Model T of the air, Part #2 – Leeon Davis notes


I mentioned Leeon Davis in the first part of this story. There is not much biographical information on him on the web, but I found this link below , It has a good short summary of his designs:

Above, Rex Johnston’s Corvair powered DA-2

There are long articles on the DA-11 and the DA-9 in back issues of Contact! magazine. A long time ago in the 1990s, Sport Aviation did a story on the DA-9. At 375 pounds, powered by a C-90 Continental turning high rpm, it would do 290mph, an impressive special purpose missile.

There have been several Corvair powered DA-2’s. The best known one is Jim Ballew’s in Oklahoma. It has about 500 hours on it. Jim also has a Corvair powered 601 and a Corvair powered Pietenpol. There are links to all three at this story:  Another new “Zenvair” 601XLB, Jim Ballew, 2700cc

Rex Johnston’s DA-2 is a story that gets a lot of attention on our website, because his plane is the first Corvair powered plane with Electronic Fuel Injection. In the 20 years I have been teaching people about Corvair engines, I have had many people tell me that they were going to do this, but Rex was the guy with the combination of skills and persistence. You can read about it at this link:  Corvair Powered Davis DA-2, w/EFI

In part one, I said that Leeon Davis was the most outspoken proponent of mass-produced aircraft at an affordable price. His hall marks were light weight and extreme simplicity. Today, it is very hard to imagine how against the grain this was in the 1988-94 time line. The ‘Fast Glass’ rage was on, and many new high-end designs came out that got a lot of attention, even when they were not particularly good designs.  (Prescott Pusher and the Cirrus VK-30 come to mind here). You can read my story 2,500 words about levels of aircraft finsh…… to get an inside look at how these aircraft distorted the world of homebuilding and aviation journalism.

Davis was sending out the message of simplicity, just when few people were listening, as the magazines began to focus on planes that reflected the “conspicuous consumption” mentality. One of the real differences of that era was also a reflection of a change in society. People willing to heavily finance their hobby on credit. Previous to this people took out loans for houses and cars, but not often homebuilts. If you read the magazines of the 1960s, it is very clear that people built from savings or paid for the plane in parts as the made progress.  Kit aircraft go all the way back to Bernard Pietenpol and Ed Heath, but the explosion of kitbuilding only came after the 1980’s provided an accumulation of wealth and the willingness to spend even more. A great number of the high end planes of the 1990s were financed by an outfit called Green Tree financial. They had previously specialized in financing mobile homes, but moved heavily into boats , motorcycles and planes in the 1990s. If you read their history, it is filled with all the buzz words we learned in 2008 like “securitized loan packaging”. This new availability of money to loan, the national mood to accept debt and the glowing coverage high end planes received put Davis’s message of realism off the radar. Look back, it is easy to see that the three factors above sold a lot of kits, but few of them were completed, and many of the people who did would have been happier listening to Leeon’s perspective.

I don’t want to imply that just composite builders were getting lost in this either; Look how quickly beautifully simple ultralights all became complicated. Same with metal aircraft, and fabric ones. All attention was all focused on the most elaborate machines. Very few articles ever said how much the airplane weighed or cost, two elements that Davis focused on. A lancair 320 called ‘dream catcher’ and a Pacer named ‘miss pearl’ come to mind as two planes that got a lot of press coverage for their detail paint and interior, but were each very heavy examples of their respective designs. The EZ’s built to Rutans specified simplicity and planes like Dave Anders 900 pound RV-4 didn’t get anywhere near the attention.

In 1998, I came very close to buying the design rights and tooling for the DA-2, but found the owner (not Leeon) a hard guy to deal with. I didn’t consider it a perfect plane, but felt that it was a good starting point. I spent a lot of time with Gus Warren and a set of drawings, and we looked at blind rivets, a different wing planform and a thicker airfoil. Once we agreed on a value, the owner specified that he would only accept payment in a form that the IRS and his ex couldn’t track. That was the derailment, not the design.

In the past 25 years, the qualities I like in planes and find important have evolved. You can read about more about this at this story: Steel tube fuselages, “Safe” planes and 250mph accidents . Before I knew how to fly I was captivated by slow landing Stol planes, because I incorrectly thought they would be easy to fly. Likewise I was initially following ‘stall proof’ planes until an instructor made me do an hours worth of stalls from every angle and approach, and then explained that flight qualities before and after stall are more important. I learned that many textbook/hangar flying ‘truths’ , like a 23012 having a ‘dangerous stall’ are a myth.

A point I would like to make is that I liked Davis’s values as a designer, even if his aircraft were not the best ones for myself. We could ask Jim Ballew if he likes flying his 601XL more than his DA-2. He might, especially if he was flying out of a short strip. I can make a case that a Panther would radically out perform a DA-5 on the same power. Davis went to extreme measures to save weight, and his planes have short spans and very little wing area. probably a reflection of flying from flat areas of the country and paved strips. Yet I can make a very good case that both the 601XL and the Panther have a great allegiance to simplicity. Chris Heintz and Dan Weseman moved slightly off stone simple to add a lot of capability to their planes, but they didn’t lose sight of the concept of affordability.

People who have never met me or just glanced at something I wrote may think of me as opinionated. But if you ask people who have known me for a long time, they will tell you that my perspectives evolved in the long run. I have always been interested in the results of a test, to see if a direction shift was in order. I have always listened to people with experience to learn from them. I am more likely to look for an indication I am wrong than a validation I am right. Today I have a refined and focused set of things that are important to me in aviation. If things go well, I have 20-25 flying seasons left, and I want to spend them on things I like, not what I ‘should be doing.’ I have a pretty good set of answers for myself, but they were not the ones I started with. I don’t need people to agree with mine, the point is only to find your own. The one thing that has not changed in my perspective is the thing I learned from Leeon Davis: simplicity and lower cost will always be vital characteristics. -ww

Mail Sack, 6/4/13, Model T’s, Charles Poland Jr. and reptiles


Here is a sample of the mail:


On the story of Model T of the air? :

Builder Dan Branstrom writes:

“Budd Davisson wrote two pireps on Davis designs, The DA2 and the DA5:”

Builder  “Jacksno”  writes:

“Wynne for President.”

I couldn’t agree more, I will let my sister Melissa, the Illinois politician, know that you nominated her.I think she could get elected, her only liability is a jackass politically incorrect brother in Florida.-ww


On the story of Charles Poland Jr., An American of whom you could be proud.:

Builder Harold Bickford writes:

“Indeed William, where do we get such men and women? Certainly we can cite many reasons relating to upbringing, family, culture, experience. faith. One place they don’t come from is selfishness. Being a veteran Charles knew what service was and the calling that goes with it even to ultimate sacrifice standing in the breech.

Likewise building airplanes and engines can’t be a selfish enterprise. Where there is success it is because folks listen to and help each other and pay attention to solid information which at times has been gained at great cost. To the question some ask about building the response is simple; why not give it a try? They’re often expecting a defensive answer and instead they have to think. -Harold”

601XL Builder/flyer Dr. Gary Ray writes:

“Any person or group that attacks innocent, unarmed soft targets looses all rights to claim any violation of their own individual rights as this makes the claims hypocritical while trashing the individual rights of others.  It is like profanity, a feeble mind trying to act forcefully.  Also, an act of cowardice.”

Builder  Dan Branstrom writes:

“I rarely pass on anything that has been forwarded multiple times, unless I can go to the source and verify it, and I’ve fact checked it.  [Jokes excluded].

What I usually find is that a quote didn’t come from the person who “said” it, that things stated as “facts” started out as opinions expressed by some columnist years ago, and, for propaganda purposes, lies are mixed with truth to make them appear plausible.  Sometimes, the sources cited turn out to say exactly the opposite of what the email claims they did. I used to email a reply to the earliest person who forwarded it, but I got accused of being an evil person involved in some international conspiracy at best.  I now only reply to the last person who forwarded it to me.  We’re friends, and they understand that I want truth and honest discourse, and that even if we disagree, we’ll stay friends.”


On the story of Fun with Agkistrodon Piscivorus and Vern’s Aero-Trike:

Pietenpol builder Terry Hand writes:

“William, I am sure that Vern’s sock was not the only item of apparel that got soaked! I am glad to hear that both of you are safe. Please make sure and keep an eye out for Scoob E. Semper Fi, Terry Hand”

Zenith builder  Larry MaGruder  writes:

“We have a good number of all four here in Texas, too. Still don’t like them.”

Builder  “Jeffeoso”  writes:

“I do beg to differ – Texas has all four native poisonous species as well…”

Hey, learned something new, you Texans are right. When it gets to the point of stepping on them in the hangar, they seem pretty dense here. Hope they are a little thinner in your state.-ww.

Pietenpol builder Jon Coxwell  writes:

“I am mostly scared to death of snakes.  I learned that from my mom.  She dislikes all creepy crawly thing.  Prior to WWII my father flew sub patrol with B-17s in central America.  My mom  followed him from airfield to airfield all over central America.  One night while driving they ran over a boa and my dad decided he wanted the snake (probably for the skin).  He went out into the jungle on the side of the road with a flash light and his army issue .45 until he found the head and he shot it.  My mother had to help him stuff the shake into the trunk of the car.  She never forgot that. That is a cool vehicle!  Is it licensed as a car, airplane, or Motorcycle?”

Jon, Vern’s creation is a motorcycle in Florida. We have no emissions nor inspections here, and you can license just about anything you wish to drive. Combine this with no state income tax and it all seems like a great deal until you come back to the snake thing. For more on the trike, check this link: Vern’s Aero-Cars , (hit F5 if the pictures are small.)

Pietenpol builder  Harold Bickford writes:

“In the wall Street Journal under economy the 6/3 issue has an article about the increasingly risk averse culture. It seems too many folks do’t even want to try, instead looking for elusive security. Fortunately here at flycovair people aren’t so timid and are willing to investigate and do.- Harold”

Harold, Vern is the only guy here willing to dance on poisonous snakes, He sets the standard.-ww

Zenith 601XL builder/flyer Ron Lendon writes:

“WW, I thought being your neighbor might be fun, now I’m not so sure.”

Ron, we should have draped the carcass on my neighbors ‘For sale’ real estate sign to hear how his agent would explain it to potential buyers.-ww

Cruiser builder Sarah Ashmore  writes:

“When I was young while on an evening walk with my father I almost stepped on a Copperhead that was in the laying middle of the street. I had never seen a live snake and assumed that it was dead like every other one I had ever seen. My father was far more aware of the dangers then I was and I remember a very strong grip taking me by the shoulder and yanking me back before the snake had become aware of my approach and become defensive. A single whack with a convenient branch dispatched the threat and I have never been so casual again when out amongst nature. The funny thing is that my professional career has returned me now to the city of my youth and with a storm drainage ditch in my back yard I maintain a constant vigil for anything that might be a snake. With all the years I lived in Florida I saw but one rattlesnake and a single Corral Snake. “Red touches Yellow, kill a fellow, Red touches Black, friend of Jack” was the guideline I kept in mind to be sure I did not mistake the deadly Corral Snake from the beneficial King Snake.”

Zenith 750 Builder Dan Glaze writes:

“they say that everyone has a double, ole Vern sure looks a lot like Albert standing there, dan-o”

Builder Dan Branstrom  writes:

“I ate water moccasin (aka cottonmouth) on land survival at Eglin AFB, 45 years ago, along with poke salad, palmetto hearts, and even wood rat.  All I can remember is, just like the cliche, it tasted somewhat like chicken. Somebody else had gigged it swimming in the water.  He nailed it in the body, and the snake still tried to climb up the shaft to bite him I sure wouldn’t like to meet one any closer.  I know you’ll be careful.”

Parting Shot from Zenith builders Bob and Pat Pustell :

“Hi, William–My birthday may preceded yours by a decade and a half, but I am with you on almost everything you posted lately. I loved my balsa gliders/rubber band airplanes as a kid. I loved my balsa and tissue paper stick built planes even more, but it was more painful when they got wrecked. Great fun and many lessons. The plastic models were fun, too, but you could not fly them.

I loved the old flathead utility engines. My Grandmother’s place had no electricity, kerosene lamps and a Briggs and Stratton powered well pump. Many times, as a remarkably young guy, I had that engine apart and got it running again. It powered that wellpump for many decades. My first hot-rodding project was a cast-off lawn mower. It turned such high revs when we were done with it that we eventually put the rod through the side of the case, but man could that thing cut tall grass at full power!! I could tune up a flathead Ford V8 pretty nicely, also. Small block Chevies were my stock in trade in later years, however.

Stick and Rudder was my first and is still my favorite aviation book. Anything by Ernie Gann is right up there, too. I never met Ernie but I flew with guys who did know him from when he worked for my airline. Even second-hand, I enjoyed the glow……… Before the airline, I flew in the Air Force with Medal of Honor winners, regular guys, everyday heroes. We have a wonderful country going here. Let’s keep it that way.

Oh, about those big nasty venomous snakes in your area — I moved to northern New England to retire for a reason — I had enough of those nasty creatures in southeast asia and the southwest desert of the US. Come on up and join us. The winters are not as bad as people would make you think. The rest of the year is wonderful and we do not do venom, tornadoes, major hurricanes or earthquakes.

Best wishes to you and Grace and ScoobE, Bob and Pat Pustell”