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

Why Not the Panther engine?


I just spent the last two days in the shop, working on a number of things from 8am until 10 p.m. The bulk of this time was assembling an engine for a builder who opted to have us reassemble his engine after he upgraded to a billet crank. The engine is a Gen. 1 Weseman bearing, 2700cc engine with all of our Gold Systems. We ran it on the test stand just before sundown.  It was perfectly smooth. I wondered how many sunsets this engine would see from the vantage point of several thousand feet.  With luck it will be more than a thousand.  Spending the time wrenching on this gave me a lot of time to think, and many of the ideas came back to the simple statement: Why not the Panther engine?

Above, Dan Weseman and I stand in our front yard last October. This was the first run of the Panther’s engine. Dan picked up all the parts for the engine, but I assembled it for him and ran it as a small contribution to the success of his project.

The engine above performed flawlessly through the 40 hour test period on the Panther. Dan and Rachel have many flight videos on the Panther site, showing that this engine has been run as hard as any Corvair ever flown. In the 40 hours, the plane flew literally hundreds of aerobatic maneuvers and spent a lot of time wide open on the power. (Look at these YouTube links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eX_HN–ZQVI and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzZl4gU_6o8 )

It needed absolutely no maintenance nor adjustment, other than oil changes in this period. It is dry as a bone, and has not leaked a single drop of oil. On some other non-Corvair engines, running that hard would produce detectable stress. There would be overheating, required re-torque on heads, or valve adjustments. Conversely, a differential compression test on the Panther’s engine near the end of the test cycle revealed near perfect 79/80 compression: The operation had merely served as a good break in procedure on a Corvair.

Other people promoting car engine conversions don’t run them like this. You may not be planning on this type of operation, but it is a very effective demonstration that the Corvair, as we promote it and teach people to build it, isn’t anywhere near the margins. The Panther engine is well built, and made of good stuff, but it isn’t “special” at all. It is made the exact same way we teach builders to make them at Colleges, it is made of standard off the shelf items that we and the Wesemans sell. Anyone willing to invest some time, follow directions and get their hands dirty can build a clone of it and get the exact same consistent performance that Dan has. Builders are doing just this; read this story from last year: World’s Strongest 3,000cc Corvair, built by Greg Crouchley  as an example.  Corvairs are not for everyone, but if you are going to build one, Why not a Panther engine?

Why not a Panther engine? What do I mean by this? I am not speaking about everyone opting for a billet crank, nor am I speaking of having myself assemble your engine. What I am saying is that every builder should decide now what level of operation they are aiming for, and make sure they have a proven plan in place to get this. I can think of no rational reason why any builder would want less reliability that Dan had through all of his flights. Why not have an engine that has the same predictable, boring 40 hour test period?

 Almost all builders would agree that they want this type of service from their engine, yet many people get derailed from this. There are some obvious examples: in the last 10 years, there have been two KR-2’s destroyed on their first flight from power loss. Each of these builders elected to build ‘unique’ engines that many ‘features’ I had long told people not to do. The first person who flew a Corvair powered Dragonfly ended in a field with a motor that detonated until it stopped. Cause? He made his own ignition system because he though his would be better than ours. He determined this, yet he didn’t know that 32 degrees is a total advance not a static idle setting.How far will a Corvair fly with 55 degrees of advance? About 1/2 a mile. About 50 people witnessed that ‘flight’. I am sure that every one of them told friends that Corvairs were bad. Not a single one of them understood that the real mechanical problem was the nut holding the stick.

On the other end of the scale, we have people whose engines don’t work as well as they should for small simple reasons. We have people with engines that leak oil from many locations simply because they refuse to use the sealers that my instructions say to. The most common thing these builders say is “you shouldn’t have to use sealers on gaskets.” While that is a wonderful perspective, it falls in the category of “you shouldn’t have to pay taxes” and “you shouldn’t have to get old.”  As crazy as this sounds, I don’t think flying around with an oily engine as a protest against major gasket companies is a very effective form of protest.

I still get photos of engine installations that have many ideas that I have long asked people not to do. Alternators on the back of engines driven by belts are a prime example, especially if that belt runs right beside the distributor. Want an alternator on the back? Use Dan’s direct drive set up. Want more than 20 amps for some reason? Run both front and rear ones.  Sound crazy? It actually weighs less than a single 40 amp unit, and it doesn’t require a belt on the back.  The number one reason why builders tell me they don’t want to use one of the proven systems is “I need more than 20 amps.” I try to kindly point out that they are yet to understand the concept of intermittent vs continuous loads. Yet rather than read and learn about this, many builders will spend months trying to figure out how to mount a giant alternator on their engine. Only much later will they find out they never needed it. Decisions people make about planes while armed with insufficient information to make such choices wastes a staggering about of time and money in homebuilding. This can always be avoided by just studying things that are out there flying without issue, learning more about why they work, and patterning your plan after these examples.

The second biggest reason why people don’t end up with an engine that works like the Panther’s is the builder starts listening to a buddy, a local expert, or a guy on the net who gradually over time talks the builder into building his engine differently. Without fail, none of the advisors can ever say, “I have this on my Corvair powered plane, and it works flawlessly. ” Instead their advice is always “we did this on race cars” or I know someone who did this on a Mooney” You would think that people would restrict their plans to following things that have proven to work on Corvair powered planes, but they don’t.

Historically, the biggest reason why people don’t build better engines is they are trying to “save money.”  I am not wealthy, and I understand this. First, let me say, if your primary goal is to save money, the easiest way to save the most money is to get out of aviation. If your primary goal is to build a good airplane, there are times where you will have to spend money. There are many places where learning and putting in work can offset huge amounts of cash outlay, (Corvair vs Rotax 912) but there are very few places where you can significantly trim the budget just by using cheaper parts Learn this WW aircraft philosophy axiom, and your airplane building will be a lot happier:

“Doing things the right way usually costs a fair amount of money, but doing them the cheap way always costs a fortune.”

I am typing this at the dining room table, finishing off the last of a pot of coffee. If you were my neighbor at the airpark, you could sit here with me and I would pour you a cup and listen to your plans to build your Corvair powered plane. When you were done, I could take you to the filling cabinets in the office and show you the two sold drawers of photos and stories from people who were “going to show everyone” something, or “really build something different” or who “know a lot of people who built race cars” or “read on the net about a new cheap way that will…”

Yes, I know how to build Corvair that give good reliable trouble-free service, but I also know almost all the ways that people have tried and failed to do this. We have been working with Corvairs long enough that new builders very rarely have an original bad idea these days. They are almost always a rerun that has been long proven to work poorly or not at all. It is a free world, and you can elect to replicate any previous bad experiment and see if physics, chemistry and gravity change their rules and give you a different result…. Or you can just as easily follow good examples that are long proven to work, and have Physics, Chemistry and gravity work as your loyal allies. Your life, your move, chose wisely, you are going to have to accept either result.

Because of the way we run the Corvair movement, Building an outstanding engine is available to any builder who decides that it will be his path, and is willing to put in the effort to get it. It isn’t just for sale to the wealthy, it is available in steps to builders who really understand why Learn build and fly is all about. Builders who decide that they are not just going to be appliance owners, they are going to be skilled operators of solid machinery that they fully understand and are the master of. This is the real reward of being part of the Corvair movement. -ww.


If you would like to read more about the Panther engine, here is a story about how it was built before Oshkosh 2012:

Panther Prototype Engine 3,000 cc/120 hp to OSH

Here is one about upgrading it to a billet crank:

The Panther’s engine, worlds strongest Corvair flight engine.

And here is one about testing props:

Panther Engine propeller test