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

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