Here is a sample of the mail on this topic:
Zenith 601 Builder Ken Pavlou writes:
“William, I’m glad you write stories like these. It’s easy and nice to read about success stories, operational techniques, and product announcements, but I would argue that stories about judgment and consequences are far more important and valuable.
You would think that preservation of one’s life is more than enough motivation to do things right and practice good judgment. In the bigger picture though its more than just our own life that we are preserving. When we decide to learn to fly or build an airplane we become stewards of our hobby and aviation as a whole. We assume the responsibility of preserving our life, that of our passengers, and those on the ground.
We are also preserving our privilege to build and fly. Safety is absolute, it’s not an option. One can not and should not try to rationally talk themselves out of doing what is best for safety. If we stray too far from this we will see our privilege of flight regulated to the point of extinction. Thank you, Ken Pavlou”
On the topic of VE airframes, CC#17 &25 Host Arnold Holmes writes:
“Having read all of WW’s post on risk management, I can tell you that he is EXACTLY correct about the Varieze. I love flying my VE but I can honestly tell you that of all the airplanes I have flown I give the VE the widest margins. I find myself more alert and more attentive while flying it than any other airframe. It is not an unsafe design and it handles nicely but it is much less forgiving when you loose your engine on take off or need to land off field. In fact it is at least as bad at those things as it is good at others. That little canard up front has to work really hard and MUST have adequate airspeed to work. 50 feet in air in a climb configuration is no place to loose your engine or have a major power reduction in these airplanes.WW is giving everyone who takes time to read his post good, valid, experienced recommendations and you are foolish not to listen to what he has to say. He and I have known far too many that have died tragic horrible deaths simply because they refused to exercise good judgement, don’t be one of them!”
Builder Matthew Lockwood writes:
“There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots” In this case, ‘bold’ means ‘lacking judgement’
Builder/DAR Jon Ross writes:
“William, Your interest in philosophy is appealing. That said, your comments about risk management and judgment are opinionated, yet correct.
Like you, I express many of the same sentiments to those that will listen. The problem is, most people will not listen. I am often disappointed by people who seemingly seek sound advice when I later learn that they are simply trolling for someone to tell them what they want to hear. With the Internet being what it is, there are many so-called experts who will provide just about any opinion needed to satisfy almost anyone. It would seem that decisions based upon little or no sound reasoning or factual engineering basis would not be commonplace; yet they are.
In my travels as a an amateur built DAR, I am often queried by many builders about their projects. Many of the questions I am asked are related to advice that these builders have been given. You see some very interesting things in the field; and I often fly home with the thought of impending disaster after what I have seen.
With the cost of aircraft engines being what it is, I often am told that the power plant of choice will be the Corvair. I politely ask if they have seen your engine builders manual and recommend that they buy a copy and consider attending one of your workshops. Being around like-minded people (I am talking about a culture of safety) can have a very positive effect; it can be contagious. Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well.
My own current project is a Breezy, and the engine I am using is the Continental O-200B. I am often told (it is always an unsolicited comment) that I should use a Corvair power plant. While I believe that this could be safely done, the O-200 is in my opinion, a better choice for my intended application. While I am interested in the Corvair, I will likely never build one up for flight. But I find this suggestion to use a Corvair to be common; and the person making the suggestion is almost always someone with no credentials to be making such a recommendation. (With one exception; and that person is a mutual friend of us both). The point I am making is that builders are often bombarded by what may sound like seemingly good advice. When that advice is coupled with saving money, the advice given moves closer to being regarded as sound in the mind of the listener, that’s just human nature.
I admire your efforts to counsel builders on evaluating their decision-making process; but I have learned in my life that sound judgement comes from the heart. Like you I will keep trying, but I often take heat for doing so.”
Builder Rhett Ashton writes:
“I don’t usually comment on internet articles or blogs, but I feel compelled to make a comment here. Well said William. Rhett, Royal Oak, MI”
Builder Bruce Culver writes:
“This is all really quite sad, people paying you for your experience with the Corvair and the custom quality parts, and then not following your advice, but then I am reminded of what an old flight instructor told me years ago, “Remember, the pilot is always the first one to arrive at the scene of the accident.” Would that more people remembered that”
Bruce, 100% of people are never going to listen, but the goal is to make it 1% more than it was yesterday. In homebuilding, we have time to get people to listen and think. A flight instructor has but a few hours over a few weeks. I have many hours, often over several years. It is very hard to get people to change their ways on most subjects, but people do listen when things are said directly. I think too many aviation messages are blurred in with the rest of the ignored warnings in life because for the sake of family presentation and marketing, the warnings are ‘cleaned up’, Without frank discussion between thinking adults, the warning gets ignored just like the ones that came with every consumer appliance.ww
Cleanex Builder and flyer Dale Williams writes:
Hi William, This story reminds me of a choice I had to make on my Cleanex when building it. I had bought a brand new Aerocarb from another builder at a fair price. It was the size recommended for the Corvair. I had read your manual and seen stories where others were getting good results although some were having difficulty getting them to set correctly. I had even flown one before on an Aerovee powered Sonex that I used to own. But then something happened.
Dan Weseman had agreed, early on, to do the first flight of my Cleanex when it was finished as I didn’t have a tail wheel endorsement and Dan had built the engine and was confident in the building abilities of Dick Fisher who was my building mentor and is currently a beta builder for the tri-gear Panther.
But when Dan learned that I was considering using an Aerocarb he flatly stated, “I will not fly it with an Aerocarb on it.” I asked why and he plainly told me that he did not believe them to be airworthy. I mentioned that you had seen them used and they were a choice given in your manual. He told me that he believed that your view of the carb may have changed but nevertheless, he would not fly behind an Aerocarb. I respect Dan Weseman and yourself greatly and took those words to heart.
I earned my tail wheel endorsement and performed the first flight last year. BTW … she performs very well with a Marvel Schebler MA3-SPA Carburetor. Thank you for your brutal honesty. Dale N319WF”
PS: If you want to share this story and decide to “change the names to protect the innocent” I understand. If you decide not to protect the innocent, I understand that too.
Dale, Between thinking people having an important discussion, there is no need to shield anyones identity. I only do that when a builder makes a mistake and I want people to learn from it without having them focus on the ‘who’, as much as the ‘why.’ In this case, we are only covering builders perspectives on decision making. Not everyone comes to the same conclusion, but how they get there, the evaluation process is what we want to develop.
Notice, I don’t tell people ‘never do this’ without a reason. I am far more likely to say ‘I choose not to, and here is why.’ The first is only about controlling others actions. May work for a moment, but does not help the guy at the next decision. The second approach is a building process where the guy starts evaluating things for himself. Neither me, his airframe designer nor his flight instructor will be with the guy when he goes to fly. At that point, he is far better prepared if he has developed judgement than a list of do’s and don’ts.
The Aerocarb is a mixed bag. On a Corvair, it should never be used in an application with a fuel pump. Gravity feed, it has flown a long time. I would not use one personally. If I tell people simply not to use them, or if I ignored their existence, builders would rapidly find out that Joe Horton has flown on for 800 hours on a Corvair, and then many people would just skip to ‘it must be fine’ without a thoughtful evaluation of its qualities, limitations and their specific needs.
Reducing Dan’s perspective on Aerocarbs to ‘not airworthy’ is an over simplification of his evaluation of wether he would choose to use the carb on a Corvair powered plane he was going to fly. Neither Dan nor myself would pick an Aerocarb for our own planes. That doesn’t mean they have not worked for others, but it is an important judgement call. No one should take this as a knock at the Monnetts; Look at it in reverse, they would not choose to put a Corvair on their Sonex, even though it has long been shown to function. I am not offended by this, it is a judgment choice of theirs, just like the carb evaluation is mine.
The underlying theme in your story from successful builder to successful flyer is about developing your own judgement, but being willing to alter it when you are presented with more information. The number one reason why people resist altering perspective is they find out that they have to spend more money. Even 25 years after starting this, I still have never grown thick skin about people being cheap around planes. There is a very different perspective to working on a budget or looking for value. Cheap is a guy who lives in a $400K house, just drove to the airport in a $40K car, telling me that aviation is the most important thing in his life, and then complaining that an MA3 costs $400 more than an Aerocarb. Cheap will hem and haw and ask things like “well what if I” and point to examples, often on other airframes and engines, ones he has never seen in person. I have no tolerance for that. He isn’t looking for ‘why’ or even ‘how’, he is just being cheap, and people like that have harmed a lot of people in aviation, not just themselves.
Mentoring is important in this field. If you experience doesn’t cover the topic you need to exercise judgement on, then find someone who’s perspective you respect, a person with a proven track record that you wish to emulate. This is just what you did with Dan. You have plenty of opportunity when following his path to ask ‘why’ and understand the logic of his judgement, and in the process expand your own. -ww.
Continuing on the theme, let’s look at a different risk management topic. It is often the first decision a builder makes. Stop and think about that: when a guy is new, he makes a critical decision, before he has much experience or good advice to base it on. This choice is which airframe to build.
What brings this topic up is related to a previous story. A few days ago I mentioned that a builder was pursuing having a very long prop hub made for a plane that I thought was a poor choice for new idea testing, especially if the guy had little experience in building, flying and testing. The airframe in question is a Rutan Vari-eze.
Before anyone gets up in arms, I am not attacking the design, Burt Rutan or anything else. The point here is that it is not a good airframe to test new ideas on, and many of the people who like this airframe have little direct personal experience with them, and often the same people have not previously re-worked or modified other engines installations, they just like the idea of the plane, and often view the Corvair as a cheap alternative to the approved O-200. This isn’t a radical nor blasphemous thing to say. Would you like to guess who would agree with me the most on this statement? I will bet Burt Rutan himself. I have met the man in person more than once, read a lot of what he has written, and I really doubt that anyone who has done the same is going to disagree with my assessment of Rutan’s position.
On our main website for the last 10 years, unchanged, is the following quote:
“A VariEze is not one of my favorite aircraft, due to its fairly high landing speed and comparatively poor pilot protection in an accident. If you gave me my choice of aircraft to have an off-field landing in, a VariEze would be near the bottom of the list. Most VEs are overweight, and the Corvair motor is slightly heavier than the recommended hand prop Continental. This is a weight sensitive airframe, where a few pounds are not to be taken lightly.”
Vari-eze fans often tout this as a very ‘safe’ aircraft. The statistics do not bear this out. Taken directly from the 1981 Canard Pusher, Rutan’s in-house newsletter, the following note, written by Burt:
“Homebuilt accident record statistics were reported for a three year period by The Aviation Consumer last year. They show an overall accident rate for VariEze of 2.59 (1.55 fatal) per 100 aircraft during the 3 years. Average for all homebuilt aircraft was 3.93 (1.07 fatal). We are not happy with this result, as we had expected the VariEze to be significantly better than the average homebuilt due to it’s strong structure and good stall characteristics.”
I am not saying it is a ‘bad’ plane, I am just pointing out that it had a higher than average fatality rate, and that is flying with the recommended engine, in an era where pilots flew more, when the design had active support and virtually all the pilots were original builders of the airframes. Change this to a non recommended engine, with a 8″ prop extension that I am sure will overload the crank, add in a second owner who had little or no Varieze experience and you are now speaking of a very high risk aircraft. I know pilots of great skill with ice water in their veins under pressure who would not fly that combination, even if I built the engine, far less a guy on a really tight budget building his first Corvair.
I have looked at this combination before. CC#17 and #25 host Arnold Holmes, a 20 year close friend of mine, owns and flies a 1,000 hour VE. He had it at Oshkosh two years ago. He and I have very carefully looked at putting a very powerful Corvair on his airframe. One of the motivators for the joint project was we were pretty sure that we could edge the Corvair speed record to 230-235 mph. Arnold has a lot of flight time in the airframe, knows more about composites than anyone most people have ever met, is an A&P/IA of outstanding record, and above all else, he has incredibly good judgement around aircraft. Guess what conclusion we came to: It wasn’t worth doing. A speed record is a dumb goal to risk much on. I am sure we could have done it at moderate risk, but to what end? After a lot of conversation, Arnold decided that he can’t bring the VE to our little grass strip, His son can’t begin to learn to fly the VE from the back, and his girlfriend likes Side by side seating much better. His solution? Simple, he bought my Tailwind project and is putting a Corvair on it and probably selling his VE. Steel tubing, 170mph and grass strip friendly, and a straight forward tractor installation appeals a lot more.
We have four builders who are planning on putting their Corvair on a VE. Let me directly say that I think people have a right to do high risk things in life. My goal isn’t to talk them out of it, but I will openly discuss what I think the risk is. If they are going to do it, logic says they are better off with my input. But I am also free to say that I am not going to assist them if I think that they are making poor decisions or are ignoring risks rather than minimizing them. That isn’t a policy that just applies to VE’s. I have refused to help some people who were building Pietenpols and 601’s with poor attitudes. A guy with no credible experience in test flying and engine development trying to have an 8″ prop extension made because he thinks he needs it for stream lining is not exercising valid judgement. I spent some time with him at a recent College, and he is a nice guy, but as I have pointed out, Gravity Physics and Chemistry don’t care about that. Today, I am sure he thinks I am an A-hole who is pissing on his rights and dreams. I am ok with him thinking that for a long time. It is a far better alternative to him thinking of me supporter right up through a first flight that ends poorly.
Think that was a little too dramatic? Fear mongering on my part? Just old WW pontificating and verbally being mean to a guy that has different ideas? Don’t answer until you read about my friend Steve Parkman. Great human being, very clever, family guy, friend to many people; Gravity Physics and Chemistry didn’t give a damn about any of that. You can read the link directly below on how he was killed on the very first flight of his VE with a 4 cylinder Geo engine. You put him in a steel tube aircraft that was a tractor with a 50 mph stall speed, a much better test platform, and he would have lived through that landing. Anyone who wants to have some sort of ‘composites are safe’ comment, spare it, it doesn’t apply to the VE configuration on an off airport landing.
Just in case that was a little too dry and technical for you to think about it being about a human being that many people loved, look at the link to the newspaper below. If is an interview with Steve’s widow just after the accident where she is now unsure how she is going to house and feed her kids. Note that it was two days before Christmas 1998:
A few years ago when I was on a three-day insomnia run, I wrote a story in the middle of the night for the Corvaircraft discussion group about being friends with Steve. I often called him during the day, but in the afternoon he would always break off the conversation to get his kid in person at school. When I heard he was killed, the first thing I wanted to know was what time it happened. For a while I had nightmares about a kid waiting alone in a school yard for a parent that was not going to arrive.
Lest anyone get off track and think that I am saying homebuilding in general is too high risk, lets bring this back in focus for a moment: This is about risk management through good decision-making. Right now, Dan Weseman has three kids who are roughly the same age span as Steve Parkman’s kids were then. Why am I not down at Dan’s telling him to re think about flying? For one simple reason; Dan has excellent judgement, is running a low risk test series, and he has made good choices all the way. If he saw any issue, he would stop and fix it correctly before the next flight. He leaves nothing to chance. In contrast, Steve didn’t always do these things. He might have gotten away with it, except for his choice of airframes as a test mule. That single choice, and it was a bad one, made all the difference. Simply put, it was the wrong airframe, and he was the wrong guy for a completely unforgiving test plane. He was a great guy, but that never counts. All that mattered was having the judgement to pick a better test plane, and on that point he came up short.-ww
If anyone wants to write me debating that pusher aircraft with composite or wood fuselages are not good test planes, please read the Vari-Viggen/O-320 accident report below first. I was on hand for the crash 10 years ago. I had spent the previous day admiring the man’s craftsmanship and personal style. He was a stand out in a group of 1,000 people at Frasca. The soy bean field he had a forced landing in was big and flat enough that I am pretty sure I could have landed at DC-3 in it. His fuselage did not protect him. It had poured rain the day before and it was later thought he had water in the fuel. With many planes this would have been an non-accident, but the man’s airframe choice did not work for him on that day. His wife had driven there and previously left for a 6 hour trip home. Some one was going to call her, but a pilot with 50+ years of experience stopped them so the woman could get all the way home and back to family before finding out she was a widow.
Since we are working the risk management topic, let’s take a look at a different story; in the last one we examined ‘when bad things happen to good people.’ In this one we can get a look at a different corner of the outcome matrix, namely ‘when bad things happen to bad people.’
Without this story, people new to aviation might falsely conclude that accidents disproportionately happen to good people. Just to emphasize my point that Physics, Gravity and Chemistry don’t play favorites, here we have an example that they are just as willing to eliminate bad people. These impartial referees are indifferent to most character traits with one exception: Judgement, which they always respect. If you develop and exercise Judgement, the three referees with be the most reliable friends anyone ever had. They have never ‘turned’ on anyone, ever. In every case, it is the operator who changed and stopped respecting them. At that point they just remorselessly went about their business.
At the center of this story is one of the least likeable humans I ever met. Let me start by saying that I am an optimist by nature and something of a romantic about aviation. I truly believe in the essential message of The Great Waldo Pepper, that aviation is a brotherhood that spans many differences. Here is an exception. The man’s name was Ray Blondin. For many months he posed as a regular Corvair builder. At the start, he knew nothing about engines, and little about planes. He was a lawyer. He bought almost every part we sold, and asked many questions. Getting his plane done was just his first goal. He was going to use every thing we knew to form a LLC and make cheap copies of everything thing we had developed. I know this to be true because the week after he was done he launched a company with a big website named Ventureray LLC, incorporated in his home state of DE, and it said directly on his webpage that had been the goal all along.
Blondin was a sociopath, and let me assure you that one didn’t need a medical licence to make a conclusive diagnosis. Our attorney, who is a Zenith 750 builder who lives in CT, sent Blondin a cease and desist letter, based on the fact that I had Blondin signature on our product rights agreement. Blondin immediately called the Delaware State police and said he was being physically stalked by my attorney, a very serious charge. My attorney happened to be in Manhattan Federal Court at the moment Blondin claimed he was in Dover DE, 200 miles away. The Delaware State police told my attorney not to be concerned, as Blondin had made this same type of call dozens of times before. It would later turn out that both he and his wife, who was also in the plane with Blondin, were lawyers who had made their livelyhood by suing most of the people and organizations they came across.
I would like to say that I have a very loyal fan club who wouldn’t but cheap copies of our parts, and I would be mostly right. But truth be told, a number of people were attracted to saving $50 on a motor mount, even if it meant not knowing who welded it or what it was made of. Blondin also had a lot of support on discussion groups on the net, chiefly among vocal people whose feelings I had perviously hurt by taking the position that their three-week school on changing oil at Jiffy Lube didn’t make them an A&P. Blondin wrote his whole website in third person and spoke of great engineering developments he had done and teams of technicians he had. In reality is was just him and some borrowed space in a hangar. He had tried to have all the copies farmed out, as he could make nothing himself.
A day or two before Blondin’s accident, a got a letter from a guy who was disgusted by the internet response of some people. The guy wasn’t very subtile, and the last line said that he wanted to live in just country, a place where “scum like Blondin would be publicly executed.” As it turns out, this is just what happened, and Blondin handled the task all on his own.
In short, he took off into a 10 mph headwind, and still needed 2,500′ of runway to get airborne. That is five or eight times the distance it should have taken. Here is poor judgement at work: that take off roll was more than one minute long, and if he pulled the throttle back at any time, he would have lived. He never gained much altitude, apparently stalled crashed and burned. His wife, beside him died also. The longer report is below, but keep in mind that nearly everything Blondin said was a lie, so I don’t think he really had 250 hours nor do I think the plane flew 100 hours either. I spoke with people at the airport later, and no one wanted to back those claims. The local paper painted a picture of both Blondin and his wife as great humanitarians. Public records indicated that Blondin has actually sued the organization the paper had credited him with supporting.
By starting his LLC, Blondin cut himself off from reasonable assistance. Even if he didn’t go that route, nearly everything we later found out about him indicated that he had no judgement. His website kept going for one and a half years after Blondin was dead. It reminded me of the ghost radio signals being sent by the window shade in the doomsday film On The Beach. About once a month, some new guy would crop up on an internet discussion group, raving about the great products available on a website called VentureRayLLC.com, and saying he had just placed an order with their Paypal system.
When I first started in 1989 I had a lot of dreams about things I would do to play a positive role in the greater story of homebuilding. Today, through time and hard work, many of these things have come to pass. But I will honestly say that I had no idea that things like Blondin lay in my path. I have many other stories much like this one. If I ever come across as short-tempered, consider that you don’t know all of things that went into providing what we have today. The next time someone asks you “why are there not more products for working people in aviation?”, guide them to this story and point out that the more affordable the product is, the simpler it is, and the easier to copy it is. (My prop hub is a much easier target that a moulded composite fuselage) I still believe that the vast majority of homebuilders are good people, but Blondin proved something that plenty of entrepreneurs bypassing the affordable product market know: That many working class people who should have high loyalty to people working to help them, actually don’t, their primary loyalty is to save a dollar, even if it is bad judgement.-ww
Very important Note: Blondin is the rare case where a vermin from our industry harmed himself, not his builders. This is not usually the case. I know far more stories from our industry where the casualties are all customers and builders. Stay far away from people like this, very few of these stories end in this way.
Above, Blondin’s plane at Dover DE. Get a good look at the terrain and ask yourself why an off runway landing there would be difficult.
From our website in 2007:
“Ray Blondin of Delaware is the ninth pilot to fly a Corvair powered 601. Ray took to the air recently in his primer clad HDS, pictured above. Ray kept a steady pace going in recent months to see his project through to completion. He picked up a number of Installation Components from us, but built his own unique installation. Ray’s aircraft utilizes our Motor Mount, specified 66″ Warp Drive prop, Prop Hub, and Distributor. He chose to make his own cowling.”
|Accident date||November 4, 2007|
|Aircraft type||Blondin 601HDS|
On November 4, 2007, at 1011 eastern standard time, an amateur-built Blondin 601HDS, N27S, was destroyed when it collided with terrain after takeoff from runway 34 at Chorman Airport (D74), Farmington, Delaware. The certificated private pilot/owner and the passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.
In written statements, several witnesses described the accident flight, and their statements were consistent throughout. They stated that the engine sound during the takeoff roll and initial climb was “normal,” “strong,” and continuous with no interruption. The takeoff roll was “much longer than usual” and the airplane used about two thirds of the 3,588 feet of paved runway.
The witnesses described a very shallow climb after the airplane lifted from runway 34. The airplane drifted right of the runway centerline, and flew around the east side of a grove of trees off the departure end. The airplane then banked to its left “in an apparent attempt to return to the airport,” turned to the west, then disappeared from view behind the trees.
The airplane then reappeared above the trees in a steep left bank. According to one witness, “[The airplane] popped up in a very steep left bank (both wings were vertical like a knife edge).” The airplane then disappeared from view, the sounds of impact were heard, and a large smoke plume appeared.
The airplane was examined at the scene by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aviation safety inspectors, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The airplane was consumed by a postcrash fire. Therefore, control continuity could not be established; and neither could any information be gathered from the cockpit.
Examination of the propeller revealed one propeller blade separated from the hub, and the other delaminated during impact.
According to FAA records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. He was issued a third-class medical certificate in March 2007, and he reported 250 hours of flight experience at that time.
The airplane was manufactured by the pilot/owner, was issued an airworthiness certificate in February 2007, and had accrued approximately 100 total aircraft hours since that date. The estimate was based on reports from witnesses who were familiar with the airplane and the pilot/owner. A member of the pilot’s family reported to the FAA that he would conduct a search of the pilot’s home for airplane and pilot records, but no records were ever produced.
Examination of satellite images revealed that the airport and the grove of trees were surrounded by flat, open, cultivated fields.
At 0954, the weather reported at Georgetown Airport (GED), Georgetown, Delaware, about 10 miles southeast, included clear skies with 10 miles visibility. The winds were from 310 degrees at 9 knots. The temperature was 13 degrees Celsius, and the dew point was 4 degrees Celsius.