Getting Started in 2013, Part #3, The Camshaft Group (1100)


Now that you have had an introduction to the numbering system, here is the second group. Keeping in mind that we are moving toward having the parts to close the case, this is the next group to collect all the elements of and check off as done.

Notice that the same list and the same numbers serves different builders with different budgets and goals. Builder ‘A’ may be on a budget, His cam is going to be a reground OT-10 from Clarks, P/N 8800R and a stock replacement gear. He is also going to get the lifters by shopping around for the best price on a set of sealed power HT-817’s. The 1105 lube comes with the cam, but make sure you get the 1106 additive from Clarks or another source. If he takes it apart carefully, the stock GM thrust washer can be used again. He can assemble it at home, but for heaven’s sake don’t follow the part of the assembly directions that tell people to hit it with a hammer.

Builder ‘B’ may have a different budget. He can call Clarks and buy a brand new OT-10, and get it with a billet fail safe gear already assembled with the 1101 and 1102 washer and key already mounted. This is much more money, but it is for each guy to decide. But notice the number system works for everyone.

To illustrate the flexibility of the system, consider this: I have given some thought to having the cam that Harvey Crane designed for us in 1997 put back in production, because I have found a giant national manufacturer who can make them in the US on new blanks. This part would still be numbered 1100. If I end up doing it, I think the best way of providing them is with a new fail safe made in the US gear already installed and part numbers 1104, 1105 and 1106 all wrapped up in one box that a builder can buy, and then just check “Camshaft Group 1100” off his list. Before anyone asks, I am not going to do this before the next two colleges, so don’t sit on your tail and wait. I mention this because I want to illustrate that having the know how to do something in this business is only half the battle. If builders are not clear on what exactly you’re talking about offering and what part of their build its going to cover, they will be slow to buy such a kit, and if you have a back porch full of them, you will find that you can’t BBQ them for lunch nor send them in as a mortgage payment. Having the numbering system does many things, not just organize builds that will be tackled at CC#25, but it also allows us to consider bringing things to the market without as much worry about how they taste on the grill.-ww

Cam group (1100)

1100- Cam

1101- Thrust washer

1102- Key

1103- Cam gear

1104- Hydraulic lifter set -12 total-

1105- Cam lubricant

1106- ZDDP oil additive

Getting Started in 2013, Part #2, Group numbering system


I have a numbering system that I use for the engine parts that counts every single piece in the flight engine, and puts them in groups that make sense for builders getting organized to build their engines. In this series, I will introduce this nomenclature I use to keep track of in-house production engine to people building at home. When you see a little bit of how its organized, it will make a lot of sense. I am going to bring it in on each segment, and pause to discuss how it works as a system. I have had it for several years, and long-term I would like to integrate it into how builders plan out a build. Later on I will show you the critical path chart that works with it and a decision tree, but for now, lets look at the building block with the crank system as a “Group.”

I have the Flight engine broken down into 38 “Groups” Numbered from Group 1000 (Crankshaft) to Group 3800 (Carbs). As you look at the numbers below, note that all the numbers in the Crank Group (1000) fall between 1000 and 1099. Now, you don’t need 99 part numbers for crank things, I am just keeping a natural spacing. The next group in line is Camshaft Group (1100). We will get to that next. But for now, see how every part in the crank system is accounted for. Note that the rod and Main bearings are in this group because they are dependant on is the crank is new (standard bearings) or Reground (.010″ Bearings etc.) The list can function as a checklist for a builder getting everything ready for an assembly, or one just planning a very careful budget. In about a second, someone will kindly suggest an excel spread sheet, but keep in mind I am a real Troglodyte, and a sheet to me belongs on a bead and an attachment is something I have for my dog. For right now, lets keep the focus on the parts and system, and if individuals want to organize it a little later, that’s fine. There is a lot of later growth potential in the system, where we make short you tube videos for each section, etc, but for now, lets remember that the goal is to build an engine.

Crank group (1000)

1000- Crank (8409 GM or Weseman new Billet)

1001- Crank gear

1002- Crank gear key

1003- Crank gear gasket

1004- Rear keys -2-

1005- Fuel pump eccentric

1006- Spacer

1007- Bronze distributor drive gear

1008- Oil slinger

1009- Main bearings

1010- Connecting rod bearings

After a builder gets all the stuff organized, he can check off  Group 1000 and move forward. To assemble a case, you need to have Groups 1000, 1100 and 1200 (Case) and we will get there shortly. If a builder has a specific question about a part, ask away, we will be able to refer to them by specific number. Notice how number 1009 doesn’t stand for a specific brand or size bearing. Today, the recommended main bearing is Clevite, and the size again, depends on the crank size. If next year there is a different bearing that testing shows to be better, then we can reference this in an update of the single 1009 number, but 1009 will always stand for the main bearings. Keep in mind that the goal is to give an overview of building the engine, and this little post is already 600 words. I have very detailed notes for every single part number, but I want builders to take in the big picture for right now. My flight instructor was very fond of saying “WAKE UP, IT’S TOMMOROW!” any time he caught you daydreaming in the cockpit. Same applies to making a plan for getting your own personal engine to advance.

If you’re looking at shipping your core crank out by Saturday, pull it out of the engine and get going. If you have a small gear puller you can remove 1005, 1006, 1007 and 1008 in one shot. Let the pro who is doing the crank take the 1001 gear off. Get a plastic bag, a few feet of old carpet, a strong cardboard box and a roll of shipping tape and get it wrapped up. What you do this week makes a difference on whether your working or watching at CC#25.-ww


Getting Started in 2013, part #1, Crankshaft process options.


The season has started, and we are 90 days away from the first College of the year. If you have a core motor in your shop, or are about to get one, it is time to get going. In this ongoing series, I am giving something of an over view of the build process, but my real intention is to get builders in action. 2013 has started. Would you like to have a running engine this year? Like to see some undeniable physical progress? Is the midnight shift of magic elves laying down on the job at your place? Get out the wrenches, fire the elves, and let’s get going.

Every engine starts with a Crank. Three ways to go here: 1)Processed 8409 GM crank, 2)New Weseman Billet crank, or  3)”Internet Red Chinese.” For people who actually believe in the craftsmanship of workers at the $3 a day level and the business ethics of communist leadership, I suggest clicking on this link for my story on “Chinese Crankshafts“. If you still think these things are airworthy, and your going to put one in a pusher aircraft with a 70 mph stall speed, let me remind you of the adage “the pilot is the first person at the scene of the accident” really applies to pushers, and the engine often arrives .006 seconds later and hopefully doesn’t make it all the way to the instrument panel.

For the rest of the builders, it is Choice number 1) or  2).  Lets cover #2 first. Dan tells me that 12 people have laid down the money and ordered a billet crank. Several of them have been delivered, and builders have seen these at CC#24. The last engine of the year, (see story:World’s Strongest 3,000cc Corvair, built by Greg Crouchley) had one installed, as well as the Panther Prototype engine. This is why I wrote those stories under the title of “The Panther’s engine, worlds strongest Corvair flight engine.) First question many people ask is “Who needs one of these?” The only answer is anyone who would like one.  They add about $1,100 to the price of a first class engine. Looking at the first 12 people who ordered one, they do not all have the same airframe nor the same experience, nor the same style of flying. The only thing they have in common was they felt that it was a good value for the price. (I do also.)  Speaking from a personal perspective, I would rather have one of these cranks in my engine than an expensive glass cockpit instrument panel. Some  builders will choose both, others will choose neither. I will work with both builders. If you would like a bit longer story, I wrote one (Billet Cranks Made In The USA) but it is a year old, and you can just as well go to Dan’s website and get the most up to date information. When looking at the pricing keep in mind that it has things like a new gear and rod bearings worked in, first glance isn’t apples to apples unless you read closely:

One of the perspectives I have on the new crank is this: A guy who was looking at buying a Jab. 3300 or Rotax 912 has to budget about $20K for one. Same guy, willing to do some assembly and learning, finds out that he can build an absolutely first class, spare no expense, 3,000 cc Corvair for 50% of this. Yes he has to do some work, but some people got into homebuilding to learn, build and fly and they welcome that part of a Corvair. Same guy starts looking at a new billet crank as an upgrade; if it raises the price of the engine $1,100 or so, the engine only becomes 57% of the price of an import. Something to think about.

Above is a close up of a 2nd Gen Dan bearing journal on a re worked GM crank. This is a 2700/2850 ready case we put together and sold to Irv Russel at CC#24.

Ok, lets talk about option 1), prepping the GM 8409 crank. This is the most popular option by far for building a Corvair, and it will remain so for a long time.

First, you decide what kind of engine your building. note that 2,700, 2,850 and 3,000 cc engines all use the same crank. From there, several ways to go:

A) build a 4 bearing engine, and keep the option open of installing a Dan bearing later.

B) build a  Dan 5th bearing engine.

C) build a Roy 5th bearing engine.

Option A) has been popular in the past, but it is important that builders understand that I am letting everyone make up their own mind, but I am whole heartedly recommending that people budget a 5th bearing into the building of their airplane. I personally feel that having a super nice paint job or radios or a glass cockpit on a Corvair powered plane that doesn’t have a 5th bearing is a judgement error in prioritizing. Think about this: I don’t build or sell engines for people unless they have a 5th bearing on them.

Option B) If you build an engine and you know that you are going to put a Dan bearing on it, you have two options; you can use a gen 1 retrofit bearing, but on a new build engine it makes more sense to use a gen 2 bearing, where the added steel bearing journal is fixed to the crank and ground concentric when the crank is processed. This is the system pictured above, and this in the one I currently use on all of our production engines.

Option C) Roy has been making 5th bearings for a number of years, and I have used them on production engines. They are CNCed, but they are hand fitted and line bored to each builders case. This means that the builder must send his case to Roy, and that Builders must be prepared to wait a bit because each installation requires a good deal of his labor, and this limits production. You can read more at  Roy has a specific process on the crank that is similar to a gen 2 Dan crank, but this process is handled by Roy start to finish for people who select his Bearing.

Back to the specific Item. You have a core crank, what’s next? Obviously, if you are going Option C), you are going to call Roy and send it to him. Looking at Option A), The best place to send the crank is to Moldex in MI. They have done more than 100 cranks over the years and they have a very good track record. At times, they process cranks in a few weeks, but at other times they have taken far longer.

Even so, they are vastly better than any local crank shop you are likely to find in your home state. Before the advent of 5th bearings or Excellent processing like moldex, A number of builders broke cranks in flight engines. There were a lot of factors that contributed to this, but I am going to flat-out tell everyone that two of the biggest factors was poor grinding, magnafluxing done by unqualified people. The first caused stress risers the second failed to detect preexisting damage. Both of these errors came from local shops. Builders going to Moldex for the last 5 years has made a very large difference in the Quality of 8409 cranks going into engines. If you are looking at Option A), I consider using a shop other than Moldex a hard decision to justify. There are a number of specific issues that go into grinding a Corvair crank, like getting it dead nuts concentric. On a V-8 with a timing chain, not so big a deal. On a Corvair where the cam drive is by finely meshing gears, a crank ground to V-8 concentricity can radically overwork the cam gear. Avoid drama like this, use people we recommend.

Last, Option B) As pointed out, you can start with option A), use that crank process, and later install a gen 1 Dan bearing. But the route that makes far more sense on a new build Dan bearing is to exercise the following process: Send your core crank to Dan. He will fully process it,  thread, press cam gear off, stress relieve,  grind, nitride, balance, polish and install his gen 2 steel bearing on the crank. In the process, he gives you a choice of reusing your stock gear if it is in good shape, or using a new one. This process and options are detail on this link to Dan’s website:

Note that you can have this service done to the crank, but delay buying the actual aluminum billet bearing housing part of the system until after your case is assembled. Using this system makes the installation far easier, because the alignment of the steel bearing surface, the part of the Dan installation that takes the time, is already done for you and it has been made fool-proof. The second half, the housing installation, is the far lower tech part of the process.

One more special note: For a number of years, we have been removing the cam drive gear/flange off the crank when it is processed. Year ago, when we had everyone’s local crank shop doing the work, I was concerned about having these shops press the gear on and off. (It requires some talent and specialized tools.) In that era, cranks went to nitride with the gear on. There was all kinds of theoretical debate about this, but thousands of hours were logged on cranks processed this way. In recent years, we have reversed this because with the use of centralized qualified people, the gears can correctly be taken off and put on. It is far easier to grind the crank concentric with the gear off. But a concern of mine is that builders that do not clean the gear teeth very carefully can have tiny hardened flakes of nitrided material end up embedded in the cam gear, potentially causing a lot of trouble. This is easily avoided by having the right people remove the gear before the crank gets nitrided. Both Roy and Dan do this.

OK, life got started yesterday. If you have a core crank in your shop, vow to yourself that you are going to have it in the mail to the process of your choice by Saturday at noon. If you are headed to CC#25 in three months, you need to get going. In this series, I am going to take builders forward step by step with a gen 2 Dan bearing engine build up, timed so people heading to the college can be prepared to make progress and get what they deserve out of this year.-ww

Mail Sack 1/14/13, Various topics….


Here is a sample of the mail on a whole bunch of topics:

On the “Bear-vair”, 601XL Builder/flyer Scott Thacher writes:

“Hi William. I looked over the last photo of you holding the bear in the prop blast and noticed a great optical illusion! Note that your arm and bear appear in the prop blast while your other arm and body appears to be in front of the prop! Scott Thatcher (getting closer to the first 100 hour mark)”

On the “Bear-vair” Zenith 750 builder Dan Glaze writes:

“William, I started working on my engine at CC 17 and ran it at CC 20 and have been to 3 colleges since my engine ran, the reasons? great fun , great people, and helping other people get to their prop blast grin is more rewarding than anything I can think of.On top of all these reasons I learn more from the college gang on every trip and feel confident that I can do any and all maintenance and repairs needed to keep my engine running for years, looking forward to the next college!! Dan-o”

On making a reality plan for 2013, Dragonfly builder and CC#22 Grad Guy Bowen writes:

“2012 was an active time for the Corvair part of my Dragonfly. After CC22 I received my Weseman-processed crank, finished cleanup & paint on my block, after plasti-guaging the mains installed the OT-10 (everything looked great). I sent my core heads to Mark Petz and ordered my 2850 kit. In 2013 I plan to, if the financial gods are pleased, order my Dan Bearing get my core engine built to the short block stage. I plan to test my hanging rudder pedal configuration, finalize and install my panel and start on my engine cowl and firewall installation.”

On the subject of “Steel tube fuselages and accidents” Builder Ron Brown writes:

“Absolutely love it.Your right on target. Having witnessed my share of crashes at the strip starting at Rialto and Fontana late 50′s . continuing on to OC. Lyons and Pomona,they were horrific but nothing compared to the carnage that I experienced in Helicopters during my 2 tours in Vietnam. Give me Warren Truss 4130 over semimonocoque 2024 any day! – Ron”

On the subject of up coming Colleges: Dan Haynes writes:

“I missed the Texas colleges while deployed to Afghanistan. I’d sure like to see a college in Texas in 2013. Dan”

Dan, Welcome back, we are glad to have you home. We don’t have the 2013 Colleges set in stone yet, with the exceptions of the book end events, #25 in Leesburg FL on April 5-7th and the year-end event in Barnwell in November. We had spoken with Kevin and Shelley, hosts of #22 in Texas, and they are willing to do another great one, but we may skip a year in Texas. I have given a lot of thought to a 2013 “Corvair Air Tour” where we would get a number Corvair powered planes to fly a circuit of one day stops around the central US, maybe 12 or 15 days total. If we could pull this off Texas will certainly be on the tour. More info will be here as it develops-ww

On the topic of “carb choices ” builder “Irish” writes:

“This is the right blog for everyone who really wants to understand this topic. You realize a whole lot it’s almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic which has been discussed for many years. Great stuff, just wonderful!”

In response to my comments about certified composite aircraft and safety issues Builder Scott Black writes:

There was a Columbia here in Quebec that did a hard bounce on a touch and go. The pilot heard something funny and elected to continue to the airport where his mechanic operated. On landing he almost fainted. The entire aft fuselage had delaminated due to the resonance set up when the airplane bounced. It was being held together by just a few exterior plies of composite. The mechanic called the insurance and was told it was a known issue and to put the airplane in the back of the hangar and cover it with something and to keep their mouths shut. So it is not just wings and spars that delaminate. The fact that he left a safe runway with a structurally damaged airplane is a separate issue!

Scott-that particular issue, a landing gear resonance so bad it takes the aft fuselage apart on the Columbia has happened more than once. It is alleged to be caused by mismatch in tire pressure exciting the frequency of the gear. I am pretty sure the aircraft you saw was trucked to FL for repairs.-ww

On the topic of making a real plan for 2013 progress, ATP/CC#17 Grad (and RV owner) Warner Sportser builder, Bill Zorc writes:

 “I really want to get my Corvair engine finished!!! My Warner Sportster is coming along nicely, and with the upcoming Corvair College in April of 2013, I have a good shot running the engine. Mark P has my heads, and they should be ready by then he says. I need a 2850 kit, and would like to get the Weatherpak connectors on my distributor. Any other long lead items I would like to order now also, so I’d appreciate some advice as to the proper prop for this engine/airframe combination. It will weigh in at the 1320 limit for light sport, although the airframe is supposed to be good for 1500 lbs. 114 sq ft of wing area, a top speed of 120 , and a cruise somewhere around 100 or so is what I’m looking for. Since there aren’t any of them flying yet with the Corvair would it be better to use the ground-adjustable warp drive? If so what length?, Bill”

Bill- I think your best bet is a 2 blade 68″ Warp Drive ground adjustable. You can order one of our products page.-ww

On “the worlds strongest Corvair/ weather pack connectors” Builder  Mark Gardner writes:

“Bravo! I work in the automotive repair industry and was planning to use weather pack connectors on many of my connections. This has been a proven system and makes a very neat and tidy build. I’m glad to hear your now doing this as well. The tool and connectors are easy to come by and they work like a champ!”

On “Darwin where are you?” 601XL builder Oscar Zuniga writes:

“William: Darwin is alive and well. His premise was that only the fittest would survive. Those who do not read (or write, or heed) their POHs are doomed to drill it in. After enough cycles of this, only troglodytes will still exist and roam the earth. And what good is a check from your hull insurance company for the full amount of coverage going to do you when they toss it into your coffin?”

On “Darwin where are you?” Bruce Culver writes:

“I expect that when the chap who opened his door in flight gets the bill for the repairs, he will have learned why one doesn’t open the door in flight. Of course, he’s lucky he’s alive to pay the bill…..”

On the topic of Corvair College in Leesburg FL Builder Skip Beattie writes:

“Leesburg for #25 sounds great to me. I couldn’t make #24, but I will be ready in April and I live just down the road in Citrus County. Just before Sun ‘n Fun would be a good idea as well. (Planning to mount it in a Fisher Celebrity)”

Skip- It will be a fun and productive event. I will speak to Jim and Rhonda Weseman about flying their Corvair/Celebrity over-ww

On the passing of noted Aviation writer Mick Myal, his daughter Julie Myal Castro writes:

“What a wonderful way to remember my dad…..I had no idea that he had such a profound impact on other airplane enthusiasts. Thank you for the insight that even I didn’t know!!! Julie”

On the passing of noted Aviation writer Mick Myal,  Editor Pat Panzera writes:

“Very nice. Thank you so very much for this.”

On the passing of noted Aviation writer Mick Myal, His wife Sue wrote:

…this was a tribute beyond words…And…thanks to you too for sending it on…I will pass on to our kids and MIck’s many “airplane buddies”. Sue

Intakes and Internet myths, Part 2.


On October 10th 2012, I wrote the first part of this. The story was formed around showing builders that the style of intake manifold that we have used for years on Corvair flight engines is actually a very well engineered design that appears over and over again on purpose designed aircraft engines built by large Aircraft industry giants like Alison on the 1710 V-12. I was looking for a particular photo on our main website and came across this photo that I took at the Pioneer Airport side of Oshkosh in 2008. Get a good look at this engine and see that the intake is a systematic copy of the one we use on a Corvair.

Above is a 440 cid air cooled Ranger inline six  It is a 200 hp engine of WWII vintage. They were on Fairchild 24s, PT-19s, Grumman Widgeons and a number of other classics.  Note how the feed pipe for each group of three cylinders is offset just like a Corvair head. The center part of the manifold is a Tee section to hold an updraft one barrel carb, just like we use on the majority of flying Corvairs. If you look at the system, the proportions of the components are much the same as we use on the Corvair.

I dug out the original information in part one because an internet ‘expert’ with the named “Toolbuilder” was pontificating that he knew how to get a 20% increase in output on the Corvairs heads by using individual runners, Complete BS, as demonstrated by the dyno runs I pictured in part one. The next time an armchair expert tells you that the Corvair’s head is not well designed, or has poor fuel distribution, save time and tell him he is a genius, then walk away knowing that many aircraft have the exact same design as the Corvair.

You may wonder what kind of group of people would tolerate a person like “Toolbuilder” who goes around making baseless claims about aircraft systems he has never seen in person, far less has any understanding of. Wonder no further. The guy is a fixture on the Van’s Airforce website. The format of this webpage has a management section that tells me how many people a day read it, and it has a section to show how many people came from a hyperlink on another site. For example, in the 24 hours between 7pm sunday and 7pm tonight (It works on a 24hr zulu time clock) we had 932 readers. 66 of them first went to our page and used the ‘click here’ hyperlink to arrive here. Those are about average for a Sunday/Monday. What stuck out was that 40 people came to the site from the Vans Airforce discussion groups yesterday.

I went there and found a lot of the discussion was started about A twin-engine Corvair powered airframe that started out life as an RV-6A, being built by a friend of ours. I fully understand that there are 20,000 RV builders so it’s not safe to generalize about them just because 75% of the comments about the twin project were some of the saddest knee-jerk/internet expert/ drama queen comments I have read in a long time, but that’s a pretty high percentage for people who are alleged to understand what EXPERIMENTAL aviation is about. As you may have guessed, Mr “ToolBuilder” was right in there. Two or three people had something positive to say, many of the others were operating at the hyper-dramatic doom speculation level I refer to as “Mother-in-law on Methamphetamines.”

As I read some of the comments, one of the things that came to mind is that Fans of the RV designs are woefully ignorant of the origins of their own airplane company. (The RV-1 was a modified Stitts design. If Ray Stitts took the attitude of the people on the Vans airforce site, there would be no RV anything today.) Secondly, I have heard RV fans say things about the position of Dick Van Grunsven countless times as if each of them were his paid press secretary. Mr VanGrunsven is a publicly reserved guy, but I have sat through a number of industry meetings with him. At this last Oshkosh, I was one of 16 people who went to a 4 hour kit industry think tank meeting. Mr, VanGrunsven was the Chairman and spoke with frankness about many issues. Know what? After listening to him in this setting, I will tell you that 50% of the things his followers say don’t come close to positions he actually holds. It is oddly Ironic that I have much better insight to the perspectives of the man than the great majority of the people making endless posts on his official webpage, but a small detail like that never stopped an internet personality with a silly name.-ww


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:

“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

Mail Sack, 1/13/13, words on levels of aircraft finishes.

Builders, Here is a sample of the mail on aircraft finishes and how professional builders and magazine editors distorted the perception of traditional craftsmanship:

Cleanex builder and flyer Dale Williams of SC writes:

“William, You are singing my song here about aircraft finishes! I’m currently painting my “Cleanex” with a very experimental method that many would run from i.e. aluminum boat paint put on using a series of rollers. The paint itself is a three-part Acrylic Urethane Enamel. After applying the paint I’m doing a bit of sanding and using some 3M rubbing compound to turn my 20′ paint job into a 10′ paint job. The swirls and final polish will be done with Meguiars #9 Swirl Remover. This paint goes on extremely thin so the weight of the applied paint verses the finish is easy to control. I do not yet have mine finished as I’m awaiting the trim colors from the supplier before I can apply the numbers, striping, and graphics. Here is a photo of the Cleanex belonging to Clarence Dunkerley that used the same paint and application method:

I’m sure you remember Clarence from CC # 21 at Barnwell, SC:

These are indeed “industrial” paint jobs but also are “experimental” and the money saved goes under the cowling where it belongs. Besides, I learned something by doing it this way! Thanks for a great story and having the courage to write it. Dale N319WF a.k.a. Myunn- daughter of cleanex”

701/Corvair builder, CC#20 graduate Terry Samsa writes:

“Very interesting and quite compelling. I like you even better after that than I did already. Thank you for becoming part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem.”

 Terry, I wrote the second half so that no builder working in his own shop looking at the results of his efforts ever mistakenly compares his work to that of a paid professional who has spent a career getting very good at the skill, and who’s budget puts any tool, material or process in their hands. The magazines had countless stories that implied that you were looking at the work of other regular builders, and I think thousands of builders at home were discouraged by their own results in the unfair comparison. I wanted rank and file traditional homebuilders to have actual confirmation from a former insider that what the may have suspected was actually more true than they knew. I don’t need to be thanked for it, it doesn’t risk my work nor business relationships, my involvement with that side of experimental aviation is long over. -ww

Pietenpol Builder/ATP Terry Hand writes:

“What happens to a business/association that supports and even rewards such dishonesty in “builders”? Fifteen years later they have a CEO who thinks flying a Stearman and a T-6 is staying in touch with the common man, and building huge chalets to rent to Corporate America while spoiling the view at Airventure for the little people is a good idea. And once he is fired his replacement is a guy that bought his degrees from a diploma mill, and everyone thinks he is a great guy. Maybe he is a great guy, but I sure can’t Google and find anywhere that he has owned up to his mistakes the way you did in 2,500 words. That’s where all of this has taken us. Thank you for all that you do- not just for Corvair builders but for all of experimental aviation. -Terry.”

Builder Bruce Culver writes:

“Another timely and revealing essay on the basics of homebuilding, and the ‘dark side’….. Long ago (I joined EAA in 1982) I had a small library of homebuilding books, and I am now replacing those. I just acquired all of Tony Bingelis’s books off eBay, and I remember how much I learned from them many years ago. As for my paint, I was looking at a paint supplier’s website, and marveling at how much money would go into enough paint to do an airplane. I figured it would take as much money as building one of your Corvair engines (or close to it). Since I am doing a “warbird”, I will go for a satin sprayed finish, and it won’t be using paint that costs $335 a gallon….. Echoing others, we owe you a debt of gratitude for helping to make aviation affordable for those of us really bad at picking winning lottery tickets.It was frankly sad and disturbing to see EAA engage in such fraud, but it is obvious they have “moved on”.And 95% of the people going to Airventure won’t have any idea any of this is happening. I have two framed copies of “The Man in the Arena”; one will go into my office, the other into the workshop, a reminder to me that nothing worthwhile comes without struggle and sacrifice. And that is as it should be……”


Mail Sack 1/13/13, Pre-Christmas family notes.


Here is a sample of what friends wrote in about the story of my Fathers 87th birthday and the importance of Fathers and people of courage in this world. The story also brought a number of private emails where people shared thoughts on their relationship with their Father that I found very moving. In many ways I think my Father is very typical of men of his generation, and for this reason the story about him brings people my age to think about their own dads and the role they have played in our lives. Our family had a very good day together in NJ, and I hope that most of you had a chance to spend some time with your fathers over the holidays. -ww

New England builder, CC#14 Grad, and USN Seabee Dave Simon writes:

“Always glad to hear about your father, William. I fondly recall a few hours visiting with him about the Navy and the Seabees at CC in Massachusetts. Happy Holidays! Dave”

NJ 601XL Builder/flyer Phil Maxson writes:

“I honor your father, a true American hero. Your note describes his accomplishments, but I always remember him as a delightful, humble man with a broom in his hands cleaning up the hangar in preparation for a college in your hangar in Edgewater. I am very glad to have met him.But I honor you as well. you have dedicated your life to making flying, safe, achievable and affordable for many people. You have taught me more than anyone else about how aircraft and engines work. I am in your debt. We members of the Corvair movement are in your debt.”

DC-3 owner and man of adventure Tom Graziano writes:

“William, Thanks from one of the 3%…Tom”

Builder Jackson Ordean writes:

“Right on.-JO”

 Builder Dan Branstrom writes:

“Amen, and best wishes to all, especially Grace Ellen and your families.”