Wisconsin 2012 Air Adventure


We are just back from a 13-day trip up north to the Brodhead Pietenpol Fly In and to a week at Oshkosh. I am sending out this report in several sections to give everyone a sense of what the events were like in person. After more than two decades of making this pilgrimage every flying season, it still remains an adventure, because it is filled with characters who make every year something new. As you read through the notes, picture yourself there and part of each day. They were all well spent in the company of good people. If you are going out to your shop tonight to put in a few hours on your project, work knowing that you have many friends out there, people you are yet to meet, but people with whom you share a basic passion of learning, building and flying. When you make it to Brodhead, AirVenture or a College, you will be warmly welcomed by your fellow aviators who also remember the type of people who founded the EAA.

The first aircraft I saw at Brodhead was Randy Bush’s Corvair powered Piet Miss Le’Bec, making its 4th appearance at Brodhead.

The emcee of all the Saturday forums at Brodhead is Corvair powered Piet pilot P.F. Beck. PF is also well known as the host of Corvair Colleges #19, #21 and the upcoming #24 in South Carolina in November. P.F. shared that he has now flown 250 people in his Pietenpol.

A quick glance around the airport revealed Tom Brown’s Corvair Powered Piet hiding from a short rain shower in one of the art deco Brodhead hangars. Tom’s plane is the high time Corvair powered aircraft in the world with more than 1,500 hours, all logged on a very basic B.H. Pietenpol style installation.

Brodhead is also a gathering place and home to a very wide array of antique aircraft.  I walked around a corner and found this pre-war Chief. These are rare enough that I had not seen one in person in more than 15 years. This one was flown up from Texas.

Tom Brown’s Piet in flight over Brodhead.

A perfect replica of a Bleriot (the first plane to fly across the English Channel-1909) was on hand complete with rotary engine. This was later flown in the calm air of sunset. Igor Sikorsky’s most famous quote is, “In the beginning, aviation was not science nor art, it was a miracle.”  This aircraft design was the transition point from miracle to rudimentary engineering.

Above, The Last Original, B.H. Pietenpol’s last aircraft of more than 20 he built. A masterpiece by the patron saint of homebuilt aircraft. It has more than 800 hours on it. It is owned by, cared for and loved by Bill Knight. Bill understands that this aircraft is a treasure, but he also knows that it doesn’t belong in a museum, it needs to be flown in front of people, especially Piet builders. Very, very few other homebuilt aircraft groups have a their most significant aircraft in its natural element and totally accessible. My wife Grace has flown this plane, and considers it a complete honor and perhaps her best day in aviation. Bill decided to have the inside of the engine brought up to current specs with forged pistons and a nitrided crank, Falcon heads and Dual Ignition, while retaining the complete original look. This will keep this aircraft in good shape for another 30 years. Hats off to Bill Knight, patron of the art of aviation.

The Piet of Kevin Purtee and Shelley Tumino at Brodhead. The aircraft has more than 300 hours on it. Kevin and Shelley are well known in both Piet and Corvair circles, and they hosted Corvair College #22 in Texas. Brodhead ends Sunday morning, and Kevin had plans to fly on to Oshkosh. He had a power loss right after take off and had a forced landing off the end of the Brodhead runway. Kevin was very seriously injured and the aircraft was heavily damaged. We were already at Oshkosh, but a number of people saw the accident in person and were justifiably shaken. Within a day, word came back that Kevin would have some new scars, and some time off, but he is going to make a full recovery. With Oshkosh just up the road, the FAA sent an accident team right to the undisturbed site in the cornfield where they found a lot of water in his fuel system. At the end of the week, Grace, Mark Petz and myself had a chance to spend a few hours with Kevin and Shelley, who were on their last day in the Madison hospital. They both ran out of words to express their thanks to everyone who had called, written and gone out of their way to help. It was a very moving example of how aviators care for each other when it counts. It lifted my spirits greatly when Kevin announced that he and Shelley are going to rebuild his plane in the next year, and he is going to run a 5K by the end of this year.

On Saturday, Ron Lendon of Michigan flew in to Brodhead in his new 601 XL.  Ron is well known in Corvair and Zenith circles. His aircraft is plans built, and displays first class craftsmanship. When I took the photo, his plane had 55 hours on it, but it had been flying just 30 days. He flew his first 40 hours off in 10 days. This only happens when two things come together: He followed a proven path that we advocate, and he put care and craftsmanship into his work. These two combine for an absolutely trouble free test period. Countless times we have heard of people having an issue with a new homebuilt, particularly alternative engine ones. Every bit of my work with Corvairs has been aimed at never having these issues for our builders. Problems that other people have are often directly linked to some new installation or an overworked design that was never proven over years of testing. We have countered this with a careful program of seeking out “Old And Proven” in the place of new and exciting. The ultimate benificiaries are builders like Ron who get to achieve their dreams of flight and self reliance with as low a risk and stress as possible. Hats off to Ron Lendon.

On Saturday I had an afternoon forum on Piets, Corvairs and Weight and Balance. Above, P.F. Beck and  I get started.

Standing with the Corvair shirt is Ryan Mueller, who did the 5 part series with me on Weight and Balance that appeared in the Brodhead Pietenpol Association Newsletters, available at www.Pietenpols.org.

Randy Bush offers his testimonial on Corvairs and Piets in combination. He now has more than 420 hours on his plane. This is a lot for an open cockpit aircraft based in Tennessee. Many Corvair people met Randy at previous Colleges. Both he and I have had many conversations about how homebuilding and developing and exercising your craftsmanship in aircraft building is a refuge of sanity and stability in our personal lives.  We have both noted that when many people hit a rough patch in life, one of the first things they think of doing is quitting their aircraft project. Either of us, and everyone else who has finished an aircraft under challenging circumstances, would gladly offer that selling your project is the last thing you should do. When little else is going right, and few people are on your side, hours spent in your shop will show you that you still control much of your life, and the opinions of you held by others are often worthless. In your own shop, your are in charge, and any hour spent building something with your own hands is well spent and the things you learn can never be taken from you. Go back and read the Sterling Hayden quote about what men really need to lead meaningful lives.

On hand at Brodhead forums were Ed and Val Fisher, hosts of Colleges #12 and #16. Ed has restarted the SAA, Paul Poberezny’s core EAA values group for people who want to preserve and enjoy the spirit that started the EAA 60 years ago.

Forums lead to “Tailgate Seminars.” Here, we go over details of engine selection and building with a good core example. Teaching is at the root of all of our work. At Oshkosh, engines are often promoted and sold by people who hardly know a camshaft from a crankshaft. You can buy something from a salesman, but you can’t learn anything from him. When I went to Embry-Riddle, every professor was required to present each student a very detailed syllabus on the first day of class, often several pages long.  My first class in aerodynamics was taught by the department chair. He understood the syllabus requirement, and met it by handing out a single piece of paper with one sentence on it: “You are here to learn, and I am here to teach, and all else is secondary.”

It was nearly 100F outside, but we covered more than an hours’ details.  I have heard that most Rotax seminars are PowerPoint presentations held in Holiday Inn banquet rooms.  I will put the engine knowledge of our successful Corvair builders against any other make of powerplant. We have always made learning the focal point. Everyone who gets started in experimental aviation should have personal goals of expanding what they know. The depth of these goals varies greatly from person to person. After 24 years in this game, I am in a very good position to confirm the obvious: The people who get the most out of this are the people who are willing to learn the most; People who think only spending money here will offer the same achievement as those who invest time and real effort will end up finding otherwise. If the engine section of a person’s personal goals in aviation are so shallow that they can be met with an “appliance” that basically has a tag  saying “No user serviceable parts inside,” then a Rotax 912, or any of the other “imported-in-a box” engines, will cover their needs. For those who got into experimental aviation to find out how much they could learn, not how little, we have the Corvair. I do not begrudge consumer mentality people an engine product to meet their modest personal goals. And it comes as no surprise that people with the consumer mindset might fail to understand those of us who approach aviation as the learning opportunity and challenge of a lifetime. The goals and choices of others are not my concern nor focus. I am here to serve and work to advance the goals of the people who are in experimental aviation to get the most out of it. Since 1989 these people have always proven to be the best people I have met in aviation, and I look forward to every hour in their company.




Above, four Piets in flight at sunset over Brodhead. You might have a hard time remembering what you had for dinner last night, but this is the kind of 15 second moment that you can remember for 10 years. In years to come I will be able to glance at this photo and remember the sound, how hot it was and who was there. Getting something out of aviation is made of putting together as many of these moments as you can in the company of good people.

When the air was flat calm, the Bleriot came out, and we got to see what aviation looked like 100 years ago.  If you took out a 1912 Model T and drove it down the road, chances are that you would have some D-bag in a Prius next to you text messaging instead of driving.  (To the three Prius owners in North America who don’t text message and drive, Becky, Mark and Bob, I apologize in advance.) The sunset sky over Brodhead offered no such distraction, and the moment was perfect. The planes’ motion through the sky was as mesmerizing as watching an eagle riding on a thermal.

On to Oshkosh 2012

Above, three Zenith builders who flew their Corvair powered planes to Oshkosh stand with Sebastien Heintz, president of Zenith, in front of our tent. Left to right, Ron Lendon, Michigan, 601 XL, Roger Pritchard with his son Ben, New Hampshire, 601 XL, Sebastien, and Dave Gardea, Indiana, 650. All three planes were making their first appearance at Oshkosh.

We have many more stories of Oshkosh in the next two segments we are working on. … We will have them up shortly-ww


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