More Thoughts On Economical Aircraft


The previous post on affordable aircraft and why they matter in aviation sparked a lot of email and a number of calls. Not everyone saw it the same way, but just about everyone had a different facet of the same issue to illuminate. As always, all thought out perspectives are welcome.

To further illuminate my line of thinking, let us look at the same issue from a different passion, sailing.  Looking from the outside, many people think of sailing as some type of elitist activity, but I can make a good case that it is as American as Baseball or Jazz, and there is a longstanding connection between sailing and flying where many people are heavily into both. I grew up in a Navy family, and we all know how to sail. As a young teenager in 1970s Hawaii, it was the first real taste of doing something adventurous without my parents to protect me. Being 13 and sailing a Rhoads 19 out of the mouth of Hickam harbor by yourself is something like soloing a plane for the first time.

The same way that Americans came to be at the forefront of much of aviation between the Wright Brothers and Neil Armstrong, American competitive sailing came into its own at the same time. The absolute measure of this was the America’s Cup, which the U.S. held onto for more than 125 years, beating challengers from around the world.

Now, let’s just look at the 1960s.  Sparkman and Stevens produced a 12 meter boat named the Intrepid that was unbeatable for much of the decade. It was the first boat that had a shot of winning three America’s Cup defenses. It is a magnificent design, the finest sailboat in the world, so expensive that its construction and campaigning was financed by a syndicate of wealthy philanthropists. If you have a top down view of sailing or anything else, including aviation, you would conclude that the Intrepid was the single most important sailboat of its era, and worthy of all the praise and attention that could be given to it. In a moment I will turn this upside down and explain why this is wrong, and to solely focus on the Intrepid would have been destructive to sailing. Two other boats from the 1960s turned out to be massively more important to the long-term health of sailing.

In my previous post, my central point is that the aviation industry, particularly the journalistic side of it, spends all of its time applauding and promoting the most expensive planes and products. I hold that the net effect of this is a three-phase process: Few entrepreneurs are motivated to develop and market low-cost products; with the bottom rung on the ladder getting ever higher, working class guys are getting fewer options; an ever greater percentage of people who love planes feel that being a spectator is the role that they are economically restricted to playing. Many people think that these results are acceptable. I do not.

The two sailboats from the 1960s that were far more important than the Intrepid were the Hobie Cat and the Alcort Sunfish. Previous to these two boats, very few designs were produced in quantities over 500. Between the Hobie Cat and the Sunfish, production went over 300,000 boats. And crucially, both of these boats were inexpensive enough for regular working families to afford. Understand that without affordable boats, the Intrepid could only produce spectators. Hobie Cats and Sunfish produced Sailors. Because of the development of two inexpensive boats, sailing experienced an explosive growth in the 1960s and ’70s. At that point, the U.S. had already held the Cup for 100 years. Obviously, being in possession of cost-is-no-object world record holding craft is not the stimulus to industry growth that affordable entry-level designs are.

Here is the aviation connection: If you look at our magazines, attend our airshows and look at our Web sites, almost all of what our journalists are covering is aviation’s equivalent of the America’s Cup boats. Yes, there are exceptions, but any reasonable person can look at the crop of 912 powered imported LSAs and understand that a $120K aircraft is not an entry-level machine, and they are never going to have the effect on our industry that the Hobie Cat and the Sunfish had on sailing. I agree that there are many stories covered on reasonably affordable planes each year, but I think that most people very seriously underestimate the very strong message sent by our fixation on products that working people stand little chance of affording in their lifetimes. The lack of affordable design coverage and simultaneous adulation of things for the wealthy make any reasonable person just looking at aviation rethink the pursuit, and convince many people with modest dreams that they are going to be treated like second class flyers.

The new head of EAA publications previous job was being the editor of Flying for several decades. I only read that publication while standing at the magazine rack when I am stuck on a layover at Atlanta. It is obviously a publication that reviews products that 2% of America can afford. The other 98% of people reading it are relegated to being spectators.

I don’t care about the content of Flying, it is a commercial publication, and if they wish to entertain spectators and cater to the dwindling number of pilots that long ago got many rungs up the ladder, great. However, I do have an issue with Sport Aviation, the journal of our membership association, having the same content. Our new man got off to a false start by writing a great review of a TBM turboprop aircraft that cost a million dollars. This has no place in our publication. Many people spoke up about it, but not nearly enough. Every working class guy in the EAA needed to send a polite and clear message to headquarters that the goal of our organization is to make each member an Aviator, not a spectator, to that individual’s fullest capacity. Articles on French turboprops do not serve this goal.

The closest thing that certified aviation has ever produced to a Sunfish and a Hobie Cat are a J-3 Cub and a Cessna 150.  Between these two designs, 50,000 airframes were produced. These aircraft made a very large difference. Each of them did an incredible service to aviation by introducing countless aviators to their first solo flight. Yet today, Piper will never produce another affordable aircraft, and the 162, the “modern” 150, is incredibly expensive and produced in a totalitarian police state that also happens to hold the mortgage on our national debt. Cessna donated one of these aircraft to the EAA for educational flights. This was a task previously done by a GlasStar and an RV-6A.  I for one do not wish to have our membership driven organization giving a very valuable endorsement to an aircraft that should have been produced in Kansas instead of China.

Every J-3 and every Cessna 150 came with an engine produced by Continental Motors. For a very long time, each and every data plate on every engine had a picture of the U.S. Capitol building, emblazoned with the creed of the company “As Powerful As The Nation.”  Almost no journalist covered it, but last year, the overnment of China bought Continenal motors.  This and the fact that Cessna is having the C-162 airframe built in China are two very good examples of stories that aviation journalists are not covering. There are 1,400 people who worked for Continental in the U.S., many of them EAA members. I often wonder how they feel about nary a word on the sale of their jobs appearing in our magazines. 

I can make a good argument that any industry that doesn’t make sure that entry-level products are available is not going to last. It is plainly obvious that the affordable aircraft will not be produced by global corporations that do not value individuals. Affordable aircraft, our Sunfish and Hobie Cat, are only going to come from small business entrepreneurs operating in the world of experimental aircraft. Our journalists and membership association must preserve a place for, and welcome them. 

I arrived in aviation in 1989. It existed for me to arrive in because countless others, people long gone,who I will never meet and cannot thank, did their part to preserve our ability to learn, build and fly. As I approach 25 years In The Arena, I am a grateful beneficiary of those who came before, and I view it as my duty to do something to keep aviation from becoming a spectator sport. The concept of the privileged minority enjoying themselves while the commoners are reduced to watching may fit in other countries with class and caste systems, but it isn’t part of the country of the Wrights, Doolittle, Lindbergh and Armstrong. They did not pass it on to us so that we could squander it or drop the ball. It is an invaluable legacy that we have been entrusted with by past aviators, some who paid everything, to make sure we had the same chance…. Decide now that you will not fail them.   -ww


Corvair College #23, 2012 College Schedule


We are closing in on the deadline for Corvair College #23. I wanted to take this chance to encourage people to sign up for the event. This college will be the only one we are having until November, when we will be returning to Barnwell, S.C., for Corvair College #24. With the highly successful College #22 in Texas already in the history books, 2012 will end up with three Colleges, one more than 2011.

CC #23 is an excellent chance to make a lot of progress before the summer gets into full swing. A month after the College we will be at Brodhead and Oshkosh. There is a lot of work prepping and traveling to the two main summer events, and this precludes another College this summer. Unless you wish to wait 5 more months, #23 is your College.

CC #23 is the first College we have had in Florida since CC #17, more than 2 years ago, and that was the first College we had in Florida since #10. This event is a rare chance to get us on our home turf when we have the greatest access to tools and a full complement of parts. Builders signing up for this event will have 3 of the best experts on the engine in person, ready to share what we know, first hand.

Make your plans today; the link to the registration page for CC#23 is:


Mailsack – 5/15/12 Economic Issues & Webinar Notes


On the topic of Economic Issues in Experimental Aviation, experienced builder Greg Crouchley writes:

Dear William, Absolutely outstanding. Thank you.- Greg

Builder Brian Manlove adds:

Actually, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived very close geographically to Cherry Grove – 121 miles. He was born in St. Paul, MN – and moved back home from NYC to a huge house at 445 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN, in 1921. Bernie might have even flown right over the house on his way to Minneapolis to show his “automobile-engine powered airplane” to the editor of Popular Mechanics. Maybe he released his relief tank as he passed overhead – now THAT would be funny. (FSF, sitting in garden sipping mint julep, comments to butler: “I do believe I just felt a raindrop.”) Seriously though – I am VERY interested in your carb experiments. This is great stuff.

Brian, I actually meant to imply that Bernard was far from the world of Fitzgerald’s character, Gatsby. I don’t know much about F. Scott other than reading his master work and seeing his film biography beloved infidel a couple of times. My old friend Chris who is in the glider flying story is very fond of Fitzgerald, and often brings up Gatsby’s main objection to the idle rich of the 1920s, that everything they did was “sloppy.”-ww

Builder Harold Bickford shares:

That is a very far-reaching piece you’ve written. For me the working class effort started with a paper route when I was 11.My folks made clear that if I wanted something it wouldn’t be handed to me.
In that context you grow up valuing what you have earned and owned. The high school years Corvairs were in the same mold. Bought with earnings and not handed to me, they were chosen because of the engineering and concept behind them. Reading more than Ralph Nader’s critiques was useful too.
So now it’s the beginning of an Air camper with Corvair power. The plans and manuals were purchased from Andrew Pietenpol, William Wynne and Clark’s Covairs. A few parts have been sourced from another Piet builder and the last year saw a dedicated building constructed. A few fuselage parts are done. Later this year the big wood order comes and then things should progress a bit. In the meantime work on the engine (i.e. teardown) can start. Why do all this? it’s the working class thing, the desire to build and create, learn something new. Rather than getting in the way, education and life experience inform the decision.
It fits the desire for an economical, fabric covered airplane in a classical mold and my wife likes the idea as well. In fact she insisted that we do the Piet in red as she likes cardinals. Anyone up for a short b&w film, “Why we build”, complete with grainy images?-Harold

  Builder Gary Burdett writes:

Thanks, I needed that. -Gary

Sprint builder Joe Goldman writes:

Thank you William, -Joe

International man of aviation Tom Graziano asks:

 William, Does the Ford carb have a mixture control or a means of leaning/enriching? If not, is there anything in the works to do so (e.g. McNeilly leaning block)? Thanks.-Tom

Tom, We have not dug into it, but the bow is vented in such a way that some sort of back suction mixture control may be possible. Even if this turns out not to be practical, the carb may still have a lot of fans, even without mixture control. I understand the limitation of this for a guy from the Rockies like you, but many guys from east of the Mississippi rarely have use for mixture control on low and slow type planes.-ww



 On the EAA Webinar, Andrew Shearer writes:

Dear William
I listened to the webinar and was very, very impressed, both with your presentation and with the professionalism of the webinar itself. Thank you for this very informative session.
I had listened to a few webinars before yours but they did not have the pre-seminar audio visual confirmation that yours did, and this was very helpful. Most of them seem to start just a few minutes late, and that is understandable given the limitations of the technology used.
I did have 2 questions.
1. Will a Corvair match a Thorpe S18 and
2. Have there been any crankshaft issues with engines running any of the 3 types of 5th bearing setups

Andrew, I have a feeling that an S-18 would be a lot happier with an engine bigger than a Corvair. Out of nearly 200 5th bearings on running engines, the only aircraft that has had any kind of crank issue is Mark Langford’s. His 3100 ran my bearing for 450 hours, but broke the back-end of the crank last year. My personal opinion is that was caused by an issue unique to Mark’s engine. Neither he nor I think it had anything to do with flight loads from the prop. Other than this, no one has had an issue with a 5th bearing -ww

Pietenpol builder Pete Kozachik writes:

 Hi William, I enjoyed your webinar last night; smooth presentation and minimal repeating of the same stuff. My question was about auto gas instead of 100LL; is there any specific engine part that would not fare as well with auto gas, with or without ethanol? Am thinking valve guides maybe? On topic, what was lead added for anyway back in the day? Thanks,-Pete Kozachik

Pete, The engine runs cleaner internally on fuel without lead in it. Nothing about the metal parts of the engine has a problem with fuel with ethanol. Lead was added to fuel to improve it’s anti knock characteristics. -ww

 Sp-500 designer and builder Spencer Gould writes:

Hi William, Would you happen to have a link on where we can see old Webinars including your one done on 5/9/12? A search in the EAA video player only pulled up one result. –Thanks, Spencer

Spencer, I am pretty sure you can find it on the EAA’s website, It is archived there so people will always be able to go back and look it up.-ww


B.H. Pietenpol, Patron Saint of Homebuilding

(WARNING: This took so long to write that I started it by drinking a pot of coffee when the sun was still up and finished it with a few beers through the night to 5 a.m. Nothing created under such conditions is ever going to be described as “even-tempered.” Read it when you have some time to consider its basic truth. Rushing through things is the most common way we have of cheating ourselves out of the value of nearly every experience. Watch 10 minutes less TV today, and read this with your full attention.)

If you don’t yet know it, you should understand that Bernard Pietenpol is The Patron Saint of homebuilding. This isn’t because he was the first guy to fly a Corvair. Just the reverse is true; it was almost inevitable that he was going to be the first guy to jump on flying a Corvair, because first and foremost, he was the champion of the common man having access to flying his own plane. He may not have been the first guy who understood that aviation wasn’t a spectator sport, but developing the Aircamper and the Ford Model A conversion in the late 1920s put him on the map as the guy who was doing something about it.

He understood that it was against the grain of Americans who worked for a living to resign themselves to watching the rich and privileged have all the fun of flying. Bernard probably had no issue with Howard Hughes getting to join the mile high club with Jean Harlow, but Bernard didn’t think the rest of us should satisfy ourselves with being anyone’s line boy. He put a lot of effort into seeing that the rest of us could build a plane, convert an engine, and fly, where and when we wanted to. This was a new concept. Go back and read The Great Gatsby for a reminder of how the haves thought the have-nots should behave in the 1920s. Henry Ford gave some passing attention to the concept of the Ford Fliver, but trust me, wealthy people weren’t stumbling over themselves to find a way for the common guy to have a path to flying. All of those guys knew that you weren’t going to stay wealthy or get wealthier on the dreams of common Joes. No, this mission had to be done as an inside job, it could only be done by a guy who understood the economic challenges of being a working man. This man lived about as far as you could get, geographically and mentally from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s America. He lived in Cherry Grove, Minnesota, and his name was B.H. Pietenpol.

Ten or twelve years ago, I pointed out that most people mistakenly think that if you cut the cost of the most basic homebuilt project in half, that twice as many people would be able to get in the game. Although this sounds reasonable, it isn’t actually true, and here’s why: Near the economically challenged end of aviation, the cost versus action curve doesn’t graph as a line at a 45 degree angle. In plain English, there are a lot of people who are just outside the budget window of aircraft building. Make it a little cheaper, and a whole lot of new people can get in. The reality that I showed people is that if you cut the cost in half, you might have ten times as many people building. If you are interested in the future of aviation, lowering the cost is the single most important goal.  Developing inexpensive and accessible solutions to homebuilding questions is a lot more difficult than developing expensive products for wealthy people, but it must be done if flight is to remain accessible. I am not willing to throw in the towel on this just because we live in an era where the top 1/2% of the population (the people the light jets and turbo props are for) is getting richer by the month while middle class Americans are on ever tighter budgets.  My understanding of being an American will not allow me to accept being consigned to spectator status.

Today, a lot of people complain about things in aviation, and how the EAA has evolved, etc. Most of them are lashing out at something they sense is wrong, but they are not always very articulate about it. There is a lot of discussion about it, but it isn’t focused on any central issue. A lot of people are looking back to the EAA of the 1960s with a certain nostalgia, even if they only know that era through reading old issues of Sport Aviation. Because I have been in the EAA since 1989, I am a working class guy, I have read countless works on the topic, I have made pilgrimages to Cherry Grove, and I have two decades into teaching people how to build affordable aircraft, let me step forward and suggest that I know the central character of all of the issues that rank and file guys have.

Whether they are articulate about it or not, working class guys know that the pendulum has been swinging the wrong way for at least 20 years. It is actually getting harder for common Joes to build and fly their own aircraft.  This is exactly what Pietenpol struck his blow against. The momentum of this carried into the 1950s with the establishment of the EAA. The far end of the pendulum’s path may have been in the late 1960s, maybe in the affordable days of composites in the 1970s, or even in the ultralight craze of the early 1980s. But since then it has been moving in the wrong direction, and deep down, working guys know this.

Just because the net flow is in the wrong direction doesn’t mean that there have not been valiant attempts to keep things within reach. There are examples of this. Many people point to the Sport Pilot rule. But it is just as easy for me to point out that our industry is so focused on the desires of the wealthy, that the Sport Pilot rule gets distorted into the Sebring airshow, an event devoted to celebrating the $129K “affordable” plane and the Chinese built Cessna 162. Our entire industry has been focused on serving expensive products to the most wealthy 10% of aviators. Many of the journalists who are allegedly looking out for our future have been mesmerized or bought off  with simple flattery, a chance to fly expensive stuff, or an evening at Bean Snappers strip club just north of Oshkosh. In the past six months, many of the old guard of EAA publications have been replaced by an influx of former employees of Flying. I hold little hope that these refugees from the wine and cheese end of aviation are here to reverse the pendulum’s swing. One doesn’t spend 20 years reviewing planes that a modern version of Jay Gatsby would be in the market for and suddenly develop a true love for Aircampers, VP-2s and Flybabies.

Before I go any further, let me come out and say that I have nothing against rich guys in aviation. Hell, that’s why we had Flying and Plane and Pilot. I know a number of wealthy guys in aviation who are very deeply concerned about keeping aviation affordable. At Sun N Fun I had a builder who happens to be very successful offer to fund an expensive piece of R&D under the sole condition that no one know that he made this contribution to the movement. Things like this are something that restores one’s faith in concepts like “the brotherhood of aviation.”

This said, it is plain that our industry has long accepted that the role of working guys is “spectator.” Get this: If we reversed this, and had an industry that championed every entrepeneur who made affordable things, and it got to the point where we were in 1969 where the majority of the planes in Sport Aviation could be built by the majority of the members, I contend that this would have no serious detrimental effect on the choices available to wealthy members. However, from our current situation, we know the reverse is not true.

The working class guys have the same dreams as everyone else, and in some cases they actually have stronger motivation because they understand that there is nothing fair, just or right about them getting sidelined by excessive cost. Follow this closely: aircraft cost money, and no matter how cheap they get, there will always be some people who cannot afford them. But, if our industry is lazy and doesn’t take the challenge to make affordable things, and our journalists are entranced into focusing on the expensive and flashy, there will be less and less entrepeneurs willing to take a good shot at making affordable aircraft. Working class guys make up a majority of people in the EAA. These people did not join a profit driven corporation, nor did they join an entertainment based media company. They joined a membership driven association, and they have a right to expect that organization to serve them. If it isn’t doing it, the first person to hold responsible isn’t the new president. It is all the working class members who paid their dues and complained quietly, but never took the time to write a letter to headquarters, failed to write a “What Our Members are Building” note about their friend’s KR, never voted in for a candidate for the Board of Directors. No one ever got the change they didn’t insist on.

Although they can be blind to it, one of the major enemies of working class guys in aviation are working class guys in aviation.  They can be terrible about biting the hands that try to feed them. Here is an easy example; many people ask why I like John Monett. I don’t like him, I respect him. He has a very long track record of trying to make affordable things. He should be championed by many working guys, but more often they talk about him being a charm school drop out. If he is a jerk to you, don’t buy things from him, but don’t let this stop you from appreciating the fact that he has done a lot for working guys who want to build a plane.  Burt Rutan was at least as caustic to people in his day, but he abandoned the working class guys 20 years ago, and today he is more likely to be found hanging out on the beach in Bora Bora with Richard Branson and a half-dozen topless girls from Columbia, than he is to be found at Oshkosh. Yet he is hailed as a hero by many working class guys. Monnett has a good reason to be crabby:
Working class guys need to remember who is still In The Arena and who is on the beach.

Second, working class guys need to stop messing with the people trying to serve them. A guy selling plans to a plane isn’t getting rich. People making copies of these plans need to stop, period. People who make obvious copies of things they didn’t develop, should never have any working class guy as a customer.  I have seen several people build Aircampers from the reprints of the 1929 plans because these were sold for $20 less than the modern ones from the Pietenpol family. None of these guys liked hearing that the ’29 lift strut attach at the spar was completely unairworthy. I was the EAA 288 Chapter president at Spruce Creek and when I was morally lost I built Lancair IVPs for rich guys. I can flatly say that wealthy guys don’t often make mistakes like this, they are not penny wise and pound foolish, but many working guys are.

Wealthy guys recognize that they need successful people to work for them, to build their planes, so they can go to airshows and tell foolish journalists that they built the plane themselves. They have nothing against their hired gun builder making $12 or even $15 per hour. Conversely, many of us who work to keep aviation affordable know the Brittany Spears Cycle.  This is when working class guys love you when you’re an impoverished mousekateer, but the moment you can afford to get large fries at the golden arches, you are now called a sell out on the Internet discussion groups, and it is open season on your reputation. Your only hope is to have a meltdown and shave your head. Once you’re suitably humble, and it’s verified that you are not making a living, working class guys will welcome you back.  We are very lucky to have built the Corvair movement before the rise of Internet groups, we are insulated by loyal friends to a great degree, but I can think of many very smart guys with plenty to offer working guys, who have opted out of the market in the past 10 years simply because they got a good look at how others were treated. Maybe they didn’t want to have to shave their heads.

In the end, the main thing any individual can do is run his own show well. This means accepting that you are going to build a plane that suits you no matter what the industry tries to tell you is the right thing for you to buy. This means getting your plans and parts through legitimate sources. This is having a good rapport with the experts that you work with. Having positive comments when others choose pointless ones. All of these things are well within any builder’s sphere of control. Beyond this, you can put some effort into things that are partially under your call. I have gotten very good rewards by being active in our local EAA chapters. I have gotten a lot out of writing articles and stories. I cannot guarantee that there will be any positive effect from petitioning EAA headquarters, but I will say that people who don’t make their opinions known have little room to complain that things haven’t changed.

No matter how it all goes, we will still be here because we believe in what we are doing. I have had my faith in aviation tested a few times, but no matter what has happened, it has always still been there. I can’t say this for most of the things I thought I would always be able to count on 20 years ago. 10 years ago, after a particularly trying week at Oshkosh, Grace had the wisdom to understand that we had to go find something we had misplaced, something that our industry had long forgotten. The drive from Oshkosh to Cherry Grove is about 250 miles, but it takes about 60 years to get there, in the sense that you need to go back in time to get “there.”  We spent a few hours in Cherry Grove. Dave Mensink, Grace and myself were the only living people there, but it didn’t feel lonely.  We stood on the field where Bernard had 70 years before, laid claim on his right to a piece of the sky. For the next 3 or 4 decades that followed, nearly every guy in homebuilding was a working class guy, and damn proud of it. Along the way, homebuilding got careless and allowed some new people to suggest that the people who invented this were no longer what it was about. If you are a working guy, and you’re struggling to imagine how you are going to build a plane, have no worries. You have a lot in common with the Patron Saint of Homebuilding, and in this arena, that is the only currency that counts. -ww

New Zenith 601 XL(B), Conventional Gear, Jerry Baak, S.C.


I had a few calls back and forth with Jerry Baak in the past 10 days leading up to his first flight. Every single thing I could think of to ask him had already been taken into consideration. He was very well prepared for his first flight, and when the morning came, it went off without a hitch, because prep work always pays off in aviation.

Above, a good look at Jerry’s 601XL on the first flight. His aircraft has conventional gear just as our 601XL did. The Zenith makes an outstanding tailwheel aircraft for builders who choose to build it in this configuration.

Above, a full, but fairly conventional panel and dual stick controls. Our 601XL was the first XL kit with dual sticks in place of the traditional Zenith Y-stick. The stick geometry on our prototype was good, but the production dual sticks had a slightly revised design that had better control harmony. The military style grips in Jerry’s 601 are appropriate; he has a lot of experience flying F-101 Voodoos in the USAF.

Above, a nice profile of a very good-looking aircraft. Jerry’s plane uses all of our standard installation components.

Jerry’s plane is powered by a 2700cc, 100hp engine. He has been working on it for a number of years, and it is a good example of aviation decision-making. His plane has an MA3-SPA carb of the correct model. His aircraft had Falcon heads from the start. When the Weseman bearing became available, Jerry bought one and installed it. His plane has a Niagara oil cooler. When the Zenith B model wing mods came out, Jerry installed them.  Several times a year, I inspect aircraft that have none of these upgrades, but the builder has a $3,000 paint job, a $4,000 Garmin and a $1,500 interior.  The choices Jerry made reflect the background of an aviation professional. He adopted all the things that would allow him to take advantage of all of the mechanical upgrades that we had taught builders over the years. You can always paint later.

Jerry’s success brings several thoughts to mind.  If you’re wondering if homebuilding is an adventure worth all the effort, let me point out that Jerry has previously flown around the sky in a 1,000 mph fighter and he still finds homebuilding an aviation endeavor well worth the effort. Second, Jerry’s aircraft is another example of the success of our methods of teaching people to build and install Corvairs. I have never seen Jerry’s plane, nor his engine in person. The information transfer on how to build and install the engine was done by Manual, DVDs, a few e-mails, and a handful of calls. For people who are in aviation to find out how much they can learn, what they can master, and what they can build with their own hands, the Corvair has unmatched appeal. Third, after being in aviation for a long time, Jerry understands that Rome wasn’t built in a day, it cost some money to do it, and that it was probably built by persistent people. It is often hard to explain to people just arriving from outside aviation that the people who will be successful have a handful of common characteristics: They are persistent; they like learning; they understand that having a small cast of knowledgeable supporters is very important.

Those new to aviation are often told the myth that they can substitute money for the first two, and they often think that easy answers from local “experts” or anonymous people on the Net are better than factual ones from proven sources. The rest of the world likes answers as fast and conveniently as possible. This works just fine if you’re trying to buy an overpriced  mocha cappuccino, if you need to know if Lindsay Lohan is back in rehab, or if you need to know what some D-bag from a PAC just tweeted about his candidate. Having the wrong answer carries little penalty in the above matters. Successful people in aviation all understand that having the correct answer in aviation is always imperative, and quick answers are not a substitute.

If you would like to see a short video clip of Jerry’s plane landing, get a look at this clip:

Above, the machine and its proud creator. Sharp eves will notice that is has a Warp Drive prop, but the decals are from a different company. The plane ran flawlessly, and displayed very good cooling, despite high ambient temps and the engine just beginning its break in. Jerry plans to open up the inlet holes to 4 and 7/8″ and install inlet rings for good measure. This will ensure that the engine stays cool, even at full gross, the slowest climb and full power on the hottest day. Jerry’s plane is the 50th Zenith 601 to fly on Corvair power.  It has now been more than eight years since we pioneered the Corvair/Zenith combination with our own aircraft.  Zenith builders have a broad variety of possible engines to choose from. The appeal of the Corvair is many fold: It is inexpensive, it is very smooth, very simple, you can build it yourself, it is long proven and well supported, and it is made in America. It isn’t for everyone, but for those who do choose it, it will serve them well.

Hats off to Jerry Baak, the world’s newest Corvair pilot.


EAA Webinar notes…..


EAA headquarters sent me a followup spread sheet with all of the data from last night’s webinar. It included about 120 questions that builders watching wrote in with. When we were doing the session, only the people at headquarters can see the questions, they didn’t come to my computer, so we relied on Charlie Becker picking out 20 questions that time allowed us to answer. Many of the questions were covered in the talk, but I wanted anyone who didn’t get an answer to send me the question directly, I will be glad to answer it for you. The EAA ia good about protecting the privacy of members, and the data we got was not tied to anyones email address, so it isn’t possible for me to answer the questions for people without them resending them directly.

One other note, several people mentioned that the program started 4 minutes late and had some audio difficulties. One or two comments suggested that we should have check the system earlier. Actually Charlie Becker is a stickler about doing just that. He gave us a long tutorial the day before, and insisted we run wire in the house and go out and buy the exact headset model he wanted. We did all these things. At 3pm, Charlie had us do a full dress rehearsal, including every element of the log in, it worked perfectly. We didn’t touch anything. We checked it 25 minutes before broadcast, and suddenly nothing worked in the audio. Grace and Charlie worked to reboot the system several times, and tried everything we could think of without avail. As we got to the last-minute, Charlie quickly hooked up a telephone connection through the EAA switchboard, and then through his office. Instead of everything going through the computer, all of the things I said in the entire interview went through the phone line, where we had little chance to control even rudimentary things like volume. Thanks to Charlie’s quick thinking, the show went on, with little noticeable issue. I asked Charlie if it had ever happened before, and he said that they had not had this issue ever. Hats off to Charlie for saving the day.-ww


Mail sack – 5/10/12


Here are some notes that came in the last few days….


On the EAA webinar, Military and commercial pilot Terry Hand wrote:


I attended the EAA Webinar last night, and wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your time and knowledge. It was well-laid out, informative, and interesting. I am already a believer in the Corvair engine. You just gave me more ammunition for when I talk to other pilots and builders.

Just one question – you spoke about the potential to fly with a high-octane fuel that had ethanol additive in it. Is there a limit to the amount of ethanol, and is it something that is more suited to a low altitude flyer like a Pietenpol as opposed to a higher flying and faster airplane like a Cleanex or a Zenith? Just looking for clarification. Thanks again for a great webinar. Semper Fi, Terry Hand Terry, The engine itself has no issue with ethanol.

However, each builder needs to look at his airframe and make sure that things like his tank material and fuel lines and gascolater gaskets are all ethanol tolerant. Second, builders need to understand that certain carbs lean differently on fuel with ethanol, and there are limits to how much ignition advance you can use with auto fuel. For these reasons, I suggest that builders run the 40 hours of test time on 100ll to establish what ‘normal’ is for their aircraft, and after getting to know this move on to different fuels if they wish. -ww

Builder Harold Bickford wrote:

I rather liked the presentation as the logic behind using a Corvair was well presented. I was surprised that the helicopter engine story came up. Conversely I though the rebuttal was tremendous. Come summer it’s on to Brodhead and Oshkosh and then to actually start an engine project.- Harold

Highlander builder Pat Ray wrote:

Good Morning William Thoroughly enjoyed your EAA webinar last evening. Thank you.  I have just purchased a Highlander kit.  While at the factory I was pleasantly surprised to discover a Just with a Corvair installed.  Anything you can advise me about the possibility of a Corvair powering my Highlander?  Thanks a million.Incidentally I retired from AlliedSignal/Honeywell flight department and worked with your cousin Irma Hujer.  Everyone loved her.- Pat Ray

 Pat, I took the liberty of answering your note on this forum. Thanks for the nice words. You likely saw Scotty’s plane at the factory, everything to this point says it’s an excellent combination. In the coming months I am also working with Dick Holt to get his installation together. Scotty has a number of custom hand-made items on his plane, on Dick’s I am working to see if we can use more of our regular production items like the U-2 exhaust and an Ma3 intake and Gold oil system, so that the installation will be easier for people to replicate at home without the metal working and fabrication stuff that Scotty had access to at the factory. We will have lots of photos as we progress post Oshkosh.

Nice surprise to hear you worked with Irma. Everyone in our family knows her by the life long nick name her father gave her as a child, “Birdie.” Both her father and grandfather were master tool and die makers in the pure Germanic tradition. Her Father Robbie was a major influence on my mechanical world, he lived only 5 miles from us in NJ. He was the best kind of uncle you could imagine. I made a 12″ long brass cannon under his supervision on the metal lathe in his basement when I was 13. Always fun before caution, Robbie showed me how to bore it to .32 caliber and even gave me black powder for it, after swearing me to secrecy. Very exciting when it shot straight through a 4×4″ post in the Masterson’s backyard.  Robbie taught me a thousand lessons in the shop, the lasting and most valuable ones being about how to behave in the presence of adults in their shops and that there is tremendous pride in a craftsmans life, a feeling that many people wearing a suit to work long for. He passed away about 10 years ago. Four drawers of my main tool box contain metal working tools from Robbie and his father Max, Starret and Brown and Sharpe stuff, some of it 100 years old. I use it all the time, as both of these men defined themselves by the work they did, and it seems wrong to let their tools be idle.  A world without men like Robbie and Max is a lesser place, they left some very big shoes, and I honestly feel my tiny little feet will never do much to fill their empty shoes.-ww


On Corvair College #23, Corvair aircraft designer Spenser Gould asked:

Hi William, For CC #23 I’m not sure if this has ben addressed before, will there be an ample supply of build tables on site or should builders plan on bringing build tables? Thanks,-Spencer (TGI)

Spenser, we will have tables at the event, although it never hurts to have one of your own. Folding chairs are also good, and people have started to bring shop stools to colleges because some of the detail work is better done sitting down.-ww


On the topic of economical carbs, Terry Hand asks:

 William, This is a very interesting discussion for those of us looking to build a fun, yet economical airplane and engine combination. This is a question rather than a comment. Is this concept of the single barrel automobile carburetor applicable to both the 2700 and the 2850 engines? Also, how would it affect the use of Autogas? I know your strong opinion of using only 100LL during the initial flight testing, but would this work with Premium, ethanol-free Autogas for flying an aircraft after the flight test phase? I look forward to your response. Semper Fi,-Terry Hand.

Terry, The carb we are testing is straight from a nation rebuilder, and is intended to be used with regular auto fuel  that contains ethanol. The test runs we have done had ethanol in the fuel, and it showed no signs of bothering the carb. If it did, you could imagine that there would be a lot of people bolting these on Ford cars and going to the gas station that would be ticked off. If the carb runs well on a 3,000cc Corvair we know that it is big enough to run a 2700 or 2850. If it shows itself to be a little on the small side, I can always bump up to the same model carb’s bigger brother that was fitted to Ford’s 200cid sixes. Just once in my life, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, I want to land on a road near a mom and pop gas station and taxi up to the pumps just like John Belushi in ‘1941’. It would ruin the whole moment if I have to ask the owner if the gas has ethanol in it, thus I am always working to develop data that takes into account that automotive fuel in the US is probably going to always have ethanol in it from here on out.-ww






EAA Corvair Webinar- Wednesday Night, 5/9/12


We invite you to visit to register for a Hump Day forum on Flying Corvair Planes 7 p.m. Central tomorrow, May 9.

I will narrate a 30-45 minute discussion on Corvair conversions.  Charlie Becker of the EAA will moderate 30-45 minutes of live e-mail questions from the audience. We will have a chance to cover some of the new stuff and discuss the upcoming Corvair College #23. The event will be kept for later viewing in the EAA’s archives, but I encourage builders to try to catch it live.

Charlie said already a large number of people signed up for the Webcast. One of the things that I like about a good turnout for events like this and for the forums I give every year at Oshkosh is that it gives the people at headquarters direct evidence that there are still many, many people in the EAA who are interested in craftsmanship, learning and affordable projects. The people at headquarters are pretty smart, and over the years they have adjusted the content and focus of EAA publications to reflect the interests of the membership.  Our association has had some large changes in leadership in the past year, and I am sure that the new people will take some time to better understand the many different expectations of the EAA membership. For my small part, I am always looking for positive ways that we can make sure the leadership has a clearer picture of the interests of the traditional homebuilding element of the association. Participating in this Web forum is a good opportunity to accomplish this while getting more information out to builders who have selected the Corvair as the engine that best fits their goals.     

If you are on other groups that may have potential Corvair builders on them, we would greatly appreciate you sending out a short message so other builders have a chance to catch this event. We hope to have you there. Thank you-William

Corvair College #23 schedule.


A number of builders who are planning on attending CC#23 have asked for a thumbnail sketch of the schedule for the event. Here is the basic format:

Friday, June 8th,

11am; Check in begins, this goes on all day, and some people will arrive later in the event. When you arrive, the first stop should be at the desk to get your credentials and so that we know who is on hand.

12 noon; Work starts. Because a great number of people travel to the college on Friday, we have a gradual start between noon and dinner. I use this time to get a first had look at each builders project and get them launched. I get a rough idea of the order that the engines will be going on the test stand.

2pm: After things are started, we begin engine runs. We almost always start each college with an engine already on the stand. We get a crew of 3-5 people who are not working on their own engine at the college to be the ‘run crew.’ This is usually headed by a guy who has already run his engine at a previous college, (Dan Glaze, your nominated), This crew will do the bulk of the work removing and installing the engines on the run stand. An engine takes about 15 minutes to install, and 25 minutes to remove (work is slower when the parts are hot). Many more people and the builder of each engine are going to jump in on later tests, but I start with a nucleus group that gets a review on the nuts and bolts and safety procedures.

 2pm to 6pm; While builders are getting started, we will prep and run any engines that arrive at the college assembled. In small groups I will show builders the pre- run inspection, pre oiling, valve adjustment, distributor installation and static timing.

6pm to 7pm; This is a “hard stop.” At this point, we will take a break for dinner. We usually have several dozen pizzas brought in. During a hard stop I need everyone to put don all the tools and take a break. At this point we will have opening remarks and introductions, and some tactical notes. Having everyone stop is important because I need to make sure that everyone hears the plans and safety brief.

7pm to 9:00; Back to work. Note; the running of engines stops at sunset. If you like to drink beer, I politely ask that you hold off until after sunset, as it’s a bad mix with running engines. The airport we are using is a city owned facility, and the manager is going out of his way to help us. Out of respect this means that we make his life easier by drinking beer out of cups and removing all the empties. (It goes without saying that anyone sipping a beer is going to be taking a break from any of the engine run action.)

9:30 pm Host and tech crew stops.  Builders will be welcome to work as late as they like. The host and tech crew stops at this point. If we have a builders component that needs a weld, a special repair or a test or on the spot machining in order for his project to advance, we head back to our personal hangars to accomplish this. We also have our own day one debrief and make minor adjustments for day 2. I always plan on getting this wrapped up by midnight, but it often takes until the wee hours of the morning, which is why it is important that we actually switch gears at 9pm.

Saturday June 9th

8am, Get started. Breakfast will be on hand, and builders are welcome to start before this, but we will not run anything before this.

12 noon ‘Hard stop’ Group photo and lunch, introduction of pilots and more notes;

1:00 back to work. Through out the afternoon, a will be breaking of builders in groups of 4-5 people and giving them hands on instruction in individual aspects of the engines prep. Mark from Falcon will be on hand doing the same thing. Dan Weseman will be giving several demonstrations of how his bearing is  installed.  If there is a specific thing you would like to see, let me know when you check in. Most of these tasks will happen many times at the event, so you will have numerous chances to see it done and participate.  During the event, Grace will be on hand to get everyone parts organized and Rachel Weseman will be overall event coordinator.  We are all there to help you get the most out of the event. This begins with every builder showing up with a positive attitude. In 22 colleges, I have had nearly 200 engines run. The people who got it done all came with some prep work and a positive attitude.  Working at home alone in a sequential manner is drinking little 8oz. bottles of water. The college is like drinking from a firehose. It is far more messy, and it requires some attitude adjustment, but in the end the rate of transfer is much better and builders realize that the small adjustment is well worth the progress.

6pm to 730 Hard stop for Dinner. Main meal of the event. We want to have everyone take the time to recognize the people who have flown in and people who have come to the college solely to volunteer.

7:30 back to work. On saturday night, work proceeds at a slower pace, as 50% of the people on hand use these hours as social time. We do not run engines after 6pm on saturday to keep the noise down. The tech crew will be on hand until 9pm, but builders are invited to work as late as they like.

Sunday, June 10

Work starts at 8am. Again, builders can start before, but we don’t run engines before this. Breakfast will be on hand. work will continue  steadily. Traditionally, things wind down after 12 noon because most people are heading back home after a few hours in the morning. Although we begin cleaning up at noon, the tech crew will be on hand to help anyone finish up an engine that is close to running.  We generally aim to get things wrapped up by 4pm. In the past we have worked long into Sunday night, but I am making a real effort to discourage our friends from starting a 6,8, or 10 hour drive home at 10pm on Sunday. We pack enough stuff into the 50 hours of the college that even stong coffee won’t keep you awake for long on Sunday night.-ww

3,000cc Case Modifications.


Of the three popular Corvair displacement that we promote, the 2700, 2850 and 3,000cc engines, only the last one requires any modification to the Corvairs case. To build a 3,000cc engine, both the heads and the case need to be machined where the new 3,000cc cylinders are bolted on. Again the 2700 and 2850 require no modifications to the heads or case.

 Several years ago, Dan, Mark Petz, Roy and myself, got together and came up with an exact set of specifications for the 3,000cc machining, to ensure that any builder could be assured that parts sourced from any of us would be compatible. Previously there had been a number of suppliers for 3,100cc parts, and each of them had their own way of machining, and builders were often stuck with one of a kind engines, or even engines that had to have individually machined cylinders for each hole. When developing the 3,000cc engine the four of us were determined to eliminate this issue.

The single biggest factor aiding the standardization of the 3,000 over the 3,100 is the fact that the design and geometry of the 3,000 is all Corvair, compared to the 3,100 which has the piston pin and compression height of a VW engine. These compromises make the 3,100 require modified rods and custom length pushrods. The 3,000cc engine, by our design, uses stock Corvair rods and standard length pushrods. 

There are a number of other advantages to the 3,000 over previous large displacement engines, but I would like to steer back to just the machine work required for this discussion. (A 3,100 engine also required the heads and case to be machined to fit the larger cylinders.) The primary reason why we went to 92mm as the 3,000cc bore over the 3,100s 94mm bore is to improve the head gasket area and decrease the oversize required when machining the case. A 3,000cc engine’s case has the 2mm difference in case bore, this may not sound like a lot, the it is a great improvement if you need to put a helicoil or timesert in the case for a head stud. On the top, the 3,000cc’s head gasket does not break out into the head stud holes as the 3,100 does.

The above photo is from our website in 2008. It shows a highly modified 140hp cylinder head that flew 200+ hours on our 601. The head gasket area extending to the head bolt holes shows it to be a 3,100cc head. (look at the bolt hole all the way on the right side of the photo.) It has flanged VW exhaust, a modification that I no longer think is a good idea on any flight engine. This head has since flown 400 more hours on Dr. Andy Elliott’s high performance 601 XL taildragger. A strong word of CAUTION: No one should consider using stock 140 heads on any flight engine. They are notorious valve seat-droppers, and will actually produce less horsepower on typical 2,700cc engines. Flow-wise, they only make sense on high rpm 3,000’s and 3,100s. The 3,000cc engine we are building for our own aircraft has a set of Falcon heads from a 95hp Corvair. Over the years we have tested countless ideas and concepts. Some, like the heads above have limited application in the hands of the right pilot. The amount of time I spend working directly with builders gives me a very good take on what they are personally looking for in an engine. Our testing allows us to suggest which Corvair will provide what they seek.

If you are heading to College #23, and you are thinking of building a 3,000cc engine, you need to send your case in for machining to Dan very shortly. Several cases have already arrived, and Dan is setting up his very accurate tool room mill to machine these cases. The cost of this modification is $150. Dan wanted me to point out that it isn’t practical for builder to bring their cases to the college and have Dan try to machine them the same weekend. If you are planning on a 3,000cc engine, this is the week to scrub the cases, pack them carefully, and send them to Dan. We will have them ready for assembly at the College. (If your building a 3,000, but can’t make the event, you can still send the cases in for the machine work.) Again, this work is completely compatible with the 3,000cc kits sold by Mark Petz at Falcon and the kits sold by Roy.-ww