Above, Joe Horton, 3,100cc/ Weseman bearing – KR-2S builder from PA, with Grace at Corvair College #21 . Barnwell was the 8th College that Joe has flow to. He has also flown to Sun ‘N Fun, the KR gathering and Oshkosh several times each. In 2010, we awarded him the Cherry Grove Trophy at CC#19 for his work promoting Corvair powered flight. Joe wrote us the following short note:
Just a quick note to update 357CJ. I am pacing my flying so that I can fly hour number 700 on my 55th birthday in 2 weeks. Hope to see everyone at Sun ‘N Fun. – Joe”
Below we have two photographs of builder progress from Blaine Schwartz of Texas. Blaine is a Zenith 750 builder, and he is headed to Corvair College #22 March 9-11 at KGTU in Austin, Texas, in less than 10 days. At the College, he is going to assemble and test run his Corvair powerplant. It features a set of 2850 cc pistons and cylinders from us, a set of Falcon heads, and a bottom end featuring a Roy bearing. Blaine has already purchased every Gold System option that we have for engine building. Additionally, he picked up a powdercoated 750 Mount from us and a number of the other required pieces for this 750 installation. Success doesn’t happen by accident, it is the end result of planning and action. If you have not yet signed up for Corvair College A#22, the registration is still open for a little while longer and we’ll be glad to have you. The Central Scrutinizer Ken Pavlou is planning on shutting down online registration 3/1/12 at 23:59 EST. Sign up today and set yourself on the same path that Blaine has followed, which put him in a position of success this year.
There are many ways to clean the case but pressure washing is a good start. Notice that Blaine has his cases sitting on wooden blocks to prevent them from having their mating surfaces touch anything that could scar them or affect their fit. Pressure washing Corvair cases with all their nooks and crannies will leave you just as wet as the cases.
Above, Blaine’s 750 fuselage on the gear. His engine mount is powdercoated gray, our standard color. We are bringing several of them to the College, along with many other installation components, and many boxes of Gold System components. If you are headed to the College, we highly encourage you to order the things you would like in advance for pickup at the event. Although we are bringing a lot of stuff, we almost always sell out of many of the popular items.
Blaine’s field of expertise is the management of very high end aviation systems procurement. The man seriously understands how to plan an aircraft project. Getting organized is second only to getting started. Corvair College #22 in Austin is a great place to get your aviation plans in gear and going.
Be there, Aloha.
Below are a set of photographs that I took 10 years ago. It’s a Stits SA-7D Skycoupe that was owned at the time by Gary Coppen. In the Winter of 2002 I was just getting back in action after losing our Pietenpol. Gary showed up with an engineless Skycoupe and offered to leave it with us on long-term loan. He understood that we needed a new testbed and demonstrator, and he offered his proven airframe without cost or strings attached.
We set to work immediately and went about producing a modern Corvair engine installation. The photographs you see here are from the Spring of 2002. While some of the things look antiquated here, it’s worth noting that the layout of Front Starter and Front Alternator that we continue today is used on this aircraft. Our Pietenpol had used both front and rear starters and alternators over the years when we used that airframe as a testbed. By the time I got the Skycoupe, my ideas on installations that would serve the most builders were already sorted out. Simplicity would remain the overriding goal. Although we have continuously done research and testing, the Skycoupe in the 2002 update to our Conversion Manual marked a turning point in our work. Previous to this, our Conversion Manual was really my shop notebook filled with useful information for people working on their own conversion. The Skycoupe in the new Manual was different. The engine installation was meant to be something that builders could replicate and expect proven success from. The Manual had become more of a how-to document, giving a lot of information on building and installations like the Skycoupe, in addition to the previous material on operations and practices.
In 2003 we purchased our 601 XL kit from Zenith at Oshkosh. We had the aircraft complete and on display in the Zenith booth at Sun ‘N Fun in April of 2004. Our new Zenith rapidly eclipsed the Skycoupe as the focal point of mainline testing and demonstration. The Skycoupe was seen less often but still lived in our hangar for a number of years. In 2005, we took it to Sun ‘N Fun and put it on display as our flying Turbo testbed aircraft. It served in this capacity for a long time before it was damaged in a windstorm. Several years ago, we started a restoration but it was sidelined by more pressing projects. 18 months ago, Gary reluctantly put the Skycoupe up for sale. He owns a number of other aircraft, including Corvair powered KR-2S, and he didn’t want the Skycoupe to wait a number of years until he had more time.
Today the Skycoupe belongs to Craig Anderson of South Dakota. The airframe is undergoing a much needed total restoration. Craig is headed off to Corvair College 22, now only 10 days away. There he is going to assemble and test run the new powerplant for the Skycoupe. It is a 2,850cc engine with a Weseman bearing, Falcon heads, and all of our Gold system parts. Although this engine is state-of-the-art it does directly have its lineage in the Skycoupe’s 2002 installation. The starter and the alternator are in the same orientation, as are the cooling and electrical systems. The 2,850 will have 10 more horsepower than the 2,700 engine in the photographs. With its dished pistons, the 2,850 will run interchangeably without adjustment on both 100 low lead and 93 unleaded. In the photographs, the Skycoupe was equipped with one of our then state-of-the-art Dual Points Distributors. Craig’s engine will run with our modern variant, the Electronic/Points Distributor. Overall, his engine is a series of incremental improvements, carefully thought out over a decade’s worth of work. Less than one out of 10 experimental aircraft companies survive to see their 10th birthday. We had already had 10 birthdays by the time I took the photographs you see here. We are in this for the long run, to support builders as they work towards their goals. If you have dreams and plans that involve building and flying, and they have remained important to you for a long time, then make this your year of action. The decision is up to you, no one else can make it for you, don’t let it pass you by.
Here is an overhead view of the Skycoupe’s engine installation. The Starter is the same one we use today but on a different set of Brackets. The alternator is a permanent magnet, but an early 14 amp model. The oil system is virtually stock with a 12-plate cooler and stock oil filter.
Here, a rear three-quarter view. In the foreground is an aluminum box that houses the coils, the MSD coil switcher, and the voltage regulator. They were placed here because the Skycoupe has a 20 gallon gas tank immediately behind the firewall. The 1.5 inch scat hose feeds cooling air to this box (the box had internal baffles that restricted the airflow to less than the hose size suggests), the air flows out the bottom after flowing over all the components inside. The Distributor is a Dual Points model. The oil pressure sending unit worked in this location but the temperature always read incorrectly.
Here, the Oil Pan shown here is the first Deep Sump Welded Aluminum Pan that we made. We still offer these today. I used this same motor mount layout to build several other later mounts in the shop. It also appears on Dave’s Wagabond in 2004, our Buttercup project in 2008, and on our Tailwind project in 2011. The carburetor is a Stromberg. The large hose is feeding fresh air from the cowl, the small is for carb heat. The gascolator is at the lowest point in the fuel system.
Here, on the valve cover is a Cessna 150 breather. These worked under most circumstances, but proved to be very difficult for builders to get inexpensively. With the 601, we moved to the readily available Aircraft Spruce breather. The location, however, was a winner; we have put every set of breather lines at this location since. The exhaust system is ceramic coated mild steel. These do not last compared to stainless models. The tubing size here is 1 3/8″. Testing proved that it needed to be slightly larger. The overall exhaust system layout remains fairly close to this. The goal is minimizing the amount of surface area under the cowling.
This photo shows the passenger side view. The Skycoupe was the last aircraft we built that had a bolted on intake at the head. We abandoned this when we moved to our new Nosebowl shape with the Zenith 601. If you look closely, you can see that this intake manifold is made out of many separate pieces of of mild steel. A painstaking project of gas welding. Today the intake manifolds we offer are the same shape, but are made out of a single piece of stainless tubing. This also offers a good view of the side of the cooling box. The main battery cable and the starter cable meet each other on a phenolic plate on the side of the box. Internally, they are connected to the voltage regulator. The wiring bundles are packaged in red Fiberglas woven tubing for chafe protection. The front of the baffling looks blunt because this aircraft had previously been flown on a Subaru with a belt reduction. That engine had an extremely flat face, and the baffling seen here only filled up the original cowl. In later testing, the Skycoupe was converted to one of our Nosebowls which transformed it from an ugly duckling into a guided missile.
Above: One of the last tests I performed was blocking up the aircraft to a 22° angle and chaining the tail down. We actually ran it in this position for extensive tests of its fuel flow at full power, and checking that the Deep Sump Oil Pan would feed oil at this angle at wide open throttle. The system worked very well. In 2002 I sported Burt Rutan mutton chops. Grace isn’t nostalgic about them today. These photographs were taken in front of our old hangars at the Spruce Creek airport in Daytona Beach, Florida. The hangars were built in the 1960s and were among the oldest structures at the airport. By 2002, Spruce Creek had evolved into the world’s largest fly in community, a gated location of 1,200 hangar homes.There were many good people there. Our hangars, nicknamed “the ghetto” by the real estate agents, were the focal point of lively after hours beer drinking and hangar flying. Most of the aviators in attendance were successful guys with million-dollar homes and hangars with painted floors where nothing interesting was happening. Our hangars reminded them of good times in their past when things were simpler and fun was a lot more accessible. In 2003, NASCAR driver and spruce Creek resident Mark Martin bought our whole hangar row and had it torn down and replaced with four expensive hangars that ended up housing golf carts and Prevost motor homes. The lasting important lessons that I took away from the experience was never to envy wealthy guys in aviation, a lot of them have lost touch with the most fun elements that drew them into flying in the first place, and to make sure we retained the element of good times amongst friends in everything that we did.
Here are a couple of letters we received on the subject of risk management:
Builder David Mehaffey wrote:
“Never thought I would see the truth in print. as one who is looking back , 80 and counting, the truth has usually been the first casualty at the airport. Hope to see more articles. God watches out for fools, he made a lot of them. I can testify to that. Take care.”
KR builder Donald January shared:
“William. I’ve always liked the saying ‘We do it right because we do it twice’. This shows me that at least the person found a mistake the first time and repaired it. Up here in the Dakotas you see a lot of scabbed together homebuilts and a lot of fools think the whole state is one huge runway. I’ve seen 150 Cessnas blasting down a gravel road for flight. I remember loading my father’s plane with chemical and having a farmer nearly walk into a turning prop. So we learned to ask the farmer to wait in his truck and the pilot will come to him for the daily spray area. You keep up the good work and hope to see you one day. Donald”
Zenith 750 Builder Dan Glaze wrote:
“Keep writing William, if your insight saves one life it will all be worth it. The following is the NTSB report from last August from my home FBO. This guy refused instruction just a week prior to killing himself, thank God nobody on the ground got hurt, Dan-o.”
NTSB Identification: CEN11FA597
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, August 25, 2011 in Heath, OH
Aircraft: Nichols Lancair 235, registration: N777BN
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. Excerpt Follows……”The experimental amateur-built airplane had accumulated 1,131 hours since being issued an airworthiness certificate on August 10, 1990. The pilot reportedly had not flown the airplane since he purchased it from the original builder on September 14, 2010. He had reportedly expressed concerns with the airplane’s ground-handling characteristics, and in the weeks preceding the accident, was seen performing several high-speed ground tests.”
Here are some updated replies on the value of cores…….
Builder Matt Lockwood wrote: Submitted on 2012/02/26 at 2:51 pm
“I would agree with the comment that these engines are widely available. My story: About 6 years ago, I paid about $100 each for two engines, but during disassembly, I found some issues with each. I then purchased another core for $75. Same thing, some problems with the case. My latest was a core I purchased for $20. Its perfect. The engines are out there. Use craigslist, and look to your local Corvair club-Matt”
Buttercup Builder Daniel Kelly, headed to Corvair College #22 writes: Submitted on 2012/02/23 at 6:34 am
Phoenix area; http://phoenix.craigslist.org/wvl/pts/2779633476.html (2 Cores for sale)
Builder Al Kruckeberg writes: Submitted on 2012/02/22 at 1:29 pm
I have had a love of Corvairs for years, infact my first car was a Corvair. My son has knows this and has been pointing out different aircraft that are Corvair powered. My response was “where are you going to find a Corvair engine to use”. This past weekend my son came home from college and brought a stack of Kit Planes magazines. I was pleasently surprised to see an article on Corvair conversions by William Wynne, and another article on a vw powered homebuilt called the Thatchercx4. This looked like a match made in heaven to me. I retired from airline flying and general aviation as a whole; inspite of holding an A&P license, twelve type ratings, and one major homebuilt project (a Questair Venture). To get to the point, I checked Craigs List for Corvairs and found several, but prices for junk cars were sky high. Out of curiosity I posted an ad under “auto parts” looking for a Corvair engine. In less than 18 hours I had my first response for a guy that had three engines in the car, and one that had been removed. He wanted $250 for a 140hp engine with the transaxle. Last night I got a call from another person offering to give me two engines if I would get them out of his way. The spark has been lit, maybe I will fly again. “Al”
Builder Brian Manlove, headed to Corvair College #22 writes: Submitted on 2012/02/22 at 2:45 am
“Core #1, Craigslist in Pennsylvania, 3 years ago, $150. It cost me more than that to have it shipped back to TX. The seller sent me photos of engine in the car, and pictures of the crankcase and head numbers, which were good. The engine was as advertised, turned over easily with a socket wrench with the plugs removed. Core #2, 3 weeks ago, again Craigslist but this time the seller was only 60 miles from my house. The seller had just pulled the engine out of a modified VW dune buggy. He wanted $200 for the engine, transaxle, and a adapter plate. The dune buggy had bottomed out on some rocks and bent 2 pushrods on one side. It had all of the oil in it. I pulled the top cover off and the crank & connecting rods all were intact and oily. The numbers were right. He sold it to me for $150 without the transaxle. When I got it home, I removed the bent pushrods and plugs and it turned over with a socket wrench just fine. On this one, the heads had already been de-flashed by someone in the past… Hopefully, it will at least furnish backups for heads & crankshaft if it turns out I need them. There are also several complete running Corvairs for sale for >= $4000 on Craigslist here, so I’d pay $4K and drive it home before I’d spend $1200 on the junk H2OLess has advertised – I looked at his eBay site and they’re not even “assembled” – Just cases with studs. I think eBay has become a trap for Corvair “flight engines” and ridiculous prices – Brian “
Builder and international man of aviation, Tom Graziano writes: Submitted on 2012/02/22 at 12:45 am
You’re spot on with your core value assessment. I’ve bought several over the years from the local junk yards, all for less than $100 each. Lots of junk yards still have Corvairs & Corvair engines. As you stated, Craigslist is a good bet for a core engine too. – Tom”
Zenith 750 builder and vetran of 4 colleges, Dan Glaze writes: Submitted on 2012/02/21 at 10:18 pm
“William, I found my core through a local CORSA club, 120.00 bucks, and very neat person that had 5 restored vairs that looked showroom new, Dan-o”
Builder Sonny Webster wrote in the letter below after reading the story on the value of cores. It is yet another reminder that Corvair engines may not be on the shelf at Wal-Mart, but they are a lot easier to find than most people first guess. I will be glad to update this story today with any other letters builders would like to write in on how they found their cores and what they paid.-ww
“One day while talking to my cousin up in the Amarillo/Lubbock area about my CH650 build I mentioned that I was looking for a Corvair motor for a conversion project. He said that he knew of a complete Corvair 500 that had been sitting out by his neighbor’s barn for as long as he had lived there, which was several years. He stopped by one day and left a note asking if they would like to sell it and the neighbor responded that for $200 my cousin could take the whole care off their hands! He thinks it is a 1968 model that was running when it was parked there. I’ve yet to get the block code to verify which motor it has but this just proves your point that there are engines out there. If you can’t find them on Craig’s List or other on-line sources you may very well find one by simply asking around. – Sonny.”
This question just came up because a guy thinking about building an aircraft engine asked it after seeing several listed on Ebay, one for over $1200. I went and looked because I thought he might have slipped a decimal place. He didn’t. One guy in South Carolina is selling several Corvair engines, listed as aircraft engine cores for very, very high prices. I don’t know the seller, because in the wonderful world of Ebay he is identified only by the email address “H20less”.
It is a free world, and people are allowed to try to sell anything they want, for what ever price they think they can get. I am not angry at the guy for trying, and neither should ‘H20less” be angry at me for telling builders that they are not worth anywhere near what he is asking. At least when I express this opinion, you get to know who is saying it.
I don’t care how much people sell other things on Ebay for, it isn’t my concern. The reason why this is an issue is two-fold, first I treat people building Corvair flight engines as if they are friends of mine. We run a business, but it isn’t aimed at seeing how much money we can take from people at an auction, it is just aimed at teaching people how to build engines and selling them the parts to do this at a good value. Every single person with a running Corvair aircraft engine would tell anyone about to pay $1200 for a core, or $450 for that matter, that they are about to spend way too much money. The second issue I have is that a guy like this has a vested interest in justifying his price by creating the impression that these engines are hard to find, which they are not. As evidence that they are still easy to find, reading the ad closely, it states that he just bought all of these engines and is reselling them. That tells you they can be found, and I am sure he paid a lot closer to the realistic core value of $150-$250. We still have lots of builders who buy their core for $100.
The place where most builders find their core today is Craigslist. If you don’t know how this works, google search the term and look at the city near you and search the word Corvair. Craigslist is a giant on-line service that works just like the classified ads in newspapers. It is localized, because you don’t really need to know that a guy in Auckland NZ is selling something that a guy 30 miles away is also selling. It isn’t a game like auction of hidden prices like Ebay either.It is just ads for people selling things. The best part is that you can run an ad stating what you are looking for, people in your area will read it and contact you. This second method is how 50% of the builders who got started last year picked up their core. I polled them at Oshkosh last year, and the average price they paid was less than $100. For all we know, they guy selling the stuff on Ebay used Craigslist to buy it. Ask any of your friends if they have bought things on Craigslist and you may be suprised who much stuff is sold there. I bought our trailer, my motorcycle and many Corvair engines off Craigslist. The cost of each of these was far below the loest price I had ever seen any of them sell for on Ebay. One more thing, Craigslist is free. If you’re looking at a core, a conversion manual and a disassembly DVD from us are good tools. Even if your yet to get these, you can still write me and ask about a core you are looking at. I will gladly answer, because I don’t want to have any builder, a person who I regard as a friend, get started off on the wrong foot by paying way to much for a core engine. – William
My buddy Chris is working on a glider rating down in Pierson, Fla. The place is a little grass strip in central Florida known for a fair amount of glider activity. There are two clubs and about 15 gliders based there. On the weekends, it’s a busy place with the Pawnee tow plane working all day.
About a month ago Chris was down at Pierson in the middle of the week. He was surprised to find a group of very bright high school students mixed in with the regulars. After asking around, it turned out that the students were from a number of different Florida high schools, and they were getting exposed to all different aspects of the aerospace world to encourage them to seek out degrees in aerospace engineering. Chris said they were very bright and easy to be around, obviously outstanding kids. It is the kind of program that anyone who loves aviation likes to see, but we might not be the first in line if they asked for volunteers to devote a lot of time to it.
Chris struck up a conversation with one of the adults in the party, a nondescript guy wearing a polo shirt with a name tag that just said “Rich”. The guy said he really liked doing something positive if he could, and the thought of coming out to fly in the old Schweitzer 2-33 seemed like a lot of fun.
A 2-33 is the Cessna 172 of gliders. It has absolutely no bad habits, and it is the ubiquitous trainer that almost everyone starts in. Like a 172, the plane doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Advanced glider pilots can be terrible elitist snobs about the machines they operate, and many of these guys will try to tell you how cool their European glass sailplanes are by contrasting them with rugged old 2-33s with their metal wings. All types of flying have a minority element that practices this sort of bull, and you have to learn to ignore it when you run into it. For the most part, the people who practice it are pretty harmless, but as a Schweitzer owner, I will attest that some of the most vociferous elements of the glass glider people are refered to as “the wine and cheese crowd.”
While Chris and this guy Rich are talking and waiting for another round with the 2-33, a well-meaning and extroverted member of the glass glider people came over to welcome them to Pierson. The guy wasted little time in getting to the real public service section of his monologue, that flying any metal glider was hardly worth the tow plane’s gas, and perhaps it was a big mistake to expose the kids to the 2-33 because it was going to turn them off to sailplanes. Chris said the guy went on for a while with this angle.
At some point, this guy Rich said that he thought that metal gliders were just fine. He had flown one from the 1980s, and it worked for him. Chris said this really set the glass guy off, and Mr. Glass said a couple of things like “When you know more about flying, you will realize….” and gave a long-winded explanation of the L/D ratio. In the middle of this, Chris leaned over and asked Rich quietly what make the glider he had flown was. Rich, who was smiling and nodding like he was listening to Mr. Glass, quietly answered Chris with one word, “Rockwell.” Evidently the glass guy never heard this and kept right on going.
When Chris got home he looked at the computer to confirm what he suspected. Turns our that Rich’s last name is Searfoss and he has some very interesting glider experience working for NASA.
Above, Astronaut Richard Searfoss, veteran of three space flights, one as shuttle pilot, one as mission commander.
Above: Chris Welsh and I in my workshop in 2008. In Chris’ hand is a photo, reproduced below. I’ve known Chris since 1990. We were roommates at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He is an expert in heavy aircraft. His job is working as a structures guy for Grumman on E-2Ds and F-5s. Since graduating from Riddle with an A&P license and management degree in 1994, Chris has worked a number of interesting jobs as varied as DC-10 cargo conversions and instructing at Colorado Aero-Tech.
Blast From The Past circa Winter 1993: Look closely at the photo: It’s Chris with much longer hair. At the time, his daily driver was a ’67 Beetle. He’s holding its hood ornament in this photo. In the foreground, a corrosion damaged Corvair case roasts in a roaring fire. I shot this photo in the backyard of 1235 International Speedway Blvd., a 1907 two-story coquina stone house that a number of us rented during our five years at Embry Riddle. It was the end of a semester, and we were blowing off steam with a backyard party highlighted by a bonfire fueled by Corvair magnesium blower fans. The case and a pile of heads ended up as a little puddle by daylight. You can’t judge what people will do in aviation by the length of their hair when they are 20.
I wrote this about a year ago. It was an explanation of how I came to the point of being vocally intolerant of foolish people in aviation, and an explanation to a new pilot of how anyone can recognize and avoid fools. I wrote it in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep after too much coffee. We live in a very rural area, and it’s dead silent in the middle of the night. It’s conducive to thinking about the things that you put out of your mind in the busy daylight hours. If you’re in a hurry, this will seem long. Leave it until you have more time, you will be closer to the mindset I was in when I wrote it.
I received some private e-mails in the past couple days. Two of these stuck out as perhaps worthy of slightly broader discussion. The first e-mail could be boiled down to the question ‘when did you become such an opinionated bastard?’ The second e-mail came from a guy who is new to experimental aviation, and had only made enough flights in general aviation aircraft to understand that he really liked it. His main point was that there was no real guidance for green guys on exactly what to do at the airport. He felt the standards for what is safe and what is not, and what might be interpreted as foolish by experienced aviators, were not spelled out nor defined. He was not so much concerned with how he looked, but whether something he might be doing unknowingly could be unsafe to himself or others. These two different letters can actually be addressed under a common theme. I’ll address the subject of each letter separately, and work to tie together a little bit at the end. I would like people to consider it, but in the long run use it as a starting point for developing or evolving your own values on the topic.
For a long time I have said the bitterest lesson I have ever learned in aviation was a fairly simple one. Fools are dangerous. From the very beginning of my time at Embry Riddle this was drilled into our heads by serious men. This was not ivory tower textbook theory. It wasn’t trade magazine statistics. It was our Department Chair telling you something important he knew from more than 100 A-4 missions in Vietnam. It was our regulations instructor talking about the guy in front of him walking into a propeller of an E-2C. It was our aerodynamics instructor explaining the right seat view from a B-52 when you’re about to have a midair collision with a tanker. It was the hydraulics instructor who was missing a finger, explaining about a guy mindlessly moving a lever in the cockpit without thinking about who was working in the nacelle.
The last story hinted at something ironic I was only later to fully understand. Yes, idiots are dangerous, but in aviation for very odd reasons that can defy logic and are hard to explain, the fools often do their damage but walk away comparatively unscathed. None of our instructors fully explained this last part for students. To amend things that they taught me, things I would like to share with you, I would like to spell this point out. Way back then, I was not a bastard. I had a live and let live attitude. I figured I didn’t have enough experience to speak up when others were doing idiotic things. Peer pressure, and the observation that idiots who broke the rules on a weekly basis were still alive after a few decades, conspired to erode the hardest edges of my standards. These factors worked their magic to keep my mouth shut, to go along with the gang a little bit, and even do a little flying with people I shouldn’t have. A number of events changed this.
In the early 1990s I was working at my friend Jim’s hangar at Spruce Creek. A guy from our EAA Chapter who had not flown his experimental in many years was out by the runway running it up. A part of this guy wanted to be young again, airborne, flying. The other part told him that the door had closed and the sun had set on that part of his days. A group of guys stood around him and goaded him into taking off. Jim had not been part of this but he was standing off to the side. Jim was a known aviator there and a physically big person. There were actions he could have taken. He later told me that he wanted to step forward, tell all the spectators to shut up, and tell the pilot to go back to his hangar. He wanted to do this, but he did not.
The man took off and was never fully in control of the plane. He flew around the pattern a couple of times, did a few approaches that were agonizing to watch, and then crash landed. He lived, but he hit his face on the panel, and bled terribly. I sat with Jim in his hangar that afternoon. He was distraught over his failure to act. I got a real good look at the price of peer pressure. Jim’s own brother had been killed in a plane crash. You didn’t need to be a genius to understand that Jim had asked himself a million times what he could’ve done or said that would’ve affected his brother’s fate 25 years before. On that day irony served him another chance, and he had not taken it. It was a hard thing to watch, perhaps uglier than the day’s accident. This was the first time I can clearly say I understood the cost of keeping your mouth shut. This was the first step to me becoming the kind of “Bastard” who publicly points out people doing dangerous things.
If you really want to understand the depth of my hatred for stupid people around airplanes you can go to YouTube and search the words “Titusville plane crash kills two” and you can join 359,970 other people, mostly ghouls, who have seen the remnants of our friends Phil Schact and Bill Hess burning to death.
I could write a lot of stories, but none of them would come very close to explaining much about what made Phil or Bill great guys. Here’s a small try: Phil was a career pilot, and airline man, an aerobatics instructor and a regional aerobatic champion. He is a relentlessly positive guy. He was selling an antique aircraft for $25,000. He had a serious offer $24,000. Phil hears that there’s a young woman at the airport who’s been taught to fly by old school pilots. She is thinking about buying a plane, looking at some spam cans. Phil goes over, meets her, takes her flying and explains that she should really go after a different type of plane. He conveys to her that she has great promise as a pilot, and should keep working at it. Phil finds out that her total savings is $19,871. In an act of kindness that was characteristic of how he lived his life, Phil forgoes the higher offer and sells the airplane to the young woman for the balance in her savings account. It is an act that changes the trajectory of her life. The aircraft is 1946 Taylorcraft. The woman he sold the airplane to was named Grace. Today, I am married to her.
On the last morning of their lives, Bill and Phil got in Bill’s RV-8 and flew 40 miles down to Titusville for a fly-in breakfast. They were consummate pilots, maybe 40,000 hours between the two of them. They landed and taxied well clear of the runway. They were sitting about 150 feet off the center line on a taxiway on the far end of the runway. Enter the idiot, flying a Velocity with an older gentleman who built it. It is later told in some detail, that this younger pilot is a first-class fool. He is from Europe, has come to the United States because flying here is cheap. He has no respect for the rules, he always flys straight in approaches. No one can understand him on the radio, and he does not listen to others, nor does he look for traffic. When spoken to about this, he is smug and does not care. On this particular day, his straight in approach cuts off several aircraft in the pattern.
He lands the Velocity hard enough to break off the nose gear and it sheds part of the winglet. At this point he’s over 2,000 feet from hitting the RV-8. All he has to do is pull the power off and slide to a halt. Instead he decides he’s going to try to fly away. This does not work, his plane crashes, slides off the runway and collides with the RV-8. I was not there that day. But I have spoken to an acquaintance who watched Bill and Phil die from 100 feet away. After a few days in the hospital, the passenger in the Velocity died also. Upon his release from the hospital the pilot flees the country. After the accident, a number of people said that they had wished they had called the FAA on the pilot for his earlier transgressions. We are not talking about simple mistakes, we’re talking about a complete disrespect for procedures and other people’s safety that paved a highway to this accident. But most people don’t want to be called a bastard, so no one did. I can’t be mad at them for it, they were only giving in to the same peer pressure that I used to.
I have never turned anybody into the FAA, and I don’t view it is my job to do so. In aviation, my little neighborhood is Corvair engine building. I’m not concerned with the overall issues in aviation concerning the actions of fools. All I am concerned with is fools who wish to take up residence in our neighborhood. I am an individualist by nature. I think people should be allowed to do pretty much anything they want. Most people tend to add the phrase here “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Often what they mean is “as long as I don’t find it offensive.” I don’t care if people are offensive, it isn’t a crime in my book. However, if you advocate things that I know from experience stand a good chance of harming somebody else, I’m going to talk about it, even if this leads to some people thinking of me as a bastard. I am not really smart, nor am I particularly self-aware, but I have absolutely learned in life that I am far better off having people dislike me for my tone or my approach than I am hating myself for something I should have done or said.
If you are new to the world of homebuilding, and maybe even flying, here’s something that you may not suspect: you’re actually in an excellent position to avoid the actions of fools. Compared to the general aviation pilots who are starting their flight lessons down at the local FBO mill, you have many distinct advantages. Down there, you take the first polyester clad flying prodigy they assign you as an instructor. You’re flying a worn-out airplane, that they can hardly afford to keep going. Their mechanic is paid a wage that precludes him from living in a double wide trailer. The student enters a system that takes no consideration of who he is or what he wants out of flying. Whatever the intention of the FBO owner when starting out, a lot of these operations devolve to a poorly disguised system of draining your bank account into theirs. It’s very important to understand that such settings attract and tolerate idiots. Nobody wants to upset the system. Whatever ambitions they had of higher standards have long ago been worn away.
Homebuilding can be just as bad, but it doesn’t have to be. You can make it any way that you want to. In this case, you’re going to be the aircraft manufacturer, and the engine manufacturer also. You have time to seek out intelligent qualified people for your further learning. Building an engine can teach you a lot about whose advice you take, and who you don’t listen to. This phase can be done while you’re still safely on the ground. If you set your standards very high, you will attract other people who take flying seriously.
Aviation works just like life, quality people tend to gravitate towards the same setting, and dirt bags tend to collect where the standards are low enough that they don’t stick out. In homebuilding you control the entire show. After the plane is done, you’re going to be the director of maintenance, the chief of flight operations, scheduling, dispatching, and the chief financial officer. It’s a beautiful system where you’re entirely in control of things that you normally have to resign to others. To me this is at the heart of what is captivating about homebuilding. The process is an opportunity, but not a guaranteed transformation. If there is a guy in your local EAA Chapter who doesn’t really strike you as the human personification of self-reliance and self-actualization through homebuilding, yet he has completed an airplane, it isn’t the process’ fault. If you are new to homebuilding, do not judge the potential of the experience by looking at people who merely went through the motions, ended up with the plane, learned the minimum amount, etc. The greatest dad ever and a guy who made a deposit at a sperm bank are both technically involved in fatherhood. Only the former understands the rewards of the experience.
I would be doing new guys disservice if I didn’t clearly say that Bill and Phil’s accident was the freak occurrence of an idiot harming somebody who was not in his immediate vicinity. In general it is plenty of protection to not take advice from nor fly with idiots. There are rare occurrences their range is further, but for the most part if you give them up wide berth and don’t listen to them you’ll do okay.
If you have not spent much time in airports, the basic rules are pretty simple: Pay attention to what’s going on; don’t talk on your cell phone or walk around with your head somewhere else; don’t drive your car on the runway, taxiways or parking aprons; don’t smoke around airplanes or in hangars; do not interrupt people who are pre-flighting airplanes or engaged in intensive maintenance. Introduce yourself before you ask a question, and if you do ask, make sure that you listen to the answer. If you’re addicted to looking at your smart phone, leave it in the car. Most older aviators take it as a sign of real disrespect if you glance to your phone the whole time they’re talking to you. Spend twice as much time listening as talking. If someone specifically tells you not to do something, don’t do it. This is all that it takes to blend in at 90% of the airports in America.
There are a couple of obvious character traits in people who I like to steer clear of when it comes to planes. I only fly with people I know fairly well; I will not get in an airplane that a guy pre-flighted while he was talking on his cell phone. I stay away from people who are in a big rush at the airport. These people often don’t have the time for a preflight, a mag check or taxiing to the downwind and to the runway. I will not speak to a person who knowingly does downwind takeoffs or landings to shorten the distance to his parking spot. I have nothing to do with people who brag about having their annual inspections or biennial flight reviews pencil whipped. I don’t fly with pilots who do things that are forbidden in capital letters in the pilots operating handbook (Example: slipping a 172 with the flaps down). I’ve never taken a flight lesson of any kind with an instructor who couldn’t tell me what condition achieves the minimum turn radius in any aircraft ( Maneuvering speed, bank angle increased until the plane reaches its positive G limit, full power.) I stay away from pilots who say things like “this plane has a bad glide ratio when it’s heavily loaded” (aircraft of the same glide ratio and gross weight glide as they do lightly loaded) I steer clear of people who offer testimonials on flight characteristics planes they never sat in (“Republic Seabees glide like bricks” ), avoid people who are poor listeners or openly brag about things that they have gotten away with.
The above paragraph might describe 20% of the people in airports. That’s okay, I don’t need to pal around with everyone. If you’re new to aviation, spend some time observing people and develop your own set of values. Be discriminating. If you’re new you have no track record, then you’re a thoroughbred as far as anybody’s concerned, and the only way that is changed is if you spend a lot of time with fools and idiots and let them turn you into one. If you believe this is possible, then the corollary is also possible. You can choose to spend your time with skilled, competent, aviators and let their experience and your hard work turn you into one yourself.
Below is a freshly built 3,000cc Corvair running in front of our hangar. We built it for Zenith CH-750 builder Lary Hatfield. Grace and I met Lary and his sons at the 2011 Zenith Open House in Mexico, Missouri. The Hatfields were taking the Zenith Builders Workshop and picking up their airframe kit. They got a good look at all the engine options for the aircraft, considered carefully and selected the Corvair. Lary acknowledged that each of the engine options for the 750 had some appeal, but our knowledge of the engine, our 23 years in the business, the number of Zeniths flying on the Corvair, and the fundamental simplicity of our approach made the decision for him.
The economic appeal of the engine that attracts many people was not a factor. Lary speaks with a lot of fatherly pride about his sons’ hard work ethics and their personal successes. Although he never mentioned it, I am guessing that Lary could afford any engine on the market. Lary and his sons have a very strong aviation background. When men of this experience and means study the options closely and select the Corvair, I take it as a compliment to our efforts. When we first started, the Corvair was seen as a low cost alternative for people economically excluded from hand-me-down certified engines. After two decades of development, testing, flying and teaching, the Corvair has now evolved to a top tier engine, a first choice powerplant.
Above: The engine during its first break in run. We operate it between 1,800 and 2,200 rpm for 30 minutes. The primary purpose is to break in the cam and lifters. We only use Shell Rotella 15W-40 oil for this, and we use an additive called ZDDP. We do the break in with slightly conservative timing, and run the engine on 93 unleaded fuel to avoid having lead deposits in the engine if it is going to be stored for a while before it is flown. In the presence of moisture, the byproducts of combustion from 100LL fuel can be corrosive over time. You can see that the run stand is chained down to an 800 pound concrete block we cast into the lawn next to the ramp. The only thing visible on the block is a 1/2″-20 threaded bolt hole. It is actually the balancer end of a scrap Corvair crank that we cast into the block. It’s not likely to be uprooted any time soon.