Note: Factual data from an aviator at the scene is more valuable than an opinion from a self admitted ‘jackass’. With this in mind, I gladly print the letter below from Steve Bryan. My brother-in-law, Col. Nerges pointed out that some of my rhetoric may sound intolerant to people who have not met me. Builders should know that even my closest friends don’t agree with 50% of my perspectives, it isn’t a requirement. The original story is mostly aimed at getting builders to think and consider, and come to their own perspective. I hope that US builders understood that the story has two main points; The UK has a lot of aviation history and mechanical cleverness that I am a big fan of, and We have it very easy here as far as aircraft building goes. Steve is the lead example of a Corvair in the UK system, and the ‘approval’ is based on some data from his project. He is a good guy trying to pick up the responsibility for the slow progress, but I think that it would be reasonable LAA to accept US data on the engine, not require an individual to personally re-develop it.-ww
U.K. Pietenpol builder Steve Bryan writes:
Hi William, Apologies for being a little late in commenting on your take on what we refer to the ‘nanny state’ here in the UK. You make some valid points, but as a Brit, I felt I ought to respond!
Firstly, I think you have been unlucky to find an organization that is unwilling to sell anything to customers in the USA. I can understand why you got upset by their attitude, which presumably prompted you to get the other things off your chest! Let me know if you would like me to buy a starter for you and I’ll be happy to help.
Regarding the Corvair flight engine issue, the main reason why there are currently no Corvairs flying here is not that they are ‘illegal’ but is primarily due to the miserable rate of progress I’ve made with my Pietenpol project in the last 10 years (which has enjoyed the full support of Francis Donaldson throughout). As the first guy to register the intention to use a Corvair engine in my aeroplane here in the UK, I should really be held responsible for the current situation. In my defence (and without looking for any sympathy!) I have gone through a divorce, followed by the sudden death on my daughter, which took me a little while to come to terms with. I then devoted time to finding myself a new partner and then renovating our house. Since I purchased the core engine from you in 2003, I have also torn it down twice, once to have the crankshaft nitrided and recently to fit a Dan Weseman 5th bearing. I know that you will agree that both of these updates were worth doing, even if I had to save for a while to afford Dan’s excellent bearing kit. Currently I am waiting for a friend to complete the final welding on the engine mount frame (which has full LAA/Francis Donaldson design approval) before I mount the engine on the completed fuselage. I even have the alloy sheet in stock for the cowlings!
Why does Francis Donaldson keep getting a mention here? I have to admit that I’m a little envious of the Experimental system for home-built aircraft you have in the USA, but the reality is that here in the UK the Civil Aviation Authority (equivalent to your FAA) have authorised the Light Aircraft Association to ‘oversee’ homebuilt aircraft and issue them with ‘permits to fly’ on completion. How this works in reality is that you buy your kit/plans, register the project with the LAA and contact your closest LAA Inspector who (usually for free) inspects and signs off the build stages and mentors the rookie builder through the transition from novice to competent craftsman. However, if you decide to modify your aircraft (like fitting a different type of engine) then this ‘mod’ has to be vetted and approved by the LAA. Francis Donaldson is the Chief Engineer at the LAA, so he is in the unenviable position of being responsible to some degree for the airworthiness of the entire UK fleet of homebuilt and historic aircraft, hence his understandably cautious approach on occasions.
Regarding the subject of the Pietenpol here in the UK, it’s true that it’s easier to use the LAA ‘approved’ plans, which include modified wing spars and undercarriage designed by Jim Wills (who was not a government professional, but one of the early UK Pietenpol builders). These plans tend to be favoured here, not because they produce an aeroplane which is better than the original, but because they increase the ‘approved’ gross weight of the aeroplane to 1250lb. Given that in order to fly safely from our short fields and in more congested airspace, we usually build in seat-belts, radio, engines at the more powerful end of the Pietenpol range and we are not all as lightweight as BHP then this extra weight margin is useful. The rights to these revised plans are currently still held by Jim Wills and I understand that you are correct that he prefers not to sell them in the USA. I guess he has his reasons. Maybe he is related to the guy selling the old Ford parts!
Cheers, Steve Bryan (very slow UK Pietenpol builder).
Builder Steve S. writes:
OK William…..Worked on one of these as a teenager! You are dead on about Old Blighty. My English friends say England is politically doomed. Very good and hope to read more from You.
500+ hr. Zenith 601 builder/flyer Andy Elliott writes:
Just got my clean used copy of Stick & Rudder in the mail today, for a total of <$11, including shipping. It’s the 1944 version, but I think it’s the 29th printing. Dust jacket is still in one piece, and there was a Private Pilot magazine subscription coupon in it for a book mark. Private Pilot stopped publishing in 2005, but you can tell from the “3 years for $19” subscription price that this coupon is older than that!
Pietenpol builder Dave Aldrich writes:
Hi William, If you really want a starter for your Anglia, one of my good friends is English and travels across the pond on a regular basis. He’d be happy to bring one back. I’ve got his cousin looking for a good Series II Land Rover (think Hatari) for use up here in Maine so the starter would be simple.
As an aside on Anglias, many years ago in my misspent youth in upstate New York, I used to race cars on ice. At the time, I was a poor starving college student and my one and only car was a 1959 SAAB 93 that had a 2 cycle, 3 cylinder engine displacing a massive 750ccs. It was just about the only front wheel drive car available beside the Oldsmobile Toronado and was a hoot to drive on ice. One of the guys who raced with us must have been your older brother since at various times he had a Corvair powered Karmann Ghia and a SAAB with a Buick V-6 stuffed under the hood. Now we get around to the Anglia connection. One of my good friends actually had a job and could afford a dedicated ice race car. For $50, he bought a 1958 (I think) Anglia, the one with the reverse tilted rear window, and we tried to improve it’s performance by spending our summer evenings drinking cheap beer and tinkering. Speed parts for that engine were non-existent so we just milled the head, cobbed some headers together, and waited for Lake George to freeze over. After a couple of years of banging fenders with other like minded loonies, the Anglia finally gave up. We were flat towing it back home when one of the tow bar attachments gave out. Our faith in the integrity of the frame was somewhat misplaced. The safety chain kept the tow bar in the parade but the car wasn’t so lucky. We turned and the Anglia didn’t. It just twisted the remaining attachment point off. Fortunately only a ditch and telephone pole were in the way and we were only a couple of miles from its home so the Niskayuna police were unaware of the adventure. I consider that we were in the vanguard of the American racing scene since we actually had a 3 car “team” in the manner of the Europeans like Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, and so on. This was long before the Hendrich/Rousch/Penske juggernauts that came later. We had to dissolve Fubar Racing team when one of the guys got transferred to New Jersey, I joined the military and the others grew up.-Dave
Zenith 601xl builder Oscar Zuniga writes:
I live on this side of the pond, I like airplanes, and I was at the hangar this afternoon for a while to look at my collection of Corvair cases to see if any are candidates for some R&D that Dan Weseman may be doing. However, everyone of interest on my family tree is dead and gone, so I can’t thank them for coming to this country so I could be born here and enjoy the privileges and freedom to experiment, build, and fly. My grandpappy on my mother’s side was Scots-Irish of the common but industrious sort, and my other three grandparents came here from Mexico, descended from Spanish stock who crossed the pond from Spain to Mexico for conquest. My guess is that they didn’t find the fountain of eternal youth, but there were also no Corvair cores to be found there either ;o) I have aviation friends on many continents of the world and can completely corroborate the fact that, compared to those in other countries, we enjoy aviation freedoms that are almost beyond belief.
Base your position on data and facts (F still equals ma, for example) Recognize and state your biases (Should be cheap, easy to understand, reliable, for example) Are willing to change your position when more data becomes available
You’re also allowed to have personal preferences. I run into this with instruments. As I’m searching for used instruments, I have come to the conclusion that my limited appetite for scrounging and the need to recondition the critical ones means I could save time and weight (maybe not money) by getting a low-end EFIS. But I like steam gauges – they are easy to read and trend with a glance and I know enough about how they work to figure out when one might be giving me a bad reading. They also look cooler. But I wouldn’t say that someone who installs an EFIS is making a mistake (unless they trade off the cost by skimping on something vital, like a carburetor).
I think the evolution of your ignition system is a good example of balance and data and changing opinion over time. Points are more efficient and reliable than magnetos, though they require an electrical system. Electronic is reliable too, and less parts to wear out. But the CDI system I flew behind in the Rotax 912s would not operate if the voltage got below 11 volts (happens easily in MN in the winter). One of the reasons I decided against one in my plane. When you went to the E/P system you went to the effort to find / design a system that would operate on lower voltage.
As for aviation for the masses, companies aren’t run by Henry Ford anymore, and they are purely designed for profit now.
Sometimes I wonder if a useable, affordable home built car design / kit might get people into the notion that they can make things themselves, and would allow them to be more open to the idea of an affordable airplane project. Of course the reaction from car manufacturers would probably be worse than the reaction from the aircraft industry.
OK, I get the V-8 Vega. Horsepower to weight is pretty outrageous. I am more of an autocrosser than a drag racer. In fact, since I appear to be unable to work on my airplane or ride my motorcycle for possibly most of the summer, I have indulged in getting a car for autocross – a ’91 Toyota MR2. Probably not your style, but very good handling. My motorcycle is a 2000 BMW R1100RTP – only 90 horsepower but I could leave any of the riders in my riding club in the dust if there were enough curves.
The hand is slowly getting better, but the new skin on the fingers blisters up if I write for too long or do anything mechanical, even if I wear a glove over the medical glove. The graft, as you suggested, doesn’t hurt at all now, and is more rugged. Don’t get drowned by the tropical storms or become snake food.-Becky Shipman
Builder Bruce Culver writes:
William, having done a bit of research on the Model T for a modeling project and possible historical article, I too was impressed by the tremendous influence this crate had on American society in the early 20th century. I also was impressed by the awareness of Henry Ford in paying his workers enough so they could afford to buy the cars they were building. In aviation, this seems to have slipped off the screen….. The tragedy is that with modern technology, making inexpensive and capable light aircraft would be easy for someone with the right attitude. I know wood has its drawbacks, but if a largely wood structure was assembled from pre-cut parts like a large model airplane, it would be safer and better built. The parts could be designed so that they went together only one way. I suspect that a safe wood fuselage structure could be designed, but to take welded steel tubing, there are automated welding machines that could weld a high-quality fuselage frame for those who have no experience. Or perhaps more welding classes would be a good idea, as I know that welding has to be done correctly or it’s no good. That is a concern of mine, as I have no welding experience at all, and I have an XXXX (I edited out exact model of firearm here for privacy-ww) parts kit to put together – but that won’t kill me if I don’t get the welds right. Nonetheless, you are absolutely correct that the current emphasis on high-dollar designs in EAA will be the eventual death of light aviation. Get the price of a decent plane down to what the middle class can afford and the number of new pilots will grow significantly. Keep it up and the new folks won’t likely be around. When GA is cut down to size by this short-sighted attitude, EAA and AOPA will lose what political clout they have. Only the folks who have true homebuilt aircraft and engines, with the legal right to repair them, and the desire to fly for sport outside the ATC system, will have the privileges of private flight.
Regarding Fixing America is going to cost us $1.69 each William, you are a seriously deranged individual and I am VERY glad you are!
My perspective on the world is much the same as your own, likely because we are almost the same age (beat you by a year). As a kid I played with those very same balsa planes, and you could buy them everywhere. My father always loudly expounded on the virtues of Briggs and Stratton engines and I took apart and reassembled these wonderfully simple and reliable machines many times in my youth, and never because they needed repair! Every one ran as before when I was done to boot, a testimony to B&S not me.
I plan on steam gauges for my Zenith and my coworkers think I am nuts using this “old technology”. You see, I work for a Robotics company and am neck-deep in high-tech all day and have many young coworkers. They are all very much as you described the current generation and there is nothing wrong with them; with their video games and cell phones glued to their heads they just didn’t have as much fun growing up as we did. Me, I have seen tech develop, hell, I have helped to create some of it, but with my life and safety on the line I just don’t trust it. I want to fly, I don’t want to play a video game in my plane… besides, I hope to some day be someone who you would be proud to call an Aviator. Thanks for all the great Corvair info and Philosophy, -Paul
Zenith Builder Bill Mills writes:
William, Great discussion on flat head engines. I have owned several in the past. Presently I have a 1934 and 1937 Fords and several one cylinder engines. Also the snakes here in Florida; I have had several run ins with rattle snake, water moccasins or cotton mouths and copper heads, they all lost. Question: I am building the Zenith 650 from scratch and have reached a point the decide whether to use the standard sizes gas tanks or the long-range size. Your thoughts. Bill Mills EAA chapter 282 Clearwater, FL
Bill, I know of only one Corvair powered 601XL with 48 gallon tanks, Louis Kantor’s. He flew from our airstrip in Florida to Pittsburgh, non stop, and had 11 gallons left on arrival. He later flew from Mexico MO to Pittsburgh, about the same distance. You can go a long way on todays standard 30 gallon system, and the 4 way tank valve is very expensive. -ww.
Pietenpol Builder Jon Coxwell writes:
I just could not pass up commenting on the balsa wood planes. I grew up in two worlds simultaneously literally 120 miles apart. The first was in the largest city in Montana (Billings, about 60,000 when I was a kid, bigger now) and the second on a small cattle ranch nestled against the Little Belt Mountains in central Montana. It was in my first world where I lived with a grandmother during the school year. The house was at the intersection of two very quiet tree lined residential streets. My airplane of choice was rubber band powered with jaunty long wire landing gear. The only place my friends and I could have a successful takeoff was in the intersection of the two streets. Other wise the plane would soon be in the trees. Flying that rubber band powered ship was the impetus for learning to climb trees so I could retrieve it. More than once, cars would stop and wait for us to complete our flight. I think the adults got just as much fun out of it as we kids did. (Those were the days when mothers and grandmothers knew of us playing in the street but just admonished us to watch for cars. It was learning to take responsibility for our own actions.) We would grease up the prop bearing with Vaseline and wind the rubber band to 16 knots to get an extra 20 feet of altitude. What a life!
My second world was where I learned about motors. I do not remember any flat head lawn mowers but I did build an electric reel mower from plans in Popular Mechanics. My step dad was always overhauling a tractor, truck, or the little jeep in less than ideal conditions. A family friend gave me an old Wizzer bike motor and I proceeded to build a go kart. It didn’t work well as all the roads were dirt and rutted but my dad saw my interest and proceeded to help me scrounge Model T parts from all the old homesteads. He knew where all of the old Fords had been pushed into the brush when the homesteaders starved out in the thirties. Before I was out of high school I had a running Model T to chug around the hills in. The only thing I had to buy was 2 tires. When the GN-1 flies it will be dedicated to my natural father (a WWII B-24 squad commander) who gave me the genetic interest in flying and my step dad who taught me the manual skills and patience I needed to build an airplane.
William; as the second eldest among 10 children, I can really relate to your comments and observations on how things work among siblings. I can only hope that some of the things that I’ve been involved with in my life (motorcycles, especially vintage Triumphs; street rods; cartooning; engineering; aviation; salt water fishing; hunting, camping, rafting, boat building) have been of interest for my 4 brothers and 5 sisters and their wonderful families as they have followed behind me. You know what they say about being back in the pack string in a line of sled dogs though: unless you’re No. 1, the view never changes ;o)
Pietenpol builder Terry Hand writes:
Your comments from the heart may be among the best gifts your brother receives today. Nicely written. Happy birthday, Michael!
Parting Shot from Sprint Builder Joe Goldman:
We just lost Roy Hall from a heart attack, hard living, and hard drinking. You should have visited me at his shop. You would have enjoyed his stories. I first thought they were BS, but I always listened. I found out from his friends and visitors that looked in on him that they were not exaggerations but were even more amazing. Roy was a machinist and metallurgist and foremost a pilots pilot. He was a lover of old, old machines. His large lathe was 110 years old, turned my three axles on it, as is his horizontal shaper. His huge vertical shaper with turret is a little newer. He has machines and furnaces that he built. He owned and flew a DC 3, Stearman, and Beech 18. The 3 and 18 carried so much gas in their modified wings that they looked like a B52’s. Well, a living is a living ( no dope just gas and repairs). I worked by his Stearman with “The world’s greatest aviator” written on its side. Right next to me was a Travel Air fuselage that Roy beautifully rebuilt. He teared sometimes because he knew he was unable to finish it. He has many friends and impressed many people with his skills, though He was a pain in the ass was heard.
August 2011 I moved my Sprint to Roy’s place. I felt sorry for him and that he could use my rent. Turned out I did myself good. We worked on my landing gear. Lots of metal forming on his press and dies. He made sure I didn’t screw up. He did all the welding. His TIG welds were smooth. He covered all finished welds with asbestos like material. He enjoyed working on my plane. It turns out I was the last one to use his skills. I remember telling him about Marks tight turn and how he could make it back to the airport in 250ft. He remarked just unload the wings and you can turn on a dime. I will miss him. Maybe if I do something dumb in the air I ‘ll hear him yelling Just fly the damn plane. Joe Goldman