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, SportPerformanceAircraft.com. 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 FlyCorvair.com 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.