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.
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.
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.)