Shop perspective: Mastery or ?


Here are a few photos to give builders some insight to a day in our shop. They were taken the week before we left for the Zenith open house. Perhaps the most important aspect of our work with builders is that I am essentially a homebuilder myself. In our industry, there are countless companies staffed by people who have never turned a wrench on a homebuilt aircraft. These people have little or no understanding of the needs and capabilities of rank and file homebuilders. Many of these sales people have no exposure to real builders beyond handing our brochures at Oshkosh. Very few of them have ever made a single house call to a builders shop, and consequently have little real connection to traditional homebuilders.

We are on the other end of the scale. Over the last 20 years I have held 23 major colleges and made something like 400 house calls. This is a lot of opportunity to listen to builders and really get to know them. Until you do this, I can make a good argument that you are not really in a good position to be an asset to builders. Yes you can sell them things, but until you know them, you don’t even know if builders are installing the stuff correctly, far less learning anything nor improving their own personal capabilities.

Look at the photos below and notice that my shop and hangar may be a little messier, or have more old school tools, but it is still a homebuilders shop. A product producer who has a spotless CNC shop, but never works on aircraft directly, will have a distorted view that technology rules the day in homebuilding. It doesn’t. Craftsmanship will always be paramount. No matter how the part is made, a human, (an amature not a professional in homebuilding) will have to bolt this part on and operate it. Unless you understand these builders, and are willing to invest effort in assisting them in the development of their personal craftsmanship, you are not going to make a difference. technology is an important tool in the process, but it isn’t the focal point. It’s called homebuilding for a reason….if every part was made exclusively in a high-tech factory and came pre-installed, you could drop the name Homebuilding and replace it with the term Factory-buying.

At Zenith I met a guy who was having a different brand of aircraft built for him. He was dropping some big checks to have his airframe built, have a buy-it-in-a-box engine installed, and another guy paint it. Almost everything the guy had to say was a frustrated complaint. Little surprise, he had gone to great expense to remove every satisfying element from homebuilding and replace it with a consumer experience, had attempted to negotiate a leveraged exchange rate for the craftsmanship of others for his dollars. In direct comparison, I had a number of corvair builders share pictures of things they were very proud to have created with their own hands. There is an obvious truth that people who make things are happier than people who buy them.

Above Grace is sealing parts, hardware and instruction sheets into sealed bags. This is in one end of our 20x 30 shop. It is disorganized because we were packing up the trailer to head out to Zenith. The shop is usually full, but neater. For the most part, Just Vern and I work in the shop, so it’s small size is not a problem. It is well lit and has central heat and air. (It is attached to our 40×50 hangar, but the hangar is truly ‘climate controlled’, in the sense it is hot in the summer and cold in the winter.) Look Closely and you will see the Scoob E. is lying on the chair behind Grace. He tends to spend 23 hours a day within 10 feet of her.

Above, parts laid out that were assembled into Gary Burdett’s 2850cc engine. Gary is well along in the construction of his Zenith 750, and elected to have us assemble his engine. Even though he purchased it complete and test run, he has taken advantage of all of our educational material and the type of learning we offer at colleges. He is far more knowledgeable on the building, operation and maintenance of this engine than almost any person who buys an engine from a company that places little effort or focus into builder education

Note the high-end parts that went into Gary’s engine. The Falcon Heads are vastly better than any Corvair head that every left the factory; The pistons are Forged, CNC machined and made in the US; The crank is fully stress relieved and deep nitrided. The engine components are far better than the ones GM used. Corvairs were rated up to 180hp in the car, redlined at 5,500 rpm. Not only do we use far better components, bet we simultaneously flat rate the engine to 55% of this power output 58% of this rpm limit. This is the root of all the success of the Corvair engine as an aircraft power plant. It is truly an automotive Conversion engine, because we have converted in the form of substantial internal improvements while flat-rating its output. This is the only rational way to expect a car engine to reliably do the job of an aircraft engine.

Over the years, there have been countless companies that tried to promote the concept that a car engine rated at say 100 hp at 6,000 rpm can have a reduction bolted to it and be put directly into a plane, and then asked to reliably produce 100hp and turn 6,000 rpm. Everyone understands that if you drove your car like that it would have a short life span, but many people bought into this idea because they wanted to believe it. These engines were called auto conversions, but in reality they were not….they were just auto engines, being asked to continuously develop power at high rpm. Most of these engine came out of cars that were wrecked, many were out of designs marketed to 18-24 year olds, most of whom have no concept of auto motive maintenance like oil changes. When asked what they would do if their stressed engine broke, almost all of these people said, “I will just go get another from a junk yard” as if every aircraft engine conveniently breaks on the ground in front of a snap on tool box.

You can’t teach people who don’t want to learn nor consider any thought that would challenge something they have a big emotional investment in believing. I don’t try, I am just here to work with people who wish to learn more about how they can become their own engine builder, and maintenance department. Some people would gladly take the word of a junk yard operator that the engine he is selling is read to fly. Corvair builders are the kind of people who would much rather count on an engine based on a 52 year track record of steady improvement on an excellent design, that they built with skilled hands, with conversion parts specifically designed to make the engine reliable. Which engine you gravitate toward depends entirely on what kind of person you are.

Above, Gary’s 2850cc engine at power on the break in stand. A fundamentally simple engine, that we have a long track record of expertise with. Safety in aircraft is all about understanding and having mastery of the machine you are operating. You can not show me a single person who was ever hurt in a plane because he understood too much about it, but I can show you countless statistics that used to be humans who got caught operating a machine with pass-able skills when the moment required better.

I do not have an instrument rating nor a multi rating. If I wanted either, I am sure I could write a check to a ratings mill and have enough skill in 10 days to do a passable job on the check ride. People who actually have mastery of muti and instrument flight understand that neither of these are forgiving of “pass-able” skills when it counts. I can make a good case that this extends to every skill set in aviation, that safety lies in mastery.  My personal concept of what I want to do in aviation is mastery of the stick and rudder VFR planes that I like. Because I am a homebuilder, I am also speaking of mastering the building of this plane, and it only makes sense to me to know the power plant, and I mean really know it, as well. 

Plenty of people demonstrate that you can get away with very little understanding of aircraft, flight, powerplants and weather, and still get back to the airport. Maybe they don’t care, maybe they are not bothered by trying to cut a few corners or get away with stuff, But this isn’t me, and it isn’t why I am in aviation. I am here to really know things, and to be the master of the equipment I am counting on. The inherent simplicity of the Corvair and the educational nature of the movement makes this possible.  I honestly don’t understand people who would be comfortable pushing the throttle in on the take off roll, comfortable with the idea that the guy at the junkyard said “the engine was only driven on Sundays and had low mileage.” Ronald Reagan popularized the phrase “trust with verification.”  After 24 years in experimental aviation, let me suggest you will be better off if you just skip to the last word and just “Verify.”-ww

Zenith Aircraft Open House


Here are a few photos and thoughts from last week’s Zenith open house celebrating 20 years of operation in Mexico, MO. (Zenith has been in operation more than 30 years, but was based in Canada for the first years.) After I took them, I realized that almost all of them were shots of people. This is fair enough, because in the real measure, homebuilding is about people and their hard work to achieve something extraordinary in their lives, people un willing to settle for what others will accept.

This month marks 9 years since Grace and myself bought our 601XL kit from the factory. When it flew several months later, we started the era of ‘Zeniths powered by Corvairs’, something we shortened to “Zen-Vair.” The years since have seen almost 60 more Zeniths take to the air with Corvair power. We now have another 50-60 aircraft that could fly in a year, and a completion rate that is close to one every 12 days. It is a success story make possible by Zenith providing outstanding designs that are well supported. Choosing an airframe is something of a marriage between the builder and the factory. In the case of Zenith, they have a long track record of successfully working with builders of all experience levels. They are one of the longest lasting and most stable companies in our industry, and as one of their builders, I will gladly say that they are first class people to work with.

Some people show up everywhere. Albert and Dan Glaze have been to the last half-dozen Corvair Colleges, a number of airshows and several Zenith open houses. Dan’s engine ran at Corvair College #20 in Michigan last year. Yet he and Albert return to events to give back a little more than they received, a common thread in the Corvair movement. These two long time friends have an ongoing comedy routine like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Dan’s aircraft is a 750. he is now past the 75% mark, and having the engine done and running is a lot better feeling than having a big expense looming in the future.

650 builder and pilot Dave Gardiea. His aircraft was the polished one with the red nosebowl.  Dave’s plane has also been seen at Oshkosh, and is another outstanding example of the breed. Although I like pretty much anyone into homebuilts, Dave is a good example of the self-reliant, thinking kind of builder that we attract to Corvairs, easy people to admire and get along with. At first glance, builders considering engine choices often compare weights and prices. truthfully, finding the best match for your plane is much more about your personal goals in homebuilding. For people who want to know everything about their aircraft, on both sides of the firewall, we have the Corvair.

Delton Perry and his better half. He is closing in on finishing his Zenith. Last year, at College #21, Delton ran his magnificent engine. A life long mechanic, his powerplant displayed a very high level of detail and gave a very smooth test run.

Sebastien speaking at friday night’s dinner. He made sure to personally thank his staff for the success of the factory. When he recounted how long each of the people had worked there, it stood in contrast to many other aviation companies that go through employees like water, unable to generate stability nor loyalty required to attract and keep a first class staff like Zenith’s.

Craig and Valerie Westedt.  The both came to Corvair College #22 in Texas and CC#23 in Florida earlier this year. Craig is quick to point out that the project is actually Valerie’s build, he is playing the support role.  At the Zenith dinner Valerie won a deluxe VIP Oshkosh Package from the EAA’s president, Rod Hightower. It included an up close parking pass. All the Corvair builders who have met Valerie understood she isn’t going to need the parking pass, as she is determined to fly into Airventure.

Lynn Dingfelder’s 601XL(B). This is the first time I have seen his plane since he flew it into Corvair College#20. The engine is a 2700cc power plant with a Dan bearing and an Elison EFS-3A carb.

Shane and Phyllis McDaniel stand in front of their 650, which was the first amature built 650 in the country. They brought it to Oshkosh to great praise, it is a outstanding example. They recently finished a 601XL, also Corvair powered, for a his and hers combination. They are both skilled builders and pilots. Both of their aircraft have 2700cc engine with Dan bearings and MA3-spa carbs.

Dr, Steve Minart, of Iowa, stands beside his 2700cc Corvair powered 601XL(B).  His aircraft was the 4th Corvair powered Zenith to arrive at this years event. Over the years we have had a steady stream of builders bring their Zeniths to Mexico, Colleges, Oshkosh and Sun n Fun. This is the best measure of success. Sales numbers mean little, I am in the game to get people flying.  Our Corvair program for Zeniths has been around a long time. On our 2005 Midwest Night School tour, one of the stops was Dr. Minarts home. Here today, gone tomorrow companies in experimental aviation have stolen more builders dreams than most people first guess. Few people understand that less than 10% of the firms in our industry 20 years ago are left. Even many of the familiar names went through ownership changes and bankruptcies, often at builder expense. Zenith’s record is a complete standout in our industry.


Above, Mark Petinunas of Falcon machine speaks with Lynn Dingfelder about Lynn’s 601. Mark ‘Petz’ is one of our Corvair All-stars. He came down to the open house to meet with builders and Deliver a 3,000cc Corvair that is destined to power Clark Taylor’s 601XL. Because we are primarily in the business of teaching people how to build their own engines, the Corvair All-Stars are all mechanics and builders, not sales people.

Above I stand beside Ray Huffman from Lexexa Kansas. who has a long personal history with aviation. I noticed his hat and asked him about it. I listened closely while he spoke of Flying Hellcats and Corsairs in WWII, and Banshees in Korea, including ditching in the sea of Japan and being rescued by a helicopter. He is 88 today. About 10 years ago he built and flew a 601.  It says a lot to me about the experience of homebuilding that a man who had flown the front line of aircraft in combat in his youth still found homebuilding a vital part of the panorama aviation, something he was unwilling to miss. 

Listening to this man will likely turn out to be the best hour I spent in aviation in 2012. In another decade, we will still honor the courage of aviators of the greatest generation, but they will be gone, and you will never again be able to listen to one of them while standing in the sun on the ramp at an airport. You will always be able to see a F4U or a F6F at Airventure, or read about the history, but these are just machines and books, and are not comparable to meeting the man. 99% of us will never see nor do the things this man has, but as fellow homebuilders you have some common ground with him, a connection that can give you slightly better perspective on his experience. I have casually wasted many hours in my life, but from 3 to 4 pm CST September 22, 2012, I spent one of my hours doing something very worthwhile.

Above, Gary Burdett with the 2,850cc Dan bearing engine we built for his 750. He picked it up at the open house. He is on the fast track to finish the plane and have it out for the 2013 flying season.  Our upcoming Corvair College #24 is an excellent place to make your own progress and lay the ground work for your own outstand year in 2013.-ww

Zenith 750 Mount Sale, only 5 avail.


Pictured below are 5 powder coated Zenith 750 mounts. I took the photo in our back yard today. We rarely offer items on sale, but here is a special offer for 750 builders.

At the Zenith open house, we brought 12 mounts, six 601/650 models and six 750 mounts.  All of the 601/650 mounts went home with builders, but we still have five 750 mounts.  (oddly enough, the exact reverse happened at last years Zenith event.)  Because our mounts are made from CNC tubing sets we have machined 12 at a time, and because our powder coater likes to only do quantities, we are motivated to put these 5 mounts in the hands of 750 builders and get another batch welded and coated before CC#24.

We sold the mounts at Zenith for the normal $739 price, without the $70 shipping cost. Powder coating is normally a $100 option. For this sale, These coated mounts are $799, and we will cover the cost of shipping in the US. Any builder who would like one can send us a quick email note with you name address and phone number. Payment can either be by pay pal or by check. The mounts are ready for immediate shipment, and they take only 1 to 2 days to arrive. This is a good opportunity for a 750 builder to save some money and get an importiant part now. -ww

Corvair College #24, November 9-11, South Carolina


We are now approaching Corvair College #24. The event will be a large, full-scale College held at the same location of the highly successful Colleges #19 and #21.  Corvair/Pietenpol builder/flyer and Cherry Grove Trophy winner P.F. Beck, and his great crew, again are the location hosts. We have many early indications that this will be the largest and most productive College yet.  Although we are just now opening the registration, the prep work for the College has been ongoing for 10 months, and it builds on the outstanding work that P.F. and crew did in earlier years.

The online registration is being covered by Corvair/601 builder Ken Pavlou, aka “The Central Scrutinizer.” Ken takes care of all the College registrations for us from the “undisclosed location” (his basement in Connecticut). Hats off to Ken for his long-standing support of Colleges.

The link to the registration is:

If this is going to be your first College, I highly recommend that you read about all the previous ones at this link to our main Web page:

In recent years, the Barnwell Colleges have become the year end event in the world of Corvairs. They are highly productive, and we have had a lot of engine runs and building progress with a good collection of flying Corvair powered planes on hand, but the events also have a strong social side, where builders can relax in the company of like-minded aviators. Barnwell has seen a lot of married couples and father/son builder teams, and these builders fit in well at the kind of classy events that P.F. hosts. College #24 will also see the 5th presentation of the Cherry Grove Trophy, the award that recognizes the outstanding Corvair aviator of the year.

#24 will be a great place for any builder to learn, make progress and meet fellow builders. We will be updating builders with more information on this site leading up to the College, but it all starts with you looking at a calendar right now and making plans. Act today, you will not want to miss this opportunity. -ww


Shelley Tumino & Kevin Purtee, Corvair/Pietenpol builders and flyers, and location hosts of the outstanding CC#22 in Texas earlier this year, have put up a Facebook page for #24 the way they did for #22. It is another good source of information, particularly the visual stuff:

Both Kevin and Shelley are headed to CC#24, where they plan to inspect and run their 2,700cc/Weseman bearing engine.


P.F. Beck and crew at the Barnwell airport add the following information:

"If you need more specific information, either e-mail us at
or call the airport at 803-259-1090."

“For those driving, we are about 60 miles southwest of Columbia, S.C.  If you are flying in on an airline, the best connections are usually into Columbia, but one can also fly into Augusta, Ga., about 40 miles northwest of Barnwell.  Both airports have rental cars.  If you are flying your own plane to the event, there are plenty of tiedowns.  At the present time, all hangars are filled.”

“Some builders start arriving early Thursday morning to get a head start on engine work.  Others will drift in during the afternoon.  Actual ‘official’ engine work starts on Friday morning.”

“There are three motels nearby, but make your reservations early as they stay booked up.  They are:

Days Inn – 31 rooms – newest motel in town – (803) 541-5000;

Carolina Lodge – 39 rooms – located next door to the Huddle House – (803) 259-2014;

Villa Motel – 25 rooms – located in Williston, S.C. – 10 miles north – (803) 266-7001.”

“Camping is available at the airport at no charge.  In the past, some folks came in motor homes, some had campers, some slept in tents and some elected to sleep on the floor in the terminal building. The weather is usually pleasant but bring warm clothing.”

“There is a newly built restroom in the work hangar and others in the terminal building.  There is one shower in the terminal.  If you elect to use the shower, please bring your own towels, wash cloths, soap, etc.”

“The airport supplies 12  4′ x 8′ work tables, three engine assembly stands and cardboard to keep oil off the hangar floor.  Please bring your own tools, rags, oil dri, etc.  This year, we have added more fluorescent lights over the work area as well as over the eating area.  It will be much brighter.”

“Tables and chairs will be set up on one side of the hangar, as last year, for eating, taking breaks, etc. We plan to handle meals as in past years.  More information will be added to the Barnwell airport site [] as we approach the November dates.”

Zenith Open House, Sept. 21 and 22


The Main Event on the Corvair schedule this month is the Zenith Factory Open House in Mexico, Missouri. The Open House date is Setptember 22nd, but we are planning on being there on the 21st and attending the dinner on Friday night. This is going to be a big event, because it marks the 20th year of Zenith’s U.S. factory. For a more detailed look at the event, follow this link to Zenith’s Web site: 

Sebastien has directly told me that he welcomes all Corvair builders to the event, not just guys working on Zenith airframes. At last year’s event, Grace and I used the opportunity to meet with dozens of Corvair builders from the Midwest. This is an excellent opportunity for Corvair builders to attend an event in their area, have us answer their questions, inspect flying planes, have a “parking lot tour” to see core engines and meet other builders. As always, we will have a full complement of parts, but if there is something specific you would like to pick up, please let us know in advance. We are planning on having half a dozen powdercoated Zenith 601-650 and 750 mounts on hand. Builders will have a chance to avoid the shipping cost by getting one in person.

The main day of the event is Saturday, but I am going to be there on Friday to get a jump on the event and attend the dinner in the evening. Traditionally the open house draws several hundred people, but this year being the 20th anniversary, will likely be a bit larger. Rod Hightower, the president of the EAA, is the Friday night speaker, which gives a good indication of the respect due the Heintz family and crew for their longevity in an industry often marked by here-today-gone-tomorrow LLCs. From a builder’s perspective, it is the ideal sized event to come and learn and get to know other builders. Oshkosh has 200 times the amount of people, but I find the open house to be made of serious builders and planners, not spectators and daydreamers. The entire setting is conducive to builder progress. We will have far more time for one on one questions and answers than at a major airshow. 

A number of builders with finished Zeniths have said they are making plans to fly to the event. We are going to have a complete Zenith firewall forward installation on hand with a 2,850 cc Corvair mounted on it for display. Again, the event is open to all Corvair builders, and Sebastien and crew will welcome you as their guest, but it will be particularly beneficial to everyone planning on bolting a Zenith airframe to their Corvair engine.

Looking forward to seeing many of you there. -ww