Dr. Gary Ray, builder and pilot of Zenith 601XL N24845 , is the star of this story. His aircraft has now been flying for more than five years. Through this time, Dr Ray has put a lot of effort in sharing what he has learned and explaining the human value of homebuilding. When I got started building Corvairs more than 20 years ago, I hoped to achieve something that all kinds of outstanding individuals would gravitate to. When I think about Dr. Ray and other builders like him, I think we hit the mark.
Most aviation businesses know the people who they work with as customers in a computer database. We are the opposite of this. When your work involves teaching people a skill, you get to know a lot more about them and who they are as individuals. I have been to Dr. Ray’s home, hangar and business, met him at Colleges, open houses and a number of airshows. I have spent a lot of hours on the phone with him and listened to his perspectives on things. Very few aviation business owners know a single one of their builders at this level. In my book, that’s their loss. Listening to our builders has refined and improved our work. Although I like engines, I like people more. Knowing our builders is one of the major rewards of our work.
Dr. Ray is a very skilled and accomplished veterinarian. He offered a lot of counsel on the care of Whobiscat, the Edgewater hangar Siamese, and our dog Scoob E. Here is a very important point in understanding Dr. Ray’s philosophy: While he clearly loves animals, he is 100% emotion free when discussing their care. He is all about logical evaluation and decision making. In his perspective, how you love animals is logically caring for them. Here is the aviation connection: Making decisions in homebuilding that are purely factual and data driven does not subtract from his love of flying, to the contrary, it is something of a prerequisite. His work brings him face to face with the people who will or will not follow through with the care of the animals he is treating. Decades of this has made him a very keen observer of the human condition. Sharing a cup of coffee with him is thought-provoking.
For our 2009 Flight Ops Manual I asked Dr. Ray to contribute anything he wanted to share with other builders. I told him it could be up to 10 pages long. He sent back 282 words on motivation. Of the 10 articles in the Flight Ops Manual, this is the most referenced Chapter in the responses we get from builders. Dr. Ray is an absolute adherent to the creed of rugged individualism. This doesn’t mean that he isn’t interested in others. He has a long record of giving back to the Corvair movement. To some people, supporting a movement means idealizing and candy coating it. To Dr. Ray, supporting it means offering an honest evaluation and frankly saying what types of people he feels will succeed at it. The former makes the greatest number of people feel good, the latter is of real value to people who have chosen to build.
Above, Dr. Ray’s plane on the ramp at Corvair College #20. The aircraft features a 2,700cc Corvair with a RoysGarage.com 5th bearing. The engine is bored .060″ over for a few extra cubic inches, and utilizes Falcon heads. All of our installation components and Gold Systems are on the plane. It originally flew with an Ellison EFS-3A, but Dr. Ray soon switched to an MA3-SPA. The aircraft has been flying since 2006. It was one of the earliest “ZenVairs” (our term for a Corvair powered Zenith). The prop is our standard choice for 601/650’s a two-blade 66″ ground adjustable Warp Drive. The panel on this aircraft is based on a Dynon display. Dr. Ray got a little help from us on the engine, but the plane is a real tribute to his building skills. It is his first shot at homebuilding. Many planes look good in pictures, this one also looks good in person.
Above, Dr. Ray (in the middle) speaks with other builders at Corvair College #20. He has been one of the most outgoing people in the Corvair movement. Over the years, he has hosted a Night School, flown to a Collegeand the Zenith Open House and flown to Oshkoshseveral times. At each of these events, Dr. Ray took a lot of time to share his experience with other builders. He has a basic message of encouragement for anyone who is just entering The Arena of homebuilding. He does not minimize the size of the challenge but states that it is met with good decisions and steady productivity.
Above, Oshkosh 2010: Fisher Horizon/Corvair builder Jim Waters, at left, speaks with Dr. Gary Ray.
Above, from our 2005 Midwest Night School Tour: On Feb. 14th we were at Dr. Ray’s garage with a group of Corvair power enthusiasts. Gary’s plane was about a year from its first flight. The guy in the back with the bushy beard is someone few people would recognize at a glance, it’s “Brother Roy”. Our reputation as people who take our builders seriously wasn’t built by forming an LLC and printing color brochures for people with deep pockets. It was made over time by events like the 5,000 mile tour in the winter where we met with builders every night in small shops and answered their questions, all for free. This was part of our long term plan to get to where we are today.
Above, Dr. Ray beside his aircraft in the Zenith booth at Oshkosh 2007. Many builders working on their planes tonight are thinking about flying their creation to Oshkosh. When a builder accomplishes this, and displays his craftsmanship in the kit manufacturer’s booth, it is a very good day. For five years straight, at both Sun ‘n Fun and Oshkosh, we arranged with Sebastien Heintz to have a Corvair powered plane on display in the Zenith company booth. For the first two years, we used our own aircraft N1777W. As soon as builders like Phil Maxson, Dr. Ray, Rick Lindstrom and Dick Schmidt completed their planes, we switched to highlighting their achievements. Sebastien was a direct supporter of this recognition of builders, understanding the motivational power of having the display focused on successful builders. In recent years, we have moved up to having our own booths at both Oshkoshand Sun ‘N Fun, where we continue the tradition of displaying builders’ achievements.
Above is Dr. Gary Ray’s 601XL just after its first flights. I wrote the following words about the milestone 5 and a half years ago. They are just as true today, and many builders since have followed Dr. Ray’s path to success in the subsequent years.“He flew its maiden flight out of Pontiac (Mich.) Airport September 1, 2006. This is the latest 601 to take to the air on Corvair power. I saw the airplane in person just a few months ago, and I will attest to the fact that it is one of the nicest 601s ever built. Not bad for a guy who never built one airplane part before starting this project three years ago. If you’re working on parts for your own first airplane, look at the photos closely, and think about Dr. Ray’s success. It’s all about the decisions you make and the persistence you show. I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating on this occasion: Money, skills and time all take a back seat to simple persistence applied on the correct heading. Persistence will inevitably lead you to your own day in the sun.”