Corvair Powered Merlin Flying Over Newfoundland

Friends,

Below is a retrospective story of building and flying from Newfoundland’s Jeff Moores. He built and has flown a Merlin GT on Full Lotus floats for many years. A while back he opted to move to Corvair power and built up a very nice 2,700 cc Weseman bearing engine that features a lot of our catalog parts, including Gold Systems and a Universal #2 Exhaust.

By being very careful on airframe weight, Jeff states that the Corvair meets or exceeds his expectations. In a long conversation, Jeff explained to me that the “weight spiral,” where an overweight plane gets bigger on several fronts (big engine leads to more fuel in a heavier tank, etc.), actually hits seaplanes two-fold, because when they get heavy they have to switch up a float size to have the buoyancy, and in turn these floats are bigger, adding more drag and weight, which leads to being down on available power. It was a very interesting and practical lesson from a guy who has been flying on floats in a challenging enviroment for a long time. I suspect that until Claude Adams has his 750 flying in Alaska, Jeff will remain the world’s northern-most Corvair pilot. – ww

 

William asked me to write something about my interest in and my history of flying; something along the lines of Kevin Purtee’s article. For me it’s been a real trip down memory lane!

I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.  My first fascination was with engines. My second was airplanes because they have engines!  I was never interested in jets, moon landings, or supersonic flight. My favorite planes were, and still are, bush planes. I remember at a very young age hearing and seeing a de Havilland Beaver on skis in the distance on a cold winter’s day.  The drone of that 450 hp P&W radial echoing in the distance … wow. If you have ever watched “Never Cry Wolf” and have listened to the Beaver takeoff after leaving Tyler on the snow-covered ice you know what I mean (crank up the sound and rattle the speakers). I love Cubs, Taylorcraft, Stinsons, Norseman, and most any low and slow tube and fabric aircraft, especially on floats. Oh yeah – I love Pietenpols as well!!

My father was a heavy equipment mechanic for the City-owned busses. He worked there for 42 years before retiring in 1992. He had many interests; anything mechanical, music, drawing, electronics, fishing, and hunting.  He died last October at the age of 80 after a 3-year illness. When I was a kid, he had a subscription to Popular Science Magazine which always contained an ad for the Bensen Gyrocopter. He ordered the plans, which we both stared at and studied many times over the years, but he could not afford to buy any parts while supporting a family on a $50/week 1970s mechanic’s salary.

When I got my first job pumping gas at age 16, I saved some money and we went halves on a Gyro kit. By the time I was 18, we had also bought a 72hp Mac. engine. I traveled to the Bensen dealer in Manitoba and soloed their 2-place machine. I flew ours for a few years on wheels.

 

Our Bensen gyro in flight

Later we converted it to plans-built wood/fiberglass floats. On the fourth flight – the first day on floats – I misjudged the landing. The float tips dug in and it flipped over. I was under water and upside down in an instant. I remember thinking “I’m going to drown right here, right now”. Luckily I didn’t panic and managed to free myself from the machine and swim to the surface. The gyro was a mess. Dad said when the blades hit the water they stopped immediately. The mast had absorbed the energy and it snapped off behind my back. I emerged without a scratch.

Retrieving the gyro the day after the crash

That evening I called my buddy Ray Hawco to ask if he could take me flying in his Cessna 172 on floats as soon as possible. I knew if I didn’t “jump back on the horse” I would probably never fly again.

I spent a few years after this flying RC models, which was fun but not the same as flying for real. During this time, I had married and completed training as an automotive technician. I began flying training in a Merlin ultralight in 1994. The chap who owned the flying school let me maintain the aircraft in exchange for flying lessons and later for solo time. A few years later, I completed Aircraft Maintenance training in Gander, Newfoundland.

I couldn’t resist when an automotive instructor position was offered at the local community college. I have been there over 20 years now but I always find myself being tugged between the automotive and aviation trades. I prefer to work on airplanes! 

Replacing pistons and cylinders on a C-172

I scratch built my Merlin with dad’s help between 1995 and ’96. Many of the tedious parts like brackets, ribs and tabs were fashioned by him.

Dad fitting the ribs to the wing spar

I cut and notched all of the tubes for the fuselage and tack welded them. The finish welding was done by the welding shop at the College by 4th year students. The welding shop also built a bending brake for me to bend the aluminum sheet for the wing D cells. We also scratch-built the aluminum wing spars. There were never any plans available for the Merlin. However, I had worked on several over the years and had taken many measurements. I couldn’t afford to buy a kit back then but it looked fairly straight-forward to build. I put all of my spare time into it, including my summer vacation, so it got finished in about 13 months.

The first flights of my Merlin took place in October 1996 with a Rotax 532 2-stroke. It flew just as well as other Merlins I had flown over the previous years.I later upgraded to a Rotax 618 which I put about 900 hours on.

Arriving at our family cottage

The two stroke Rotaxes have to be rebuilt at 350 hours, so I had rebuilt the 618 three times. Each rebuild, which includes a new crank, costs around $2000 for parts. They are rough running at the best of times especially below 3000 RPM. The steel frame fabric Merlin acts like a drum magnifying the noise and vibration. Cruising at 6000 RPM I was always anxiously waiting for the engine to explode.

I have always wanted a 4-stroke engine in my plane. When the 912 was introduced around ’98 and followed by the 912S most of the new Merlin kits that were being built here at the time had this engine installed. I had installed and maintained a number of these for owners and found them to be a great little engine with lots of torque. However they were and still are hugely overpriced and the price of parts is ridiculous. A new 912S was around $20,000 (more now). You could buy a good 0-320 for less. Even the few used ones I found were well overpriced.

I had been aware of the Corvair conversion for many years. However I had only seen it in magazines used in “fast” airplanes such as the KR. We actually had a new one at the College many years ago. It had been donated by the local GM dealer in the 60’s for training and was mounted on a stand. When I replaced the retiring instructor in ’89 I decided to get rid of the old stuff he had accumulated over 30 years. You are not going to believe this, but I threw the complete thing in the dumpster!! This was before I knew it could be used in an airplane.

While surfing YouTube about three years ago listening to various airplane engine startups, I stumbled on Gus’ Corvair 701; a slow draggy airplane somewhat like the Merlin. I literally said to my wife who was in the other room to come and listen to this!!!  I announced “This will be the new engine for our Merlin.”  She has always encouraged and supported me in my aviation interest.

Just after our flight in a Standard biplane at Rhinebeck Aerodrome

I found www.FlyCorvair.com and ordered the Conversion Manual. I quickly located a core engine locally and began the disassembly.

My core engine

Ordering parts and reassembly followed but got interrupted several times by work and dad’s illness.  I had the heads and cylinders reconditioned locally by a long time friend/machinist. The crank went to Nitron. When the crank issues surfaced, I ordered a Weseman Bearing. I finally ran it on a test stand last summer and installed it in the plane over last winter.

Removing the 618

Merlin with Corvair installed

The do or die moment was in June this year. I had high speed taxied it back and forth the pond (lake) several times on the step. Except for a low ceiling and some drizzle which I had flown in many times before, the conditions were perfect – light wind, no boat or air traffic … there was no excuse. Full power, on the step and liftoff!! Positive climb rate, over the trees at the end of the pond – now I’m committed.  Man this thing is smooth. Around the circuit several times, starting to drizzle more … don’t push it, Jeff. Come around over the highway … don’t forget the carb heat! Throttle back, little touch of power … perfect landing!!!!  Taxi in to the shore with a huge grin. I love this engine.

My cowling was initially intended to be temporary. I built it quickly this spring utilizing a Dan Weseman nosebowl and baffle kit to allow test flying ASAP. This winter I plan to raise the top of the panel to match the top of a new cowling. I will also need to cut my windshield at the bottom to make it shorter. Once finished, it will be painted to match the fuselage.

Current cowling

Why do I enjoy flying so much? I guess I’m addicted. It is unlike any other activity. I continued to fly after a bad crash. Not a day goes by that I do not spend time thinking about it if I’m not able to fly. I would fly every day if we had better weather here. As I write this, the weather is forecast for at least four more days of RDF (rain, drizzle, and fog). It’s been like this for a week. Newfoundland is a large island stuck out in the cold North Atlantic Ocean. We are part of Canada politically but not geographically and our weather is very different from the mainland.  We set records for fog, rain, snow, and wind.  It is very windy here most of the time. When it is sunny, it is windy. When it is cloudy, it is windy. When it rains, the rain is horizontal.  When it is foggy, it is not windy because that would blow the fog away!!

Gusty wind take-off at sunset

I follow the weather closely to get every bit of flying I possibly can. Even a 15 minute flight before dark after work provides me with a fix. I usually don’t go very far; but I don’t have to be in the middle of uninhabited wilderness.  Low and slow over barrens, lakes, rocks, and trees. When the weather is good, it is beautiful here.

 

December 29, 2010 – we had snow just 2 weeks before this

Sunset flight over our family cottage

Last summer my wife and I bought land on Paddy’s Pond and built a hangar. For the past 15 years, my Merlin was out in the elements from April to November and in storage with other aircraft for the rest of the time.

Tied down in preparation for Hurricane Igor

Now it has a “home” to protect it, make it last longer and extend the flying season into the winter.

Hangar under construction

The beautiful smooth Corvair engine is a pure joy to fly. For me it just keeps getting better.

About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

One Response to Corvair Powered Merlin Flying Over Newfoundland

  1. fred Rumbolt says:

    Great document Jeff.lovely and priceless history.! I would surely love to ask you for help and expertise/ educated advice on these beautiful crafts and I will,one day,be a happy owner of a ‘project” and then the “cobwebs” will be wiped off my aviation toolbox,which will be put to use as an parttime personal hobby for me ty

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