Website visitor Gareth P. wrote to request that I scan and post
the article for Falck's Special "Rivets" racer for Formula I events.
The article is a documentary on the airplane and its designer /
builder / owner, Bill Falck. As such, it does not include plans
for building a model; however, it does include one of uber draftsman
Björn Karlström's 4-views that could be used for creating a set
of plans. BTW, the AMA plans service has 5 version of
Rivets building plans if you want to go the easy route.
The plane to beat in Formula I Races is Bill Falck's
'Special.' Sixteen wins - 20 firsts and seconds since 1964!
by Don Berliner
Bill Falck's Rivets.
"Rivets" is almost as fast as the GeeBee! And a lot more streamlined!
In its day, the glamorous GeeBee Super Sportster was speed personified.
If it was running right, nothing could keep up with it. It is easily
the most famous American racing airplane of all time. Yet it was
crude and clumsy compared with "Rivets."
The strange-looking Falck Special No. 92 has been clocked twice
at 231 mph around a three mile course, even though it has a little
201 cu. in. engine normally rated at 100 hp and certainly producing
less than 150 hp. The great GeeBee, in its prime, was clocked at
253 mph around a much faster five mile course - pulled by a huge
1340 cu. in. engine which developed at least 800 hp.
How has Rivets designer/builder/owner/ pilot Bill Falck done
it? He has combined post-GeeBee engineering with two decades of
personal experience and a lot of extremely hard work. His racer
has the least frontal area of any machine in its class. Takeoff
acceleration has been sacrificed for maximum speed on the straightaway.
He has accepted the poor flying qualities of a steeply swept-back
wing for the extra visibility which enables him to see the pylons
while flying higher than anyone else, and thus staying out of traffic.
Bill Falck's Rivets, side view.
As important as absolute speed is in air racing, consistency
is even more so. What good is a super-fast airplane if mechanical
problems keep it on the ground most of the time? The classic GeeBees
(R-1 and R-2) won but a single Thompson Trophy Race between them,
despite their speed. Rivets, on the other hand, has won no fewer
than 16 Formula I races. At one time, Bill Falck had an unprecedented
string of eight straight wins. In the 23 races they have flown since
the sport came back in 1964, they have placed first or second in
With the Formula I class being the most competitive of all during
its 24 years, such a record of success is all the more surprising.
Some of the finest pilots who ever flew the pylons have tried to
dislodge Falck and his model from their place in victory lane, but
no one has been able to do it consistently. "Shoestring" pilot Ray
Cote has come the closest, beating them at Reno in 1968-69-70, but
Cote works all year long for that one race, while Falck is there
every time the flag is dropped for a Formula I race.
These winning ways didn't come quickly or easily. There were
slow and unhappy days, for Bill Falck knew no shortcuts to victory.
When he first brought Rivets out in public for a race many laughed,
for it was a funny-looking airplane. The bulging canopy extended
all the way to the spinner, and the airplane flew around the pylons
with its nose in the air. Bill had built his racer so he could fly
it while lying flat on his back, but this streamlining idea was
declared unsafe shortly before his first race in No. 92, and the
hurried modifications weren't quite right. He still placed second
in the Consolation Race, though his speed was only 142.5 mph.
Rivets underwent the first of several major changes which were
destined to turn an also-ran into a winner for the following year
- 1949. As operator of the small Warwick Airport in New York, Falck
had a lot of time on his hands when snow made his dirt runway useless,
so he put the time to good use by methodically re-working his airplane,
piece by piece. The first area to get a good going over was the
canopy, and the original "plastic bathtub" was replaced by a clean
canopy made from pieces of Aeronca Champion windshield. Months of
hard work paid off to the tune of 20 mph and first place in the
Consolation Race at Cleveland.
Yet Falck and his Rivets were a full 15 mph behind the winners,
and so few people paid attention to them, except in the pits where
"Willie" was becoming recognized as a very competent student of
racing. But they were no particular threat to people like Steve
Wittman and Bill Brennand and John Paul Jones, who were doing the
winning in those days.
In the time between the last of the old Cleveland Races in 1949,
and the 1951 Detroit meet, Falck completed the single most important
modification to his racer - the change that was soon to make it
winner. He designed, built and proved the complicated set of plumbing
under the sleek new cowl that gave the model a sound like it had
several extra cylinders. Basically, it was an updraft cooling system
with tuned exhaust pipes, all exiting through an augmenter in the
tunnel underneath the cowl. Far more efficient than the usual, simple
exhaust pipes and cooling-air outlet, it enabled Rivets to advance
from consolation to final races. This happened first at Miami in
1950, when they placed 7th at 173 mph, and soon became a matter
Getting into the finals was a step in the right direction, but hardly
the same as winning. Falck's first win was a dramatic one, and set
the theme for many races to come. At a small race in Chattanooga,
Tennessee, in the spring of 1952, Bill qualified second following
the great Wittman and then shared preliminary heat wins with him.
In the 12-lap finals, Wittman got off to his usual fast start and
Falck to his usual slow start. Lap by lap, Rivets gained on the
famous Bonzo, until it was clear to everyone that only time or luck
could keep that upstart with the funny airplane from pulling the
upset of the year. For Wittman, there was too much time and no luck,
as Falck passed him on high with a couple of laps to go and won
by the narrow margin of 186.95 mph to 186.79 mph. A winter spent
hammering out a fancy set of new wheel pants was time well spent
for Bill Falck.
Length - 18' 0"
- 17' 9"
Wing Area - 66 sq. ft.
Wing Airfoil - modified
Aspect Ratio - 5.23-1
Empty Weight - 635 Ibs.
Normal Loaded Weight- 855 lbs.
Maximum Speed (est.) -
Landing speed - 70 mph
Cruising Speed - n.a.
Cruising Range - n.a.
(n.a. - not applicable, as the airplane
is never flown cross-country.)
Racing soon slipped to the level where it was little more than
a friendly game played by Easterners at such places as Niagara Falls,
Oshkosh and Ft. Wayne. Of 11 such races held from 1954 through 1960,
Falck and his racer won five, were second in three, and third in
two - by far the best overall record of the period. Moreover, they
hung up their first really important record by qualifying at Niagara
Falls in 1956 at 208.81 mph, five mph better than the old mark.
It was all a little sad though, for the great performances were
before small crowds and received almost no publicity. Even the great
story of Rivets being reduced almost to ashes by a fire in 1956
and then coming back to win the big race of the next season went
When racing came back at Reno in 1964, Bill Falck was not exactly
an instant hero. He didn't even fly in that first race, but he won
a photo finish with Bob Downey at St. Petersburg, Florida the following
winter. In 1965's big races, his best were seconds at Reno and Las
Vegas. He then repeated his win at St. Pete in 1966 and charged
off on the greatest winning spree the sport has ever seen. Victories
at Frederick, Maryland and Reno gave him the first Formula I National
Point Championship. Winning all three races in 1967 gave him a second
championship. In 1968, two firsts and a second meant yet a third
championship. In 1969, it was three firsts and a second, and championship
number four. They combined wins at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and
Wilson, North Carolina, and a second at Reno for a fifth straight
national title in 1970, along with a qualifying record of 231.26
As the 1970's dawned and the ranks of Formula I began to swell
with more new racers than had ever been seen before, there were
increasing chances that new airplanes would come along to take the
place so long held by Rivets. Its excessive weight - 635 lbs. vs.
520-550 lbs. for most of the other fast ones - was a serious handicap.
Being more than 20 years older than when he built No. 92, Falck
seemed unwilling to start over on a new racer, though it was widely
recognized that he had the skill and knowledge to build a new airplane
that would be as unbeatable as Rivets had been for the past decade.
But, until someone can consistently beat him at more than one
race site, Bill Falck will no doubt continue to terrorize Formula
I with possibly the finest racing airplane, pound for pound, that
has ever flown.
Note: Our special thanks to Eddie Fisher, of Birdland Airport,
Leroy, Ohio for suggesting this airplane.
Rivets 4-View, Sheet
Rivets 4-View, Sheet
Posted October 9, 2012