In a few late hours I am building a new panel for our Wagabond. I am reverting to as simple as I think reasonably practical. When the aircraft was finished 7 years ago in our old hangar, I let the panel reflect Dave the Bear’s taste in things, as he was the primary guy in the hangar gang working on the plane. Dave had a panel full of vacuum instruments. Today, with the plane returning to our ownership, I am revising things to a simpler setting.
Everyone is entitled to make things any way they want. There are Corvairs flying in front of $15,000 panels. If it makes the builder happy, and didn’t financially compromise the engine build (like putting a motorcycle carb on your engine to save money for GPS) then I am all for it. Although I am an advocate of simplicity, I am not a zealot for it. Louis Kantor finished his 601XL in our hangar in 2009. It has a full Dynon panel with two large screens and most every option. It was nearly $10,000 in parts. But this aircraft also had a no compromise engine with a Dan bearing, all our Gold parts and an overhauled MA3-SPA. The panel also matched the pilot’s skill set: Louis is an 8,000 hour ATP/CFI. The weather information and instrument capability of the plane wasn’t going to lead him into a situation over his head.
I myself am a Day/VFR look-out-the window kind of pilot. My flight instructor insisted that I be able to fly the plane without any instrumentation. This was common in the age of stick and rudder instruction. On my last biannual he put his jacket over the panel at 2,500 agl above our airstrip, pulled the power off and told me to land the plane. He long ago taught me to estimate airspeed from control pressure and glide attitude. With alert practice it is not difficult to stay within +or- 3 mph without being able to see the airspeed. This comes from being rigorously taught to pay attention to the plane, not the panel.
Ask any instructor worth a damn, and he will tell you that all types of pilots spend too much time looking at the panel, but this is particularly a problem with people trained in glass cockpits. Cirrus aircraft were supposed to be the safety “aircraft of tomorrow”, yet they have a very poor safety record, and many of their accidents have been traced to pilots who were not looking outside. The accident acronym ‘CFIT’ stands for ‘controled flight into terrain.’ If you are bored you can read accident statistics and find out that even though Cirruses all have windshields, owners staring at panels have been known to fly them into the ground. I was in an industry meeting at Oshkosh this year where the head of marketing for Cirrus tried to claim his company had an outstanding safety record. He was openly laughed at. The man’s office is in Beijing, because Cirrus is wholly owned by the Government of the Peoples Republic of China, and the man was obviously paid to say things that were not true. The FAA and the NTSB investigate accidents and keep records so issues can be identified and improvements can be made. A paid lackey of a totalitarian government isn’t working to improve anything.
My taste in simple panels is not driven by lack of understanding of sophisticated instrumentation. The Lancair IVs we built in the 1990s had an average panel cost of $125,000.Much of that equipment was certified grade stuff that was common to new aircraft like King Airs. It was neat learn about, my friends who were avionics engineers loved it, but shortly it seemed very distant from my personal attraction to flight. To me, the least that does the job is best. If I wanted to fly a long way, I would add something like a Garmin with weather, but this can be done later, no one needs that to get their aircraft flying. Something interesting is that the value of regular instruments has plummeted at flymarts because of home builders shifting to glass cockpits. A lot of the stuff I like is now much less expensive. Be aware that low-cost instruments like “Falcon” have been made in China for the last 15 years and they are junk. You are far better off buying used stuff that still has OEM Cessna stickers on it, or some other marking that ID’s it as a domestic product.
11 holes in the panel;
1) 3.125″ Turn and bank 12 v, found at flymart $25
2) 3.125″ Airspeed indicator 40-140mph, traded my neighbor for $40 set of wrenches
3) 3.125″ Altimiter, taken from 1978 Cessna, flymart $45
4) 3-3/8″” Tach Stewart Warner 82636, new summitracing $116
5) 2 1/16″ Autometer voltmeter 5791, new summit racing $45
6) 2 1/16″ Autometer mechanical oil pressure 5721, $53
7) 2 1/16″Autometer mechanical oil temp 140-280 (fits directly in gold housing) 5741, summit racing, $80
8) 2.1/16″Autometer full sweep Pyrometer (EGT) 5743 with 5429 sender, summit racing, about $175
9) 2.25″ hole for radio (later)
10) 2.25″ MAP gauge, Westach, flymart $25
11) 2.25 ” CHT from radial era aircraft flymart $15, needs 2 ohm sender
Note: #1, 8,9 and 10 are not required. If you total up the rest of the stuff, it is under $400. With the other stuff, its only $619. I still need a CHT sender, some switches and wire and crimps, so lets call it $750. Adding the radio later is $600, but that is down the road, and a hand-held could do the same job if I wasn’t bothered by external cords and wires.
I have previously written extensively about how reliable mechanical gauges are, That this tach can not harm the ignition, That having elaborate CHT/EGT to detect problems caused by a cheap carb is not as smart as having less info about an aircraft carb that works perfectly.
I understand that the world loves electronics even if cave men don’t. In 2006 I let two very sharp Embry-Riddle CFI/aerobatic pilots fly about 10 hours in our 601XL. They were very observant and handled the plane with skill. At the end of the second flight, one of them asked me why the oil temp still read even though he had shut the master switch off. I explained that it was because this was a mechanical gauge, and it worked without electricity, it just read pressure in a capillary tube, just the way putting a mercury thermometer in your mouth worked. He looked at me like I was some kind of monster. “Put mercury in your mouth? what are you talking about?” He was 20 years old and this wasn’t in his life experience. He barely understood why some clocks have hands. I explained that I wasn’t a monster, I am a cave man. He ended by saying “Hospitals put mercury in people’s mouths? that’s right up there with Leaches! Dude, how old are you anyway?”
I understand that I am not likely to convince people who are in love with technology that this is the way to go, I am just trying to point out to new people that there are many people who intentionally aim for the other end of the spectrum for very valid reasons.
Every magazine and every airshow are filled with advertisements for all kinds of electronics, its good business for them, and they are working to get you to buy it even if it doesn’t make sense to you or fit your plan. Electronics are expensive and they have a good markup, and the manufacturers have enough money in the system to make every Tom, Dick and Harry a dealer who gets 15% for closing the sale, so without realizing it, you have been enveloped in voices advocating the stuff because they get paid to do so. It isn’t because they carefully evaluated your personal needs and made a good decision for you. Thats your job.
Mechanical gauges don’t have this kind of industry power. There isn’t a single company at any airshow advocating them, they are not buying expensive dinners for magazine editors nor providing golf carts and free rental cars. They don’t have glossy brochures and they have never picked up the tab for a “business conference” at Bean Snappers strip club just north of Oshkosh. The only thing in their sad marketing program is some cave man in Florida likes them…..and oh yeah, that small point….they are totally reliable.-ww
Yesterday was a very quiet and peaceful day around our airport. People here are very friendly and gregarious, but on Thanksgiving, they tend to focus on family and home, and yesterday there was no one out and around. Grace and the dog drove over to her parents for a few days, but I elected to stay here and enjoy the quiet while getting some things done on our own aircraft, It was perfect blue skies and slightly cool. At sunset I went out flying, climbed to a few thousand feet and just puttered around at 1,800 rpm and just watched the sun sink. When it was gone and the runway lights came on, I pulled the power off completely and glided all the way back in comparative silence. I landed and rolled directly to our front yard.
About 10 pm I realized that I had not spoken to a single person face to face all day long. The only people I had spoken with were on the phone. I had covered about a dozen calls during the day. In the morning parents and siblings, a number of friends in the afternoon, people we know from Corvairs, but the conversations weren’t on technical things.
Mixed in this came a call from a guy who refused to give me his name beyond “Jerry.” He was a bit rude saying that he wanted information about a Corvair flight engine he had bought, but it wasn’t anything I had built. He started off with a sarcastic tone about “wow a real person on the phone.” When I am answering the shop line on Thanksgiving day my tolerance for having him complain that I didn’t return two of his previous calls is low. (If you call and will not leave your name and you need help with an engine I didn’t make, you are not a priority call to return) His story goes like this: He didn’t buy a manual from me because they are $59. Instead he bought an engine for more than $1,000. He tells me that it has the drive end of it opposite the way we do it, that his engine has a gear box on it,but he has no idea if the gearbox is spur or planetary, but he is absolutely sure it is made of aluminum. He wants to build an airframe for this engine he bought.
In a few questions I can tell he hasn’t read much about Corvairs. The thing that is annoying to me is that this doesn’t stop him from saying thing with a tone of being knowledgeable. Without seeing a single picture, I tell him he is wrong about the drive end, we have always put the power out through the flywheel end. Second, he is also wrong his gear box, a Rinker cast iron unit, undoubtably a 1.39 ratio. Since he says the engine was built 20 years ago, it isn’t going to have anything good inside,( and it stands a very high chance of being a 145 cid early engine.) This guy states that it’s an aircraft conversion because it has valve covers that say “otto” on them, but I tell him that they are just car parts from the 1970s in CA. He looks at pictures and listens to my descriptions and concedes that most of the things he said and thought about the engine were wrong. He is slowly coming to the conclusions that 1) I know something about Corvairs. 2) he doesn’t have a good engine. 3) maybe information is power, and $59 wasn’t a big rip off compared to a grand for a boat anchor.
He cheers up a little when he thinks that he might at least have an expensive core engine. I point out that it likely isn’t a 164 cid engine, and even if it was, the Rinker is mounted to the crank by broaching a key way right where we thread the safety shaft, so he doesn’t even have a core engine. He asked what he could do with it, I suggested selling it to an air boat guy. He then told me that the engine is in Idaho, not real close to the LA or FL swamps.
I am not writing this to complain about anonymous people who don’t like buying manuals but do feel entitled to complain about return phone calls. Neither am I motivated to cite another example of a person who’s only interest in Corvairs was that the thought they were cheap and he had a bargain in hand. The reason for the post is far more direct and simple: Experience has shown me that when I tell a guy who just lost a thousand dollars that what he has isn’t good, there is about a 75% chance that the specific engine will be for sale in the next 60 days on Ebay or Barnstormers for at least the same amount of money he paid. Writing this isn’t going to prevent that cycle, and there is always another guy out there to buy it. No, I write this just so when the next owner surfaces of a discussion group saying he just got a ‘cheap engine’ for his plane, perhaps one of you guys can send him a link to this story. And you know what the new guy is going to do when he finds out his engine is useless junk? Well in 60 days it…………
Here are some letters on various topics. On the subject of Machine vs appliance, USAF (F-4)/ATP, 601XL builder Bob Pustell writes:
“I like your comments about machines verses appliances. I have spent several weeks reinstalling my overhauled 65 year old Franklin engine into my 65 year old Stinson airplane. Both are marvelous machines. Both are good for another 65 years. I could have done the installation more rapidly (or hired someone to do it) but part of the charm is doing the work, making the wire runs look orderly, getting the push-pull cables rigged just so, etc etc. The only down side to this infatuation is that the effort required to keep a two thirds of a century old airplane airworthy cuts deeply into my building time. I am enjoying myself.-Bob “
Zenith 650 Builder and CC#22 grad Brian Manlove writes:
“William – and even “appliances” are not immune to the habitual machine lover… as can attest the numerous “gone forever” toasters, fans, and other consumer stuff that cannot escape the hand of the person who hates waste. Count me in for April – that will hopefully be my run-time. Thanks.”
Builder Don January writes:
“doing a great job, hope to fly soon corvair is done working on panel”
Builder Tom Griesemer sr. Writes:
“Absolutely!!! I want to be the first to sign up as Leesburg is only 75 miles from my home. I have only just started my engine (which you helped me find) but would like to bring it. I will be there. Thanks William.-Tom G.”
Sprint builder Joe Goldman writes:
Where my Sprint currently lives, Roy Hall , the owner of the place has a good crank and other parts for the OX5. He also has a restored but uncovered fuselage and I think wings for a 1927 travelair 2 seater just sitting there next to me. He also has a lathe that is 110 years old, still used with its AC/ DC electric motor and leather belt drive. It is geared for cutting various threads and my axles were made on it. My Corvair engine comes to Florida in Feb. Anyone wants to drive or fly, (Lantana airport is close) is invited. It is amazing where building a plane and a Corviar engine takes you. PS In 1968 I bought my love a 1953 stude starliner.-Joe”
On the subject of Corvair College #24 reviewed in pictures:
Aircamper builder Jon Coxwell writes:
“William, I want to thank you for all the time you spent with my engine at CC#24. It was such a joy when it finally fired up. I am certain that if I had tried to fire it up on my own that it would have been very frustrating. Now I know it runs and move forward. I hardily recommend to anyone using a Corvair to get to at least one of your colleges. My engine is now back in my shop on the bench. I read through the 601 installation manual in the motel on the way home. There is certainly a lot of good stuff in there and I found a lot things that indeed will apply to my GN-1 (piet look alike). I anxiously await the manual you are preparing for the Pietenpol. Each College that I have attended, I have learned something new and made some new friends as well. I want to pass on, that my son was impressed with what you are doing and I believe he thoroughly enjoyed himself. I certainly enjoyed having him there. Living 2000 miles apart means we don’t see much of each other. Thanks again for your help and the great experience.-Jon Coxwell-GN-1 Aircamper”
SP-500 builder, Pratt-Whittney aero engineer and Corvair College#23 grad Spenser Gould writes:
“Impressive photos from cc24, looks like a lot of good process was made at the event by the builders, having my engine run on the stand in cc23 was very inspirational. The work from You, Dan & Ed is a big part in keeping the homebuilt movement going in today’s world.-Spencer”
Builder Dave Gingerich writes:
“Mr. Wynne, could you please send me an email address for Dave Aldrich. I would like to get the data for the Sensenich prop shown. I have a computer program that computes the thrust and horsepower for any speed and any rpm. I have data for the C150 prop, but haven’t been able to get any for a typical prop running on a Corvair powered slow airplane.”
Dave, Mr. Alderich is still working on the plane for the prop. Other than Corvairs, the only part of Aviation that I have some degree of mastery with is props. I have been a dealer for a number of different brands, tested dozens, collected a lot of data, set up an FAA prop repair station, and was lucky enough to have both Ernest Jones and Vance Jauqua as personal mentors on propulsion. ( this is like being able say your two guitar teachers were Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton) Let me offer this modest observation: All computer programs are based on an algorithm. Even an incredibly complex set of equations is going to be an incredibly simplified model of what is actually taking place. It is likely just OK at predicting behavior of run of the mill props because that is what virtually all the models are based on. Such a program isn’t going to be accurate at all in predicting the behaviour of a smaller diameter/ higher rpm prop like a Corvair. Ernest Jones had a PhD in this subject, and he directly showed me how a very complex 3D computer wind tunnel model of a prop,spinner/cowling/windshield model reviewed on one degree angle of attack increments painted a different picture of the required prop. If you want to learn more about props, read Fred Weick’s 1930 book. If you want a good prop for a plane your building, data from flying pilots is a far better predictor than computer programs.-ww
Zenith 650 builder Brian Manlove writes:
“I’m really enjoying your posts once again… and sad that I couldn’t go to CC24. I just stopped by Kevin Purtee’s house yesterday and had a great visit. His garage is quite a testimonial to the great people in the Corvair world. It makes me feel really good to know that I am in the company of such folks and walking a proven path… and I’m inching ever closer. I just finished the right wing for my 650, started on the left, the fuselage is right around the corner. I want to finish N129BZ in 2013. Please keep the comments coming… I hope y’all have a great time at the event, and I’m looking forward to getting to another one as soon as I possibly can.-Brian”