Getting started in 2013, Part #11, Comment of the day


601XL TD 3,100 Corvair Builder/pilot, MIT Aerospace engineering PhD and USAF T-38 instructor Andy Elliott wrote in with the following Comment about the Getting started Series:

“I really like your comments about allowable range specifications. This is something that is applicable to many parts of aviation, not only maintenance. Way back when I was a USAF T-38 instructor, the expression we used was “If it wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum. If it was too much, it wouldn’t be the maximum.”
Most of the training maneuvers had performance specifications like “A loop can be entered between 400-500 knots, depending on power setting, and starts with a 4-5 G pull up.” One of the things pounded into the heads of instructors is that anything within those ranges is acceptable, as long as the student does not stall out at the top, overstress the airframe at the bottom, or bust any airspace limits.- Andy”

I typed out the footnotes in front of Andy’s name because it’s pretty safe to say he worked his ass off for many years in aviation to achieve the things he knows and has done. I tease him every chance I get, whenever he asks me a question I like to say “Jeeze Andy, every dumb grease monkey mechanic knows that, what did they teach you Phd’s at MIT anyway?” It hardly works, we both know that the size and scope of my expertise in aviation is about an acre and his is the size of Texas. The sole thing I have on him is that when we got started, none of my expertise acre was in his Texas. Over time Andy has gone after learning about Corvairs with the same thirst for information that he did with the rest of aviation he encountered. So far he has annexed about 1/3 of my acre into the boundaries of his Texas sized skill set. Thats OK, it was the goal all along, even if it erodes my ability to tease him.

The thing that Andy’s letter points out is that there is a lot of commonality to the logic of the disciplines within aviation. The individual tasks are not the same, but the logic and philosophy are. This is often missed by people who are just arriving in aviation. The fact that you will never see a big sign outside an airport that says:

“Warning: You have just left the regular world were score is not kept and it is always some one elses or societies fault. Score is kept here by the impartial judging panel of Gravity, Physics and Chemistry. Regardless of your good intention or state law, death penalty is in effect here, still considered cruel, but is not that unusual. Perfect protection and achievement is afforded by learning and exercising the Rules. You are on the property, the contest has already started, Get your “A” game on right now.”

You will not see that sign, but it is there. All of the things I write on philosophy is so builders just Getting Started can understand that there is a set of rules, and as a homebuilder working in your shop, you have plenty of time to learn them before your plane is done.

A guy with Andy’s background moving into building a Corvair is actually got a leg up on most people who have been a car mechanic for 20 years. Here is why: Andy knows the logic and philosophy of aviation very well, and just learning the parts that apply to Corvair flight engines does not require him to change his approach, perspective, values nor philosophy. He is just adding on. When he goes to the airport, he can see the warning sign as if it was in neon, the same sign that is invisible to new people yet to have a friend point it out.

There are people who arrive in aviation, who reject the very concept that there are ‘rules’ at all. A lot of these people achieved something outside of aviation, and they don’t like hearing that their previous work may be useful, but they crossed a philosophical border at the airport, and they have to start on some points beside novices they perceive to be beneath them. In the land of automotive conversions, I have seen a new crop of these people arrive every year. Their calling card is referring to certified engines as “Lycosaurs.” The mindset that you have nothing to learn from 100 years of existing aircraft powerplants is what is dangerous.

If being a great ASE auto mechanic of 20 years experience qualified your you work on aircraft engines, then it would be OK for these people to do annuals on certified planes, But the FAA does not allow it for good reason. In reality, a Lycoming 0-540 is a vastly simpler engine than any modern car motor. The FAA’s objection isn’t based on the concept that car mechanics are not capable of turning the wrenches. It is solely based on knowing that most car mechanics have little or no understanding of whats at stake in aviation, and therefore they don’t understand the value of the rules.

Think I am speaking theoretically? For several years a guy who promoted an alternative engine and gave forums on it, started every forum he gave by writing on the board “If Lycoming made car engines would you bother to drive one?” He promoted, and absolutely believed in contempt for existing certified engines. I spoke to him a number of times, and I would rate him as one of the most closed-minded people I ever met. He already knew and understood everything. He stood in my booth at Oshkosh and actually said to me that he had done some work with Corvairs 20 years before, knew all about them, and if I had questions I could call him. Where is he today? Well he had two crashes in planes with his modern car engine, both caused by fires. The second one killed him. Tragically it killed someone else also. To people who can’t see the sign outside of the airport, the mans end seems like something of a mystery. To people who can read the sign clearly, his death was a mathematical forgone conclusion. He was not killed by aviation, he was done in by his own willful decision not to respect the work of anyone who came before him. It’s that simple.

Keep in mind that the powers that be, who want to increase the numbers of people in aviation and membership organizations, have long sought to tear down the warning sign because they think it’s bad for marketing. They are joined by all the people who are in aviation to make a quick buck, and keep people in a ‘happy consumer’ mindset. These groups have often replaced the sign with one of their own that says: “Welcome! your safe, driving to the airport was more dangerous than flying here today, turn your mind off and open your wallet.” I personally think that message puts people on low alert and at risk, leads to tolerance of unsafe people and practices, leads to new guys getting a glimpse later that they have not been taught ‘the rules’ and then quitting, and it leads to a culture that elevates the man who has the expensive plane being regarded above the Aviator that possesses skill and knowledge. A big part of aviation has succumbed to this, but you don’t have to go there, hang out with it or absorb its corrosive message. You are a homebuilder, your better than that.-ww

To learn more about Andy’s adventures and perspectives follow this link:

Zenith 601XL-3100cc Dr. Andy Elliott

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 and in more than 50 magazine articles.

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