Zenith 601XL-2,850cc, Woody Harris

Friends,

I had a chance to speak with Woody Harris on the phone late last night. He spent some time telling me about the flying he had done lately in his Zenith, but he also spoke of other aviators he had met and flown with and that he had just bought a set of plans after getting to know an experimental aviation stalwart, Callbie Wood. Woody also told me about his new hangar nearing completion on a small airpark in northern California. If you were listening to Woody and didn’t know his background, you might think he had been in aviation for 50 years, a real old school guy. But that is an illusion, Woody has been around aircraft for only 5 years. Even knowing Woody very well, I often forget that he arrived recently.  There is a good lesson here: If it is worth doing, Woody immerses himself, he gets in and stands In The Arena. It isn’t his nature to sit on the sidelines and watch the game.

I know guys who have been thinking about doing something for more than 10 years. They have read all the stuff I have written, we have talked about it, and a big part of them would like to have the adventures Woody is having. Most of these guys have much more time in their lives and more funds than Woody. Some inner message tells these guys to hold back. They were not born with this attitude of reluctance, someone taught it to them along the way. Some one subtly sent them the B.S. message that they “were not good with their hands”; taught them to worry about what other people would think; told them they weren’t good pilot material; simply, they weren’t worth the investment, that their place was on the sidelines watching the action.

If someone sent Woody these messages, they never stuck. If I had a time machine I would go back and restart all the reluctant guys with a pure positive attitude. The only real option is to start today, and replace all the negativity with positive experience, and really come to understand that Woody is just like you. You are entitled, by virtue of just being an individual, to the same adventures he is having. If someone hasn’t said this to you, let me make it clear: Flying a basic aircraft safely is a skill that anyone can learn.  Building planes and engines that are reliable is something that anyone can learn. For various reasons, none of them good, some people like to pretend that you have to be Chuck Yeager to fly a basic homebuilt, and that you have to be a Northrop master craftsman to build a safe plane. Both of these are false, and if you buy into either, you’re letting someone escort you off the field, to a seat in the spectator section. Yes, building a plane is a challenge. Yes, flying your plane is a great and liberating milestone in life. But these rewards belong to anyone who rejects the negativity and fears, any builder who puts in the hours and wants to learn the skills. I am speaking from experience here; for a number of years I bought into some of the B.S. that says aviation is for special people with “talent” or “gifts.”  I only started making real progress when I rejected that kind of thinking. To this day, when I encounter that kind of attitudes, stories or writing, I quietly repeat the mantra “F.T.S.” (For polite people, think of this as “Forget that stuff.”)

Woody spent years building and racing cars at an international level. He probably learned a lot of the stuff a bit faster than a person with little or no mechanical experience. This doesn’t matter, you’re not in a competition with Woody or anyone else. You’re only measuring yourself against how you will feel if you let another year slip by, loosen the grip on your dreams a little more. Any step in the correct direction of putting you in the center of your life is progress against drifting away like that. Just as negativity is contagious, so is being positive. I have always done much better when I spent my time with guys like Woody and actively worked at having no contact or exposure to negative people. This means attending events like Corvair Colleges and making positive friends, while ceasing to listen to people who think planes are all dangerous, and reading negative comments on the Net.

Below is a photo series that I have taken from our main page, FlyCorvair.com. (This blog is FlyCorvair.net.) I have gathered it here to put it in one place. Because they happened over time, they appeared on our FlyCorvair.com pages in many different months on the “At The Hangar” updates. The latest photos are now 6 months old, but they are still a good read. Woody is sending in more soon and we will put them up here. I have left the original notes with the photos, but I have added some current notes in blue.

Thanks you. 

William


Woody Harris’ ZenVair #18, N743WH, taking off on its maiden flight at 0733 PST February 27, 2008.
Our man on the West Coast, Woody Harris of Vacaville, Calif., ecstatically reported that he enjoyed the first flight February 27, 2008, pictured above, of his Corvair powered 601 XL. Using the 601 XL quick build kit and All Our Installation Components, he finished it in a little over a year. Woody has a very busy schedule, which includes running his high performance automotive shop, auto racing, co-hosting two West Coast Corvair College Events, flying Rick Lindstrom’s ZenVair 601 XL (as featured in Kit Planes magazine) from Florida to California, and being a good husband and father, as one of his daughters got married in the past year as well. This shows you Woody knows how to use time well, and also demonstrates that a 601 quick build kit is one of the fastest to assemble that we know of. Choosing a Corvair to power it does not add a major time component to the construction of the aircraft.

Here, Woody Harris works on his installed engine. It is a standard 2,700cc with Falcon Heads that Woody built himself using all of our Conversion parts. While our customers build very good engines in general, most of them have small details which, while not affecting airworthiness, leave them slightly short of the Engines we build in our shop. This is to be expected as we’re professionals, and our amateurs do an outstanding job for first time builders. With this understood, I’ll say that Woody’s engine is the closest customer built example I’ve seen to matching our production engines. His engine had ARP case and head studs, and a very high level of finish. It may have been two different colors, but it’s only one level of quality: Excellent. (The above photo was taken at Corvair College #11 in California a few months before Woody’s first flight. His first engine was  2,700cc. He later added a Dan bearing and upgraded to 2,850cc pistons and cylinders.)

Woody is a very outgoing and modest builder. When I first spoke with him I asked him what he did for a living, and he told me, “I work on cars.” Something inside told me he didn’t change oil on Toyotas at Jiffy Lube. On the visit to California, we passed through his MSI shop, a high end tune up and road racecar import operation. It’s the first shop I’ve seen in a while with a chassis dyno built into the floor. Amongst the racecars, mechanics, slicks and lifts are mementos from decades of all out effort at tracks from coast to coast. (The first time I hung out with Woody we went to the Performance Racing Industry trade show. I had a hint that he knew a lot about racing when we walked past the Cosworth display and everyone knew him on a first name basis.)


A head on view of Woody’s N743WH taxiing in from its first flight.
The 601XL is an outstanding packaging of a very roomy cockpit, a fairly sleek airframe in a very buildable package. The narrow 28″ width of the Corvair and our Low Profile Nosebowl and 601 Cowling Kit complement this.


Christening
Woody, above left, and his friend Steve celebrate with cigars and Piper Heidsieck champagne after the first flight. Woody has had a lifetime of achievements in the world of motorsports that the rest of us only dream of. Yet he still rates flying an airplane that you built yourself as a landmark event in life.

This is the output side of the turbocharger that we will be using on the turbo engine. Note that it has an integrated wastegate. This is a common feature on modern car turbos. However, almost no modern car turbo has the capability of being used in a drawthrough application, which is a highly desirable format for aircraft use. It took us a long time to find an expert on turbos who could properly fabricate a modern turbo, appropriately sized for our application, with a carbon seal. (Eventually, Woody’s plane will be retrofitted with this turbo. The 2,850 is the best engine for turbocharging, as it intentionally has a lower static compression ratio than a 2,700cc engine.)

This Exhaust System is built out of 321 stainless. Its future home is on Woody Harris’ 601 XL. Woody just completed a 66 flight-hour circumnavigation of the United States.  He will be retrofitting his 2,850 cc engine with a turbocharger. This is the engine half of the exhaust system, and it was built in my jigs. Our regular Exhaust Systems are built out of 304 stainless, which is extremely durable and fairly resistant to heat flow. 321 is the alloy of choice for Turbo Systems, as it withstands elevated temperatures even better. Notice how the one pipe crosses underneath the engine to go over and meet with the other before heading into the Turbo. After thorough testing, we may offer this as an option to a handful of builders who have need for it. It is worth noting, however, that naturally aspirated Corvair powered 601s with 2,700 cc engines have exceeded 17,000’ and have little problem with density altitudes over 14,000 feet. People building a Zenith today can continue to work with it knowing from Woody’s example that the Turbo system is intended as a later retrofit for an existing flying aircraft.

In the above photo, Woody Harris’ 2,850cc Zenith 601B sits at the end of the ramp in North Carolina at First Flight Airport with the Wright Brothers Monument in the background. This brings his aircraft to the end of his first leg of a coast-to-coast and return flight. I believe that this is a pretty classy way for Dad to show up at his daughter’s house on the East Coast. Although Woody has spent a lifetime in the mechanical world predominantly driving race cars in both Europe and America, it’s worth noting that he’s been in aviation less than five years. While he certainly would have thought of it before, it was at the urging of his daughter who is an ATP, that he explore some adventures in flying. I mention this because if you’re out there reading this and you’re thinking that you might be too late in the game to have your own adventures, you’re quite wrong. If you don’t have a pilots license, you have never built an airplane before, and you’re 63 years old, you are at the exact spot where Woody was four years ago. Yes his mechanical background gave him a leg up, but it plays a smaller role than most people suspect. His determined character and his quest to learn new things were much bigger factors in his favor. If you had been standing next to me at Oshkosh when Woody arrived, and watched him hop out of the airplane and talk for 4 minutes straight about the previous days flying, including sentences like “We timed it perfectly because Old Faithful went off just as we flew by,” you would note that all the hours that you’re putting in your shop are well worth the adventures that lie in your future. Go out there tonight and get one evening closer to writing the same chapter in your own story that Woody has written in his. (I have Woody looking into his logbooks, but I am pretty sure he has flown a Corvair powered plane in more states than any other person. I don’t bring this up as a point of competition, I just want builders at home to understand that with good judgement and training, you can go a long way, even if you have not yet written in the 500th hour in your logbook.)

James Stockdale – Philosophy

Friends,

Aviation has always attracted its share of adventurers, but it has also seen a good number of people who lived by a personal code that made their lives and actions stand out in history.  I have made a point studying the lives of these men, reading most of the available works on them. There is much to be gained by understanding their  perspectives, ethics and philosophy.  Although I have read the biographies of several hundred aviators in the past 25 years, I can say without hesitation that James Stockdale had the most impressive personal code of all.

Above, Stockdale’s official USN photo. The blue ribbon supports the Congressional Medal of Honor.

More or less, anyone can be said to have some code of personal conduct. The majority of people have a very flexible set of personal guidelines, bendable enough when combined with a little hypocrisy to ease their path through the day. Many people who do have a firm code have the luxury of never needing to demonstrate a fidelity to it. Others are tested only once, for a short moment in their lives. James Stockdale not only lived by a very demanding code, he spent 2,700 days in the Hanoi Hilton living up to it. It is hard to think of another man in aviation whose personal philosophy was put to such a test.

There is an important distinction here. Stockdale credited his survival to philosophy more than faith. There are a number of moving biographies of human survival written by men who endured much of what Stockdale did.  Jeremiah Denton’s book When Hell was in Session is one of the most moving stories I have ever read. Denton clearly states that first and foremost, faith saved him. Likewise, this is also the central thesis of Robbie Risner’s The Passing of the Night. John McCain’s Faith of my Fathers speaks of his desire to measure up to the code of his father and grandfather.  Each of these men felt the common ground of duty, country, honor, family and faith, each man differing in  the proportion of strength he gained from his allegiance to each of these elements. Stockdale felt all of these, but contended that a set of values, based on ideas that were 2,400 years old, afforded him not only survival, but gave him honor, effective leadership, and allowed him to thwart his enemies despite being their captive.

Above, James Stockdale before his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. As Commander of the Air Wing he flew all of the aircraft types they operated. At the Gulf of Tonkin, he flew an F-8 Crusader; later he was shot down flying an A-4 Skyhawk.

What Stockdale endured as a POW  is covered on a number of Web sites. Here is a sample from his Wikipedia page:

“Locked in leg irons in a bath stall, he was routinely tortured and beaten. When told by his captors that he was to be paraded in public, Stockdale slit his scalp with a razor to purposely disfigure himself so that his captors could not use him as propaganda. When they covered his head with a hat, he beat himself with a stool until his face was swollen beyond recognition. When Stockdale was discovered with information that could implicate his friends’ ‘black activities,’ he slit his wrists so they could not torture him into confession.”

This went on for years. Stockdale was in solitary for half the time he was a POW. He spent several years in leg irons. He endured 15 torture sessions, many lasting more than a week.

Above, on the left, Colonel Risner with Stockdale beside him about a week before their release from the Hanoi Hilton. These two men, as the ranking U.S. officers, bore the added burden of leadership of all the other POWs. They took this as a deadly serious responsibility. Stockdale did not have youth on his side during imprisonment; he was 49 years old when this photo was taken.

Although the actions of the North Vietnamese officials look purely sadistic, Stockdale knew they were driven by the goals of destroying the morale of the POWs, forcing them to make “confessions,” and advancing their political goals of eroding U.S. support for the war. Stockdale saw his war as continuing through a contest of wills. He effectively and repeatedly demonstrated that he was willing to die before he would be their tool. Winning this contest is credited with convincing the prison officials that it was futile to further torture the POWs. This is the centerpiece of his being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Although many people know what Stockdale was able to accomplish, they spend far less time trying to understand how he did it. In all of his writings and recorded speeches, he stated that the means he had at his disposal was his understanding of Greek Stoic philosophy. His actions demonstrated that in a contest of wills, stoicism is very effective armor and weaponry. Three years before his capture, he was in graduate school and his instructor had given him a gift of the works of Epictetus, the best known of the Greek stoic philosophers. Stockdale absorbed this material in great depth. He brought the books with him on all three of his combat deployments.

Stoicism was the dominant creed of the Greeks, and for a long period, the Romans. Like most developed systems, it is not possible to accurately summarize it in a few sentences. Among its basic tenets are that man does not control his circumstances nor the actions of others, so they should not be lamented. Man does however have absolute control over his opinions and conduct. He cannot abdicate from this if he is to have a life of value. Men should strive to be indifferent to things they cannot control. The only thing that Stoics should never be indifferent to is the struggle between good and evil, and this battle takes place in each man’s heart, not in the external world. Each person should define their own moral purpose or quest, and not be deterred from it. Stoicism is not about allegiance to a system or state, it is about developing an allegiance to your own moral purpose. Although it is focused on the individual, its end result is not self-glorification nor narcissistic. Its goals are tranquility, freedom and leading a life without fear.

I highly recommend going to the bottom of Stockdale’s Wikipedia page,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Stockdale

and looking under the heading of “Writings” where you will find a link to a 22 page paper titled “The Warrior’s Triad.” This is a transcript of a speech that Stockdale gave in 1995. It is of sufficient length to come to a good understanding of the role that Stoicism played in Stockdale’s life.  For a simple example of Stoicism in action, here is what Stockdale said when asked which prisoners had the hardest time in captivity:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  

Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.
 -Epictetus

What is in this for you the homebuilder? Something very important that it took me a long time to learn. The primary determinant of whether or not your aircraft is ever finished is not how much money, skills, information, time nor previous flight experience you have. The single most important factor is your personal attitude toward the project, and your willpower to bring the factors you do control to effective use in advancing your goals. You are never going to read this reality in an aviation magazine, as I am sure most editors don’t know it.  If they do, it isn’t in their interests to say it.

In Stockdale’s test of wills, his enemy’s goal was to make him succumb to fear. If he did, they could determine his mindset and actions from there forward.  It is easy to say that 99.99% of us will not find ourselves in such circumstances. Literally true enough, but perhaps misleading. Stoic philosophy is all about being in command of yourself, and not letting anyone or any circumstance dictate your opinions, attitudes or actions. Stockdale’s enemy was obvious, his goals were clear. Your life and the challenges you choose may not be as dramatically profound as Stockdale’s, but they are no less important. These things literally are the value of your life and your satisfaction with leading it. Choosing to learn, build and fly are not common goals. The vast majority of people are afraid of these things. If this fear stops them from acting on their ideas and dreams, then someone else is controlling them. People are not born to be afraid, they are taught this. Stoic philosophy is a method of undoing this, recognizing your own value and sovereignty as an individual. Aviation is a singularly appropriate Arena to develop one’s personal codes.  It offers near limitless potential to those who take it seriously, it holds serious risks and penalties for those who do not.  At any level worth engaging, it is not a pastime, a game, nor a sport. It is a real endeavor worthy of your devotion.

We are now in the 6th decade of homebuilding, and the resources available to homebuilders, in terms of disposable income (compared to 1950s households), tools (actually cost less today), information (the Net) and access (the Sport Pilot Rule) are better than ever. So why does the completion rate for projects remain low? It took me 10 years to understand that the answer lies inside each person. When I first started in homebuilding, I had training and information, but little money. This latter element became the helpful scapegoat for a slow start. Around me were plenty of people sending the message that if I just had more money, and blindly spent it, the trajectory of my progress would change. This is the common message of consumer aviation, and it is a lie.

Aircraft are not free, they do cost money to build. I sell parts for engines and components to mount these engines on aircraft. I consider the things we sell a very good value.  On the surface, this appears to make us like every other aviation business. The difference requires a moment of thought to consider; I am here to share what we know, to teach you what I have painstakingly learned. The things we sell allow you the builder to put this knowledge into action in your own life.  I am working to assist people in becoming successful builders, not blind buyers. Having worked with Corvair builders for more than 20 years, my plan is long-range. The completion rate of our builders is twice the industry average, despite many of our guys working inside tight budgets and often being new to aviation. A here-today-gone-tomorrow LLC is focused on selling things. I have always focused on the success of individual builders, and the sales have taken care of themselves.

We have all seen a guy with an untouched kit in his garage, a shelf full of electronics and instrumentation, an interior kit, and a stack of sales brochures he picked up at Oshkosh. None of the people who sold him these things made it clear to him that he couldn’t spend his way to success in experimental aviation. It wasn’t in their interests to do so. If it were my sole goal to sell things, it wouldn’t be in my interest to type this. My goal is to get many people flying. To achieve this, I need to make them aware of what really stands between them and their success. The single most common reason why people don’t finish their planes, learn to fly them and achieve their personal goals is simple: They have been continuously exposed to the subtle message that they can’t do it, they shouldn’t trust themselves, they are not worth the time and treasure of the quest. People would reject this if it were delivered this plainly, but it is sent in a thousand subtle messages that seep into the back of your head and gradually slow your progress and steal your pride. It comes from consumer co-workers who want to see your desire for adventure beaten down to the level they settled for; from the 20,000 hour pilot who would rather have you marvel at his achievements than to counsel you to have your own; from the people who live their lives in fear of everything, unable to differentiate between the odds of being eaten by a shark and dying of heart disease. It is a lot to counter, but if you have the mindset of Stockdale, you will win your contest.

Thank you.

William

Postscript notes:

James Stockdale is sometimes remembered as Ross Perot’s 1992 Presidential running mate. Perot, also a graduate of the Naval Academy, selected Stockdale based on his belief that Stockdale was a man of spotless character, superior intellect and proven moral courage.  In the Vice Presidential debate, both of his opponents knew his life story and wisely were as respectful as possible. The media did little homework and focused on Stockdale’s deafness (a byproduct of beatings he endured in captivity).  This disrespect initially made me livid, and the public lapping it up made me depressed.  Stockdale would have chided anyone for reacting the way I did. A fundamental tenet of Stoic philosophy is being indifferent to the reactions of others.  In time I got over it, but I learned that you can never trust people who endlessly try to reduce the world to sound bites to teach you anything of importance. H.L. Mencken, a real journalist, always pointed out that Americans were drawn to short, simple, and conveniently neat answers … which were invariably wrong. Mencken died in 1956, mercifully before the proliferation of TV news as we know it.