Sun N Fun 2012


Sun N Fun 2012 is now in the history books. This was my 24th consecutive year at the event. Many people wanted to know how it went, asking about the new president’s efforts to improve the event and the lingering effect of last year’s tornado. The answer largely boils down to a success story. The crowd was about the same as it has been from 2007 onward. (The peak year for attendance at Sun N Fun is rumored to be 1997 or ’98.) My particular observation was that the crowd was smaller, maybe 80,000 people, but I thought they were quality people. Almost everybody we spoke to had a sincere interest in aviation, and many of them specifically stated that they came to Sun N Fun to learn something. This is always a good sign.

I rarely measure the success of an air show by gross sales. The number can be very deceiving if you happen to sell two or three complete engines. For me the real measure of any airshow is the number of new Conversion Manuals sold. These represent fresh builders entering the Corvair movement. With fluctuations in the economy, builders will accordingly take a longer or shorter time to work their way through to a complete engine. Once they get started, I have a really good track record of keeping people motivated with new information and events like the Colleges. By this measure, 2012 was a very healthy year for Sun N Fun, selling more Manuals than we have in the past three or four years.

As guests in our booth this year, we had Dan and Rachel Weseman representing their newly formed company, Most people in the Corvair movement know Dan as the builder of the Wicked Cleanex and the developer of his very popular fifth bearing. Dan’s current project is his new single seat Panther aircraft. He had a completed wing on display along with a fuselage, tail cone and landing gear. All of the engineering and drawings for the design are complete. He is fabricating the prototype over the next few months and then will begin testing. He had no Panther parts nor drawings for sale at Sun N Fun, Dan and Rachel just wanted to bring it out and show people in person what the project looked like. If possible, they are shooting to fly the aircraft before Oshkosh this year.

Below are a collection of photographs we took at Sun N Fun. As usual, they are mostly about people. While we bring a lot of interesting hardware to shows, invariably the most interesting thing that’s in our booth are successful builders who are there to share their experience with those just starting. Sadly, many aviation companies do everything they can to keep the people who have purchased their products from meeting people who are considering buying them. They wouldn’t look very good if their previous buyers were asked for a testimonial. When you’re looking at all the photos below, consider that our efforts with the Corvair movement are just the reverse of this. The strongest motivator to the new builder is one of our experienced ones.  Next time you’re at an air show, observe this phenomenon and you’ll have a really good litmus test of any business or product you’re looking at.

2012 is the 52nd year of Corvair powered flight. This means that Corvairs have been in the air for about half of the history of powered flight. The first half of the Corvair’s history was largely dominated by the story that Bernard Pietenpol wrote. His work was the greatest single factor in the success of the engine between 1960-85. In these years, he led the vast majority of builders to the finish line with a simple engine conversion that proved to be very smooth and reliable. My work with the Corvair has been evolutionary on top of his. Although many of the things we have done with the engine are very diverse, sophisticated and advanced compared to Bernard’s work, I never discount the fact that his pioneering efforts paved a path that made my work possible.

One of the first questions that tire kickers and journalists ask when they meet you at an air show is   “What’s new and exciting?”  My answer is always the same “Nothing. Why don’t we talk about what is old and flight proven?” 

The word “new” to me in its aviation context is synonymous with the term unproven. I find “exciting” a very good term to describe the discovery that an unproven component is unreliable. The Corvair has been tested in the crucible of experimental aviation for the past five decades. What can and cannot be done with the engine is well defined and understood. Proven engines have been long flown and are easy to replicate. Only a very naïve person would look at any engine newly introduced to the marketplace and somehow feel that it will not experience any type of developmental or teething problems. Even if the engine itself is an outstanding piece, there will still be installation issues to define, and builder practices to develop. I defy any experimental aircraft builder to show me any engine that has not gone through this process. Here in the sixth decade of homebuilding, to suddenly expect any engine to arrive on the marketplace and be the first to have zero introductory issues is simply unrealistic. Some of the issues will require a simple service note and a change in practice, others will require the influx of cubic dollars that many of the businesses do not have. In the land of Corvairs, we are well beyond these points, and builders selecting the Corvair can proceed with confidence that can be attached only to a few engines such as the O-200. I firmly believe that people are entitled to spend their own money and time on any engine that they like, and if they wish to pursue new and exciting, they should. The aim of my work is never to be new and exciting, it is always been to be old and proven. This is the primary philosophical difference between myself and many of the other engine gurus. Experimental aviation has many choices, and builders need only find the one that matches their own needs and perspective.


From left to right above: Charles Leonard, who has been flying his Corvair powered 601 for five years; Dan Glaze who completed and test ran his 2700cc/Weseman bearing engine at Corvair College #20, which is destined for his CH 750; Dick Holtz, who is working on completing his 3,000cc/Roy bearing engine at Corvair College #23 to be installed in his Just Highlander; Dave Glassmeyer, who ran his 2,850/Roy bearing engine at Corvair College #20 and has plans to install it in his Kitfox Model V; and Dan Weseman of Wicked Cleanex fame brings up the other end of the frame.

On the left above is Gary Collins of Ohio, whose 2,700 cc Weseman bearing engine ran at Corvair College #20. Its ultimate destination is his Carlson Sparrow II project which is now 95% complete. On the right is  Dave Glassmeyer. In the background are some of the items that Dan and Rachel brought to display.


Dan with the fuselage of his Panther prototype. On the other side of the fuselage is Greg Jannakos of Georgia, who has been flying his Corvair powered 601 HDS for seven years. He recently retrofitted his engine with a Weseman bearing. Greg’s Zenith was the second one to fly, right after our own 601 XL. There are many pictures of Greg’s aircraft on our Web site, dating all the way back to 2005.  We have now had eight years of Corvair powered Zeniths. With more than 50 of them flying, we are at the point where we can call them old and proven. New and exciting is fun to read about if you’re a tire kicker. If you’re a real builder, you can build a plan of personal success on old and proven.

Corvair/KR pilots Bob Lester, left, and Steve Makish, right. These two have been friends for decades. Between them they have about 800 hours of Corvair powered flight time. They both hail from South Florida. The first year that Steve flew his Corvair powered KR to Sun N Fun was 2000. Bob’s made it to the event the following year. If you have not spent time around these two guys, you’re missing some quality entertainment. The best way I have of describing it for people who are yet to meet them is that Steve is Bugs Bunny and Bob is Daffy Duck.  Picture the two of them yelling back and forth to Elmer Fudd: “It’s rabbit season!” “It’s duck season!”

Above is Dan Weseman at left, and Colorado Pietenpol/Corvair builder Rick Holland with our our 3 Liter display engine. Rick’s plane is nearing the finish line after a number of years of steady work. His engine features Electric Start, all our Gold Conversion Parts and a Weseman bearing. The 3 Liter display engine is destined for Lary Hatfield’s Zenith 750. This engine is equipped with a Weseman bearing and a set of Falcon heads. This is the same engine we were using to test a mechanical fuel injection system.  For display purposes at airshows, engines are equipped with a dummy Intake Manifold and carburetor and a sealed Exhaust System. This allows builders to understand the relationship of these components and installation, but effectively seals the engine from any type of dirt or moisture.


Above, the lovely Sandrine and Mark Meehan, Corvair builders from Orlando, Florida. A great team, very inspiring.

Above, Joe Horton, left, and Lynn Dingfelder, right, both of Pennsylvania, inside our booth. Joe again flew his KR-2S all the way down for Sun N Fun. His aircraft now has about 750 hours on it. It is powered by a 3,100 cc Weseman bearing engine.  Lynn’s aircraft is a 601 XL. It has a 2700 cc Weseman bearing engine, and has been flying since 2008. Both of these men have gone out of their way to return to Colleges and airshows and share their experience with Corvairs with other builders. Very few other products in aviation have this type of spirit associated with their use.

Above is a look at our booth. In the foreground in front of the trailer is the Panther’s completed test wing.  Renting a booth at Sun N Fun, plus paying for the tent and the camping, runs several thousand dollars. With all the prep work, the setup, the week’s display, the travel time, and the packing, unpacking, packing and unpacking, you’re looking at a two-week commitment. Yet face-to-face meetings with builders and giving them a chance to meet successful builders and pilots is a very important part of the Corvair movement. In a previous post I mentioned that most alternative engine LLCs have a three-year lifespan where they show up, take a lot of money, milk it for a while and then disappear. 2012 was no different. Missing from the scene were a number of here today gone tomorrow LLCs. A customer of one such firm actually stood in our booth briefly and told me that he was looking forward to getting some technical answers from the people he bought an engine from last year.  He politely asked us if we had seen where their booth was, as he could not find the business name in the air show directory.  I took little pleasure in telling him that the business that he was looking for had evaporated months earlier. I don’t think he actually believed me, as I later saw him asking pretty much the same question at a different engine display.

You never know what will turn up at an air show. Above, I sit in an extremely historic homebuilt, the McDonald S-20. The designer stands by the wing. Although I have never seen the aircraft before and the only pictures of it I know of are in a 40-year-old Sport Aviation, I recognized the aircraft immediately. McDonald was standing next to the plane talking to the EAA’s Charlie Becker. He was a little bit surprised that I could walk right up and identify the aircraft, and that I knew of many of the technical details in it.  He insisted that I  sit in the aircraft and appreciate the ergonomics of the cockpit, something he was particularly proud of designing. If you talk to people marketing things at airshows, even experimental aircraft and engines, many of them cannot tell you the difference between a Glasair and a Lancair. It may not be critical to their sales task, but it makes their claims of being in love with experimental aviation a little hard to believe. I will freely admit that there are many things about which I know very little: Computers, international cooking, agriculture, baroque art, matrix methods and laplace transforms, child rearing, and a staggering list of other topics. But when it comes to homebuilts, I know the subject quite well and have a great appreciation for its finest examples. 

Above, Corvair/601 builder Phil Maxson from western New Jersey. Phil flew his plane down to Sun N Fun, taking the record for the longest Corvair powered flight to Sun N Fun 2012. He flew about 20 miles further than Joe Horton. Phil’s aircraft has been flying since 2006. His engine is a 2700cc/Weseman bearing engine. The YouTube video of his aircraft flying over the Florida coast has over 30,000 hits on it.

On Friday night, Dan and Rachel and I hosted  an informal cookout in the campground. We had about 30 people on hand, a nice mixture of old friends and new faces. In the foreground in the blue shirt is well-known Corvair pilot Gary Coppen.

On the left in the Hawaiian shirt is my primary go to guy for engineering and CAD work, Spencer Gould. Spencer is a fellow Embry Riddle alumni, who currently works for Pratt Whitney. His one-of-a-kind  Corvair powered aerobatic composite airplane was featured in an earlier Projects blog post here at In the blue shirt next to Spencer is Mick Myal, the founder and original editor of Contact! magazine.

One of the nice things about holding a relaxed evening in the campground is the fact that no one has to drive anywhere after the evening winds down. Dan and Rachel filled a couple of big coolers with beer and soda, and had a full-size gas grill running for a couple of hours. Half a dozen builders hung out until the wee hours of the morning. The following day Rachel pointed out to me that the donation jar came within six dollars of covering the several hundred dollar tab for the event. I take this as a sign that people had a very good time. The evening was a very nice addition to several years of informal barbecues for Corvair people at Sun N Fun.

In the blue shirts at the center are John Godwin, left, and Mike Oberlies, right. These two guys are well known for catering the barbecues at South Carolina Corvair Colleges. They spent all week volunteering in the workshop area of Sun N Fun. They’re both building Corvair powered Pietenpols that they are planning on finishing in 2014.  The diversity of characters attracted to the Corvair movement is really impressive. While I am sure the purchasers of Rotax engines are good people, I honestly doubt they have anywhere near the type of diversity in their ranks that we do in the Corvair movement. Building and flying planes is meant to be fun, and I find it most rewarding when it’s done in the company of some real individuals.

Above, another photo from the barbecue.  On the extreme left, in the pink Panther shirt, is the lovely Rhonda Weseman, Dan’s mother, and sheetmetalsmith from


In the above photo, a Sonex builder next to Dan. We are having a good laugh disguising his identity because on his shoulder is a motor mount that mates the Sonex airframe to a Corvair engine, creating a “Cleanex.” Here we are kidding around about the  man in the yellow shirt entering “The Builder Identity Protection Program” because the combination is not approved by John Monnett, the airframe’s designer. In years past, John was known for having low tolerance for people modifying his excellent airframe designs. Truthfully, I know him fairly well and he really doesn’t get that upset about it as long as builders choosing other engines do not level unfair criticism at his selected engines.  There are now about 10 Cleanexes flying, and Dan is glad to work with any builder who has chosen the combination as long as they respectfully avoid Internet comments that would raise John Monnett’s blood pressure.

Above, old friends from the era when I was president and Grace was newsletter editor for EAA Chapter 288 at Spruce Creek. At left, Roy Shannon, and center, Steve Bacom Jr., both VariEze builders. On the right is Arnold Holmes, long time Corvair pilot and host of Corvair College #17.


Above, a photo of Joe Horton’s Corvair powered KR-2S out on the flightline. The aircraft now has almost 750 hours on it. I have very clear memories of Joe showing Grace and me photos of it under construction at Sun N Fun 2002. He has since flown the aircraft back to the air show a number of times. This type of experience is the definition of success in homebuilding. On the Internet tonight there are countless people who will talk about what they will do someday. For the great majority of them, someday will never come. The core of my work is to demonstrate a path to an affordable engine that is an integral part of a builder’s successful journey to the flightline. When you look at it coldly, everyone at home working on their plane tonight is going to end up in one of two groups: those who never finished or those who  will be keeping Joe company in the sky. The largest single factor in determining which group you will be in has nothing to do with money, experience, resources or time. The largest single factor is simply your ability to put some good decisions together and follow a proven path to success. This starts with rejecting the negative messages sent out almost continuously by people who themselves have not and will not succeed at homebuilding. A guy like Joe, who has been to the finish line, understands not just the skills and equipment required, but far more important the attitude and the perspective that got him all the way through. It’s your life and your decision, choose wisely. Homebuilding is intensely time and resource consuming, and it frequently doesn’t offer a lot of second chances. Any builder reading this can decide that this will be his year and he will have his day in the sun just like Joe.

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