwinds as “fairly light, around 15 knots at 17,500 feet,” and noted that other than a little zigzagging for buildups on the descent into Wausau, the only noteworthy event of their race was a 300-knot bird strike 30 miles out. The Tackaburys crossed the finish line well in advance of the thunderstorm that delayed some racers’ finish, and were eating lunch in the EAA Chapter 640 hangar when the storm hit.
When the Tackaburys aren’t pushing SYZ to maximum racing airspeed, it’s still a very quick cross-country airplane that has transported them in comfort and style for over 500 flight hours since 2006. From its home base at the homebuilding mecca of Chino, CA, the Lancair makes short work of hops to Santa Paula and Watsonville to visit Paul and Pam’s daughters and grandson. Even the formidable 3000-mile roundtrip to and from the AirVenture Cup consists of a few easy legs above the weather at 280 knots. Sadly for fans of speedy, pretty airplanes but perhaps fortuitous for Unlimited-class hopefuls, it’s a trip the Tackaburys only make every other year. The 2015 AirVenture Cup winner is guaranteed to be sleek, powerful, and insanely fast, but it won’t have to beat the one and only Screaming Yellow Zonker!