Weekend Double Header, 2nd engine of the year, Rick Koch

If any of the photos are small, try hitting the F5 key at the top of your keyboard.


After Dave left on Saturday night, the test stand was cool for a mere 12 hours before the second engine run of the year. 601XL builder Rick Koch brought his engine over for a run on the stand. It fired right up and ran perfectly smooth. The engine isn’t a new build, just like Dave’s, it’s an upgrade with a generation one Dan bearing. The engine’s arrival on the stand is a bit of a story, but a good one with interesting lessons and a bright future flying in Rick’s 601XL later in 2013.


Above, I congratulate Rick on an instant start-up after his upgrade. The improvements were largely done at Corvair College #24 in Barnwell in November. At the College both Dan and I noted that Rick went out of his way to help other builders, and let others use tools ahead of him. It’s the kind of small gestures that you notice in a busy College, a sign that the builder really understands that the event is about learning and the shared experience, and not some type of “get william to build my engine for free” thing. Noting this, both Dan and I took Rick aside and said that we would be glad to have him down at out place for test run after the college.  It was an acknowledgement of his positive attitude at the college, and Grace and I were glad to have him down for a test run.


Above, Rick monitors the engine. I actually built this engine for another gentleman in upstate New York in 2006. The original owner was a very nice guy who installed the engine on a Zenith 601XL that he built 95% of. Last year, his family contacted he to say that he had passed away, and they were looking for assistance on selling his project. I told them that I was glad to help, under the sole condition that Grace and I were not financially compensated in any way shape or form. The man was our customer, and I told his daughter that for all my faults, I have a good understanding of loyalty, and helping them was something I was going to do for her Father, not for money.

I told them what I thought the value of the project was after reviewing all the records. They sounded a little surprised, they had been told by local airport people, alleged ‘friends’ of her Dads that you “couldn’t get much for an incomplete kit with a car engine.”

Enter, Rick Koch.  I had met Rick before at an aviation party. He has been a commercial instrument pilot for a long time, and he had owned experimental aircraft before. He is a complex, thinking kind of guy; He can be drinking a beer and following the football game and then turn and discuss the last book he read on historical economics. In a world that teaches people to dumb it down if you want to be popular, that’s refreshing. I tell Rick about the plane, and he is real interested. I tell him I will fully support him in coming up to speed on Zeniths and Corvairs, under the sole condition that he respect the man’s family, and not go bargain hunting. Right off, he said he understood that behavior like bargain hunting was within some people’s ‘morality’, but not his.

 Inside a few weeks, the plane was paid for and moved 1,000 miles to Rick’s hangar. The family called to say thanks, they noted that Rick first class and that he had paid the full price without asking for any kind of bargain. This last point surprised them because The price was four times what the ‘local expert’ was offering to pay (‘because he was going to help them out ‘) I mentioned this to Rick, and he simply said that he paid what it was worth, and what others would or would not do, didn’t concern him. He didn’t think he needed to be thanked nor applauded for doing the right thing.

 If there is a single thing I detest in aviation, its people who take advantage of builders families. Rick and I could spend hours arguing over what Herman Melville’s essential message was, but on ethical behavior, he is my kind of guy.


Grace took this photo of the sky above Rick’s running engine. She showed it to me and I said it looked like the Spruce Goose flying at us with a cats face below it. Grace said she thought it was a perfect blue day out, the engine ran great and maybe the Cross in the sky was a beautiful omen for Rick. Soooo…I’m not really the spiritual half of the marriage….

Adding the original retrofit Dan bearing to the engine was an easy and cost-effective improvement that did not require disassembling any of the engine. Because it was on the bench, Rick elected to pull the pan and replace the gasket as a unit, rather than just the front of it under the housing, The engine already had a Gold oil system on it. The only other upgrades Rick went for was a high volume pump, a new style ring gear and exhaust rotators. For a little bit of time and not too much money, ricks engine was upgraded 7 model years worth of improvements. The fact that the engine had been stored for years had no effect, it started right away and ran cleanly. The compression was perfect on the post run check.

He has some work to do on the airframe, but there is a good chance we can see the plane make its first flight in the spring. When you see Rick out on the flight line, be sure to say hello, he is a fellow Corvair guy I am very glad to have aboard.-ww

Bear-Vair First To Roar To Life In 2013


Below are some photos of the test run on Dave Vargesko’s 2700 cc Corvair in front of our hangar on Saturday night. I wrote about this engine in the first post of the year, “What is your 2013 reality?”. Dave worked on it last weekend and returned Saturday afternoon for finishing touches and a test run. It got a 30 minute run in, and we had it all packed up in the back of Dave’s truck by 9 PM. Dave lives about 3 hours South of us, so he had a long ride home to think about the next airframe he is going to build for his engine.


Above, Dave, who detests being photographed, monitors the test run of his engine. He originally built it in 2004-05 out of basic stuff we had around our old shop in Edgewater. The heads on this engine are actually the ones from my Pietenpol engine of 1999. The engine flew for several years without any issue in the Hangar Gang Wagabond.  Last summer we picked the airframe back up from Dave, but he kept his engine for his next project. We are in the final process of going through the whole airframe and re-engineing it with our own 3,000 cc engine. We are going to utilize the Wagabond as a general purpose work horse in 2013, for testing, demo flights and general fun.

The Center piece of Dave’s Upgrade was installing a retrofit (I call this a generation #1) Dan bearing. He also upgraded to an E/P distributor, and slightly refreshed the valve job. We also installed valve rotators on the exhausts. We took the engine down to the removing the pistons and cylinders, but did not open the case. It showed no detectable wear on the inside. We replaced a few gaskets, but there was no call to change any rod bearings or the rings. the engine was reassembled with the same parts and it worked great. A compression check after the test run revealed that it was sealing up perfectly.


Grace wanted a photo of Dave the bear in the prop blast, so out of respect to Dave’s belief that photos steal your soul, we called for the “Stunt Bear” as a stand in, just like they do in Hollywood.

The main theme I would like builders to take away from this is that we have always gone to great lengths to make sure improvements to the Corvair are economically and easily retrofitable to existing engines in the fleet. This is evolutionary progress in our movement.

There are plenty of other “alternative engines” brought to the market in a rush that later required a series of expensive ‘upgrades’ (translation: customer funded R&D and Builder test piloting) The modifications Dave put into his engine were not costly nor mandatory. You can look at the photos in the story of the 15 Pietenpols and see that there are many of them flying for many years on very modest engines. It is all about personal choice.

For anyone who is a fan of certified engines to critique our system, let me say that very few AD’s on certified engines are as inexpensive as buying a 5th bearing. Lots of ‘experts’ who have never had a DAR inspection on a plane tell people the half-truth that you don’t need to follow AD’s on a certified engine on an experimental airframe. Yes, that is true, in theory, but I know very few DAR’s that will knowingly sign off a new homebuilt with an engine of certified origin that does not have it’s AD’s complied with.

People argue this without even thinking about the concept that if the primary reason they wanted a certified type engine was “reliability” and the first thing they want to do is see if they can get out of the Manufactures required up grades. I don’t see the logic in claiming that you respect Lycoming and Continental’s engineering, but putting great effort into ignoring their advice on operation and upgrades.  An 0-320 on the front of an RV-4 doesn’t magically know it isn’t on a Cessna 172 anymore. If Lycoming said the engine they built needs a different oil pump, it doesn’t really matter if the engine is on an RV or a Cessna. Often people will pick and choose which AD they want to comply with as if they were qualified and had all the data to make such a choice. Such rationalizations are usually thinly veiled excuses for being cheap while the person deludes themself they have “safety” because their engine once had a data plate. There are good reasons to have a certified engine in some homebuilts, and I support the choice, but often people making it are immediately undermining the logic with secondary choices.

In the land of Corvairs, we do not have these issues. Our system of ‘safety’ is based on a rock solid foundation of getting people to understand that they are in charge of making intelligent decisions about their own risk management; Our testing is to provided them with good information upon which to make these decisions; The up grades that are available are options that builders can choose based on operational data, not revenue generation or correction of half-baked products; Our recommendations are based solely on what makes sense, not what the accounting or legal departments say.

The above paragraph doesn’t make everyone comfortable. Plenty of people approach aviation with the consumer society driven attitude “Just tell me how much money I have to spend to be 100% Safe and not have to think about it.” For people who bring this attitude to the unforgiving world of flight, there are, and have always been Unicorn salesmen with brochures that claim ‘the worlds most reliable” engine and a dollar number to spend. In Corvairs I have gone to great lengths to teach builders that you can’t spend your way to safety, but you can educate yourself to a very effective management of your own risk.-ww

Mail Sack – Letter of the month – Dick Otto, 601XL Calif.


If you have not met him, let me introduce Dick Otto, your fellow Corvair Builder. Let me tell you some impressive things about Dick; The 601XL that he scratch built over the last five years is really nice. He has diligently put together a first class engine while building the airframe. Although he doesn’t feel great every day, he still gets out to the shop and works through it. Although he doesn’t yet have a licence, he is pretty sure its just another skill he is going to pick up when the time comes. Dick is an easy-going guy, he has been to a number of California Colleges, and everyone who met him liked the guy. Oh yeah, the last detail that puts it in perspective……He was born in 1921.

Below is a letter that dick wrote in a few days ago. The Woody in the story is 601XL builder/flyer Woody Harris, our West Coast man. A lot of the reports I get on Dick’s progress come from Woody’s house calls, where he always is impressed by Dick’s workmanship and his work ethic. Note in the letter he is talking about redoing a panel that isn’t up to his personal standards. The letter gives you some Idea of the fact that Dick is over 90, he still remains the head of his family, never backed off caring for them. Below the letter I included two photos of Dick at previous Corvair Colleges, along with some notes to give you a better idea of who your fellow builder is. Answers to his wiring question is at the very bottom. Hats off to Dick Otto, senior ranking Corvair builder.-ww

PS, if any of you builders would like to drop Dick a note directly, his email address is: dickotto10@gmail.com

“I read all of your articles in the morning before I go out to the shop to work on my plane. I am still at it and am going to finish it. My engine does not look as good as most of those that you print pictures of. After spending about 8 hours trying to install the Weseman 5th bearing I called Woody with questions. He said he would come out and help me. I picked him up at Bucanan airport in Concord. It was quite a challenge. I think I turned the crank over about 6 or 7 times but we got it. I also installed the high volume oil pump. During the summer I took a break. I bought a used class A motor home that needed a lot of work. My daughter,son-in-law,and me took three trips in it. Still work to do on it but it can wait for now. My grandson passed away in March after battling Systic Fibrosis for 33years. It hit my daughter very hard. One of the reasons I bought the motor home so we could get away. The wiring has been my biggest thorn. Yesterday I decided to start over because I did not like the way it looked. I formed a new panel and am now in the process of laying out the new look. I do have a few questions about the wiring of the distributor. I have the E/P distributor. Your wiring diagram shows two coils but no wire running from coil B. How does the spark get to the E point? I have made the A coil my primary. – Dick”

 From Corvair College #18, 2010. On the right is our oldest builder, Dick Otto, of Concord, Calif., 89 years young. If you have some doubt about what determined people can do in homebuilding, consider that Dick’s airplane and engine are essentially done. It is a built-from-plans Zenith 601 XL. Many people who have seen it will attest to its outstanding craftsmanship. This is Dick’s first aircraft project, and he’s still a student pilot. His progress has not been impeded by people telling him what he should be doing at his age or what makes sense. Good path for builders of all ages.

From Corvair College #11, 2007. “Standing beside me at right above is Dick Otto, Corvair builder from Northern California. Although Dick just got into Corvairs this year, he brought an entire collection of engine parts meticulously prepped. We used his stuff to demonstrate case assembly and installing the piston-rings-cylinder assemblies. Dick was a real trooper, working during the chilly mornings and staying late into the night. He drove about 100 miles to get to the College, and to stay close to the action, he chose to camp out near the airport. As it was Veterans Day, Dick shared with us the experience of crewing a self-propelled 105 mm in a U.S. Division drive into Germany in Spring 1945. Now read this sentence slowly: Dick Otto is 86 years old. He logged time in the mid-1930s, but has not piloted an aircraft since. He has a common story where a youthful love of aviation is interrupted by the responsibilities of a family life. But he’s absolutely serious about returning to aviation after a short 70-year break. If his prep work for the College is any indication, I’d say he’s a strong bet to take to the air again.”

Wiring notes: E/P Distributors have three wires coming out of them One from the points goes to the negative side of the back up coil. The Electronic unit has two fine wires. The one with the yellow trace goes to the negative side of the primary  coil. The one with the red trace goes to the positive side of the primary coil. Don’t mix these up, it will burn out the unit in an instant. The points coil has a condenser on the negative side. The electronic coil does not use a condenser.  Each of the coils is connected on the positive side to the A/B switch. By setting it up this way, selecting the  electronic ignition runs power to the coil, and in turn power flows down the red trace wire to the electronic unit.-ww