Corvair College #23, 2700cc Engine, Spencer Gould, SP-500

In the above photo, from left to right, Spencer Gould, Dan Weseman and Mark “Petz” from Falcon Machine at work on Spencer’s engine at Corvair College #23. Dan is covering the installation of his 5th bearing onto Spencer’s engine. Originally built as a plain 4 bearing engine, Spencer elected to add Dan’s bearing, a fairly easy upgrade that does not require the engine to be disassembled. Dan’s presentation on how to do the process complemented the clear directions that come with his bearing.

Above is the same process from a different angle. Here the prop end of the engine with the Safety Shaft is sticking straight up. Installation is easier on the bench, and it is easiest if the pistons and rods are not yet installed, but Dan has demonstrated many times that the upgrade to his bearing can be done without ever removing the engine from the airframe. He now has well over 200 bearings in the field, and they have been proven over 5 years of service. Upgrading an engine requires a shorter hub to keep the same length of Studs, Shaft and cowling. The Wesemans offer this machine service to builders who already have one of our Black Hubs or a Standard length Gold Hub. Builders that are planning on using a Dan bearing from the start order a Short Gold Hub from us.

Above, is a good look at the clean lines of an engine equipped with a Front Starter and alternator. Note that the engine has just one oil line on it, running from the Gold Housing to a Weseman Bearing. In its final installation, the engine will have a Gold Sandwich between the Filter Housing and the filter, and two short lines feeding a large cooler mounted on the engine baffling. This is another view of our new Starter Bracket. The outboard side of the triangular bracket is slotted allowing the adjustment of the starter engagement. This eliminates the previous system that had a drilled link plate. Spencer’s engine has the oil fill in the top cover because it is going on his single seat design, and he is planning on a form fitted cowling that would come too close to the right hand valve cover to have room for our standard oil fill location. The left hand valve cover has our standard crankcase vent line and oil return. The engine uses our Short Gold Hub because it has a 5th bearing. The bearing is one of the Weseman’s original cast housings, before they went to billet CNC production.

Another view of the engine. The welded on intakes were welded on the heads by Mark Petz at Falcon Machine. Like most flying Corvairs, Spencer’s engine has one of our E/P Distributors. Oil filter is a K&N 1008, the plugs are AC-R44Fs, my first choice for both of these. The dip stick is an aftermarket one for a 289-302 Ford, with the tube shortened 5″. The engine hardly needs more than a set of ignition wires and a baffle set to be installed on an airframe. None of the engine systems need to be mounted on the firewall: The engine is largely a self-contained, neat package. The engine will be flown with a HD oil cooler because the airframe is designed for strong maneuvers and solid acrobatic work, and excess oil cooing makes sense on a plane that will be flown at full power and slow climb speeds. On the run stand, engines can be operated without oil coolers because the oil comes up to temp very slowly with the engine uncowled.

Above, Spencer’s engine at power on the stand. Note the size of the cooling baffle we use on any engine we are running on the ground. We recently had a builder extensively damage the engine he built by running it on the ground without any type of cooling baffle or cowling.  In every photo we have of running engines at the Colleges, especially brand new ones being broken in, they have a generous amount of cooling air being pumped through them by the baffle. Prop wash over an uncowled engine does not work, period. Without a cowl or a cooling baffle box, none of the air has any reason to flow down through the cooling fins on the head. How long does it take to hurt the engine? How much running is OK? Answer the question for yourself this way: If you just spent $5,000 and a lot of time to rebuild the V-8 in your classic muscle car, how long would you run it without a radiator?

Actually this isn’t a fair comparison. A v-8 in neutral turning 2,000 rpm is only making 10 or 15 hp, it is not pulling any load. It has a several hundred pound mass and lots of oil to heat up. Conversely, a Corvair with a flight prop turning 2,000 rpm has to be at half throttle and may be making as many as 60 horses. It doesn’t have the mass to heat soak either. You could run the V-8 longer without damage.

Keep in mind, if you hurt your newly overhauled v-8, it may leave you by the side of road later. If your flight engine is wounded by cooking it during break in, it may choose to get even with you later, and it is much more likely to do so on a full power climb out than it is idling on the ground. In the end, what exactly was to be gained by running the engine on the ground without cooling? Building a box too much work? Few scraps of sheet metal cost too much? Building the most elaborate cooling box will never take 10% of the time nor 5% of the cost of rebuilding your engine. The longest time I ever run an engine without a cowl or cooling box (once it is fully broken in) is 45-60 seconds, and only 5-10 seconds of this are much above idle. I would do this while setting the timing on an engine after maintenance. On many of our cowling designs like the Zenith cowls, you can just pull the top hinge pin on the passenger side and remove the top access panel. The cooling system will stay in place with the exception of a 4″ square hole. You will have full access to work with the Distributor and set the timing. Our cowling design took factors like this into consideration, and that is why it makes a lot more sense than trying to scab together a cowl from leftovers of some other engine.

Above, Spencer enjoys the finest form of air-conditioning on the planet, prop blast from an aircraft engine created by your own hands. A close look at the exhaust on the run stand shows that I have oxygen sensors on both sides to run an air/fuel meter (lean-rich gauge).  Initially, I liked the idea, and a number of well-known Corvair pilots like this instrumentation as well. Here is the turn off for me: The sensor works on a tiny signal difference, and it is very prone to any type of grounding issue. This is a pain, but not too hard to overcome. My real objection it that when the device loses its signal, its default position is reading perfectly in the green arc. I find the very concept annoying. Would you use an oil pressure gauge that indicated 45 pounds every time the wire was disconnected? How about a fuel gauge that always read 1/3 full when it was having an issue? To me, I want instrumentation that when it fails, it clearly indicates that it is dead, it doesn’t provide misleading info. There is probably some electrical reason why the air-fuel meter reads green when it is dead that makes sense to an engineer at a computer, but if I put it in a plane, it has to make operational sense to me. Lest you think I am making a mountain out of a molehill, than consider that the airliner hitting the 14th street bridge in D.C. was primarily caused by an instrument error on the EPR gauge; the airliner that went into the Everglades 30 years ago had the crew fixated on a failed instrument light; there are enough stories about professionals being undone by faulty instrument data that homebuilders should consider this issue with attention. In my personal opinion, almost any Corvair engine can be well served by 2 simple EGT probes in the exhaust. EGT systems are stupid reliable, and when they are disconnected they don’t read.

Above four of the major contributors to the modern Corvair movement: From left, Mark from, Dan Weseman from, myself, and Spencer Gould.

Today, Spencer’s day job is aeronautical engineering for the world’s greatest aircraft powerplant company, Pratt-Whitney. Contrary to the popular image of serious engineers being challenged by practicality, Spencer is a multi-faceted renaissance man of aviation. He is a very skilled pilot of complex aircraft, he is the master of CAD drawing and machining, he can fly any RC aircraft with skill, he has designed and flown dozens of them. He designed and has built 98% of his own composite acrobatic aircraft, the SP-500, and has a broad array of practical knowledge in the world of aviation. If you need a technical solution to a structures issue, a finite element analysis, or a process, Spencer always has valid input. In the years between his graduation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Pratt, he worked as a powerplants engineer for Piper in Vero Beach.  During that time, Spencer was an adjunct member of  The Hangar Gang, and covered a lot of our CAD work. Designs that I had for the Gold Oil System, the modern Hubs and our 5th bearing were refined by Spencer’s CAD ability, and they went directly to CNC production from code we e-mailed to the machine shop. He was and remains a very important force multiplier in our efforts, an asset that few other engine programs could claim to match.

If you are new to homebuilding, stop and think about this: The Corvair not only has appeal to people whose day job is far from aviation, but it also has great appeal to builders like Spencer who are immersed in aviation, men who understand all the issues involved in powerplants. Spencer could afford any piston engine he wanted for the front of his aircraft. Yet he selects the Corvair because after careful evaluation, it all adds up to the right choice for him. The engine isn’t for everyone, but no builder new to aviation need worry that the engine isn’t capable of meeting the demands of educated professionals and amateurs alike.-ww

Oshkosh 2012. Our booth is between Zenith and Sonex.


We will be at Oshkosh from July 23 to July 29, 2012.

Our Booth Number is 615 in the North Aircraft Display Area, between Zenith and Sonex.

We will have our full Catalog of Parts on hand. However, we will have limited quantities of some items such as Motor Mounts, Intake Manifolds, and Stainless Exhaust Systems. If there is a particular item you would like us to bring, please contact us. If you purchase them in advance, we will reserve it for delivery at the show.

As always, we are more than willing to inspect any customer’s core engine or part, and we will gladly cover any procedure in detail and discuss any building or installation issue. Please bring photos of your project.

I am scheduled to give four forums at AirVenture. This is the tentative schedule. The latest schedules will be at

Ken Pavlou and Dan and Rachel Weseman are planning a cookout. As we get closer to Oshkosh, we will have more information on, our news site.

Travel safe and we will see you there. -ww

Corvair College #23 – 2850cc Engine, Roger Grable, CH-750 Builder


Here is another builder’s story from Corvair College #23. Below is a sequence of photos of the 2850 cc 110hp engine we assembled for Zenith 750 builder Roger Grable from Missouri.  All of the action pictured took place at the College.  

We met with Roger and his wife Sarah at CC#22 in Texas a few months ago.  It didn’t take long to understand that he knew engines fairly well, and had considerable experience working on them. His questions were observant and thoughtful. He spent #22 carefully considering a plan that made sense for his project and timetable. By the end of #22, Roger made the decision that he wanted to have us assemble a 2850 for him, and this would keep his fast paced 750 project moving.  I have no problem building an engine for a guy with Roger’s approach. He still wanted to learn as much as possible, and that in my book is what makes him a good Corvair guy.



Above, Roger and I stand beside his engine on the run stand.  Every engine we run has the oil system primed for 20 minutes with an electric drill. The only oil we use for break in is Shell Rotella T 15w-40. In every engine we add ZDDP. You can get it from a lot of places, but Clark’s sends it with camshafts they sell. We run the engine for 25 or 30 minutes without stopping, at 1500-2000 rpm. This has proven over hundreds of engines to protect the cam and lifters, which are the primary thing you are concerned with during the first hour.


Above, a number of the builders at CC #23 admire the smooth power of Roger’s 2850. The engine is equipped with a billet Weseman bearing and a very nice set of Falcon heads. We configured the engine for a heavy-duty oil cooler. On aircraft like Zenith 750s, the slow climb speed capability and the high angle of attack challenge the stock oil cooler capacity in hot weather. Thus, we set the engine up with a cooler block off plate and a Gold Sandwich Adapter and a 20003 series aircraft oil cooler. The baffle kits the Wesemans offer are fitted for either the stock cooler or the 20002 or 20003 series. When complete, the oil system is contained on the engine, none of it is mounted on the firewall or cowling. This gives the engine installation a clean, organized appearance.


Above, Roger keeps an eye on the oil pressure. His engine is equipped with our new high volume pump. For these, I carefully  use the mill and expand the capacity of the oil pressure bypass, to prevent the engine from having a very high peak oil pressure on start up with cold oil.  When the engine is first started, several minutes of operation to warm the oil is a good idea, and we do this at 1000-1200 rpm.  In a few minutes the oil will regulate at 50 psi or so. When the engine is at full temp, this will settle down to 45 pounds of pressure. This slight reduction in regulated oil pressure between 140 and 205 degree oil is a Corvair characteristic. Beside Roger in the yellow shirt is his grandson Graham of Kansas. The young man proved to be very smart and good company. Many of the builders though Graham was 20 or 22 years old by his manner; it was a small surprise that he is far younger, still in high school. He is very interested in flying, and it is easy to guess that he will do very well. The kind of younger person who defies all the common media stories about youth.

We often get inquires about complete engines. Most of these are from people who only know about the low price of the engine. They have no other attraction, they know almost nothing of our development or support. Experience has taught me that any guy who decides to buy an engine he never heard of before after reading a one paragraph news release is not a guy who is in things for the long haul. Any guy who thinks you’re a genius in 1 minute is just as likely to decide you’re a fool without reason. Steady people who consider merits thoughtfully are typically the people who succeed in homebuilding. To understand an extreme case of people who are only interested in price shopping, I had a guy ask about a 3,000cc engine. He said it was priced at $50 more than his other choice, a four-cylinder, geared, tiny displacement computer controlled, imported car engine. I pointed out that philosophically these were radically different concepts in aircraft engines, and he needed to think his choice over a bit.

His response was to ask if I would sell him an engine but not the Conversion, Installation and Operations manuals, so it would reduce his cost and make up his mind. I calmly asked him why I would sell an engine to anyone who told me they didn’t want any instruction on how to operate it. I hope he is happy with the other engine, I don’t work with people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. Roger and his family impressed me as the perfect antithesis of such people. We have room in the Corvair movement for many types of people, but I can make a good argument that experimental aviation and flying in general has had quite enough of people who have no interest in learning anything.


Above, Roger and his grandson Graham. The picture provokes a thousand thoughts on where their adventure will lead. Will they both be there for the first flight? Will his grandson solo in the plane? Will Grandfather be the first passenger in his log book?  I watched the two of them at the College, they were having a very good time together. Roger, obviously proud of his grandson, and the young man accompanying his grandfather on an important and fun trip. Both of my grandfathers passed before I was born. Looking at these two made me think about it many times during the College. I have been very lucky in many ways, but as a young man I would have treasured having a grandfather. In person it was easy to tell that Roger’s grandson felt the same way about Roger.-ww



Corvair College #23, 2700cc Engine, Ray Fuenzalida, KR-2S Builder


It has been a few weeks since Corvair College #23 here in Florida. I have a few stories to write up and share from the event. We have been busy heading into Oshkosh, which is now only a month away. We have ended up with a little free time because of tropical storm Debby. It has been raining cats and dogs over the past three days, but it is expected to peak tonight, where we can end up with another 4″ of rain on top of the 12″ we already got. As a precaution on flooding, we have shut down the hangar for a day and picked up everything near the floor and turned off the power. This involved picking up the TIG welder with the engine hoist and putting the planes up on ramps. It is a lot of prep work, but it prevents damage and we will be back in action the day after the storm passes. For now, it provides time in the house to write up a story from CC #23.

Above, Corvair/KR builder Ray Fuenzalida from New Orleans. Ray has attended three other Colleges, but he decided to make #23 the special one and finish and test run his engine there. His basic engine is a 2700 with a Weseman 5th bearing. It will be more than enough power for an outstanding KR installation. Over the years Ray had considered several different starter/alternator configurations, but after seeing a lot of finished engines run at previous Colleges, Ray moved to using our standard front starter/front alternator configuration, primarily because he liked the simplicity of it. In the photo we are admiring the diamond plate top cover Ray made. We said something about a guy in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with one running board on his 1970s Dodge conversion van being ticked off…..

Above, Ray’s engine was about 1/2 complete when he brought it to the College, but we took the time to go over the engine with a fine tooth comb. One of the things we changed was his rear oil case. Ray’s core had come with an oil case from a 1960-61 Corvair. They fit, but they are a heavy sand casting. We replaced it with a die-cast one that had been fitted with one of our high volume pumps. The pump is a good idea with a 5th bearing. Standing with Ray is Dean Smith, long time Corvair movement guy, also from Louisiana.

My talented and  beautiful wife Grace painted the sign above. We have few rules at the Colleges, but we always abide by them. We lay off the top two subjects of conversation (as they rarely bring people together) and the third is that we teach builders to avoid products from totalitarian police states noted for poor quality. Ray has been a really good sport while we tease him about bringing a torque wrench made in the Peoples Republic of China. Over the years, I have shown many people that these are not accurate enough to build an aircraft engine with. Particularly offensive to me is the brand name “Pittsburgh.” I was born in the actual Pittsburgh in 1962. We bring a highly accurate Snap On digital torque wrench to every event so builders don’t have to worry about this if they are assembling at the College.  For those working at home, I suggest a Craftsman beam type wrench in 3/8 drive. They are good and cheap.

Above is a good overall view of Ray’s engine. Note the top cover has been replaced with our standard one, it is part of the Front Starter package. Ray painted it to match his engine. The diamond plate one was too thick and not smooth enough to mount the Front Starter Brackets. Ray also picked up our last non-anodized front Alternator Bracket. The only thing about Ray’s engine that is slightly different from our production 2700 engine is his use of bolt on head pipes. We used them for a long time, but every engine we have built in the past nine years had used welded on intake pipes. There is a slight flow increase with welded on pipes, but I particularly like eliminating the gasket. Our Intake Manifolds can be made to work with bolt on pipes, but they are really designed to work with welded on pipes. Mark at Falcon has a set of fixtures to do the job that are set to perfectly match our manifolds. Guys with personal skill at welding aluminum have purchased the manifold and used it in reverse to locate the head pipes without a fixture. If you do use bolt on pipes, do not use the gasket for a Corvair carb, instead use Clark’s part number C-12A, which is the gasket for the turbo intake on the car.

Ray’s engine has a very clean look because it has only one external oil line, a -6 line right from the Gold Oil Housing to the Weseman bearing. His oil cooler is a stock GM unit. These have long proven to work on small, fast Corvair powered planes like KRs and Cleanexes. All of Dan Weseman’s hard-core 3100cc powered Wicked Cleanex flying was done on a stock 12-plate cooler. The faster the plane, the smaller the oil cooler required.

Another look at Ray’s engine. Engines built with 5th bearings use the Short Gold Hub. For the past several years, we have used a sold Ring Gear in place of the 2003-07 model we used that had spokes. (It was an FRA-235 Pioneer, no longer in production.) The new model is from a late-model Ford. We buy them in the unmachined state from NAPA and individually machine each one on our lathe. This is a good view of our new Front Starter Bracket, which eliminates the drilled link of our previous starters. This new bracket comes standard on the starter we sell. We also have pre-made tail brackets for starters going on engines with Weseman bearings. The Fram 6607 filter shown is just for ground runs; we use a K&N 1008 in flight. Again, look at how clean the configuration is; it needs hardly more than plug wires and baffling to be installed. Ray’s engine will not need anything like the filter, cooler nor bypass mounted on the firewall. All of these are on the engine itself, which makes for a very organized engine compartment.

Above is the moment that counts: Ray’s engine at power on the run stand. Here is a proud hour where the learning and the effort has paid off. Ray got to share this in the company of his fellow builders. In his home EAA Chapter, he may not have a single other guy who has ever built a flight engine. At the College, this is the common ground, everyone is there to learn. At times, it can be hard to find other aviators who understand the desire to build and fly your own airframe and engine. Here is where the Corvair movement really shines, as it is made up entirely of self-reliant individuals who prefer to get the full measure of creativity and pride from homebuilding. People not content to go through the motions of the consumer experience of buying an imported engine in a box. The Corvair movement is for individuals who have willfully chosen to see how much they can learn, create and master in aviation, not how little. If this sounds like your mindset, welcome aboard. Hats off to Ray Fuenzalida, an individual who has earned the title Corvair engine builder.-ww

“If only someone had told him……”


When people arrive in the land of Corvairs, they are looking forward to learning a lot of things about the engine. I have a lot to share on the subject, but I do try to share some other things I have learned from many other aviators along the way. When you’re new to homebuilding, people often think of the mechanical things that they need to learn, but over time I understood that many of the most important things you can understand in aviation fall into the categories of judgement, philosophy, and the human condition. These are the hidden truths of flying. Popular magazines never touch these subjects either because the staffs don’t know them, or they would have a hard time tying them into sales of their advertisers’ products. Here, I am restricted by neither of these issues. I am free to share things that other people taught me, things that often came at considerable cost.

Let me share something it took me many years immersed in aviation to learn: One of the most common human reactions to an accident or something going very wrong is an observer saying or thinking “If only someone had told him….This could have been avoided.” People new to aviation often have fears that they may not be told something in their training or building that would put them in such a bad position later. Experience has taught me that this concern is unfounded. In almost every one of the bad situations that I can draw to mind, it was not the omission of important data that caused the problem. In almost every case, the unfortunate person at the center had been told, often previously warned more than once, but they chose to ignore the warnings or discount them for reasons that frequently seem hard to remember after the damage is done. It is not the lack of information, but the willful choice to ignore it that is at the root of trouble.

You can’t reach some people, and it isn’t your purpose in aviation to do so. That isn’t the focus here. What I would like to bring to your recognition is that you need to observe your own information reception from a third-party perspective. You can’t help people who don’t want to listen, but you can make sure that you are receptive to valid information, especially from people with specific experience, when it is delivered.

In the course of my work I frequently have to tell people when something in their plane or the operation of it is a bad idea. We are not just talking about points of style, we are speaking of things that I know will not work or are specifically dangerous.  Close observation has taught me that 50% of the people hearing what I have to say are developing a rebuttal or a defense before I get to the end of my second sentence. This isn’t a productive way to respond. I don’t mind any question, and I am prepared to explain at length. But many times the things I have to say are received by a person with their arms folded and an explanation that cites some local expert, a guy on the Net, or their Tech Counselor. If we were speaking of pickup trucks, sailboats or snowmobiles, you could understand people just wanting to be left alone to do it their way. Aviation has different consequences but often generates the same response to differing opinion, even when it comes from people with very specific experience. If you are new to homebuilding and even yet to solo a plane, I can say with confidence that you will do well, just as long as you are always ready to listen to experienced people who are trying to teach you important stuff.

Would more people listen if I wrote it in shorter sentences? The Manual says “never fly any aircraft you even suspect may detonate.” A month ago I got an e-mail acknowledging this sentence and then asking if “some detonation during routine leaning to save fuel was ok?” I have said in countless places that you must have a cooling shroud on every engine during a ground run, yet you can see people going without it on YouTube for 6 minute videos. There is a big difference between honest errors and people who are trying to develop a rationalization for why they don’t have to follow anything I want to share. I have been working with Corvairs for a long time and I can say that people who read information, ask questions, develop their understanding and accept proven concepts are successful at a rate many times higher than people who treat their engine build with the same respect for directions that people reserve for the ones that come with particle board shelf units from Wal-Mart. Would people listen more if I told them that in 1/3 of the cases of people damaging or destroying Corvair powered planes, they were doing something that I had previously specifically asked the builder not to do in person or on the phone? Maybe a specific example is worth considering…..

Here’s a true story: Several years ago I am in my shop and  working on distributors at nine o’clock at night. I get a telephone call from one of our successful builders (we will call him  guy “A”) who has approximately 150 hours on his flying plane. He tells me that the next day his plan is to take another pilot flying (guy “B”), and give him a check out in his plane. To do this, he will be flying his own airplane from the right seat for the first time ever. Like his plane, guy A has 150 hours.  Guy B is an experienced aviator who has not flown in a number of years.  The last flight guy B had been on was as a passenger, and it ended in a crash which killed the PIC. Guy B was understandably nervous about going flying again.

Upon hearing the plan, I tell guy A that this is the luckiest phone call he will ever make in his life. I flat-out tell him that I understand the good Samaritan motivation, but what he is thinking of doing is not just a bad idea, it’s insane.  If you’re new to flying, here’s why: Flying a plane from the right seat is a normal skill that any pilot can learn, however it is always done with a real flight instructor in the other seat, who can anticipate and catch any transition mistake on landing.  Second, people who have just been involved with an accident are very likely to flinch or freeze when confronting pressure, especially if they are in the same model of plane, or if it were a fatal accident, or both. I told him that likely the flight would go fairly well, but that guy B might have a serious problem close to the ground. The second part was a personal insight from being a crash survivor myself. We spent an hour on the phone and he offered his sincere thanks for my very serious and direct language.

Does my approach sound like sticking my nose into other people’s business? Did I really need to come down on a guy who is just being kind to another builder? Think I was a little paranoid? I mean after all, we are all equals in this world, and the guy sounds like he was going to be careful, besides, you can’t listen to all of the long stories that guy William writes anyway….

48 hours later, I am back on the phone with guy A. His aircraft is destroyed. He had heard me, but the next day had changed his mind, perhaps it seemed that I was blowing the whole potential of a problem up unrealistically. What really gets him is that he tells me that it happened just like I said. Guy B was rough but OK most of the flight, but when he came in for a landing he leveled off about 15 feet above the runway and froze. When guy A said something, guy B just pushed the stick forward and flew the plane into the runway. Neither were seriously hurt, but a plans built plane that took years to build was destroyed. There was no insurance. Guy A who should have had 3 or 4 more decades of flying is soured enough that he exits flying for good.  People who were at the airport who heard who was flying in which seat and the experience level probably thought “If only someone had told him….. “


Postscript: I got on the phone with guy B, who I considered a good guy and a friend. He explained that he was not going flying anymore. He has in his 70’s, and he was now going to hang it up. When I asked, he said that other than the last two flights, flying had been good to him. He was going to sell his home-built, which had only one flight on it. He mentioned that he was concerned about liability as a builder. I made the forward suggestion that he sell off all the avionics and the firewall forward, and turn in the N-number to the FAA and list the aircraft as destroyed. He could then give the airframe to guy A as a gesture of apology, one without liability.  Then guy A, a person who had proven he was a good apple, would back into a position to have  the same shot at a few decades of flight, just like guy B had. I really meant it when I told guy B that it was a real chance to salvage something good, and that he would end his own flying days with a noble act that would stir the heart of anyone who loved aviation. I told him that most people in aviation  pass through it without notice. Some are remembered in a negative context, But the ones how are cherished by the people who love aviation are the ones who chose to do something redemptive, something for the next man. At the moment we were on the phone, I was sure that he was going to do it. But he later changed his mind just as guy A had three weeks earlier. The incident didn’t change my feelings about either guy, but I did come away from it having to admit that I have a very limited ability to communicate with people who are of other mindsets. I sought a mixture of solace and understanding by drinking a few beers and re-reading, Speaking of Courage, a chapter in Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried.  Norman, the central character in the chapter is destroyed by his inability to find anyone to listen to a bitter truth he knows.-ww

(If you are one of the handful of people who after reading the story might know the identity of the two people above, I ask that you keep it to yourself, mentioning it to anyone will serve no valid purpose. Just take the lesson with you and leave the names behind.)

Two More Flying Planes: Merlin and VP-2


Two weeks ago, we received notes on the same day from two different builders saying that their aircraft had flown on Corvair power. When we were getting started 20 years ago, getting two more planes airborne in a summer was getting something done. Today, after a lot of hard work, two in a day is a real achievement. This is progress, especially when you consider that both of these builders did a lot more than take an engine out of a box and bolt it on. Each of them built their own engine, and in the process learned a lot more than anyone just buying an engine could. The additional challenge that both of these builders faced was not only the unique installations required by their airframe choices, but also the fact that neither of these builders are located in the United States.

Above, Darren Barnfield’s VP-2 on its first flight, in Australia. It is powered by a 2700cc Corvair that uses many of our conversion components. The second aircraft is Jeff Moore’s Merlin on floats in Newfoundland, Canada. Jeff’s is the first Merlin to fly on Corvair power.

After thinking about it, I looked on the Web to find an air miles calculator and figured out that these two builders are 11,350 miles apart. Yes, they truly are on opposite sides of the globe. Over the past 10 years, a handful of Corvairs have flown Down Under, and over the years, about 25 have flown in Canada. But the timely first flights of these planes gave me pause to think about how far the Corvair movement has come.

Jeff’s aircraft previously flew with a Rotax, but he has opted to repower his plane with a Corvair that he built with our conversion parts, His engine is a 2,700 cc 100 hp engine with all of our Gold Systems and a Weseman bearing. Jeff built his own mount utilizing one of our pre-welded trays. The Exhaust seen in the video is one of our Universal #2 Systems. You can get a look at Jeff’s aircraft running in this YouTube video:

Both of these builders wrote to say thanks for our support of their craftsmanship. Jeff wrote the quick note:

“Hi William and Grace, I test flew my Merlin yesterday. So far so good !! It came off the water very well and flies excellently. I’ll have some pics and video later on. Thanks very much for your help and advice. -Jeff”

Darren, who goes by the handle “Daz”, wrote the following:

“Subject: Aussie Corvair. G’day William and Grace,

Well the most amazing thing happened. My Corvair powered VP-2 has flown.  We checked out the aircraft and did a few good runs. On the 3rd test the VP-2 just levitated off the ground and flew off into the distance. I haven’t had the chance to pull the cowls off since the first flight so will go down this week-end.

I had shut the engine down after the first flight and it fired straight back up afterward. Now the real fun starts. I just wanted to thank you William, as none of this would have been possible without you. You have been a fantastic reference and you’re an amazing person to look up to. Thanks for all your help and assistance over the past 12 years.  I will be in contact with further questions and pics so you’re not of the
hook yet. Thanks again mate. You’re a star. Sincere regards, Darren Barnfield, Corvair powered VP-2 (Now flight tested)”

If you’re reading this at home and harboring some doubt about whether or not you’re going to be a successful builder, consider the following:

Chances are, you are a lot closer to us than either one of these guys, and you will have much easier access to cores, parts and Colleges.  These two flying planes are good examples that we keep Corvairs accessible to everyone. If you live in the U.S., I can make a good case that any Corvair part is easier to buy than one for an O-200. (As an exercise, type “pistons for sale Corvair” vs. “pistons for sale O-200” into Google.)

Second, we are here for the long run. Darren’s adventure spanned more than a decade, several times the lifespan of most alternative engine companies, but just half of our time in the game. We will be here to help you, not just today, but for good.  

Third, no matter what your airframe choice, we are the best asset you have in Corvair powered flight. We have directly supported well over 90% of the Corvair powered planes finished in the modern era. Even engines not thought of as our standard conversions almost always utilize our ignition and oil systems. This is why every flying pilot has something good to say about us. The flip side is that the Internet has a number of people who continuously crop up to say that they are going to do something new and revolutionary with Corvairs, far from the things we teach people in our Manuals and DVDs or at the Colleges. The common thread between those Internet people is that they have no flight experience with the things they propose. No serious builder is served by a poor idea proposed by a here today, gone tomorrow Internet personality. Homebuilding is a difficult enough challenge without help from such people. If you want to succeed like Darren and Jeff, the pattern is proven: Let us assist you with information, training, parts and components, and take advantage of all that we have learned and are more than willing to share.

If you lived 1,000 years and everyone who started a homebuilt eventually flew it, it would still be a waste of time to get advice from people without a successful track record of working with Corvair flight engines.  Unless you’re immortal, it is dangerous to try to fly unqualified advice. Truth is that we are here and capable of flying for a limited time and homebuilt completion rates are way below 20%.

Crucial to understand: The successful builders are NOT chosen at random by fate from the pool of starters. The successful builders set themselves apart from the others with good decision-making. First and foremost in these decisions was choosing whose advice they would take, and whose they would ignore.

Everyone understands that if you wanted to climb to the top of Everest, you would hire a Sherpa, and the first question you would ask at his interview would be, “Have you been to the summit of Everest?” If his answer was “No, but all mountains are the same,” only a fool would hire him. Yet countless builders over the years have essentially accepted such an answer when asking for aircraft building advice. The connection between mountaineering and homebuilding is that they are both very expensive, they both have low success rates, and they both have a terrible set of penalties for taking unqualified advice.

I cannot sing nor dance, I will never graduate from charm school, and I have no valid advice on fashion or flower arranging. I cannot solve the Middle East peace crisis, I do not know the solution to the Riemann hypothesis, and I do not understand why some people drive Volvos. But, I do know Corvair flight engines. No one has guided more builders to successful flying. If your goal is to get to the top of this mountain, I am here to be your sherpa.

Today can be the day you decide that you will accept the homebuilding challenge. You will be willfully acknowledging that we don’t live forever, but you are not going to waste any more of your allotment on TV or the Net.  It would be great if each of us had a lifelong friend who cared enough to stop by, shut off our computer and throw our TV away, and drag us out to our garage and say, “Life has started, you missed the starting gun, get going now like you intend to win. Clean up the shop, buy a set of plans and get started. If you don’t start, you can’t win. You deserve this. Building things is how an individual combats a system designed to steal your pride, If you get started, real builders will rally to your side when they see your determination. Get Going.”

Few of us have such a friend. If you’re waiting for him to show up, chances are you are going to stay on the couch. The only solution is that you have to be your own best friend here, and make this happen for yourself.  Decide now. -ww


William Edward Wynne Sr. – Father’s Day Notes


I wrote this piece about my Father in December of 2009. It originally appeared on our main Web page, If you have joined the Corvair movement since then, please take a few minutes to read the story.  Every good quality I may have is directly attributable to my parents. On this Father’s Day I share this story because my Father remains the hero of my life.

Many people in the Corvair movement have had a chance to meet the real William Wynne (Dad) at airshows or one of the 5 Corvair Colleges he has been to. Just today, Steve Glover called from California to fill me in on the Golden West Fly in. The first thing Steve shared was that he spent some time speaking with an aviator who knew my father in Vietnam. Dad has to take things a little slower these days, but we are working to have him at CC #24 in Barnwell, S.C., in November.  I hope that everyone has a chance to spend some time with family on Father’s Day this year, and take a moment to consider the men who made us who we are today.-ww

This week marks the 84th Birthday of my Father, William Wynne Sr. To commemorate the day, we share three photos from the family archives. Above, on the left, my Father stands in the rubble of the AT&T building in downtown Seoul, Korea, in 1952. At the time, my Father was a company commander with ACB-ONE, a U.S. Navy Seabee battalion which landed at Inchon. The South Korean capitol is less than 50 miles from the border with the North. It began to resemble Leningrad because it changed hands several times during the War. In 1974, my family toured South Korea, and it was a bright, thriving country, without an external trace of the conflict it had survived. Its vibrant character was a testimony to its people.

George Orwell was thinking of Stalinist Russia when he wrote 1984. Seven decades later, I think North Korea is actually the country that bears the greatest likeness to 1984. Kim Il Sung really is “Big Brother,” and just about every facet of the book is a fair description of life in the North. The North Koreans live under a maniacal regime that controls every detail of life, squandering its meager wealth on nuclear weapons and missiles while its people starve in the cold. In utter contrast, the South Koreans live in a society with a first world standard of living and freedom undreamed of by their Northern brothers. The Koreans suffered horrific losses during the War, and their dead were joined by 38,000 Americans whose sacrifices prevented the North from enslaving the South in their nightmare.

My Father’s 33 years in uniform were guided by a single principal: No human being, regardless of race, faith or nationality, deserves to live in a totalitarian police state. While most people would agree with this, my Father is one of the men who care if this is happening to families on the other side of the globe, even if they are not Christians, don’t speak English and don’t have anything America needs. Just being a human trying to raise a family in peace is enough. My Father is a realist who understands that the last resort will always be free men with weapons meeting the totalitarians in battle. Since he joined the U.S. Navy at age 17, he has been willing to be one of these men. Yet my Father did not fight with just the tools of war. He felt that ending a violent communist insurgency in Northern Thailand in 1972 was a major triumph. His “weapon” that gained the loyalty of the Hill Tribes was providing medical care for their families.

Most Americans of a certain age can recall some of President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” These were not mere words to men of my Father’s profession, it was a cause to pledge your very life to. My Father did not care if the poor of the world chose collective farming or workers wanted social reforms. He just recognized that political systems that don’t value individuals always degenerate to Gestapos, concentration camps, gulags and mass graves. My Father fought to stop the spread of these things.

In the china cabinet of my parents home in New Jersey sits an engraved brass plate. It was given to my Father in 1974 by Commodore Vong Sarendy, Chief of Naval Operations for the Khmer (Cambodian) Navy, to thank my Father for his efforts to thwart the communists in Cambodia. Before his acceptance speech, my Father was warned by the U.S. State Department that he could not promise further aid. It had only been 13 years since we promised to “pay any price,” but Washington had changed. The Commodore bitterly understood this, and told my Father that the Americans could go home, but he and his family would fight to the death. They did. Within a year, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge controlled the country and exterminated several million people. Being able to read and write was cause for being sent to the killing fields. I love my country, but holding that brass plate in your hands, it is easy to understand that our two biggest flaws are a short national memory and the fact that the average American has no idea what the term “totalitarian police state” means. People who have never read A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich think you can understand what cold is by watching the Weather Channel; people afraid of the dentist glibly discuss torture in foreign places; TV commentators call each other Nazis over pathetic small differences while a tiny group of elderly Americans with small numbers tattooed on their forearms know the real definition of the word.

In the above photo, my Father stands with my brother Michael and sister Melissa in front of the world’s first atomic power station, Shippingport, Pennsylvania. The photo is from 1959. The reactor was tha same design that the U.S. Navy used in its ships and submarines. My Father was the project officer working directly under Admiral Hyman Rickover. My Father has been a stalwart proponent of nuclear power for the past 60 years. It was a very different time in America when a town was proud to be chosen for such a project of national importance.

After retiring from the Navy in 1976, my Father went to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The project was the world’s first fusion reactor. Few people in the general public understood the potential of fusion to produce unfathomable power without generating radioactive waste. After Three Mile Island, the public turned against atomic power of all types, and the country blindly went back to building coal and oil-fired powerplants. Many of the anti-nuke protesters of 1979 are now climate change activists, missing the role they played in the U.S. staying dependent on fossil fuels that are at the forefront of the climate debate. If you have ever wondered how France, a country of 60 million people with no hydro power, nor coal or oil reserves, can afford to be a tireless critic of U.S. Middle East policy, the answer is simple: Virtually all of the electricity produced in France is generated in nuclear plants.

By far, the greatest joy of my Father’s life has been being married to my Mother for 59 years. The above photo was taken circa 1949. They met at the New Jersey Shore just after World War II. Throughout my entire adult life, whenever I encounter anyone in difficult straights or a terrible position, my first thought is always “without the luck of being born to my parents, that could be me.” It is not possible to overstate the positive role my parents have played in any qualities of character I have. In this Holiday Season, I have a multitude of things to be thankful for, but this always is first on my list.

“Real freedom is the sustained act of being an individual.” WW – 2009

A Father’s Day Story – Lance Sijan


Below is a story about an aviator that I always think about on Father’s Day.  Sijan’s name and story are well-known to many aviators, particularly people who served in the USAF.  However, there is one small part of the story that always comes back to me on Father’s Day.

If you have not heard of him, take a few minutes to read his story on Wikipedia at this link:  It is a small introduction to the life of a man who had willpower and bravery seen in perhaps one out of a million people.

In the past 20 years I have passed through Mitchell airport in Milwaukee many times. Without fail, I always go to the little museum upstairs. There is a lot of good aviation stuff in there, but I go in to look at only one thing. In the back there is a small glass case with a few items from Lance Sijan.  Milwaukee was his hometown, and someone carefully and lovingly put together this small case to house a few things from his brief life.

Sijan 2lt.jpg

I would like to tell you that I find Sijan’s story inspirational, and that returning time and again to the glass case is uplifting, but I don’t feel that way. For reasons that are difficult to explain, I have the profound feeling that I could understand something very fundamental about the value of human life if I just looked close enough with an open mind and heart. To me Lance Sijan was the human embodiment of pure, un-alloyed courage. When I was much younger, I thought mostly of his heroic actions, but I came to understand that his death was a tragic loss, not just for our country, or the USAF, or his fellow airmen, but particularly for his family. This change in perspective came from reading the memoirs of the two airmen who were present on Sijan’s last day.

Guy Gruters and Robert Craner did everything they could to care for Sijan in the Hanoi Hilton as his life ebbed away from the beatings, torture and neglect he suffered from the North Vietnamese.  While every POW who encountered Sijan spoke of his fearless resistance to his captors, only these two men were present to hear the last words that Lance Sijan said.  Both men stated that Lance lapsed in and out of consciousness all day while they cradled his head. In his last hours he came to just once and clearly said: “Oh God,  it’s over…. Dad, I need you.” 

This single sentence humanized Lance Sijan. Prior to knowing this, it had been much easier, and frankly convenient for me to think of him as a super human hero.  Putting people in such a category insulates us from having to really consider their suffering and courage.  Coming to understand Lance Sijan as a human being, understanding that he had the same  loves and fears as all of us, and that he had no special immunity, forces us to contemplate his real suffering, and the courage that it took to never give in to his captors. He was not granted heroic qualities at birth, he was made of the same material as the rest of us. What made him a real hero is the courage he was able to summon and the willpower he brought to bear.

In the past 20 years, I have not passed a single Father’s Day without thinking about the last words of Lance Sijan.  I think they are the most profound expression of the bond between fathers and sons.  Many sons, even ones of incredible courage,  have wished only for the presence of their Father when they reach the limits of human endurance.  What allows some sons to exercise indomitable will and pure courage? Where do such people come from? I have looked into the little case in Milwaukee many times over the years, but I have never found an answer. It remains a mystery, and I can only offer my humble awe at the courage  of a son who died with a last wish to be with his Dad, 44 Father’s Days ago.

Roditelji Petra Lensa Šijana

Lance Sijan’s parents at his grave. I found this photo in a Serbian newspaper. His family roots were from Serbia, and to this day he is regarded as a heroic figure there. His father Sylvester  died Friday, September 9, 2011, age 92 years. – He outlived his son by 43 years.

Mail Sack, Affordable Aircraft…..


Below is a collection of mail we took in covering the three articles on Affordable Aircraft. A wide range of perspectives on the subject. Anyone could read the thoughts and find something to object to, but I like to look at it from the point of view of how much the views of diverse homebuilders have in common.  I truly think that builders with thought out perspectives should have a place where they can be heard.  We can do this here without it dissolving to typical Internet drama. All perspectives welcomed.


Blast from the past: In the Zenith booth at Oshkosh 2003. Between Grace and I is the 601XL kit that we purchased that week that became our aircraft seen at the right side of this page. We had just finished speaking to Burt Rutan, who stopped when he saw Grace’s shirt that said “My ex wanted me to quit flying.” He liked the shirt, but he specifically made a joke about rivets. I pointed out that rivets cure to full strength a lot faster than epoxy cures. Burt laughed. In the center of the photo is Arnold Holmes, our guest editorial writer. The photo was taken by John Warren.

Jackson Ordean writes:

Absolutely right on. Although, at age 69, I’ll probably go for a ‘lazy’ kit. Thank you!

Piet builder Dave Aldrich writes:

Arnold hit the nail on the head when he talks about “instant gratification”. The Farcebook and Twitter generation have no clue about what pride in craftsmanship is, nor are they apt to find out. Our school systems put so much value on “self-esteem” that pride and a feeling of individual accomplishment are pushed to the fringe, if not devalued completely. I would love to have some local high school kid come out to the hangar and help me build my Pietenpol but I’ll win the Megaball Super Dooper Jumbo Lottery before that happens.

On a slightly different topic, affordable planes do exist, just not “new”. I’ve got an almost 50-year-old Piper Cherokee that has been well maintained, marginally IFR, and is worth about what you’d pay for a new mid-sized car. Solid, simple airplane and built in the USA.

Stepping down off soap box….

Zenith builder Brian Manlove writes:

Would you consider a Zenith CH650B (not quick-build) to be a “fancy kit”? At the current price of around 18K for the complete airframe and finishing package, (less FWF) I guess it’s relative to one’s viewpoint. In my case, I’m 59 years old, only now getting into the “arena” and unfortunately have an unknown life expectancy. After including the costs of the Corvair conversion, propeller, and “steam” gauges, it’s still around the cost of a mid-priced new car. It’s not only totally affordable, but I will still get a lot of satisfaction and learn a lot about aircraft construction by putting it together, and I will probably actually live to fly it. If my only choice is to look forward to an unknown number of years of trial, error, and very likely close to that much expense anyway (who knows how much wood and aluminum will keep going up in cost) then I should just hang it up now. While I’m at it, why not make my own tires, brake pads, propeller… heck, I could even turn my own nuts and bolts with a nice lathe… I’ll get my daughter to start weaving linen… Seriously though, aren’t Zenith and Sonex at least trying to produce a truly affordable product for the “common man?”

Brian, both Arnold, myself and most other people I know consider both Zenith and Sonex kits a good value, and part of the solution and not the problem. In 2005 I wrote an article published by the EAA called “The P/K LSA” and the subject was these two aircraft, and how both outfits were glad to offer them as kits, plans, or even by the individual part, addressing many people’s needs. Keep in mind that Grace and I thought the 601 kit was a good enough value to buy one ourselves at Oshkosh 2003 for $15K, which was a giant amount of dough to us at the time. Our main beef is stories about real builders like yourself being displaced by stuff about $150K LSAs from China and million dollar turboprops. Keep building, looking forward to you flying your creation into a College soon.-ww

Larry Bird in Virginia writes:

Bravo — I’m sure this was just a bit of a rant – it was penned with too much passion to be anything else; however, it is also painfully true as most of us who still harbor flying dreams, but must live paycheck to paycheck, know… (Please pardon the turgid parentheticals, that’s the way I think).

It is popular these days to insist that “someone” should do this or that to relieve me of my plight, but the truth is that if I can convince myself to be content with the product of my own hands, then I have few excuses and the solution is readily available. I’d love to be in the position to afford (and build) a Lancair IV, but even though I have Lancair’s first VHS promotional tape from way back when, that will never happen…

Thankfully there are still folks fully engaged at the unpretentious end of sport aviation to “help” geriatric neophytes with encouragement, advice and (dare I say it) parts/assemblies I can’t easily make myself. I’ve been involved/immersed in several sports; motorcycling, sailing, auto-racing and flying among them – in one fashion or another all have betrayed their populist roots and become more spectator sports built on ersatz pageantry than the participatory sport they once were…

Nonetheless, after years mildewing on the couch waiting for my “ship to come in,” it is good to be back in the shop attempting to learn those skills that would have afforded me my (air) ship, decades ago… plus, I get to take frivolous pleasure in the satisfaction that comes with having a fantastic excuse for all that low-cost dirt and grease under my finger-nails… All on the anticipation that I may yet get back in the air, and for less than many pay for a used car…It’s up to me…

Noted aviation journalist Pat Panzera writes:

Although you won’t find much in the way of homebuilding in the pages of EAA’s Sport Aviation (as compared to years past), I’ve spent the past 3.5 years bringing the type of homebuilt articles we’ve come to miss to the (virtual) pages of EAA’s Experimenter eNewsletter, AND for nearly a decade, I’ve filled the pages of CONTACT! magazine with articles from the trenches of experimental aviation, many of which are one-off designs. For Experimenter, I campaigned from the beginning to make it FREE to everyone, not just EAA members, and so far I’ve been able to keep it that way. Unfortunately, changes are being made outside of my control

Pat, People who follow your work understand that you are one of the very few journalists committed to publicizing the efforts of the common man, with a long portfolio that shows that you have always backed this concept. Thanks for the efforts to cover our Arena.-ww

Bruce Culver writes:

This and your previous essay are outstanding. I am among those who would love to fly, but hover at the lower end of the monetary threshold. Yet I never miss a chance to go outside when I hear a plane go overhead, wanting to see what it is. In a real sense, EAA has sold its soul to the march of commercial aviation. As you said, “Sport Aviation” looks more and more like “Flying”, and there are tens of thousands of us out here who would love to get up there, but can’t quite make it, yet. But with the proper attitude and some assistance in planning and more economical designs and materials, many of us can, and will… I was a logistician in the defense industry for 25 years, and I love the Corvair movement because you have no real competition, and have fought for so long to make this wonderful engine all it could be for light aviation. The watchword in military logistics is “life cycle costs,” and that means acquisition, operation, and maintenance and repair. This is where the Corvair is the engine for the DIY homebuilder on a budget, not only getting the engine but using it and repairing or upgrading it. You can replace the entire internals in a Corvair for less than just the valves in a Lycoming or Continental. Please keep up the fight to make flying accessible to all who desire to slip the surly bonds. What you are doing is incredibly important – there is NO other way to keep general aviation healthy without making flying more accessible. The pilots who got their training in the 1960s are retiring pretty quickly now, and the military services are not training the number of pilots they used to. Only by encouraging new pilots to join the decreasing crowd can the decline be slowed. When GA gets small enough, many of the services now available will disappear due to lack of sufficient demand. That will affect even the 5% catered to by EAA and AOPA. But by then it will be too late….

J.A. Oliver writes:

I agree wholeheartedly with your take on “Sport Aviation.” When the much-ballyhooed January 2010 issue hit my mailbox, the first thing I said (to myself) was, “They’re trying to make it look like ‘Flying.’ ” This was without knowing who was involved and where they had come from. There have been some good articles, but there is also a lot of stuff that I classify as “filler.” I hope they get back on track. I still haven’t recovered from the spin-off of “The Experimenter” from “Sport Aviation.” Don’t let this issue distract you from the Colleges and Oshkosh, etc. They have made some changes.

Zenith builder Rebecca Shipman writes:

The future of aviation among real people in the U.S. will depend on affordable access to GA aircraft. I like your analogy to sailing. My first sailing experience was in Berkeley on a sailboard. I got access through Cal Sailing Club, which was $20/month. Later, I had my first real sailing experience on a 16′ Hobie Cat owned by a co-worker. (I was invited because his wife thought it was too windy, but that’s another story). I was able to get a lot of experience with motorcycles, and currently ride a very nice one, and I never paid over $5k (my BMW R1100RT-P ). Reliable entry level used planes that cost about what a new SUV would cost would go a long way to ensuring the future of flying for real people. Right now that is possible if you build your own plane. But now you need to have the time, skills, and doggedness to build your own plane. Would I be a motorcycle rider if I had to build my bike?

Regarding the China thing, they are actively investing in developing high end aviation technology. In fact they are investing in all kinds of technology. And we just give it to them, because there is a tremendous short term monetary advantage for moving jobs and capital to China. Plus, it is a growing market because they are developing a middle class. China is huge on “buy China” – unlike the U.S. and “buy American”. So if you want to dominate the market, you have to produce there. In my engineering job, I am training Chinese engineers, and transferring all kinds of trade secret technology to China. We know we can’t protect it – China is lousy on IP law. But it doesn’t matter – there is a fast buck to be made.

Finally, what I train both Chinese and U.S. engineers in at work is a way of thinking that involves the combination of theoretical knowledge and practical mechanics and electronics. I think aviation is a great way to do this. There are many small airports around the country which have shops and planes and flight instructors. Bringing high school students to the local airport / FBO and training them in some basic mechanics, giving them an intro flight, and giving them a basic ground school experience could be a win-win-win. Students would get instruction in an interesting and fun environment, FBOs and small airports would get business and the GA industry would get exposure and new blood.

Tim Smart writes:

Great article, spot on by my thinking. 

Jerry McFerron writes:

Years ago I purchased an hour of dual instruction in a Navy N3N biplane with a P&W R-985. It was my first open cockpit – biplane – radial engine experience. The airport was small, with a road that passed next to the south end of the runway. As we taxied out to take off, a woman driving along the road stopped her car so that her young son could watch. It took me a while to realize that much of my life is spent being the guy looking over the fence instead of doing something that will cause people to stop their car and watch.

Looking back, it seems that the fence gets taller and further from the runway as time goes on. Even more years ago I had a Hobie 16 with blue hulls and Tequila Sunrise sails. . . Hummmm

Jerry, My Dad learned how to fly at Annapolis in N3Ns in 1946. You keep building and we will keep the fence as low as possible.-ww

Zenith 750 builder Mike Festa writes:

William, I can always count on you for eye opening account of the exact happening in my hangar in 2010. It was there that I felt like a spectator! My partner in the hangar was building an RV-6A, and my other friend was completing an AcroSport II. I was happy, or so I thought, being a wrench for these guys, basically doing what was needed. Then, along came the idea of the Corvair as the powerplant for an aircraft I had not chosen. Along came the new 750 from Zenith, and that’s when I was NO LONGER a spectator. As you explained, I could not afford some of these Sport Aircraft, so the 750 was clearly my choice. I experienced Corvair College #20 in Michigan and solidly was convinced I made the right choice. Thanks for the time and effort you have made for, not only me, but countless builders and dreamers who were able to make my “bucket list” reality. Thanks to Grace for being so important in your efforts, also. Peace you all! Hope to see you at Oshkosh. A grateful builder, Mike Festa CC #20 

Builder Rodney Wren writes:

That is one very well written and well thought out article. I recently called EAA and inquired as to plans that might be available for a motor glider. Surely, the premier homebuilt organization in the world should have a list of options available for “homebuilders.” I was referred to a book in their library that “might have some information in it.” They did not, and could not cite one airplane, or set of plans that could be purchased. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was; the individual I talked to was not even aware of the Xenos which is manufactured by Sonex and even located right there on the same airport as the EAA.

Last year, a friend I work with brought me several issues of the EAA magazine. In one was an article on the Cessna 182. WHAT?????? What the heck is a review of a 182 doing in a magazine for homebuilders? Since I plan on selling my 172 this year, and start the process of building a Xenos with a Corvair engine in it, my friend suggested I join EAA. I love all the EAA Webinars and short instructional videos that are available; but where is the organization headed long term? I don’t want to be too hard on them – just wanted to note that my experience with them has been less than what I expected. I’m not too sure that they deserve any of my $$ at this juncture. I appreciate the efforts of people like Mr. Monnett and William Wynne, who really are in the forefront of helping us “common folk” find affordable solutions to our desire to fly. You guys keep up the good work! Regards, RW.

Steve Kean writes:

My guess is it takes money and sponsorships to run EAA glitz, hence the focus on the unattainable French Turbo Prop. Perhaps seeing what EAA financial obligations are being proposed in the yearly budget, members could vote on how EAA spends our membership fees and where endorsement $’s must be used. I whole heartily agree we need more kit and home built coverage. EAA could separate (or sever) the money and glitz financial obligations side of their business from that 98% of the future of aviation, and FOCUS on attainable aircraft.…and I thought there was something wrong with me for not reading “Flying”…

Georgia H. Trehey writes:

William, You give me great hope. Kudos!



Guest Editorial, Arnold Holmes On Affordable Aircraft…


My Friend Arnold is well-known to many of the people in the Corvair movement. He hosted the enormously popular Corvair College#17, he has attended many others, and was one of our earliest contributors to the movement. If you look at the first pages of our conversion manual, Arnold is in the photo with us and our Pietenpol at Brodhead 2000. We had just flown it up from Florida.

Arnold’s experience in aviation is diverse, his talents are many. A skilled pilot and an IA, he knows traditional construction, but is well-known in the high-end composite industry, having worked for outfits like Legend and Adam Aircraft. He is addressed by the moniker “The Repair,” as in “Get me The Repair!”, because he once fixed a Lancair IVP that had its tail completely severed by a helicopter which ended up embedded in the top of the cabin in a ground collision. The project was delivered ahead of schedule and on budget.

Today his shop, AvMech, specializes in high-end GA aircraft maintenance, but he still is heavily involved in working class EAA stuff, he has revived his local chapter into a hard-core building group and he regularly flies his 1,000 hour VariEze, including taking it to Oshkosh last year with his son Cody. I have been close friends with Arnold for 18 years. We don’t agree on every small point, but he is always worth hearing out. Above all else, we both agree that the day belongs to the man In The Arena, not the critic on the sidelines.-ww

Corvair College #17 host Arnold Holmes and his son Cody at Oshkosh 2010

From Arnold Holmes:

I believe that airplanes for lower economic situations already exist. They are commonly referred to as “Plans built”. Although there is no doubt that various economic factors plague the ability for blue-collar people to own aircraft, it is not a complete deterrent. I often think that other factors for owning aircraft are often overlooked. For instance, our society has generally been conditioned for “instant gratification” and as such we have left much of our hands-on craftsmanship behind for the ease of assembling a kit. Granted that kits still require craftsmanship, but when purchasing a kit you are trading your time for money.

Second, I tend to think that our own success as an organization (EAA) is also our biggest failure. If you look at Sport Aviation Magazine from the 1960′s/70′s and even deep into the ’80′s you will find a treasure trove of new/one-off designs that often times were built by people who had no engineering degree. Sport Aviation Magazine was full of this stuff every month. As you pointed out in your post, J Mac started out doing a story about a TBM (not the Avenger by the way). Complete garbage for our publication and the membership should have taken the editors to task for such tripe.

Back to the point however, the failure in our success is really that we progressively featured only the very best award winners and show planes in the magazine. I think that over the years this has cultivated a common ideology that if you did not build an award winner than you are not worthy of building anything. People have come to believe that the requirements for success are so high that the ideology itself is defeating.

Now don’t think that I advocate doing poor work or skirting safety because I don’t; however I do believe that people get so caught up in trying to be the next OSH Grand Champion that they never finish their project. In addition, sport aviation as a recreational activity has become big business. How often do we think of something that we need and instead of saying “how can I build that” we instead pull out the Aircraft Spruce Catalog or call Van’s Aircraft and use the credit card for instant gratification. This drives the cost up way beyond where it should be. I am as guilty as anybody for this kind of stuff but I try to design and build as much of my own stuff as I can.

I think that it is mostly hopeful wishing to think that some “company” of any size is going to produce a low-cost airplane for the low-cost market. Why? Economy of scale might be a good way of looking at it. Despite simple airplanes being simple, there is only so much cheap you can design in and there is only so much cheap that you can run a company on. People and vendors need to be paid fair wages if they plan to stay in business and these things alone drive the cost up significantly. The sailboats you mentioned sold 30,000 copies; at that scale you have some financial cash flow and resources to work with. A cheap airplane may sell a few thousand copies if they are lucky; when you look at total investment, cash flow issues, vendors and materials (and insurance!!) it’s simply not possible to make an airplane in today’s market that cost what a sailboat or nice car costs. Assuming that sailboats and nice cars are within the reach of blue-collar society. This of course negates the ongoing cost of owning an airplane.

Now I still believe however that a nice one or two place airplane is within the reach of the common man. The common man however has to have his expectations recalibrated. Common man needs to set aside fancy kits, splashy avionics and powerful engines if he wishes to fly. Common man needs to go back and learn how to cut tubing and learn to weld with a gas welder, no need for an expensive TIG machine. Common man needs to curl up with a nice EAA book on woodworking, if they still sell such a thing. Common man must realize that his airplane will take a number of years because he will build it from scratch, one piece at a time, stick by stick and weld by weld (or layup by layup if you’re so inclined).

This return to the old ways is how common man will have his airplane. Yesterday I was asked to service a dead battery on a new Communist built airplane. As I poked around the plane becoming acquainted with its merits I quickly come to the conclusion that it was built using the same general engineering and manufacturing methodology as the Thorp T-18. Only this Communist airplane cost about $100,000 dollars more than the nicest T-18 you could ever find. Commie airplane flies 40 kts slower and is ugly as hell and is not rated for any aerobatics. Incidentally the cost of this airplane recently floated upward some 40% from its introductory cost. Now if the largest GA manufacturing company on the planet using Commie labor cannot produce anything cheaper than $150K and having a simple sheet metal construction that any homebuilder could replicate, how would it be possible for a small startup to pull it off. I know, I know there are several angles to that argument and I look forward to your rebuttal.

Arnold Holmes
A&P 2712249 IA
Av-Mech LLC
EAA Chap 534 Pres.


In a 2006 photo, Arnold Holmes and I stand behind the engine installation on a V-8 powered Lancair IV-P. This is an EngineAir package that I helped develop from 1993 to ’98. It’s 450hp, geared, injected, intercooled and turboed, and featured air conditioning and pressurization. This is complication. Eventually, about a dozen of these took to the air. They were stunning performers. I flew from Oshkosh to Daytona Beach in three hours and five minutes in our first airplane, cruising at 29,000′. The development of this engine took the work of many clever, dedicated people, and one guy with cubic yards of money, Jim Rahm. It worked, but taught me that homebuilders at all levels tremendously underestimate the effects of complication, primarily its delays and expenses. Whenever I read discussions about electronic injection or computer controlled engines, I can tell in an instant who has no practical experience with attempting to prepare these systems for flight. Get a good look at the size of the 5-blade MT propeller. Both Arnold and I have spent a lot of time working on projects that cover the full spectrum of experimental aviation, but after two decades, we both understand that getting the working man a place In The Arena is far more challenging and important than high-end products.-ww