Sun N Fun 2013

Warning: This story contains a four letter word in bold print, it is a direct and exact quote, it is here for a reason. The story also makes literary reference to an imaginary day with Richard Branson. If you can’t or shouldn’t read such things, skip this story and read the next one.-ww


Here is a photo review of Sun ‘N Fun 2013. It was my 25th consecutive year at the airshow. The modern era of the Corvair movement actually began right in Lakeland in 1989. That year was my first Sun ‘N Fun, and I was new to aviation. I stopped in front of the Teledyne Continental Motors booth and directly asked them why they no longer made engines like the C-85 or the O-200. (For a long time Continental focused only on very expensive engines like the TSIO-550 and the Tiara, both over $50K even back then.) I pointed out that as an A&P mechanic, I was something of an unpaid field rep for Continental’s products. I was expected to stay up to date on all of their ADs and service letters, techniques and models, all while being compensated at the then A&P wage of $8/hour. Was it too much to ask that Continental produce an engine that mechanics might save for several years for? Were we relegated to being spectators and errand boys for wealthy people who could afford engines that had price tags of many years’ gross income for an A&P? What was Continental’s position on this?


After checking to make sure his boss was out of earshot, the sales guy leaned forward and slowly said “We could make C-85s again tomorrow, but we won’t, because Teledyne Continental Motors Inc. does not give a shit about you or anyone else who works for a living anymore.”

To put it mildly, I was stunned. A flash of anger passed as I realized that this man had just said the most honest thing I would hear from corporate management of aviation. I actually thanked him, and as I walked away I determined that I would proceed to develop something out of the two old Corvair engines that were in my workshop. Whoever the man was, he was the spark that lit the flame.


In the 25 years since, I have often thought of that day. Countless times I have spoken with good people who harbored a terrible mistaken belief that big corporations in the aviation marketplace would eventually produce something affordable for them, the working class guy. For the past 25 years, I have known that this was never going to happen. It works just the opposite: Businesses that once had affordable products phase them out to chase the easy dollars of the wealthy. Need two quick examples? Lancair was founded to make aircraft that used an O-200, and sold for $10K in 1984, with a remanufactured engine. In a few years this was all abandoned to focus on pressurized four-place aircraft and certificated models. Rotax used to make some affordable engines, the 277, 377, 447 and the 503. All gone now, in favor of 912s that start at $20K, injected models for another $8K, and the turbo 914 in the $34K range. Go back to what the Continental rep said; I spelled out the four letter word, not just because he said it with great emphasis, but because I want you, the builder to wake up and know this in your heart.

You are the only person looking out for you in aviation. Don’t wait around for a white knight, he isn’t going to show up. The inventors who are working on new engines like diesels are all aiming for wealthy people’s budgets, not yours; you will never stumble over a good engine for $4K in the fly mart no matter how many times you look. (If it were good they would have sold it at their home airport rather than dragging it 1,000 miles to sell anonymously.) You can wait for something that will never happen, or you can choose to take the path that will always work: You decide to count on yourself, get your hands dirty, learn some stuff, and build your own engine.


Even if this takes time, it will pay off. In the past 25 years I have watched hundreds of people who could have been builders fritter away their remaining years because they held on to their daydream that there was a solution around the corner that would allow them access to flight. It never happened for them. It only materialized for the people who understood that working people were only going to get the things out of aviation that they were willing to take with their own hands. If you have persistence, time and experience will teach you that you, the real homebuilder, the person who struggled, will actually know the real rewards of homebuilding. The people who did nothing more than write a check only ended up owning the hardware; they robbed themselves of the experience of becoming an aviator.


In December of 1903, when Wilbur and Orville got to the bottom of the sand dune at Kitty Hawk, they did not turn to each other and proclaim “I think we have made something for Vanderbilts and Rockefellers!” They had solved the first stage of flight for all people, not just wealthy ones. You own the sky just as much as any other human being. For the past 100 years there has been a lot of talk about “affordable flying,” but virtually all of the commercial effort has been aimed at providing a wealth of products for the wealthy. It is a lot easier than making something practical and affordable for working people.


Few designers like Chris Heintz and John Monnett devoted their work to affordable planes, they have my highest respect. I was once a fan of Rutan’s, but I slowly woke up to the fact that he abandoned working class homebuilders decades ago. Today he still enjoys broad admiration among EAA members, people he wouldn’t stoop to designing a homebuilt for in the past 25 years. Only a person who has resigned themselves to spectator status still takes close interest in his work. I save my praise for designers who still work in this industry, not those who elected to leave decades ago.

(I type the last sentences with bad conscience; If Richard Branson called and invited Grace and myself to his villa on Bora-Bora to be fed martinis on the beach by mostly bare Tahitian women, I would be pulling up a chair on the beach right beside Burt.)


Below are photos of builders who have long since decided that they are going to be their own white knights, look after themselves, and make their own adventures happen, instead of sitting down and waiting for a ride that isn’t coming. Take your pick, it’s your life. If you are willing to accept the challenge your seat at the table awaits. You will be in good company, and we will be glad to have you aboard.


Above, many of the 60 people we had at the FlyCorvair/SPA Panther cookout.


Dan flew the Panther the Sunday before the show. It attracted crowds all week.


Richard VanGrunsven, designer of the RV series aircraft, leans on the Panther and speaks with Dan.


Lynn Dingfelder flew his Zenith 601XLB down from Pennsylvania. Sebastien Heintz warmly welcomed the plane in the Zenith factory booth because it was an excellent example of economic building. Lynn started with a regular kit, but finished the plane with a full paint job, panel, 100hp Corvair, Weseman 5th bearing, and interior for a total of $24K, including the kit.


CC#23 grads Mark and Sandrine stopped by. Mark is an ATP who flys for a major airline, but is working on something more fun to do with planes.


Longtime Corvair builders Bob and Pat Pustell, down from New Hampshire. Bob has had adventures around the globe in flight, but he is still working to add building and flying a 601XL to his list.  No matter what else you have done in flight, homebuilding is still a very special facet of flight.


Many old friends stopped by for the cookout. In this photo, Skycoupe pilot Gary (with wife Vicki) Coppen, my ERAU roommate Chris Welsh, 1,000 hour Corvair pilot Mark Langford, and editor Pat Panzera. 587927

Skip and Dan Kelley at the cookout. Both were also at CC#25.


Because rain threatened (but didn’t happen) we served the food buffet style by having friends walk through the Panther trailer. Off the wing tip walks Son of Cleanex builder/pilot Chris Smith. Flybaby/Corvair builder/pilot Glenn Goode speaks with CC#24 grad Irv Russell. Dan and Rachel stand on the tailgate.


Many people at the show saw the privately owned Douglas A-4 Skyhawk in the airshow. The guy flying it was Dave Dollarhide, in the flight suit. He flew them in Vietnam, took a short 40 year break, and went back to it this year. Both he and Dan are in our EAA chapter. Everyone is having a hard time deciding if Dan or Dave is having a better year in flying in 2013. Whatever you do after reading this, decide that you are going to have the kind of smile that Dan and Dave got from being In The Arena this year.-ww

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