Precious Metal started life as a P-51 Mustang that had been assembled from many spare parts. Built specifically to race, she has no history or legacy as a Warbird.
There seem to be countless stories about her heritage, but to Thom’s best knowledge these are her details: Her center fuselage is from a “D” Model that spent time as a film prop on a Hollywood sound stage. Her wing originally came for a gate guard from a South American country. Her empennage is from an “H” model Mustang.Her racing modifications include shortened wings, with custom designed wingtips. She sports a set of custom design strakes instead of the stock wing filets and a removable scoop extension is added to farther streamline her during racing events. She has been both modified and damaged during her years of Racing. Systems and components have been rebuilt or replaced as needed. But perhaps the most noticeable feature is her twin, contra-rotating propellers. Her custom fabricated cowlings house a Rolls Royce Griffon engine. While all the other Mustangs in the world sport a Merlin, as was originally installed from the factory; the Griffon starts at nearly 40% more displacement and horsepower than the Merlin. Unlike most Mustangs, she sports a down-draft carb which brings the air across the top of the engine and downward. These modifications give her an unusual profile that is easily recognizable.
Built in 1987 as N6WJ, Precious Metal is a Griffon Powered Mustang in the tradition of the RB-51 “The Red Baron”. Originally built by Don Whittington of World Jet, Inc, he adapted a Rolls Royce Griffon engine formally used in the Miss Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane racing boat into the airframe. It made its debut at the Reno Air Races on September 12, 1988 under the name of “Precious Metal”. On September 18, 1988, during the Gold Race he blew the engine and performed a safe gear up landing in the aircraft. Afterwards, the aircraft did not race for many years.
In 2000, the aircraft was purchased by Ron Buccarelli of Lake Air, Inc in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He performed service on her and returned to race her on September 15, 2001 at the Reno Air Races. The Races were canceled due to the 9-11 tragedy. In 2002, Ron raced her and placed 4th in the Unlimited Silver Race at 381 mph. IN 2003, he placed 1st in the Bronze at 407 mph. 2004 he placed 3rd in Silver at 408 mph. When he returned in 2006, he placed 3rd in Silver at 391. Finally, in 2007, during the Silver Heat 1A he was DQ for East Deadline Cut. After this the aircraft did not race for a number of years.
In 2011, the aircraft was sold to Thom Richard. He attended PRS in June and qualified her for the 2011 Race. The Races were cancelled after the Leeward Crash. Preparing for the 2012 Races, Thom and crew worked hard to make the aircraft into a top contender in Unlimited class. On September 11, 2012, he qualified at 463 mph for the 2012 Races. On September 16, 2012 she received a DNF due to the loss of a clamshell gear door during the Gold Final Race.
Preparing for the 2013 season, the Team increased in size and completed an extensive maintenance and modification program. Included was a carbon fiber cockpit assembly built in-house, new wingtips, strakes and a scoop extension. A Race engine was built and installed, but failed after a 10 minute test ground run at 3:00 am. 47 hours later the team had removed the engine and created another one from pieces of the Race engine and legacy parts in the hangar, installed it and had it running. Trapped by bad weather, the aircraft finally departed for the Races, making a mad dash across the country. It arrived in Reno with 19 minutes to spare before the close of check-in. The week proved no less dramatic with a constant stream of issues that the team successfully overcame. On September 15, 2013, Precious Metal placed 5th in Gold at 434 mph, its highest finish so far.
The 2014 season saw a rebuild of the engine, along with addition of some new systems. “Censored” curtains covered the engine while the cowls were off at the races. During qualifying, a fuel system issue caused a Mayday, and Thom landed her with props feathered. A replacement carb was brought from Kissimmee and the aircraft was running right again. Having missed the chance to qualify, the only path allowed under the rules was to start in last place in the Bronze class. Winning the class allows the team to move into last place in the Silver class. The team advanced through all classes to earn a spot at the bottom of the Gold class. Sunday’s Gold race finished with a 3rd place finish behind Voodoo and Czech Mate. Shortly after the race, the team was informed that a showline judge had called a cut, or flight path outside the property lines and the team was disqualified; losing its 3rd place finish and prize money. While cockpit video was provided to the governing organization, the rules state that a judgement along this area is not contestable. While frustrated and upset, the team has now moved forward with its offer to working with the Reno Air Race Association in helping resolve issues and helping next years races even better than the 2014 ones have been.
As of May 2015, the Team has completed a full rebuild of the race engine and performed flight testing.