Mail Sack, 6/27/13, Oil, Spars and JRB


Here is a sample of the mail:


On the subject of Pietenpol Box Spar Construction, 6/27/13

Tailwind builder and host of CC#17 and #25 Arnold Holmes wrote:

William is exactly correct on this.  Both spars in a two spar wing DO NOT CARRY THE SAME LOADS!  I do not have my copy of “Design of Light Aircraft” by Richard Hiscocks with me at the house but I know that author has written almost an entire chapter on exactly this issue.  As a side note, think of a cantilevered wing (one with no struts)  if both spars carried the same load then you would expect them to have similar construction and sizing.  You can clearly see that they do not.  The rear spar is normally designed to pick up the torsional loading of the wing and react it inside the fuselage.  It also provides a place to hang flaps and ailerons.  The torsional load is much smaller than the bending load of the main beam.  Do not follow the engineering example of this spar design.  I will follow up after I get to the shop and research the issue. Arnold Holmes

Builder Steve McDaniel wrote:

You are so right in this, it screams !     I am a licensed structural engineer of 40 years in private practice, and wince when folks work outside of their knowledge base, then publish it like they know what they are doing.  I used to wonder why us design engineers are not allowed by Codes to use the full strength of materials, usually two-thirds or less.  Call them load factors, safety factors, or strength reduction factors – I’m glad we have them !!


On the subject of Spencer Rice’s ‘new’ engine and CC scolarship account

Builder Bruce Culver wrote:

William, I sent Spenser $100 as I know he will use it wisely. This truly is a great group of people banging these engines together. I also am thinking seriously of building the Panther engine, as I love the billet crank, and 120 HP would provide some maneuvering power and reserve. I am going ahead with the Fokker D.XXI as my choice, and have found some help in beefing up the airframe VERY carefully to allow an LSA cruise of about 125-135 MPH. I’d start from scratch, but an engineer I am not, and your three “friends” would be waiting for me if I bleeped up the math…..:-) So I’ll start with the Loehle P-40. I am much more comfortable with their wood airframe, but I will get assistance to make the structure as strong as possible. The theory turned out to be easier than I thought – now I must become a craftsman….. I am looking forward to CC#28 in Tejas next year.

Waiex builder Greg Crouchley wrote:

Remember The Titans’ movie…. “Attitude reflect leadership”. Thank you to both you and Grace for leadership in humanity.


On the subject of Notes on Corvair flight engine oils.

Builder Jim Schmidt wrote:

I wonder why aviation oils like  shell don’t have zddp? Aren’t  most  flat tappet engines? For what it’s worth I bought a 1966 Corvair with a 140 engine after buying  your conversion manual. Anecdotally I after switching from shell rotella to amsoil amo 10w40 my lifters don’t clatter at start up. Oil pressure down 5 psi at idle , no temp change.

Jim, Lycomings have steel cams and mushroom base lifters with different metallurgy. I also have a ’66 Corvair with a 140 engine. Lifter clatter on start up in older car engines is often a lifter without a full 3/4 turn of preload. It gets within operational range as the engine warms. In other cases slightly sticking lifters can be shut up with fresh thin oil. Neither of these happen in fully rebuilt engines. The lower idle pressure is expected, the thin synthetic can get around the pressure regulator piston a lot easier when the oil is cool.-ww

builder William Emidy wrote:

William I couldn’t agree more. When I was just a new A&P I worked for a guy in Utah whose favorite expression was “oil is cheaper than engines”. This was first told to me when I had asked why he had us change the oil in the company owned aircraft. That among lots of other bits of knowledge passed along to me by people who have “been there,done that,bought the t-shirt”. When someone you know has the knowledge,and is willing to pass it along. LISTEN

Merlin on floats builder/flyer Jeff Moores wrote:

Hi William, I’ve been running Shell Rotella T 15W-40 oil plus ZDDP from Clark’s as per your recommendations since the first start of my engine. Changed after the first hour break in run, then after 10 hrs., and after 5 flight hours as per the Flight Ops. Manual. Now it gets changed every 20 hrs. This oil is  available here out in the sticks from several auto parts stores. I by mine at NAPA who also stock the filters. Why anyone would want to use anything else is beyond me. The price is certainly not an issue.-Jeff Moores Corvair/Merlin 100+ hrs

Pietenpol builder Mark Chouinard wrote:

I too would like to say thanks in advance for CC#28.  Like Vic, I am looking forward to completing my engine at this event. As for wearing shorts in Texas in March… it is also quite possible to need a heavy coat that time of year (re: CC#22… brrr).

Also, thanks for the oil article.  As you know, oil is one of the biggest hot button debates on motorsport web sites (motorcycling, trucks, you name it), and most of the commentary, while mildly amusing, is a complete waste of time.  I’ve never used Rotella T products, but will make it my oil of choice in my Corvair based upon your research and reporting.  Thanks again for helping us to properly build and maintain these awesome little engines.

As for the points on people’s character, another good read.  I’ll be sharing that one with Tyler (my 9yo son).  He already demonstrates pretty good character and common sense, but it helps to hear these things from others as well.

Zenith 750 builder Blaine Schwartz wrote:

William, Thanks for your guidance regarding oil. While I still have the break-in oil in the engine, I will soon be changing it. As you know, I built my engine at CC#22 and it ran flawlessly. I keep a picture of the completed engine (with yellow sparkplug wire, braided stainless hoses and Niagra cooler) on my phone and show it off when I get in the company of any motorhead!

Zenith 650 builder Becky Shipman wrote:

Many hours of time have been spent on oil discussion, particularly in motorcycle forums. Many motorcycles have both a gearbox and a wet clutch bathed in the engine oil, so it is doing double duty.  My local A&P who does some work on Rotax engines, worries about lead buildup in the oil and in the gearbox (Rotax has a gear reducer). More frequent oil changes w/ 100LL than with high octane mogas. The manufacturer recommends not using 100LL with the Rotax, but if you must change the oil and clean the gearbox more often. Yet another reason I chose the Corvair over the Rotax – most airports I fly to have only 100LL available. Oil change is easy and cheap, there is a need to flush lead out of the system, so I really don’t see a downside to using an oil that is highly tolerant to lead and changing it often. I use a different oil in my Yamaha Virago (wet clutch and gearbox – Amsoil 20-50) and my BMW R1100RTP (Mobil 1 40 – dry clutch and separate gearbox) and different oil in each of my cars. The BMW oil is on the recommendation of a former Vietnam A&P who has been restoring BMW’s for 30 years. Sometimes I go with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Seems the manufacturer, based on data, is recommending Rotella. No problem for me. Jed’s a Millionaire – kind of dates you, eh?

builder ‘Jacksno’  wrote:

“Your engine is your personal masterpiece. You should be tempted to pull the cowl off and just marvel at it for no reason.  You should drag passers-by at the airport into your hangar and proudly say “LOOK! I built That!” With an arm gesture that magicians use as they say “TAA-DAA!”” – I love ‘Art’.  BTW, this article contains ‘high WW prose’ throughout.  AND cracks me up!  Dead (read Living) Serious + Humor = FlyCorvair.

I wrote the oil story at 4am after drinking too much coffee. They turn out more entertaining at that hour.-ww

Builder Bob Lee wrote:

William,  You are right on about not using synthetic oils in Corvair engines.  Synthetic oils were developed for jet aircraft engines so naturally everyone would think that it is good for a piston engine too, but that’s not the case.  One of the characteristics that makes synthetic oil so good for jet engines is that it rejects heat.  It does not pick up heat as well as regular oil does.  This is a great thing for jet engines, but not for a Corvair.   The Corvair is an air/oil cooled engine.  If you change to synthetic oil in your Corvair and see a reduction in oil temperature, that is because the heat is staying in the engine.  You have lower oil temp and higher internal engine temps.  Synthetic oil should never be used in Corvair engines.

Bob, My preference is for Rotella and frequent changes and good inspections. For fans of synthetic, it is important that they at least choose one that is compatible with 100LL.  I have heard some of the things you have said relating specifically with air-cooled engines and synthetic oil, but I have flown both, and didn’t have a major issue with either. Outside of Corvair flight engines, I have had some pretty good experience with synthetic lubricants in gear boxes and modern engines like the LS-6 in Graces’s Caddy. BTW, both Grace and I learned to fly a long time ago at a grass strip in central florida named Bob Lee Airport. It is still there. -ww

Pietenpol Box Spar Construction, 6/27/13


About 25% of our builders are Pietenpol guys. Almost all of them subscribe to the printed Brodhead Pietenpol Association newsletter, published by our friends Doc and Dee Mosher. It is an outstanding publication. In my opinion, the quality of the newsletter comes from the fact that Doc is one of only a handful of aviators who hold both the FAA’s highest awards, the Master Pilot and Master mechanic awards. The task of editing other newsletters often falls on a nice guy who is good with websites or graphic arts, but doesn’t have depth of aviation experience. Doc is just the reverse of this. I mention this so that everyone understands my comments here are not a critique of the caliber of the BPA newsletter.  Although Doc is a guy who has worn many hats in aviation, when it comes to producing the newsletter, he adheres to the role of ‘Chronicler, ‘  Which means publishing all the info that people are interested without passing judgment on the concepts. I am in a different position, and I want to draw our Piet builder’s attention to a serious error in a spar testing article in issue 13-03, which is just hitting Piet builders mailboxes this week.

Above is a cross sectional drawing of Pietenpol spars that I took off an internet site. The left and the middle are US Piet spars, on the right is the spar that Piet builders in the UK use. It is an open ‘C’ section. They all work, but they are not interchangeable, because the UK spar is based on moving the lift strut further out, and it’s dimensions are not proven with standard US length lift struts.

In the newsletter, Steve Williamson, a friend of our who is flying a Corvair powered Pietenpol, wrote an article about how he and several other guys built a set of full box spars for his Pietenpol, motivated primarily by trying to save money. In the story, Steve mentions the tests they did, and feels that his tests proved his design. I have met Steve in person a number of times, and he is a good guy, but his work here and the conclusion he is drawing is a based on a huge error.

OK, I can’t sing nor dance, but I know something about aircraft construction. Steve states that the test load they picked was based on the belief that the two spars in the wing pull an equal load in flight, so his test only subjected the spar to 1/4 the gross weight times the load. This is a serious error. Although the spars are the same height, they are not pulling the same load, the front one is doing way more that 50% of the work. The calculation of the percentage of load on a two spar wing has a lot of factors in it, too many to detail here, but follow this: Many classic aircraft have wing cords right around 60″ like a Piet. They often have 31″ spar spacing (The Piet is 29″) and have the spars at 15 and 65% of the cord. I have seen calculations that illustrate that front spar can be pulling 83% of the lift load on classic aircraft. I do not know the exact number on the Piet, and you would even have to know factors on the specific plane like CG location to know exactly, but 50% is way too low a number, and the person who suggested this as a valid test needs to stop offering structural advice to airplane builders.

To compound the issue, Steve only tested the wing to 3 G’s. This is too low to verify anything. That would only be considered to validate the wing to 2 G’s with the traditional 1.5 to 1 factor of safety. When you throw in the incorrect load assumption, you might be down to 1.25 G’s. Now the plane is flying, and I am sure it has already seen more than this, but I want to point out that it is a very dangerous and incorrect to conclude that the test run on the spar proved anything more than this. A lot of factors go into an actual test, I have been part of several of them, both for metal and composite wings. There are very important details like having the spar at the angle of attack that generates the maximum lift, not level. No serious designer draws a conclusion from a 3 G load test. The last test I saw was the Panther wing, and they loaded it to 10 G’s before they felt that it was approved for 6 in flight.

The UK spars of no use to US builders for two reasons. First, they will not sell you the plans for them. Second, they are based on using longer lift struts, and to use them with US length lift struts would invalidate their engineering. Although C section spars obviously can work, if you are going to the work to build this type of spar, you might as well build a full box spar, there are a number of advantages to them.

What is needed is a US based design for a full box spar, based on The Original strut location, a design that takes in to account the actual load and can have this validated in a real test. This is simply not that difficult. Bruin’s analysis of flight vehicles and the values of the wood are all that is needed. The job is greatly simplified by knowing that the original ‘plank’ spar works just fine, so the new box would just have to match or slightly better the strength of the original.

In previous years we did a lot of work to develop a great deal of exact data on Pietenpol weight and balance. By comparison, this is a much smaller project.  After the calculations are done, I will be glad to share the data with Steve, and his wing may prove strong enough for him, but he can make this conclusion based on better info. As a reality check, if you are only going to save 25% on the cost of spars, I don’t think most people would find that worthwhile. Routing the spars saves 16 pounds on the plane, and a well designed set of box spars might only beat this by 5-10 pounds. There is another option, using extruded aluminum spar blanks that look like Piper spars. They take comparatively no work, they are strong and only cost about $100 each. There are a number of options in the long run, but with some work there can be a good box spar option for US builders.-ww

Spencer Rice’s ‘new’ engine and CC scolarship account

UPDATE: Included at the bottom in red is a thank you note sent from Spencer. I would like to point out that he didn’t  ask nor have any expectation of this type of generosity of spirit. He wrote me a personal note saying how stunned he was at the one day response. Read his letter carefully, it reveals a determination and character that are uncommon these days, and unheard of in 15 year olds. I’d say we have the right young man here.-ww


Good news, a few hours after the request went out for assistance with finding a core for Spencer Rice, JRB (Jr. Ranking Builder).  Pietenpol builder Terry Hand wrote in to say that he has a good core that he is willing to donate, and he came back with the idea of having a pay-pal account so that other builders could contribute to the shipping cost, and perhaps give Spenser a bit of a budget to make some solid progress on his engine and plane. Terry’s letter was followed up by two from Curt Cowley, who was tracking down a west cost core just as Terry offered his. It was a lot of quick action, as many Corvair builders found out about Spenser’s story of hard work on his project.

.Above, Terry Hand with his steel tube Pietenpol at CC#24


Terry wanted to point out that most of this engine was actually given to him by Pietenpol builder/flyer and Cherry Grove trophy recipient Kevin Purtee. Generosity is a powerful and lasting force. The account that Terry set up has the title:

I know Terry personally, and his is a classy guy who will put this into action smoothly and professionally. I look forward to hearing from Spenser that the engine arrived, and he is cleared for progress. If anyone has other ideas on assisting Spenser’s progress, feel free to write them in or contact Spenser. For Builders who wish to directly contact Spenser and offer him encouragement in his building, his Email address is,


Below is a sample of the letters we received on this topic:

Contact magazine Editor Pat Panzera wrote:

Send me his info and I’ll send him all the Corvair back issues as well as a subscription.

Builder Marcus Wegmeyer wrote:

Hi William, I’m willing to write a check for $100, hopefully to be added to others who do the same, to further Spensers endeavor.  Do I make it out to Spenser and where do I send it?

Zenith 750 builder Blaine Schwartz wrote:

William, I do not have a complete core, but I have some extra engine parts that I will contribute. I think I can find an engine case at the junkyard my buddy has. If enough of us can contribute a few parts, maybe this will help get Spenser a complete engine?

Builder ‘Jacksno’ wrote:

Sure, I’ll have a piece of that.  25 years a teacher and just this year a study buddy with a Hispanic 15 now 16 year old that was going down the tubes due to a joyride taken in the depths of depression who blew the doors off everyone else’s expectations this year- No better high I ever found than encouraging a young person to be who they really are.  Your Mr. Kreiss just went to the top of my hero page.  You were blessed by the One Who Cares!

A Northern builder writes:

William, I owe a man named Al Buco. In his memory, and more important, in his spirit,  I would like to help Spenser fund his project. Preferably anonymously, maybe you just call it a Corvair College Scholarship.

I have been very moved by the letters that builders wrote on this subject. They each are examples of the diversity of individuals we have in the Corvair movement, but they also speak of the common values of generosity and community spirit. Well done, builders.-ww

Letter from Spenser Rice:

William could you please post this on my behalf:

I was extremely moved by the response from Corvair builders to your post and I would like express my gratitude to each of them. I really love aviation and the people I have met in the aviation community. Not being able to apply for scholarships till I’m 16 has put my dream of aviation on hold until I can financially afford all the things I want to do. I took flight lessons for 6 months until I ran out of money but then I decided that building a plane was at least a little more attainable at my age.  Having to be 17 to get my license has been very discouraging and building has helped me overcome that disappointment and gives me a goal to work towards. I want to sincerely thank each and everyone who has had a part in encouraging me to go after what I love. I thank Terry, Curt, Pat, Marcus, Blaine, Jacksno, William and others who want to remain anonymous. I also have to thank my mentor and Young Eagles pilot Roy Thoma for encouraging me to fly, build and for the countless hours he has given me. 

 With the utmost gratitude, Spencer


Notes on Corvair flight engine oils.


A friend of ours sent in a question on oils, which was sparked by reading an internet discussion group story about “experimenting” with oils for Corvair flight engines. It is a free world and people can do as they wish, but to my perspective, the subject of oil for Corvair flight engines is very simple.

Below is a picture of Shell Rotella T 15W-40 oil. This is the oil that we suggest people use in their flight engines. I am going to guess that 90 percent of the hours logged on Corvairs last year were done with this oil. We have been using it since 1996, and I have had a very long time to examine the long-term wear characteristics, it’s ability to withstand heat, its compatibility with 100LL, and it anti corrosion characteristics. This oil is a winner on all fronts. Add to this, that it is available at any auto parts store or Wal-Mart and it is fairly cheap, and I begin to ask myself why anyone would be looking for another oil.

In the manual, I try to teach my saying, “It isn’t the probability of being right, it is the cost of being wrong.”  Oil example: Years ago, Woody Harris, our west coast guy thinks that Aeroshell is airplane oil, and may be better for our “Airplane” application. He is pretty sure this has good promise. Here was the cost of being wrong in that instance: His engine ate the new cam and lifters in 1 hour of running on Aeroshell. This is because the element we care about, Zinc Phosphate is about 800 PPM in Rotella, about 200 PPM in normal oil, and ZERO PPM in Aeroshell.

Let’s say you have always used imaginary Dyno-syn 10-40 in every car you have had in the last 10 years with great luck. It doesn’t count: Modern cars have roller cams, and don’t need zinc. Lets say you have used Unicorn 20w-50 in all your cars for the last 30 years, and all your cars were Corvairs. It doesn’t count: You didn’t run your cars on leaded fuel, and this matters. I could go on like this for a while, but you get the point. Any recommendation has to be just about what we do with Corvairs.

OK, what about synthetic? OK, why use it? “It has good heat resistance”. So does Rotella, which you can actually run at 300 F without hurting it. If your engine runs hotter than this, lack of synthetic isn’t your problem. OK, “I want to go 100 hours between oil changes and having to look in the cowl.” If this is a goal of yours,  walk over to your book shelf, take my manual down, put it in an envelope, write “I want a refund because I couldn’t learn anything from WW “ on the outside, and mail it back to me. Oil changes are a very good inspection point on aircraft engines, and a tremendous amount of small issues are caught and corrected before they become a problem.  Your engine is your personal masterpiece. You should be tempted to pull the cowl off and just marvel at it for no reason.  You should drag passers-by at the airport into your hangar and proudly say “LOOK! I built That!” With an arm gesture that magicians use as they say “TAA-DAA!”

25 hours is a reasonable goal on inspections. You could probably run 50 hours on Rotella between changes but learn this phrase that every A&P worth a damn has tattooed on heart: “Gas and oil are the cheapest things you ever put into an engine.” Here is the WW corollary: “Gas and oil are also the easiest ‘parts’ to install.”

 Lets say a real cheap sob likes to lean his engine beyond peak egt because he read an article written by some d-bag in Flying magazine, and this article sounded great because it provided techno-mumbo-jumbo, (complete with graphs!) that justified Mr cheapskates inner need to avoid spending a dime. At the end of the year, he gets out a calculator and finds out he had a 22% better time than other pilots because he “saved” $1,200 by leaning his engine and only changing the Kmart house brand oil once every 100 hours.  Problem: He does a differential compression test and finds out that he detonated his pistons to death and scoured his cylinder walls, You guessed it, he is out $1,200! net savings: ZERO.  But the big one: How much extra time did it take me to change the oil four more times and pump another 200 gallons of gas in my plane? Think that Mr. Cheapskate can overhaul his engine that fast?

Do you want to try some “super special, secret ingredient, made by Amish people who don’t use combustion  engines, purple/green/ yellow, Brad-Penn, Brad Pitt/Sean Penn oil?” Go back to question #1: What ‘problem’ are you ‘solving?’ Read my story about The Panther engine again. It just had a perfect break in run and test period, it has perfect compression, it doesn’t run hot, the oil doesn’t get consumed nor leak, and wait for it…..It was all purchased for $12 a gallon at the 24 hour super Wal-mart. And this is not good enough because???????

One last thought here: If a builder spend many hours talking about super special oils, and how they can fix everything in your life including your 401K, and spend a lot of time talking about this on the net and later comes to a college but has no idea how to install a distributor and set timing, I am going to tease him about spending a lot of time thinking about synthetic oil, an answer in search of a valid question,  when he needed to be reading about the fundamentals of his engine.

Do you want to try synthetic? Look at Amsoil 10w-30. We ran this for many years. It is great stuff. The reason why I trust it is that it has long been proven to work in airplane engines with 100LL. In the 1980s it was marked for general aviation aircraft. It has a track record of working. BTW, I have never seen a Corvair engine run any different pressure or temp with synthetic oil. Anyone who has was probably imagining it because they wanted to see it. The one thing that isn’t imaginary is synthetic oils ability to leak out of engines. If your engine leaks a little with mineral oil, try switching to synthetic, flying an hour and looking at the bottom of your plane. You will be temped to yell out “Jed’s a Millionaire!” (A&P mechanics do this when the spot a giant oil leak.)

Very Important: You should put additional ZDDP in the break in oil, and there is no harm in running it during the rest of the life of the engine. You can learn more about it at this link:

If you would like some more information on why ZDDP is important, read this link:

Core Engine needed, Portland OR. Payback time….


As mentioned in our last story, Zenith builder Spenser Rice, age 15, is our youngest builder. He is working on a plans built 601HD. In addition to going to school, he works to fund his airplane budget. He has been hunting for a core engine for his project. This is kind of tough, because he can’t just jump in the car and go look at them. He has found a few leads, but nothing has panned out yet.

A few months ago, Spenser wanted to place an order with us for a manual and a disassembly DVD. When I learned a little more about his age and project, Grace and I sent him a full set of manuals and DVD’s at no cost to him. I carefully explained that he did not owe us anything for this, and it was not charity. I was simply repaying a 35 year old debt to Mr. Harold Kreiss, a man I has last seen in NJ in 1978.

Mr Kriess was the guidance counselor at Millburn Jr. High School when I was Spenser’s age. In a nutshell, I was a rotten kid at 15. I was a good student academically, but I had terrible friends, and they didn’t have to twist my arm very hard to get me to go along. In a short time, I was in frequent trouble. I once drew detention 22 days in a row. Most of this was over fighting. at 5’7′-130 lbs I was not on the winning end of this, but I didn’t back down from bullies. After an incident that Mr Kriess would have been justified in turning me over to the Juvenile Officer at MPD, he chose to do something different. He spoke with me for 30 minutes and found out that I really liked airplanes. On his own personal time he went to West Caldwell airport, and arranged to get me a weekend job as a helper at an Aircraft Maintenance shop. Although I thanked him at the time, you are not aware at 15 that it wasn’t really this mans job to do this. You would really have to be a clairvoyant optimist to think that anything good would come the effort, or my life for that matter. Harold Kriess was such an optimist, just when I really needed to have someone believe there was something good hiding in me.

If any of you Corvair builders out there have an outstanding debt to your own Mr Kriess, let me know and I will share Spenser’s email address with you. Perhaps someone in his part of the country can find a good core? Maybe several people who were the recipients of unwarranted generosity in your formative years would like to contribute to its purchase cost? I will gladly tell you that it felt pretty good to unload a part of my 35 year old account with Mr Kriess.

I would like to have Spenser meet Dick Otto, 92, on the northern leg of our October CA tour.( Dick Otto in California, S.R.B. (Senior Ranking Builder)  ) I like the idea that they have a 77 year age spread. Let’s see if we can find Spenser a core so that he can compare engine building notes with Dick in October.-ww

Mail Sack 6/25/13, Cell Phones and Upcoming Events.


Here is a sample of the mail:


on the subject of  Turtles and Cell Phones, 6/24/13.

Zenith 750 builder/flyer (O-200) Jimmy Young wrote:

William, I grew up as a little turd hunting anything that moved with my BB gun. I don’t know why I wanted to kill every bird I saw, probably because I was just young, stupid, & dealing with something the wrong way. I was that “self-absorbed child” you spoke of. The prettier the bird the harder I tried. Cardinals, Blue Jays, they seemed more “valuable” than a common sparrow. Somehow, I gradually over the years grew into a more respectable game law-abiding young man by the time I was in my late teens. Today at 58, I haven’t pulled a trigger on anything other than an occasional rat with my Benjamin pellet gun in my suburban back yard in probably 30 years. Not because I am an Anti-Hunter or tree hugger, but because I simply don’t care to kill animals anymore unless it is necessary.

As I reflect back on my life & fast forward to the last 7 years, my best years to date & the only years of aviation and plane building, I fly around in my Zenith 750 just like those birds do. There is irony in this, now I’m the little bird. I had good flight training, do a good preflight, and respect the laws of the 3 referees you frequently refer to. Yet on Sunday, I was about to take off with a buddy for a little local flying. I had just added some fuel to both tanks, did my preflight, and was taxiing out on our grass strip when I heard some banging on the side of my fuselage. It was my buddy who had jumped out of his Taylorcraft & run up to my plane to warn me I had fuel pouring out of my left wing. I shut the engine down and found I had left the fuel cap off that tank during refueling. Not that this particular mistake would have necessarily turned into a disaster, but it woke me up to the fact that I missed something that should have been obvious because it wasn’t on my checklist and I had not been thorough. It is now.

The importance of your posts on safety cannot be stressed enough. Thanks for teaching me a lot about engines over the last few years and for sharing what you know with us, it is much appreciated. I read your column every time I see there is a new post. Jimmy Houston, TX

Zenith 601XLB builder/flyer Dr. Gary Ray writes:

Disrespect for life, disrespect for the lives sacrificed in order to build this country, disrespect for a person standing right in front of them, all the while expecting you to do more for them than they are willing to do for themselves.   The moral, never turn your back to one of these people since this disrespect flows outward in all directions.  They will not be good friends, customers or citizens.  There can not be any mutually beneficial relationship with somebody that displays this trait.

Builder Doug Wright writes:

William, Back in the early 1980’s I served two and a half years at the garden spot of the army, Ft. Polk, Louisiana.  Now don’t get me wrong, Ft. Polk really is a pretty place and because I have always tried to find the good in anywhere I have lived I could never understand why so many people had such a negative opinion of the post.  Maybe it was because just a few years earlier Ft. Polk was the last stateside stop many guys had before heading to Vietnam.  Tigerland!

One of the negative aspects of Ft. Polk and the surrounding area was the number of turtles that would migrate across the road and get squashed by the traffic. Here I was a rough and tough combat engineer and on more than one occasion I would pull over and save some poor turtle from imminent destruction.  I am sure there are some who witnessed this and thought I was a big softy, but I really did not care.  We were training to meet the Soviets in the Fulda Gap and I gladly would have killed as many of those folks as the situation called for but it always bothered me to see those turtles run over in the middle of the road. Doug, Stillwater, OK

Zenith 750 builder Dan Glaze wrote:

William, in all my years spent at various Air Force Bases around the world, when Old Glory was run up the mast at the start of day, every body on that base snapped to attention,if you could not see the flag from where you were, you needed to know where she was and be facing that way,at night, when tapps played we gave her the same respect, and if you didnt have a big lump in your throat thinking about all the men and women that gave their life for her then you needed more training, and teachers were not hard to find. I am a pretty laid back guy but will not tolerate disrespect for Country or Flag,  Dan-o

Zenith 650 builder Paul Normandin wrote:

Zenith 650 Builder William, at about the time you were driving past that poor turtle to get your mail yesterday I was driving into work. I live in New Hampshire, work in Massachusetts and have to drive 3 badly congested highways in the process. In the course of this drive I was cut off three times (coincidentally, all three drivers were driving Acuras). In each instance the offending driver had a cell phone glued to their ear, two of whom were also gesticulating with their other hand. Apparently they were using their prehensile knees to drive. I have had a mobile phone since 1987, my original was a Motorola Bag phone, and I have had the same mobile number all that time. At no point in 26 years have I used my phone in any way that would endanger myself (bad enough) or others (worse). Maybe being a life long motorcycle rider has made me more aware of the stupidity of not having 100% of my attention on the task at hand. I can’t even in good conscience state, “These damn kids and their cell phones!” as I have seen just as many idiots our age engaged in the same bad behavior. As far as your shutting off the ignorant man who took a call while in the middle of talking to you, I would have done the same thing. There are a number of businesses locally, coffee shops, sandwich shops and other service related establishments, that have signs stating in no uncertain terms that they will not wait on anyone who is using a cell phone. Bully for them and for you. At some point we will meet at a College and you will periodically see me checking my phone. The major difference between the folks you were referencing and myself is this; more than anything else, my cell phone is a time piece and not a communication device (I haven’t owned a watch in almost 20 years)! Paul P.S. And everyone should SHUT UP during the National Anthem!

International Aviator of adventure Tom Graziano wrote:

William, The ignorance, stupidity and rudeness of the spoiled sheeple in Amerika nowadays amazes me every time I return stateside. It also makes me wonder if the hardships and sacrifices our men and women overseas have been enduring are worth it. Then….I think of the people who think and act as you and I do, and I conclude that it is – because of them.

Went to a breakfast fly-in at one of the local airfields, recently. Untowered airport, left traffic – both patterns, and a favorite of guys flying antiques and ultralights. Lots of planes flew in. So, I’m getting ready to take off when I hear some knucklehead calling that he’s entering the downwind for a right base. WHAT!?! I inform him that both patterns are LEFT traffic and look up in time to see him  blasting along at pattern altitude going in the OPPOSITE direction of normal traffic. He smugly tells me that, since he didn’t hear anyone in the pattern, he decided to just come straight in and do right traffic. Apparently, it never occurred to Mr. Einstein that some aircraft don’t have radios, that radios don’t always work, and that there actually have been cases of pilots not being on the correct on frequency or not making calls. He was enlightened when he landed, but he was an arrogant sort, so it probably didn’t do any good. Just proves that we can’t regulate stupid….

Pietenpol builder and ATP Dave Aldrich wrote:

Hi William I once had an Airbus engineer ask the hypothetical question “Suppose the chances of your cell phone interfering with the aircraft are one in a million.  Pretty good odds.  There are roughly 5,000 commercial flights a day.  How do you like your odds now?”  The part B of all this is, well let’s just suppose that one cell phone doesn’t cause any interference (there’s probably some empirical data to support this) but has anyone done any kind of test with multiple cell phones, wi-fi enabled computers and idiot pads?  The electro-magnetic spectrum cringes…

I’ve done a load analysis on the Pietenpol I’m building and can’t figure out how to get more than a 12 amp load, even considering the 80% requirement.  That’s with position lights/strobes, radio, transponder, ignition, and electric gauges.  If you wanted to go all electronic, the Dynon simple EFIS displays draw about 1 amp each.  Yes, a landing light, heated pitot, a fancy autopilot and the gee whiz almost real life displays will get you above the 20 amp threshold but how many folks really need all those toys?  If you did a lot of long cross-country flying, an autopilot could be considered almost essential but you could still stay within the 1 alternator power budget with careful selection of components.  Experimental aviation is supposed to be fun, not an extension of your kid’s X-Box.  You want to fly hard IFR at night?  Get a Baron or a Caravan.  You want to fly hard IFR at night in an experimental?  Get your head examined.  I’m not saying it can’t be done but the experimental pilot who doesn’t do night approaches to minimums for a living is going to end up as an unfortunate statistic when he/she tries it.  It’s a waste of time and money to build to that capability.  Simple and, as William preaches — proven– is the way to go.  Stepping down off the soap-box now…

Zenith builder Spenser Rice  wrote:

I can’t agree with you more William. Especially the kids talking through our beloved country’s anthem.  Being 15 I’m ashamed that my generation has no respect and make the few good kids look bad as well. Spencer Rice

Spenser, you have nothing to apologize for. Here you are regarded as an individual, and you are not responsible for the behavior of other people just because they are your age. Sad but true, people with little respect or consideration come in all ages these days. To all of the rest of you out there, I want to introduce you to Spenser, who at 15 is our youngest builder. Many of his aviation mentors have sent me glowing reports on how serious he is, and how hard he works to earn his way in aviation. I would like to get a more detailed profile on him soon, so a number of you successful aviators can offer guidance on his progress. Spenser, write me back and let me know if you have found a workable core engine yet.

Zenith 650 builder Becky Shipman wrote:

I used to bicycle regularly. I was a lot less wealthy then. I remember seeing a turtle in the middle of the road, and stopping on the side to pick him up and carry him to the other side so he would be safe. While I was waiting to go get him, one of the cars hit him. I don’t know if it was intentional, I also don’t know if I created a distraction that made it less likely the driver would see the turtle. He was still alive, and I eventually got him to safety, but I don’t know if he survived.

Mostly I just try to be an observer of nature, but sometimes I’ll try and help if I can. And sometimes I won’t. I had a neighbor call me over to help save a toad from a snake. I looked at it and figured sometimes toads are eaten by snakes, and that’s not much fun for the toad but necessary for the snake to live. I don’t know if I got her to understand why I wouldn’t interfere. Just some thoughts. Becky Shipman


on the subject of Upcoming events, Airshows and Colleges #26-28.

Zenith builder Vic Delgado  wrote:

William! Many Thanks go to you, Kevin and Shelley for planning on hosting Corvair College #28 in Texas. I am so looking forward to being there! The last one they hosted CC #22 was an absolutely awesome experience. I am planning on hopefully making this the one I can graduate with a running engine from!  Don’t forget to bring your Tee shirt and shorts, You know Texas weather is beautiful in March!

Builder Bruce Culver wrote:

Eureka! I will announce my intention to attend the 2014 CC#28 in Texas…..:-)  This will work out beautifully as far as getting a core and being able to do a lot of the prep work. Outstanding!

Zenith 650 builder Paul Normandin wrote:

While I would dearly love to attend the Zenith Corvair College I know I will never be ready. I must set my sights on November and the lovely state of South Carolina instead. That depends on my getting the bloody heads off my core so I can get them out to Falcon as they are being exceedingly stubborn!

Parting shot, from builder Dan Branstrom:

I was doing some substitute teaching in a class that was English as a Second Language when it came time for the Pledge of Allegiance.  There were kids from a number of different countries.  The great majority of students stood.  Some of those didn’t recite the Pledge.  I didn’t have a problem with that, because I understood that they might not be citizens. When it was over, I was angry, but I decided to make a lesson out of it.  Realizing that some of them would have a problem understanding me, I spoke slowly so that their friends could tell them what I’d said.

I explained that my father was an immigrant, who arrived in this country not speaking the language, so I somewhat understood the situation they were in. What I told them was that I understood that they might not be citizens, and I didn’t expect them to recite the pledge, because they weren’t.   I then told them that in not standing respectfully, they were giving ammunition to all the people who wanted to deport all foreigners, because it showed disrespect to the country they were in. I had the feeling that they understood what I told them. I expect the same respect from citizens.

Turtles and Cell Phones, 6/24/13.


About 9 a.m. I got in the truck to drive the 10 miles up the highway to the mail box and the grocery store. For most of the drive the road is flat and straight, with only woods on each side. Once you get near town there is more stuff going on, but it is never really crowded nor busy.

From 200 yards, I thought it was a green plastic trash bag, maybe half full laying in my lane. The road is two full lanes and wide shoulders, and the traffic was light, so there was plenty of room to drive around it. From 100 yards is was obvious that is was an animal, and from 50 yards it was easy to see that it had been a very large turtle.

Above, a soft shell turtle. They are not cute nor cuddly, nor have any of the qualities that most people like in animals they choose to care about. This turtle should not be offended, most people have very little empathy or compassion for other humans they find unattractive or different.


In Florida, as elsewhere, it is common to see animals killed on the road. It is an unpleasant fact of “development.” I am not a vegetarian, and I have killed animals before, but I don’t regard it casually. I try to put some real effort into avoiding unnecessary damage to the environment. I just don’t view my own personal needs or existence as justification for doing what ever a self-absorbed child would do to his surroundings. Most times, I can drive past dead animals and be on my way, but as I moved past this one, I stared at it and thought that it might have been alive for 30 years, only to get killed on this day crossing a road. It made me sick.

100 feet past the remains there was a traffic light and a convenience store parking lot. I pulled in at the same time as a landscaping truck and trailer. A very burly guy in his 20s, covered in tattoos, got out and dug a shovel out of the bed of his truck. We walked back to the turtles remains. It was the largest turtle I have seen in 25 years in Florida. It was as big as a garbage can lid and might have weighed 60 or 70 pounds. The pavement was very hot, yet it didn’t smell nor had it changed color. It had been only a short time since it was killed. It had been run over more than once. It was very hard to imagine how these people, and even the original car, had not seen the turtle, and hit it in broad daylight. Even now, it was still 6 or 8″ tall, and three feet long.

The landscaper didn’t look at me, or speak to me. He was wearing sunglasses and a ballcap that obscured his face. The only thing he said, addressed to no one in particular was, “What a fucking waste.” It came out more sad than angry.

Cars were slowing down from 75 yards back and carefully driving around on the shoulder. The landscaper was waiting for the light to change to walk out into the lane. The cars on the shoulder were slowing the traffic to 15 mph, even though the light was green. It wasn’t a big obstruction and traffic was light.

To my complete shock, in a period of one minute, three drivers came right up the road, slowed with everyone else, and then ran directly over the turtle’s carcass just as if it were a large speed bump. They were all going slow enough for me and the landscaper to see that they were all holding a cell phone to their head. The third person was a woman in a Honda who had to stop for the light in another 50 feet. She momentarily pulled the phone away from her head, looked slightly sideways, and went right back to her conversation. The landscaper stepped out into the lane and looked at the car. For a moment he held the shovel as a weapon and not a tool. The light tuned green and the Honda drove away, oblivious to all of this. The landscaper turned and did his work before the next car passed.

Gus Warren and I flew our Zenith 601XL to Oshkosh in 2005. At a fuel stop we watched a young pilot untie a Cessna 152, preflight it, and fuel it all in five minutes. He did this all while having a single unbroken animated cell phone call. I commented that his flight instructor didn’t teach him anything. Gus pointed out that it might be a bad assumption. For all we know, the guy’s CFI probably did the same thing. Later at AirVenture, I gave three smart ass kids in their 20s a very hard time because they chose to blab on their cell phones in loud voices straight through the National Anthem.  Each of them were bigger than me, but they were scared, evidently coming from a safe suburban background where no one had explained that they weren’t quite as cool as they thought. About a dozen people saw this. Public reaction? Most people saw nothing wrong with talking on the phone during the Anthem. Two people said I shouldn’t have done it because I could affect my sales. The kids I could understand being stupid, they weren’t raised well. The adult reaction was much harder for me to understand. On matters of principal, I don’t factor in money. If someone had later told me I was an idiot because you don’t teach young people that way, and it was a poor display of self-control, I would have listened to them. But I don’t relate to people whose first thought is always “How much money is this going to cost me?”

At Oshkosh 2009, I was reprimanded for refusing to further speak to a guy who had been standing in my booth. He had come in, and just said “So what’s up with these Con-air engines?” I politely started to explain that GM had made 1.8 million. … A second later his cell rang, and without any hesitation or nod to me, he answered it and started a loud conversation. He did not move out of the tent, nor even stop leaning on the display engine. When he hung up 4 or 5 minutes later, I refused to say another word to him. He lodged an official complaint. An understanding EAA staff member took me aside and said he knew the guy was an ass, but all I needed to do was apologize and we could avoid a big hassle. I told him that I appreciated the offer, but just go ahead and write me up.

Today on Jacksonville news, a newscaster bragged that they had never turned off their cell phone on any flight when they were told to. Great, I am really sure that bleach blonde had the electrical engineering degree to evaluate if her cell phone interfered with the flight instruments. I don’t like flying on airlines because of many things, like feeding alcohol to people in exit rows, allowing people to bring too much luggage in the cabin, and now letting them talk  on cell phones instead of reading the safety card, all tell me that the consumer marketing people have more power than the aviators and safety people. I am not comfortable with the task of opening the emergency exit being covered by a guy who came on the plane with a carry on the size of a suitcase, played “Angry Birds” on his cell phone during the safety briefing, and then had several drinks to top off the ones he had in the airport bar.

The NHSTA data for 2011 says that distracted drivers were directly responsible for killing 3,300 Americans. The vast majority of these accidents were drivers on cell phones. It is very obvious that right after any of these accidents it can be determined that the driver was placing a call or texting. They could all be charged with homicide, but this will never happen. It will not for the simple reason that we have a national addiction to cell phones. Expecting today’s people to outlaw cell phones in cars or hold drivers responsible for the results would be like expecting the drunks and winos to write all the DWI laws and insist that they be enforced.

Ask any CFI who does a lot of biennial flight reviews, and they will tell you that pilots who were trained poorly in glass cockpit planes have a very dangerous habit of hardly looking outside the plane, even in the pattern. A CFI friend of mine pointed out that many of these people have a hard time even faking it for the flight review.  He also observed that every one of these people compulsively checked their smart phone on the ground. If you want a specific example, Google search “Cirrus hits glider tow plane.” Looking at screens is an addiction to many people, just like crack. The only difference is that we don’t let crackheads drive cars or fly planes.

Oshkosh 2013? We will see how this goes. My brother-in-law Col. Nerges taught me the very important phrase “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I will try to go there with no expectation that people will control their addiction when I am answering their question. If I can do this, I will be a far happier person. -ww