I wrote the following words on our traditional website in January 2011. I am reprinting them here because I want to have them as a stand alone story that I can link to, and because I think that they are a good piece of ‘plain talk’ and commentary. They cover building and business philosophy, and they are just as true today as they were when I wrote them. People who have not met me should read the 9 points at the end, they will make many things about our approach easier to understand.- ww.
Corvair Outlook 2011
I started typing this update on January 20th. On that date exactly 50 years ago, JFK gave his inauguration speech including the famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It is a very stirring speech, yet most people have never seen it in its entirety. It is well worth taking the time to watch it on the Internet. A majority of Americans, myself included, were not yet born 50 years ago. However, most of the people in experimental aviation are old enough to remember that day. Today, people are bombarded with messages at a rate that was inconceivable 50 years ago. The predictable effect is that none of it sticks, none of it moves anybody, and a few kernels of wheat are most often buried in a mountain of chaff. If you’re young, it is very difficult to imagine how powerful JFK’s speech was as a motivator to his “New Generation of Americans.”
On January 18th, 2011, Sgt. Shriver, JFK’s brother-in-law and the first head of the Peace Corps, passed away at age 95. He spoke countless times about how JFK’s inaugural speech was a summons to action for the Peace Corps volunteers. Opinions differ on the net effect of the 1960s on American culture. But on this day, it is well worth remembering that the era started with great ambition on a very high note. What words on a page could I write that would similarly charge you to take the reigns of your own aviation goals this year? While JFK’s message was a challenge to young Americans to take their place in the world, homebuilding is conversely a challenge to yourself, to essentially take your place as the cognizant commander of your path, an opportunity to measure your own worth and potential where the rewards are very real because the subject is serious, and the tasks are intolerant of lackadaisical attitudes of dilettantes and posers.
There are roughly 335 days left in this year. What you will accomplish in aviation this year is still an open question. Most people who are yet to start a project incorrectly believe that external circumstances dictate the odds of success. Let us squarely address the largest external factor; the vast majority of Americans traditionally involved in homebuilding have earned between $25,000 and $65,000 a year. The educational background and the ambitious nature of these homebuilders have previously insulated them from the ups and downs of the economy. However, our same group, due to loss of manufacturing jobs and outsourcing, has felt the real bite of this recession. A lot of magazines in our industry are afraid to say this, but it is reality. The acknowledgement of it will not deter a real homebuilder. It may alter his plans, change his timelines or readjust his goals, but if it makes a builder quit experimental aviation outright, perhaps homebuilding was not one of their more closely held dreams.
The real factor that counts in homebuilding success is internal, not external. Simply put, do you believe you can? Are you interested in a real challenge or is drifting through acceptable? Once started, will you find the task of creating things with you own hands rewarding enough to keep you going all the way? These are the only things that matter. External factors, no matter how strong they seem, are not the major determinant. The largest single factor is your determination that this will be your year and your will to carry it through. Tacked up on the fridge in our house is the simple phrase “Do not be optimistic nor pessimistic; be determined.” In the Corvair movement, your planning, determination and will put you in the company of some first class characters. You deserve to take your place among them.
Think about this: A guy can be from your hometown, be the same age as you, have the same number of kids, live in the same kind of house, etc., but just because you bought the same kind of car he bought, no matter how unique or sporty, in reality, you have nothing of substance in common with this person, you’re merely two car consumers. You both might be great guys in your own right, but merely owning a product in common, no matter what advertising agencies want you to believe, doesn’t give you a real connection, or any common understanding. Conversely, if you choose to build and work to create something as unique as a homebuilt aircraft, the story is totally different. A person of a different generation living in a different place and perhaps even speaking a different language who also chose to build an aircraft overcame the same self doubts and pessimism of people in his day-to-day life, learned the same skills and met the same challenges, and is certainly a brother of yours. The external differences in your lives of circumstance and place, things that were not your choice, are not what define you. Your desire to build and your determination to see it through speak volumes on your character that situation, circumstance and consumerism will never reveal.
If the economics of the past two years gave you pause, made you stop and look at the choices we all make in life and truly examine the alleged rewards of typical consumer goods vs. real challenges and adventures in life like homebuilding, then some good came of it. Anyone reading this can decide today that this will be their year in aviation, the year that was the turning point, from which they made real and steady progress. Likewise, everyone reading this is fully capable of spending the next decade in front of a TV or computer screen, entertaining themselves. I don’t judge people by their choice. I have more friends in the latter category than the former. My sole point is that I know for myself, happiness lies in the hours spent in the shop, not in the living room. I am here to work with anyone who feels the same way.
I don’t like to dwell on it, but I’m middle aged now (much, much, much older than Grace), and I’ve lived long enough to look back with some perspective on choices I’ve made. Buying something has never made me happy like creating things does. Nothing I started that had a certain positive outcome felt rewarding when I got to the end. Only challenges ambitious enough to contain the possibility of failing resulted in feelings of victory and accomplishment at their successful conclusion. This isn’t particularly insightful; we all know this at some fundamental level. Reading this drags the thought out front and center. Will you define your challenge and make your plan tonight, or will you have another year drift by?
This month brings the Superbowl. I was born in Pittsburgh, and have been a fan back to the Mean Joe Green era. I am sure Grace and I will watch the game somewhere in the company of both aviation and non-aviation friends. After the game is over, I may not watch another game for a year or two. This doesn’t make me a better person than my friends who will spend countless hours on the couch holding a remote. It just makes me different. At the end of each day, I would just prefer to be one day closer to flying something I built with my own hands. There is nothing wrong with spending your hours in either method. The only tragedy would be knowing that you are a builder, but you didn’t take your shot, for reasons that will seem small and petty when the possibility is finally gone.
Our Work In Print: The Hat Trick – BPAN, Sport Aviation, Kitplanes
2011 started off right with three major publications running very favorable articles about our work with Corvairs or our expertise with aircraft systems. Tim Kern, the most engine savvy writer in the EAA’a stable, wrote a very nice piece about us for Sport Aviation. Rick Lindstrom, who has written for Kitplanes for more than 20 years, wrote a piece focused on our collaboration with the other members of the “Corvair Consortium:” Mark Petz, Brother Roy, and Dan Weseman. The Brodhead Pietenpol News enjoys one of the largest circulations of the Type Club newsletters. It is produced by Doc and Dee Mosher and is available by visiting their http://www.Pietenpols.org Web site. If you want a look at his picture, it accompanies the Introduction Doc wrote for our Conversion Manual. Ryan Mueller and I teamed up for a very lengthy article on weight and balance calculations for BPAN. These publications vette their sources on long articles carefully. It is an achievement to be in any of them. Three in a month is unheard of. Many alternative engines and their promoters go 5 or 6 years without this kind of exposure. We got it not because I am brilliant nor charming. We got it because I worked very hard at becoming educated in aviation, I have been doing this for 22 straight years, and I have always been willing to enlist the support and acknowledge the input of other qualified people of good character. I mention it here so builders understand that I’m glad to give credit where it is due.
As you might suspect, all of the above added to the usual post-holiday return to building, and temporarily swamped our email and telephones. We were getting more than 50 emails and 50 calls a day. This stuff always arrives in a wave that leaves a new high water mark, but subsides to a normal tide shortly. If you are one of the many people who sent us a message, be assured that we are working our way through all of them.
To complete the picture, I also have to mention that such popular commentary in print always brings out the negative lurkers on the Internet. For reasons that are most probably related to emotional injuries suffered in unfortunate childhoods, there are a handful of people who cannot tolerate the successes of others, no matter how well earned the praise might be. One of my least favorite things these people do is type posts to Internet groups telling people that we are “Probably out of business” when anyone remarks that I can be difficult to reach on the phone.
Here is a test: Your best friend comes up to you and says you need anger management training. If your first reaction is to tell him to shut his pie hole and mind his own business, he is probably correct. Several years ago, in the interest of becoming a better person, I attended an anger management series hosted by an acclaimed master, nationally noted for his highly successful work, particularly with veterans. The man had the demeanor of the Dali Lama, the heart rate of an Olympic marathoner, and the stoicism of a Greek philosopher. While he stared out the window, he asked me to cite something that really ticked me off, and I mentioned people making mindless negative comments on the Internet. A smile crept over his face and he casually said, “I hate those F___ heads also.”
Above, Mark Langford’s plane on our front lawn on a chilly morning. I took this photo from our front porch. Our hangar is on the right side of the photo. Behind Mark’s plane is a drainage ditch. This is the edge of our airport’s 150′ wide, 2,800′ long grass runway. When I tell people that we live on a runway, I don’t mean it metaphorically. We have lived here the past 5 years. The house is a modest size and the 2,400 square foot hangar is an older metal building, but I did work past midnight six days a week for 15 years to get to this point. It was a long odyssey with a lot of high points and a few low ones. After 22 years of daily work in this field, it initially ticks me off when a person who has never met me questions my commitment to experimental aviation. In the end, I just feel sorry for such a person because they don’t understand having a calling in their life that they devote themselves to without reservation.