Flying 2700 cc Zenith 601 XL(B), Alan Uhr


Below is the 601-xl of Alan Uhr, of central Florida.  About a week ago I got on the motorcycle and rode 150 miles down to his airport to pay a house call. I gave Alan and his son a hand installing an E/P distributor to replace the dual points model that they originally used. The trip gave me a chance to see the plane first hand. In our industry, very few companies have the HMIC, (head monkey in charge – me) pay house calls to builders. The goal of most companies is to just sell things, and they place very little value on inspecting progress of builders. Conversely, our goal is to teach builders, and thus personally inspecting their progress in the field is critical to understand their needs and evaluating how well our instruction methods are working.

In a recent conversation, a magazine writer told me that he “Had his finger on the pulse of experimental aviation” because he read “all the important web discussion sites” and went to many airshows. I have been part of experimental aviation for more than 20 years, and I a pretty sure that no one ever completed a plane by sitting at a computer, and the only plane I have ever seen built at a show was when Zenith used to build a plane in a week at Sun n Fun. There are some useful things on the web, but they are most often lost in a sea of disinformation and negativity, and the Zenith factory team is not typical of homebuilders working in their shops.  Reading sites and going to shows gives a very distorted view of experimental aviation. You can find out what people are talking about or buying, but this has little to do with actual building. We don’t call it homeTalking nor do we call it HomeBuying, experimental aviation is HomeBuilding, and to find out what people are building, you have to go to their shops and see it in person, and listen to them. Over the years, I have made several hundred house calls to builders. This is a good measure of my actual contribution to the success of fellow builders, and of my understanding of the state of rank and file homebuilding.

Above, A side view of Alan’s 2700cc corvair. It has flown about 40 hours. Initial progress was slow because Alan mistakenly had a MA-3 from a 145hp-O-290 Lycoming instead of the MA-3 from an O-200 contential, as we specify. The correct model number is a 10-4894.  Alan went direct to D&G in Niles MI for the correct carb, and instantaneously the engine ran vastly better. Many people don’t understand that too large a carb on an engine will often run way too lean, not too rich. A very large venturi and oversized idle circuit tends to have a weak pressure signal to the fuel in the bowl. Before the incorrect carb was diagnosed, Alan was besieged by local “Experts” who tried to talk him into changing every other aspect of his installation, even though none of them had ever seen a Corvair in a plane before. To me this is akin to a veterinarian offering neo-natal advice to a mother. Children and dogs are both mammals, but the detail advice is crucially different on some points. Corvairs and Lycomings are both engines, but the details differ, often in ways that are not good for your heath to ignore. If any one needs advise on a Corvair installation, I am a better resource than your local “Expert.” If your child has fleas, I am of no help, but I would suggest the MD over the Vet.

Above is the rear view of his installation. It has a complete heavy-duty gold oil system and a Niagara cooler. Alan’s aircraft is very much like the other 45 Corvair powered Zeniths that have been flown by our builders. Let me use this to point out a very basic, but critical concept in homebuilding.  Woody Harris and Phil Maxon, who each have nearly the same corvair powered Zenith as Alan, can and have flown their planes literally around the USA without issue. Either Woody or Phil could push their planes out of their hangars today and fly to the opposite coast of our continent at will. We have plenty of other Zenith flyers Like Lynn Dingfelder, Dave Garda and dozens more who can do the same.

Here is the critical point: When Alan was having an issue, His local “experts” ignored the fact that plenty of other people are very successfully operating the same combination of airframe, engine and systems. They all wanted to redesign everything. Conversely, the approach of any actual mechanic is to look at a proven plane like Woody or Phils, and then carefully study what is different about Alan’s, and then only change that to make the plane identical to the proven working ones. Aircraft do not love you, and they do not play favorites, and the have no prejudices nor pet peeves. They are machines, and they owe 100% of their loyalty to Physics, chemistry, metallurgy and aerodynamics. If plane A works perfectly, and plane B does not, all you need to do to fix this is to detect the differences between A and B and then make B just like A. Understand that this strategy isn’t just likely to work, or even almost certainly going to work, It is absolutely going to work

Most people in aviation have flown in a Cessna 172, and know they have a 50 year track record of being a trustworthy aircraft. When a 172 comes in for an annual, all the mechanic is doing is looking to see how that particular 172 is different from the specifications from the type certificate and then he goes about making the plane back to the known accepted standard that has proven to work. It is a skill, but the concept isn’t deeply philosophical. The mechanic doesn’t get creative and offer to reconfigure the fuel system, he just makes it identical to the ones that are known to work. Just because a plane has the word “Experimental” painted on it, doesn’t mean that the rules of reliability go out the window. The plane can’t read the word experimental, but it is smart enough to know that it is only going to respond to the laws of physics, not the psychology of local “Experts.”

Above, a side view of Alan’s plane. He has a very good background in Gyrocopters and is a pretty good craftsman. The aircraft demonstrates very nice workmanship in person. I have known Alan for a number of years, and he is a very good guy, exemplified by his positive attitude.  Although he had some frustration moments in getting is aircraft squared away, he never lost sight of the big picture, that he had persisted to achieve what many people start, but far fewer finish, building a plane with ones own hands. Hats off to Alan Uhr, Corvair builder and pilot.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: