Corvair vs O-200…. weight comparison

Builders,

A Zenith 701 builder that I spoke with at the open house wrote me a short note asking some questions about the weight comparison between these two engines. This is something I have directly compared, something we have very good data on, and some valid and useful commentary.

For people with short attention spans, I will cut to the chase and say that a modern Corvair, as we teach people to build them, with electric start and a charging system, weighs the same installed as a standard O-200 Continental. You can see in the photo below that I have weighed, thrust tested and dyno run them side by side personally. Many people will comment on the subject of engine output and weight on power plants they have never laid a hand on, far less run on a dyno. Most of the “evidence” people present is well intentioned, but erroneous just the same. Bad data, presented with good intentions or malicious ones, is still bad data. The numbers here come from personal measurement, intentionally done in public for people to see.

“More Lies are told in experimental aviation than in singles bars” is a saying I made up 15 years ago to illustrate the loose association with truth that many people in our field have. The most common fib told in home building is under  quoting how much something weighs. (This is ironic, because compared to numbers like HP output, true stall peed, or ultimate G strength, the weight of anything is a very simple matter to check, but very few people ever do.) Many people I quick to point the finger at salesmen, but let me also say that I have done the weight and balance on something like 100 homebuilt aircraft, and only found 10% of the owners were remotely telling the truth on their W&B sheet. Many of these people told their buddies their plane was exactly 100 pounds lighter than is was. Frequently they repeated it often enough that they forgot they made it up, and could have passed a polygraph test swearing to it. Take this away: Don’t believe anything you hear about weights unless you are listening to the guy who did it himself, who has photo documentation of him doing it. If you would like to read a funny story about how reality has a hard time competing with fantasy, take a moment to read this link:

Unicorns vs Ponies.

On the left above is the Continental O-200 as removed from a 1959 Cessna 150. This engine is considered the standard  against which all other 100hp class engines are measured. It is a direct drive 4-stroke, 4-cylinder engine of  200cid. It carries a horsepower rating of 100 at 2,750rpm. I have read that Continental produced about 50,000  O-200s. On the right is a 170cid Corvair engine. For size comparison, the O-200 is 32″ wide without the baffling.  The Corvair is 28″ wide.

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The caption in italics above is actually nine years old from our main page flycorvair.com. It is from a long test series on dyno and thrust testing the O-200. You can read the full story at this link: http://www.flycorvair.com/thrust.html . The picture above shows that a Corvair is smaller physically than an O-200. Let me also offer that I know a bit about Continentals and I like them. Graces Taylorcraft has an STC’ed C-85-12 in it, an engine that is nearly Identical to an O-200 in physical size and weight. Keep in mind that when people compare engine weights on the net, very few of these people have owned both of the engines they are commenting on, and in many cases, the guy offering the data has owned neither. It doesn’t make then bad nor evil, it just means their data on this subject probably isn’t good.

What about the often quoted 188 pound weight for an O-200? That is erroneous, as it does not include the starter, mags, plugs, carb, oil, or many other items it takes to run the engine. The data was actually presented that way so if a manufacturer chose Eisman mags instead of Bendix, he could do a weight and balance engineering solution on the engine. The 188 number was never meant to be a comparison all up weight.

What about the new light weight O-200? Yes, it is lighter than a traditional model, by as much as 20 pounds. But this engine, which Continental rep. Kim Winner brought to the Zenith open house, sells for $20,000. It is new, and they have made very few of them, and you are not likey to come across one for sale used for another 20 years. Many of the parts in it can not be used on older engines. Most builders are taking about a Corvair they could build on a $8500 budget vs a traditional O-200 taken from a Cessna 150 for roughly the same money. If you want to spend $20K, I can build you a Corvair that is far lighter than the lightest O-200 ever made. Given $8,000 or $10,000 just to spend on weight reduction, much could be accomplished, but that isn’t an engine most people are considering, and neither is the new light weight O-200.

Is an O-200 ‘Approved’ for a 701 but not a Corvair? You can call Zenith and speak with Roger or Sebastien, and I am sure that they would advise any 701 builder to first consider lighter engines. But they would also tell you that both engines have powered 701s before. We bought our 701 test bed kit directly from the factory in 2005 and completed it in 2007.  Sebastien sold it to us to test the concept after seeing the success of our 601/Corvair program. The 701 worked. we made no attempt to lighten the Corvair for it, and the plane weighed 677 pounds ready to fly. (if that didn’t sound very light compared to other numbers you have read on the net, go back and read Unicorns vs Ponies again.) It did not need any ballast whatsoever to get into the CG envelope. On this last point, the Corvair has a distinct advantage over the O-200; The Corvair is ‘flat’ on the back, and can be pulled right back to the firewall without creating a maintenance issue. An O-200 has the mags and wires sticking out the back, and they require several more inches of clearance to be removed without the requirement of pulling the engine off the mount. Although the Corvair and the O-200 effectively weigh the same, you can’t get the O-200’s CG nearly as close to the firewall. It may require ballast just to get into the front of the CG range.

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Above, Our test bed Corvair powered 701 in the Zenith booth at Sun n Fun 2010.

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I have heard that a heavy engine can break the 701 nose gear, truth? Yes, a very heavy engine could be a factor, but when we built our 701 I studied this closely, and a far bigger issue was people flying the plane forward of the published CG envelope. One guy had tried a Geo engine with a belt drive on a 701. This was actually lighter than a Corvair, but the engine layout was very long, and it had to be positioned well forward to clear items from the firewall end of the engine. The result was I guy flying around 2″ ahead of the forward CG limit. The plane could be landed smoothly by rolling it on at 60 mph, but that wasn’t the point of the 701. When the Geo guy tried landing slow and pitched the nose up, he found out that planes that are ahead of the forward CG limit drop their nose like a rock at high angle of attack. This is the effect that harms the plane. It is actually a CG issue, not a weight driven one. Poor pilot technique is another big factor. Any guy willing to get a little time in type training and fly within the published CG range has little to worry about.

What about reasonable cost Corvair modifications to reduce weight? A 3,000 cc Corvair actually weigh 7 pounds less than standard ones becase the bigger engine uses a lighter aftermarket cylinder set. A billet crank is nearly 4 pounds lighter than a stock one. A welded pan is a pound lighter than a billet one., etc. There is a list of parts than can get 15 pounds off a Corvair, but most builders find the engine to be acceptably light in the basic form. People frequently ask about putting aluminum cylinders on Corvairs. I have been working with Corvairs for 25 years, people have been talking about these for at least 12 years, and yet no one has ever taken a set flying. I have good reason to doubt the would work.  If some one tries to talk you into anything that has never flown, and the national expert doubts will work, realize they want you to be a guinea pig.  They sell down at the pet store for $20, and if your life is worth more than that, don’t be anyone’s Guinea pig.

Last Comment of weights: Two people in the alternative engine game, myself and Robert Helms, president of UL power, never hesitate to tell the truth about how much our respective engines weigh. Robert has nothing to loose by doing so; He has the lightest engine on the market, he doesn’t need to embellish the facts. In my case I don’t have anything to gain by under reporting the weight of a Corvair. People choose the Corvair because it is affordable, smooth, a learning experience, well supported, made in America and a multitude of other reasons. It has the features above, while having an acceptable level of weight for a broad variety of aircraft. If I fibbed about the weight of the engine I wouldn’t attract any significant amount of new builders, but it would undermine the trust and rapport with builders we already have in place.-ww.