Fuel Injected Corvairs

Note to readers coming from the Cub Crafters site: This information is not directly applicable to Lycomings. The 6% power increase came from a major change in the intake configuration, not from the EFI. Look at 360 Lycomings; Yes most of the ones with a carb are 180HP and most of the injection are 200HP, a 10% gain, but this is ignoring the fact that the 200HP models (the -As and -Cs) have a very different angle valve head and a tuned induction system. Note that the 360s that just change from a carb to injection, (the -B series) remain at 180hp. There is no magic power in FI.  Also note that all Corvairs in the last decade all have electronic ignition. If a Lycoming has a perfect set of mags and they are replaced with electronic ignition, there is no reason to expect a measurable peak power increase.  The far easier way to get a small power increasein almost any motor without adding any complexity is to turn it slightly faster. -ww.



Here are some notes and photos of five fuel injection systems for the Corvair. The first three are electronic systems, the latter two are mechanical injection. Fuel injection is a topic that many builders ask about.  I think a lot of the interest is generated by the awareness that high performance certified aircraft have mechanical fuel injection. A number of builders have learned that these systems are comparatively immune to carb ice. Beyond this, very few people have a good concept of the pros and cons of these systems vs. carbs. Even guys who know a fair amount about engines often miss important realities about the applications of these systems. This post gives a general overview, and covers details that are rarely discussed when builders bring up the topic of injection.

Electronic injection is the type of system that modern cars use. There have been a number of auto engine conversions that came from cars that had EFI that have gone on to fly in planes, and some suppliers to certified engines are just starting to look at EFIs fitted to Lycomings. What gives modern cars good mileage, long plug life, low emissions, etc.,  is the ability of the EFI system to operate in closed loop mode. It does this almost all the time the car is cruising down the road. When it is not doing  this, it is operating in “open loop mode” and falling back on the computer’s pre-programmed data that says ‘at 3150 rpm and 26.5″ MAP squirt in so much  fuel.’ In open loop, much of the advantage of EFI disappears. Up to here,  what I have typed falls into the category of  “Lots of people know this.”  Here is  the corollary only a few people understand.

In aircraft applications, the EFI systems almost never operate in closed loop. If you are going to cruise your aircraft at 75% power, it will spend its whole time in open loop. This is true with liquid cooled engines, but  really true with air cooled ones. Very few engines run with air fuel ratios of  14.7 to 1 at high power settings. They mostly run 12 to 1, or richer, and  O2 sensors have a hard time getting the loop to close at rich ratios. Sure,  there are exceptions to this, like wide band sensors, but you really cannot  compare a made at home system to a 2007 Corvette with perfectly tuned knock  sensors, 1 million lines of code in memory, and the ability to look at  individual cylinder exhaust pulses as they pass the O2 sensor. Even still,  GM knew that 75% sustained power in the Vette would be about 155mph, and the car  would spend .002 percent of its life there, so it’s OK if it is in open loop at that point.

After CC #9, I got Mark from Falcon to walk over to Jann Eggenfelner’s hangar. Jann is the king of Subarus, and like it or not, most people concede that he has flown more different types of EFI than anyone else. I know him  fairly well, and he is very smart, and unbelievably tenacious. With Mark’s OEM background and Jann’s flight experience, they had a very detailed high speed  data exchange. The recurring point that Jann kept coming back to is that no system, including the Subaru OEM stuff, will reliably operate in closed loop at aircraft power settings. In open loop, EFI begins to look like a very complex, high pressure, electrically dependent carburetor.

Above, the EFI 2,700cc Corvair built by Mark at FalconMachine.net in 2007, at power on my dyno. The urethane wheel directly reads foot pounds of torque off the digital scale. Note that this engine is using headers with collectors. We also tested it with cast iron manifolds and mufflers. It has distributorless ignition. Six LS1 coils are mounted on the sides of the black airbox. After a lot of careful calibration runs, this engine achieved a 6 percent power increase over a carbureted Corvair. Merely saying this will certainly activate the keyboards of armchair EFI experts, but it’s simple measured facts. Before questioning the test methodology or results, consider that Mark has earned his living with these systems for the past 20 years and the instrumentation included such niceties as a $500 laboratory grade digital oxygen sensor. Anyone who says that adding EFI to an engine like a Corvair will add 30% more power is just making their information up. The system above was tested a number of hours but was not flown. The controller on this was a Tracy Crook unit. This engine was equipped with equal length intake runners. It was laid out to fit in a 601/650 cowl.

 This is a redundant ignition, electronically fuel injected, fifth bearing, 2,700cc test engine built by Roy at RoysGarage.com in 2007.  It features coil on plug technology and throttle body injectors along with a rear mounted 40A alternator. It is mounted on Roy’s 701. It was run and tested, but not flown. Roy also has extensive experience with digital EFI systems. This provided good data, but in the end, Roy thought about the complexity he was applying to a very simple aircraft and chose to finish the aircraft with a simple gravity feed carb instead.

My thesis on EFI in 5 simple points:
1) Any system that uses lower pressure fuel is less likely to leak. Gravity is better than 5 psi, and 5 psi is better than 40. EFI runs at high pressure.

2) Any system that uses no electricity is better than one that uses  a little, and one that uses a little is better than one that uses a  lot, especially if the one that uses a lot needs it to be a  certain voltage, like digital EFI.

3) Any system that has less parts and connections is less likely to  fail. Digital electronic connections, working at low voltages, are very sensitive  to corrosion, temperature and vibration, things planes produce more than newer cars.

4) Almost all the things that EFI advocates hope for, HP increase, smoothness, fuel efficiency, and reliability, will prove elusive or minimal.  Before debating this, seek out a single flying system that will go into a closed loop in cruise flight. Realize that monitoring voltage and fuel pressure is not a work load reduction from using carb heat.

5) The only good reason to work on an EFI Corvair is because you want  a challenge, and this is more important than finishing your plane soon. This is  a valid position, and I support anyone who knowingly makes it.

Let me introduce a man who personifies point number 5, Rex Johnston. As far as I know, Rex is the first guy to ever fly an EFI system on a Corvair powered aircraft. This makes him someone special, because there were a lot of hurdles to jump over. His Corvair powered plane is a Davis DA-2, a sporty little two-seat sheet metal aircraft. Rex’s work is an outstanding example of building to meet a challenge that you personally feel. He was not after some illusive performance goal, he was just looking to challenge himself and learn a lot. Hats off to Rex.

Above, the underside of Rex’s plane. His system is a Holley Projection throttle body unit, that Holley originally sold for 258cid Jeeps. Rex’s  engine is a 3,100cc Corvair. Notice that it still has carb heat. A project like this isn’t for everyone. It takes significant experience building to be able to develop and flight test a complex set of systems like this.

The standard for aircraft injection are mechanical systems. These use no computers, they work entirely on a balance of pressures and flows. They meter fuel very accurately, and offer instant throttle response. They typically operate at 25 psi, somewhat lower than EFI. Unlike EFI, they are not sensitive to fuel pressure changes, and they do not need an external pressure regulator. By design, they are always operating in open loop mode. Because these systems have been used on aircraft for half of the history of powered flight, they are fully understood and developed.

The above photo shows an Airflow Performance mechanical fuel injector specifically calibrated for the Corvair. For size reference, a core Stromberg carb is at top left in the photo. Below it is the gold flow divider. One of the installation advantages of mechanical injection is the extremely small calibrated nozzles. Packaging six electronic injectors that will fit in a tight cowl is challenging. Mechanical injectors have an 1/8″ pipe thread on the bottom and are roughly 1/4 the size of electronic injectors. Airflow performance is owned by Don Rivera, a very smart guy who has owned and driven land-based Corvairs. This system is made in the U.S. The parts for this system cost over $3000.  Corvair builder Sarah Ashmore is putting one of these on her Personal Cruiser airframe. Her heads were modified for the injectors by Mark at Falcon. She works in the aerospace industry and made the choice to equip her aircraft with a system that met her specific goals.

Above is a photo of a Precision mechanical fuel injector.  The pictured unit is a port injector, but they also make a very compact unit that has the same quality, but has just one injector built into the body of the unit. The system does not require any modifications to the Corvair’s heads or intake, as the unit bolts onto the same flange as an aircraft carb. Peter Nielson of precisionairmotive.com is our engineering rep who has supplied us with a test unit, which we are now testing on a 3,000cc Corvair. This system is about $2,500. Precision knows quality, as they produce parts for and service certified fuel systems. We will release more data as we move through the tests. We are planning on flight testing this on Woody Harris’ 601, and Dan Weseman is planning on using the aerobatic capability of the system on the prototype of his new Corvair powered design, the Panther.

Today, 99.75% of Corvair powered planes use carbs. However, I think the Corvair is a good platform for fuel injection, and there are a small number of airframe applications that could really benefit from a fuel injection system. While there has always been a lot of talk about EFI, only a rare few clever and persistent builders like Rex Johnston will see the project through. I personally feel that the mechanical systems offer the best reliability and most proven track record, having flown in many demanding settings on other engines. As always, the proof and the progress is in the hands of the builders, the people In The Arena.

Thank you,


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