In defense of plain speaking……


Over the weekend, The stories I wrote on Risk Management pulled about 1,900 page reads. Give or take, that is 700-800 different people reading them, some visiting more than once. From this came a handful of letters, and I was somewhat concerned that several of these were critical of the presentation because it spoke of the deaths of a number of people I once knew. This was called ‘morbid ‘  and ‘not about planes.’ I disagree, and I don’t feel that way when I write such things. Let me explain by introducing a friend whom I have great respect for.

With me are Dave and Carmen, good friends to Grace and me, in a photo from SnF ’09. They have an extraordinary marriage. Their lives are an interesting juxtaposition. Dave has flown many of the aviation scenes in James Bond films, yet they choose to live deep in nature in a very rural part of Florida, in a primitive setting, like the novel The Yearling. These are people who really live in harmony with the world. They are deeply faithful, and in their view this includes drinking and dancing and happiness. They are the kind of people who went with Rodger Williams to Providence.

I do not believe in ghosts, aliens, luck nor magic. Yet I will tell you that stand within arms length of Carmen, you can feel that she is a profoundly spiritual person. I am not alone in this, it is also said in her circle of friends. I accept that there are things in the human world that do not have, nor do they need, a detailed explanation. They just are. If you have never been in the presence of such a person, it is understandable, in all my travels and 50 years, I have only met 2 or 3 such people.

The setting of Carmen’s life, and how she was raised could have come straight from a William Faulkner novel.  She grew up with several very close sisters, one of whom died young.  Several years ago she told me that every year, on the day that would have been her sister’s birthday, all of the sisters dress in their finest clothes, hand prepare an elegant picnic, and they spend the afternoon ‘with’ their sister in the cemetery. She said it is about remembrance and of the celebration of the life they had and still have. She speaks of still having her sister ‘with’ her. When I asked her how they came to do this, Carmen simply said that this was how she was raised and who her family is. When she looks you right in the eye and says this, you really understand that it is her family that is normal and healthy, and it is the rest of our society that is hiding and perpetuating its wounds.

My version of remembrance of friends is writing about them. As I said in the story, I rarely think about these people when it is sunny and there are things to do. The thoughts only come back in the quiet hours, they are not with me every day.  Some people are afraid to visit their past, and seek any distraction to avoid it. I have long since made peace with mine, apologizing for my failings. The only somber part of thinking of lost friends now is just purely missing their company. These people taught me a lot, and to not acknowledge that when I can, robs something from their memory. Almost everything that is known in aviation cost someone dearly. If we only choose to speak of ‘nice’ knowledge gained in R&D labs, I think we would have very little to talk about.

People who have only spent a few months around my writing on Corvairs may have found the frank discussion disturbing, but in all fairness, our manuals and 14 years of webpage writing has never been far from this. I am not in the business of telling builders what they want to hear, I am just here to share what they need to know. As a courtesy to readers who would prefer just ‘engine company part numbers and build stuff’, I keep all of the human experience stories marked under the heading of “Philosophy”, and you will not hurt my feelings if you elect not to read them.-ww.

Corvair powered Dragonfly, Charlie Johnson, aka ‘One Sky Dog’


One of the guys who has been around the Corvair movement for a long time is Charlie Johnson. He is a very unique guy, an aerospace engineer of great experience, and something of an actual rocket scientist. In aviation circles he is best known by the name “One Sky Dog.” 

Charlie is well-known in the Dragonfly building and flying community, but he also has a lot of other flying experience from hang gliders to GA aircraft.  We first met Charlie in 1999 at a small West Coast fly in. He had a long-term plan to eventually convert his VW powered Dragonfly to Corvair power.

The Brothers Johnson, straight out of Utah. Charlie on the left and Bob on the right are both Dragonfly builders and pilots. This photo with me in the middle was taken at CC#11 in CA in 2007.

Through the years we saw him at the tandem wing fly-ins and a number of Colleges. He is good company and an insightful guy. One of the things that demonstrated that he has good judgement is that he was immune to external pressure to change the pace or plan for his own project. There was a competitive spirit to see who would have the first Corvair powered Dragonfly. Charlie would have none of it. He was not competing with anyone, he was doing things for himself. 

The first guy who flew the combination was in a big rush and did a poor job. He didn’t want to get an ignition from us because he wanted to build his own. He didn’t understand that “32 degrees of timing” is total advance, not a static setting. Flight #1 ended in a field. The guy also mutilated the Corvair to fit it in a VW cowl. If your neighbor had a Lycoming cowl for his RV-4 but wanted to put a Continental in it and his solution was to saw pieces off the Continental heads, you would think the same thing about him. Fortunately the man quit before too long and went back to VWs. There was also a second Corvair/Dragonfly, built in Minn. It worked much better, but the builder sold it to a guy who rarely flew it again. None of this affected Charlie, he just marched on to do it his way. 

The Dragonfly is not an easy plane to mount a Corvair on. Just building the mount and finding strong points is an issue. Early on, Charlie decided to use all the things he could from our regular engine builds. He recognized that having the starter on the front like we do brought a lot more room at the back of the engine and allowed the engine to be moved further back. He also selected to build a fiberglass cowl that incorporated one of our nosebowls. This solved a lot of the most challenging packaging elements. He did an outstanding job fairing this into the Dragonfly’s aerodynamics. I actually like the way his plane looks a lot more than traditional VW cowls for the design. Charlie went through some teething issues, much of it centered on a trial Y-shaped intake manifold, as opposed to the T-shaped ones we use. Slow and steady, he has advanced the plane to where it is now in flight testing. Unlike previous attempts at the combination, I think everything about Charlie’s plane is well thought out. Although he did the work for himself, I also think that he has pioneered a very good path for any other Dragonfly builder to follow.

Below is a letter from Charlie. Make sure you check out the two video links in it. Utah is a very beautiful area to fly in. Hats off to Charlie Johnson, for a job well done and setting a great example of the golden rule of homebuilding,  persistence pays.       -ww.

“William, Thanks for all of your help. Many years have come and gone since I first met you at Bullhead City.

Phase one test flying is proceeding with about 20 hrs on the plane. This last video is from Ogden to Wendover. I have my choice to go through class B over dense urban environment or avoid class B and follow Antelope Is. to the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. I think it is safer over the lake.

Below, prototype of my spinner, not so pointy as Van’s, I think it goes with the nosebowl.





Weseman baffling, not to say mine would not work, the intake “Y” seems to have been most of the problem.

(Charlie’s engine is a 2,700 cc with a Weseman bearing. -ww)




Dragonfly/Corvair 8000 MSL over Utah.


Two Video Links:





“Regards, Charlie Johnson, Ogden, Utah”