Corvair College reference page


Here is our standard reference page with links to many stories about our Corvair Colleges. These colleges are one of the truly unique advantages of using a Corvair engine. No other engine choice has anything like the training, support, and progress on your own engine, all in a fun social atmosphere as we do at the colleges. Add to this that we travel you your region, and the colleges are free.

I like many kinds of engines, and I can understand why some people select engines like O-200s for their projects. But trust me, Continental Motors is not going to pack a trailer full of test equipment, staff it with an expert, drive to your area, hold a fun gathering, supervise your rebuild, test run it for you, maybe get you a demo flight in the same airframe your building, and send you home with new skills, an engine, and some new friends….all for free.

Neither is Rotax, nor any of the other imports. Those companies are in the engine selling business, which is fine if your goal is to buy something. But if your goal is to learn and become the master of your power plant, then you need to find people who have a long proven track record of teaching aviators.  To a consumer perspective, ‘support’ is a quickly answered email about pricing. To an aviators perspective ‘support’ is the type of learning and training and achievement you will see in 100s of photos below.  Which one you value is determined by the depth of your goals in aviation.


Above, Kevin Purtee and Shelley Tumino receiving The Cherry Grove Trophy at Barnwell (CC#24). They were the local hosts of CC#22 , CC#28 , CC#32, and CC#36.


Click on any color link to read the whole story:


2016 Colleges and Events: 2016 Corvair College registration pages


Outlook 2016, College #36 and Western building tour


Outlook 2016, Corvair College #37 Chino CA, 4/22/16


Outlook 2016, Corvair College #38, Cloverdale CA, 5/6/16


Outlook 2016 – Fall Corv-air-tour


Outlook 2016, Corvair College #39, Barnwell SC, 11/11/16





CC#35 Barnwell SC, November 2015

Corvair College #35 Barnwell builders video.


CC#34, Mexico Mo, September 2015

Photos from Corvair College #34 at Zenith A/C


CC#33, Eustis Florida, April 2015

Corvair College #33, Mid Florida at Eustis Airport, April 17-19, 2015


CC#32 Texas, Feb 2015

Corvair College #32, Texas, 27 Feb. 2015


CC#31 – Barnwell SC – P.F Beck and crew. November 2014

Corvair College #31 in Barnwell, S.C., Nov. 2014


CC#30 – Mexico MO – Zenith Aircraft Co., Sept. 2014

Corvair College #30 Good Times



Above, I give a hands on demonstration of setting the valve adjustment on a Corvair at CC#24. The college training is by hands on training on engines that builders own. We have demonstrations, test runs, flight demos, group conversation and commentary from successful flyers. Most people have their engine on hand, but many come with camera and notebook to absorb information. They are 3 day events, but the run from 8am until midnight. It is all done in a fun loose atmosphere where you can concentrate on any part of the process you wish. Many people think of tech seminars as a Power point presentation at the holiday inn banquet room. Our Colleges are on a very different level of reality.


An overview of previous Colleges:

Corvair College History….in photos


Tech articles for builders headed to a college:

College engine build options for closing the case

Basic Corvair College Skills, examples of learning

College Tech

Running an Engine at a College, required items. #2

Running an Engine at a College, required items. #1


An overview of building a complete Corvair:

Getting Started Reference page


Things to review before running an engine at a college:

Ignition Timimg on Corvairs

Notes on Corvair flight engine oils.

Corvair Oil Change interval….. Lessons part #1

When to check your timing, Lessons learned Pt#2


A sample of engines run at previous colleges:

Corvair College #27 run on film

Corvair College #23, 2700cc Engine, Spencer Gould, SP-500

Corvair College #23, 2700cc Engine, Ray Fuenzalida, KR-2S Builder

Schwartz Engine Runs at CC #22

Shipman Engine at CC#22

Franklin Engine Runs at CC ##22 KGTU Spring Break 2012

Ignition system, experimental “E/E-T”


Below is a distributor system that has been in the works for about 3 months. We had a free hour on Saturday night so we did some test assembly to check the fit of the sub components. It is a specialty item with two Crane units in it, and no advance. It is something that we may use in the future on Turbo engines, thus the working title E/E-T.


Above, as you see it, this is a non-running model, but it has a serious purpose. The red parts you see are plastic, and were made for us by Corvair/Panther builder Paul Salter. They are very accurate, because they went straight from the CAD model we worked up on his laptop to his 3D printer. There are 3 red parts: The large base plate will be made from 3/16 aluminum, the reluctor wheel and the rotor drive will be made of steel to be affixed to the main shaft. The small parts were printed in 5 minutes each, the plate took an hour. They allowed us to check the fit of all the parts without sending anything in to the machine shop. The cap and rotor are Ford V-6 parts.

The spark retard on this system will be controlled by a small USA made brain box that is for off road ignitions. The controller also takes into account MAP, so it will work great on a turbo engine. (when these engine go into boost, they need a lot less ignition advance, or they are prone to detonation) If you look at the rotor, it has a very wide contact nose, typical of new designs with purely electronic advance. This system may also have a handful of application for naturally aspirated engines at very high altitudes. such engine need a lot of extra advance to completely burn the mixture when the pressure is down. Either way, we are now having the metal parts made, perhaps we can do a demonstration run of this at CC#28 or #29.

Above a 2007 photo and caption from our webpage. It highlights things we looked at and considered using. “Many Internet commenters falsely assume that I have only looked at one way of doing things. The photo  above shows various ignition parts, some considered, some tried, some still in the works, sitting on the  shelf next to my distributor machine. Seen in the photo are a low profile crab-style cap with a corrected  firing order from an import; a ball bearing distributor housing from the same engine machined to fit in the  Corvair case; distributor shafts from small block Chevys that have identical diameter and oil pump drive;  HEI ignition system from 4.3 liter V-6, Pertronix points eliminator; Mitsubishi optical trigger; and  miscellaneous other parts. We build and test an awful lot of stuff that does not make it to the discussion  level. Just because we have one way of doing it that has proven to work well does not mean we don’t  understand how to do it many other ways, and have considered, tested and perhaps rejected ideas brought up as  new discussions on the Net.”

Pete Seeger, an honest man, dead at 94.


Folk music is far from the material science of flight. However, music and flight are both art forms, and if they are to be done well, they require a particularly bare form of honesty. In an era where ‘truth’ has become a fully negotiable quantity, It is worth taking a moment to consider the life of a man who was true to himself and scrupulously honest, no matter what the cost.

Above, Pete Seeger. You do not need to be a fan of folk music nor agree with his political views to respect this man.  All that is required is the recognition that he was a life long activist who put himself in the arena as a champion of human rights. No matter what pressure was brought to bear on him, he did not fold nor compromise his values.


If you examine many of the greatest aviators like Mitchell and Lindbergh, this is a common thread. In my writing on risk management, I point out that judgment is the #1 factor. It goes without saying that honest evaluation of oneself, the situation and the options is the absolute prerequisite of all good judgment. A staggering array of factors, peer pressure, ego, impatience, etc., work against the pilot to erode his honest evaluation. It is well worth studying the lives of people like Seeger as examples of non-negotiable honesty.


Seeger’s NYT obituary:


Take 30 minutes to enrich your life and read his biography:


A quote from Seeger just before he was sentenced to a year in federal prison for refusing to testify against other Americans at the height of McCarthyism:

“I have been singing folksongs of America and other lands to people everywhere. I am proud that I never refused to sing to any group of people because I might disagree with some of the ideas of some of the people listening to me. I have sung for rich and poor, for Americans of every possible political and religious opinion and persuasion, of every race, color, and creed. The House committee wished to pillory me because it didn’t like some few of the many thousands of places I have sung for.”


My favorite era of aviation is 1927-41. I love the planes, personalities and spirit of that time. I love Pietenpols, yet I must reconcile this with the reality of times that my grandparents and parents lived in. The country was suffering from impoverishment and terrible prejudice then. People forget this or ignore it. Youtube films of old planes are often set to upbeat ragtime piano tunes. To temper such joviality, about once a year I watch the particularly cruel and honest film “Paper Moon”  for a more realistic view of 1934 America.

Beyond the aircraft of the 1930’s, I have a broad interest in the lives of Americans in the 1930s and into the 40s. Seeger’s songs spanned this era, and into the 1950s he wanted to draw people back to the purity of simple music. Along with Seeger’s music, two other pieces of American art form my emotional attachment to the era:  Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” and Aaron Copland’s composition “Appalachian Spring”. It is worth noting that all three of these men were considered “Subversives” with communist sympathies. In Seeger’s case, he directly thought of himself as a communist.


In my previous writings, I have been careless with my use of the word “Communist.”  I have often used it while being critical of the government and the products of the Peoples Republic of China. The thing I detest about China is not their economic system they espoused for 40 years, it is their atrocious human rights record. China is much better described as a “Totalitarian Police State.”

Americans looking for cheap consumer goods don’t want to be bothered by such distinctions or by the fact our buying habits help keep 1.6 Billion human beings living under a jack boot. Appartheid in South Africa became untenable because of divestment; today we are doing the exact opposite with China. When I point out the irony of a person who allegedly believes in the sanctity of all human life selling I-Phones and I-Pads, products from the only country on earth with state mandated abortions, most people don’t care. However, Pete Seeger was the kind of person who actually strove to live by his convictions, not just the convenient ones.

My father spent much of his life fighting against Communists is Asia. He was not there to stop Marx’s economic theory, he did not care if the poor of the world chose collective farming or workers wanted social reforms. He just recognized that political systems that don’t value individuals always degenerate to Gestapos, concentration camps, gulags and mass graves. My Father fought to stop the spread of these things. To my Father the term “Communist” is synonymous with “Totalitarian” because he is a realist and that is what he saw.  Seeger referred to himself as a “communist”, noting the lower case. Fundamentally, as an artist, Seeger was an idealist. He detested the very idea of violent revolution, he was not against private property. He only wanted to remind people that corporations, especially ones big enough to control politicians,  can not be trusted to care for the dignity, health and rights of individuals. The extent that you agree with that perspective is not important, the focus to me is that Seeger believed it, and nothing society threated him with would make him back down.


Here is the aviation connection to honesty: The three forces that control flight are Physics, Gravity and Chemistry, and they are non-negotiable, period. You can not bargain with them; You can not talk your way out of breaking their laws, you can not get a plea bargain from them, and their convictions stick, and have no appeals process. The man convinced that the bargaining skills and spin doctoring that serve him in normal life can be useful in flight is headed for an ugly reckoning. Conversely, the honest man has nothing to fear from Physics, Gravity and Chemistry, they will be his unfailing allies.

Many people today are obsessed with ‘gaming the system’, getting an overview but no details, finding a short cut, getting an ‘app’ for something rather than an understanding of it, etc. At their root, these things are intellectually dishonest, not to others, but they are really cheating the individual who engages in them. Our Grandparents knew this, but it is considered ‘quaint’ to think that way now. To enter aviation without understanding that “The same ideas that get you ahead in ‘life’ get you dead in aviation” is the very definition of risk. The single best antidote for that mentality is close study and emulation of men like Seeger, who were scrupulously honest, no matter what the cost.


Above, Pete Seeger in the Army in WWII, giving a ground breaking non-segregated USO show. Eleanor Roosevelt is seated in the middle. Seeger’s quote: “I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.” It is a feeling I have understood many times in my life, yet will likely know little of, with the exception of small groups of aviators, whom I have seen treat each other in that spirit.

Corvair College #28, getting to last call


One month from today, we will be in Texas for Corvair College #28.  The sign up has been open for many weeks, and we have a very strong roster of builders, in addition to several flyers who will be returning with flying Corvair powered planes.

Initially we had discussed closing the registration on Feb. 14th, but I am inclined to close it before that. If you are going to go, you should know by now. We always have a number of guys who sign up on the last day, no matter what day we set. To those guys, let me say today is the day to sign up. I am now looking at closing the sign up as soon at the 7th, or as soon as we hit the projected number of builders. This is the 9th story I have written about the event, and it may be the last notice before we close the registration.

At some colleges I am looking to get the exposure for a lot of new builders. CC#25 was run that way, and the registration was open on it right up to the event. CC#28 in Texas is different because Kevin and Shelley are catering all the food, and thus need a reasonable lead time on knowing how many people will be there. At #28 the total number of builders is far less important to me than having a college that is a stand out in the depth and quality of the experience.  Decide now if you will be there and be a part of it, or if you are OK with just reading about it 5 weeks from now. -ww.


Click on this link to learn about the sign up:




Photo taken January 25th in our backyard in Florida: The illustrious Ken Pavlou is on the left, Grace in the middle and Peter Shean.  Ken and Peter are both 601XL builders with 95% complete airframes and first class 2700cc Corvairs for them. Ken runs all the on-line registration for all the Colleges out of his home in CT. Ken and Peter were in the middle of a mad weekend dash the length of the East Coast picking up aircraft parts (and having a very fun adventure doing so.) They spent less than 18 hours in Florida, just enough time to catch some sleep and absorb some 65F weather. Ken is famous for running road trips that are source of memories you can get a gut laugh out of 5 years later. The backstop to our 25yd. range is over Ken’s shoulder.


For a look at previous Colleges, click on this link:

Corvair College History….in photos

To get a look at CC#28 information, click on any of the 7 links below:

CC#28, last call for motor mounts, etc……

50 days until CC#28, and a look at CC#22

53 Days until Corvair College #28.

60 Days until Corvair College #28

Corvair College #28 registration is open

Corvair College #28, Feb 2014 in Texas.

Upcoming events, Airshows and Colleges #26-28.

Little Green Barn story , part #2


The night before last I wrote a story called “Little Green Barn Part#1.” I wrote it at 3am, and intended it to be the introduction for this second part. Part one was about something really good that had happened, and part #2 here was to be about the idea of encouraging other builders to think about their own “little Green Barn.”

In a nutshell, For a long time, I wanted to have a small cabin on a remote airstrip where I could go and be in a very peaceful setting. I spent a lot of hours thinking about and planning this. Along the way I realized that these hours helped refine my own personal definition of what was ‘good’ in flying.

Many years ago I found the airstrip I wanted to put it on. The fact it was over 1,000 miles from my house did not matter. This was not about convenience or low cost lodging on trips, it was about having a personal refuge, an oasis of sorts. Phil Bolger, the nautical engineer, taught me that it doesn’t matter that elegant sailboats are at sea way less than 1% of their lives; the important point is the boats are “at sea” in the minds and imaginations of their owners 1,000 times more often, and they provide nearly as much sanity by that method. Even though I knew that I would not make it there frequently, the setting was important.

If you are new to aviation and fly out of your county airport it may be hard to imagine airports without chain link fences, airports that are quiet and peaceful, but know that there are literally hundreds of them out there.  Aviation organizations like to project fears of ‘user fees’ and the FAA restricting access by small planes to national airports. This is actually the concern of wealthy elites who want to fly their $20 million dollar, six seat jet to an 8am landing slot at JFK or O’Hare. If you want to be a good stick and rudder pilot and fly to beautiful places, understand that your dreams are not under siege, and right now you have a lifetime supply of fantastic little airports awaiting you that are nothing like the restrictive elements of a gated and towered airport. It’s OK to learn to fly there, but use the skills you develop to go to places that Lindbergh would have loved.

Part#1 told about my Little Green Barn, and shared some personal things about people who had stayed there. Although I didn’t name anyone, I am sure that people who read my website might figure out who some of them were. The Barn had a guest log book and I shared some of the things written in it. I doubt the people in the story would even care if I used their full names, but when I got up in the morning I re-read the story in daylight and decided to take it off the site. About 200 people read it before I did this, and that’s OK, but I thought of the little place as sacred, and it seemed wrong to have it as a lead story on our website to have people who know little or nothing about my friends, cares and values wade though. Some day I will put the complete story in a book or something.

Here is the other part of the story: The Barn is no longer there. My friend’s airstrip was sold two years ago. The new owners have a put up a home there, and the things that happened in that setting can’t be the same. Only a handful of people made it to the little barn. This bothered some people to hear, but really, if you are 51 years old like me, you cannot go back and visit the setting of 95% of the best moments in your life. Places change, people pass and life rolls forward. All you get to keep are the treasured memories, a few photos, and the ability to convince yourself that there are other good times ahead, that you can make these things happen.

This motivated me to write. This summer I want to scout around for the location of the next “Little Green Barn.” This doesn’t just mean looking at maps, it means listening to stories of other aviators about places stumbled upon, dreams they have and people they know. Something of a treasure hunt where the trip is more important that the destination. Part of this was to say that some of my friends have this same idea in the back of their mind. They are not buying material for their barn yet, but they are thinking about where it will be, the kind of sanctuary they will make it, even things about how it will feel to arrive after a few months away and read the log book to find the appreciative words of fellow aviators, some they have known for years, others they will never meet.


Below are a few excerpts from “Little Green Barn part#1.” If you would like to see the whole thing, come to a college or find me at an airshow and I will share it, But I would rather find out that the words here motivated you to think about your own Barn, not one stuck in the past. Not everyone dreams of such places, but enough people have said they liked the idea enough that one day I will fly from Atlantic to Pacific, never speaking on a radio, only landing on grass, and staying in little green barns of friends. -ww


“I got up in the morning at first light and watched the sun rise sitting on the barn’s front steps. I realized that unless I willed otherwise, the whole day would pass without me speaking to, or even seeing another human. No computer, no cell phone, no TV, no land line, not even a radio. Watching the sun set after the first day, I realized that I could string together a number of these days without interruption, and this would be a rare opportunity not to be squandered. Theoretically someone could do something similar in their house in suburbia, but they would essentially be hiding, where I was out, alive, in the full of things.  I had been alone at sea in a small boat out of sight of land, with the opportunity to do this same thing, but that setting requires a high degree of vigilance which keeps the mind occupied. Sitting alone at the airstrip required no such attention, and thus with the mind off guard duty, the spirit was free to come out and look around, unfettered.”


 “One of the entries that included the words ‘ and guest’ after the pilots name had a long, beautiful paragraph written in a woman’s handwriting. It spoke about how quiet it was, and the color of the sky at sunset, and smell of the grass when you laid down in it to stare at the clouds blow by, and how unimportant time seemed on that day.  Although I don’t know her name and will likely never meet her, I have this very strong sense that if she walked past me on the street, I would somehow know it was her.”


“If you tell people outside of aviation that “a plane can take you a lot of places”, they most often think of it as some sort of alternative form of a car. What is far harder to explain to them is how a plane is the ideal vehicle to travel to a different state, not a different geographical one, but a different mental state.

I have tried telling people how you can go flying for the last 30 minutes of the day, stare at the sky in awe, and feel the distinct division between you and the plane fading. As the sun sinks, you can quietly come down the sliding board and roll out on the grass and come to a halt.  I can do this fluidly and gently roll into my front yard. This always gives me the very powerful feeling I have just been somewhere else.

The timer on the dash may record the exact number of minutes aloft, but it seems untrustworthy. The correct answer seems to be that I have been gone months not minutes, that I have been to a place thousands of miles away not thousands of feet away.  It is just not possible to explain to people that a plane is the only vehicle that can transport you like that.

I have tried to explain that it is much like looking up from the last page of an incredibly good book, and finding that you are sitting in a chair with a book in your hands, not in the world described by the author’s words. Good writing, really good writing, can give you the impression you have been to and seen things you have not. It can unstick you from your immediate setting and transport you to a different place, or even a different year.

Planes and flying are the only things I have found in the physical world that have the power to do the same thing with an hour of your life.  Aloft, alone, just you the plane and the sky, and you become detached from the ground. With no radios, there is no connection. Half of your brain is keeping track of the minutes and the navigation, and that half will run the whole experience if you let it. But the other side of your brain, the side that absorbs the entire experience, the part that drinks in everything that the senses provide, is also there. It is this second half of the brain that takes you to places beyond the physical sense.

If you can get to settings and planes without excess instrumentation and radios, you will relive the first half of your brain from being on full alert. It is exactly the same thing as I thought sitting alone on the steps of the barn:

 “Sitting alone at the airstrip required no such attention, and thus with the mind off guard duty, the spirit was free to come out and look around, unfettered.”

In a really simple plane, alone in the sky, when you trust your work and basic flying skills enough to let go of your analytical side, they you can think, see and feel with the other half of your brain in a way that isn’t possible on the ground. You can squint your eyes, and it doesn’t matter what year it is anymore, or where you thought you needed to be.

Don’t mistake this for being dreamy or not alert; to the contrary, it is the analytical part of you brain that gets absorbed in minutia and misses the situational awareness of the moment. Consider that most great fighter pilots report having no sense of time in dogfights, proof they flew the whole event on the second half of their brain. You can exercise the same effect in a peaceful setting also.

Writing, planes, simple flight and the second half of your mind can take you many places, locations that are just not accessible by other means.  They can take to both places you need to go, and places you should have been, and maybe even places that should have been.  If you have watched the great Waldo Pepper 50 times, go watch it once more and think about that last sentence.  “A Streetcar Named Desire was not a film about public transportation.*” and Waldo Pepper was not a movie about barnstormers.


* When confronted by people who dismissed a film by its surface subject, Critic Gene Shalit blurted out “A Streetcar Named Desire was not a film about public transportation”

CC#28, last call for motor mounts, etc……


Motor mounts are popular items to pick up at Colleges because they have very expensive shipping, which we can save builders if the pick up the mount in person. While I am chipping away at regular orders now, Vern has available time to come over and weld a few mounts before CC#28. However, we are coming down to the wire on time for this, as the college is about 40 days away. If you need a mount, read the information and order one off our site, we will bring it. If you have other questions, just ask.-ww.


Below, a photo of Vern and I outside my hangar.  100% of all the welded products we sell are done by the two of us. Ask us any question on welding you like, we only have 76 years of personal, first hand, welding experience between us.  If you got into experimental aviation just to buy stuff, then any salesman will do just fine for you. If you got into experimental aviation to learn, develop your own skills and craftsmanship and make things with your own hands, then who you work with really matters. You can’t become and old school homebuilder / motor head by buying things from salesmen. They have nothing to teach you. While I will be very glad to sell you a motor mount, I am very glad to share all the detailed information on how it was made, and the materials and processes. Yes, I sell things, but first and foremost, I am a homebuilder with a mission to share what we have learned.

From our website in 2011: “For the greater part of his years on earth, Vern has been a welder. In the world of experimental aircraft, when a company wants to  sound impressive, they always tout that their welders have “Built race cars.” I welded the frames of lots of NHRA legal dragsters before I was 21, and this experience taught me nothing about aerospace welding. Vern has welded countless race cars together, but that  has nothing to do with why we utilize his skills making Corvair parts. What counts is the little piece of paper on the orange board.”

“If you look closely, it shows that Vern has every aerospace material welding rating in every thickness recognized by his employer, the United States Naval Aviation Depot. In this facility inside NAS Jacksonville, Vern has welded every kind of material that goes into modern combat aircraft. This includes titanium, Hastelloy X and magnesium. While some people can weld this when it is new in a purged box, Vern can weld things like the inside of a jet’s burner can while looking through one bleed hole and feeding the rod through another.”


To learn more about signing up for Corvair College, click on this link:

53 Days until Corvair College #28.


To read about motor mounts and the other parts we make, follow this link to our products page. (motor mounts are near the bottom in the 4200 group):


The notes below in black are the 4200 group numbering system. In with these are the links in color which you can click on to read the full story about the parts:


Motor mounts (4200)

4201(A)- Zenith 601/650 mount, all models

Zenith 601/650 Motor mounts, P/N 4201(A)

4201(B)- Zenith 750/Cruiser mount

Zenith 750/Cruiser Mounts. P/N 4201(B)

Zenith 750 Mount Sale, only 5 avail.

4201(C)- Pietenpol mount, high thrust line

Pietenpol Mount on airframe

Pietenpol Products, Motor mounts, Gear and Instalation Components.

Pietenpol Motor Mounts, P/N 4201(C)

Three Pietenpol Motor Mounts

4201(D)- KR2/2S mount, conventional gear

4201(E)- KR2/2S mount, tricycle gear

4201(F)- Custom mounts

4202- Tray and spools

Risk Management reference page


Below are links to a number of stories I have written on the topic of risk management. They contain the names and stories of men I knew, errors people made, and an indication of the costs. Note that this isn’t second hand tales, or mystery email names, There were real people I knew, and in some cases loved.

Aviation magazines are full of stories about accidents, but two things are different here. Almost never, does a magazine writer have the task of speaking of a person he knew. This distance doesn’t assure objectivity, it just allows condemnation without consideration. Second, I am one of very few business owners that ever makes comments about accidents. If you want people to blindly buy things, everyone knows you don’t talk about dead people. I know this too, but my goal isn’t just to sell things, it is to share the things that others before me took the time to teach me.


Above, a 2006 photo of our friends Bob and Sarah Bean. I can say without the slightest hesitation they are the finest human beings I ever met in aviation. Most people cherish others attached to them by blood, experience or common thought. I shared none of these with Bob; I loved him solely because he was the human embodiment of “Love thy neighbor.”  It has been a number of years, but the loss of Bob and Sarah is still a spear in the heart that makes all other cuts seem small.


If you are new to flying please read this first:

Concerned about your potential?


 Also, please read and understand this: Comments on aircraft accidents



Below are the titles in color, and a brief segment of each story to indicate the contents. You can click on any color title and read the full original story:


Risk Management, Factor #1, Judgement. “Judgement is the vital element, and without it, the other factors, experience, education and all the rest, don’t add up to any protection.”


Risk Management, Experience vs Judgement. “I want to show people that when I am writing a simple sentence like “two personal friends of mine with more than 25,000 hours each” I am not kidding, and the point I am making isn’t some abstract Flying magazine platitude”


Risk Management – Human factors ” The evidence that fools present for the existence of luck is vague and anticdototal at best.  Hard, proven and factual evidence for the existence
of Physics, Gravity and Chemistry can be found at any crash site.”


Risk Management, Wrong airframe, Wrong experience level. “when a guy is new, he makes a critical decision, before he has much experience or good advice to base it on. This choice is which airframe to build.”


Risk Management, Judgement Error, money in the wrong place. “There are many people who are great people who don’t make good decisions around planes. There are also people who are first class A-holes who exercise good judgment.  Like it or not, the later live a lot longer.”


Effective Risk Management – 2,903 words “This was the first time I can clearly say I understood the cost of keeping your mouth shut. This was the first step to me becoming the kind of “Bastard” who publicly points out people doing dangerous things.”


“If only someone had told him……”  “they chose to ignore the warnings or discount them for reasons that frequently seem hard to remember after the damage is done. It is not the lack of information, but the willful choice to ignore it that is at the root of trouble.”


Expert Witnesses in civil Aviation trials. “The important point that I would like traditional homebuilders to understand and take away is simple. All three of these men wrote books that purport to be grave warnings about terrible flaws in aircraft designs in aviation. I cannot comment on how strongly any of these men felt about these topics, but I will tell you that each of these men aggressively pursued legal positions on these subjects so they could hire
themselves out as industry experts in some very expensive and damaging lawsuits, including the highest one ever paid out in aviation.”


Steel tube fuselages, “Safe” planes and 250mph accidents “Keep factor #1 in mind: Who is flying? I would rather land a fast wooden plane at night with a zip lock bag of 100LL in my lap, a lit Cuban cigar in my teeth and my feet chained to the rudder pedals than take a trip around the pattern on a sunny day in a Stearman with some of the pilots I have met. I am serious. Avoid these people like your life depends on it, because it does. Make it your goal in aviation not to be one of these pilots.”


Greatest Book on Flying Ever Written, (Is your life worth $16?) “GPS, radios, arbitrary boundaries and written tests have nothing to do with
flying. Don’t worry about the test from the FAA: be much more concerned about the one run by Physics, Chemistry and Gravity when you leave the ground as there are much greater consequences to failing theirs. Langewiesche is going to teach you to pass this far less forgiving exam.”



Above, My friend Bruce Smith, a 25,000 hour aviator for whom I had the greatest respect. He was the personification of  why we used to hold airline pilots in great esteem. He was a classic Pan Am overseas captain in the Golden Age of jet travel.  He was a man who lived life in a way that Teddy Roosevelt would have called strenuous. Bruce raised his children abroad and captained his  own sailboat across the Atlantic many times. Eating dinner with him involved immodest drinking and commensurate storytelling. He’d always  flown light aircraft. His Navion was the very first airplane I ever worked on as a newly minted A&P.His fun-loving side coexisted with his far more serious morality. His wife was on the Pan Am 103 flight that was  blown up by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland. I met Bruce after this when he was living in modest circumstances. He was one of  a very small minority of the victims’ families who refused to accept any compensation offered which did not include a Libyan  acknowledgement of their involvement. He traveled to Africa and offered his services to anyone willing to do damage to the Libyan regime.  He was principle above all else. In recent years, the Libyans admitted their role and denounced terrorism in order to get their  assets unfrozen in the U.S. This never would have happened if Bruce and the handful of others had capitulated on their principles.Over the years that I knew him, Bruce spoke little on these subjects. He was far more concerned with getting the most out of the day  at hand. But this was all done while living his life according to his code of what was right. The years I knew him were a sterling  example of how a principled and resilient man lives. He was truly a pilot in command of his own life.He died in the crash of a certified Swift airplane. He was ferrying a plane only 10 miles. The plane had been sitting outside more than a year. It was not in good condition. The engine failed shortly after take off.

The New York Times obituary for Bruce Smith is  worthwhile reading at


Above our friend Ken Terry, A man of huge influence on Grace’s flying. A pilot of tremendous skill, he had flown more than 40,000 hours. As much as his ability it the cockpit was impressive, it was his human character I respected. He was a hard and principled man who had a difficult time sharing space and conversation with people who chose not to care about, nor get involved in the troubles of their fellow man. He could be gregarious and his friendship came both with great trust and the expectation that you would live up to your side.  For people who need others to be “nice”, he was intimidating. If you needed a man with principles who was always willing to fight for them, literally if required, Ken was a person you would have treasured.


Risk Management – Human factors


At the bottom of this story is a commentary I wrote on human factors several years ago. It was prompted by an internet discussion where several builders were proposing complex arrangements for engine controls and questioning the value of the Nason switch we recommend for engines with electric fuel pumps.

The recommendations we make are in accordance with the things I know about human factors in general aviation. My degree from Embry-Riddle is in Professional Aeronautics, which is basically accident investigation. The classes were a broad variety of subjects in aerodynamics, performance, meteorology, statistics, etc., but we spent a lot of time studying human factors. Most people have heard the saying “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” If you had seen all the accident reports and investigations we studied, you would understand my variation “Planes don’t crash, people crash planes.”

Any discussion of risk in GA aircraft that excludes human factors, or even how humans react to an equipment failure is not worth having. Yet, most of the conversations about risk management in experimental aircraft all get focused on reliability of the mechanical systems, as if the people in the plane were never a factor in any homebuilt accident. Know this: Most accidents in homebuilt aircraft are caused by people willfully doing things that any objective observer, even a novice one, could pre-identify as poor decision making.

Lets say you are new to home building, or maybe even aviation in general. You are concerned about safety. One of the most unsettling things to you is reading about accidents, or equipment failures that happened to pilots with 20,000 hours or builders with PhD’s in engineering. If experienced people like that have had problems, what possible hope does a green new guy without experience or specific education have?

Actually, the new guy can be at far lower risk. I have said plenty of times that managing risk is about exercising judgment, period. Experience and training are only a defense if they are combined with exercising good judgment. without the latter,  Experience and training only allows the person without judgment to push the envelope further or flirt with how much they can get away with.

The is an age old saying that a new pilot starts off with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience, and his has to fill the experience bag before he drains the luck bag. Take this story as 100% bullshit entertainment for non-aviators. In reality, every pilot must be trained in judgment (“Decision making”), and then exercise it while flying as PIC within the limits of his skills, as the day, plane and situation present themselves.

Stay away from any person in aviation who actually believes in ‘luck.’ They have abdicated from the responsibility for taking care of their lives.  Understand, even though they ‘sent in their resignation letter’, Physics, Gravity and Chemistry don’t accept these resignations, and they still hold him fully responsible. The evidence that fools present for the existence of luck is vague and anticdototal at best.  Hard, proven and factual evidence for the existence of Physics, Gravity and Chemistry can be found at any crash site. The new statistics that used to be people didn’t run out of luck. Most of them didn’t run out of experience or training either. Most of them just decided that it ‘would be alright’ if they tried something that was poor judgment.

The most important thing for a new guy to understand is that it is called “Human Factors”, and not called “random chance.” If accidents happened to people at random like the way people win lottery tickets, the only thing for accident investigators to do would be to divide the total hours flown by the number of accidents, and then brief every single pilot that they would face the same rate. The very premise of accident investigation is that they are inherently preventable. They each have their own probable cause, and humans, not luck, almost always played a role. Understand that role, don’t repeat it yourself, fly within your personal envelope, and you are practicing effective risk management. -ww.


Our 601XL on final to arrive at Oshkosh 2004.   The airport, city and Lake Winnebago can be seen in the distance in the photo above. The layout of the controls, including the starter button right above the throttle and the A/B ignition switch above the VSI reflect things I know about Human Factors.  We set up the 601XL with 2 fuel pumps and 2 ignitions. If the engine had any kind of a hiccup, the procedure is to throw the A/B switch, go full rich and apply carb heat, period. If it is going to get better, that will take care of it.  Pilots who thought that lots more switches would allow them to analyze the instruments in a hiccup, decide if it was fuel pressure or ignition related, then select a different switch combination are kidding themselves.  The first thing that disappears in an emergency for a 200 hour pilot is his analytical skills. He is far better off with simple procedure and practice.


Above are 13 Nason switches. These are Part No. SM-2C-5F. In our arrangement, this is the switch that automatically turns off the electric fuel pump when the plane is on the primary ignition but it has no oil pressure. In an accident, the pilot does not have to turn the master off, or even be conscious, this part does the job. Yet, I have read many internet Chuck Yeagers say that if they were about to have a forced landing they would always remember to turn the pump/master off. In 25 years of flying I have been the first person at the scene of four crashes, and the master was on in all four. Human factors training tells you this is an important system.


    Think human factors applies to just new green pilots? It doesn’t. I have worked on both Mig-15’s and 17’s. Above is the cockpit of a 15. It is not an easy nor forgiving plane to fly, and their pilots had to have significant training just to survive the plane, far less combat. Look at the panel and see the vertical white stripe; When this plane enters a spin, the procedure is to have the pilot jam the stick forward and align it with the offset white stripe. Even professional pilots benefit from the simplification of procedures. People who like to complicate things rarely are willing to acknowledge any possibility that such a design and their own lack of training under pressure is the actual weak link in the system.

    (* note that soviet attitude gyro colors are reversed from western ones, a very serious potential human factor issue.)


    Below, the 2008 comments:

    Touching on human factors in aircraft; It is a big topic in aviation, a sub  discipline in which you can get a Ph.D.. In our application it boils down to  this: The least reliable part in most well built planes is the pilot. The funny  thing about saying this is people who don’t fly are offended or disillusioned to  hear this, people who do fly for fun all have a personal memory or two that  keeps them from arguing the point, and people who work in aviation know that  this is absolutely true.

    Before anyone is too offended, let me say that I include myself in the  category of least reliable parts. I have been around enough great pilots to know I am not one. Yes, I  can fly stick and rudder planes just fine, and can do so without working  instruments etc. But three times in the last 12 years I have been in a  plane that was not functioning correctly. At this point, most people, myself  included, will fall back on their most basic training and procedures. The saying is that “Your skills will not rise to meet the challenge, they will sink to the level of your training and practice.”

    If the training  was good and the procedures are simple, good. If you have zero experience with  being PIC, it is easy to daydream that under pressure you will have all the analysis skills of  a B-36 flight engineer, but you won’t, and if you set your plane up in a way  that requires multistep procedures and cross checking instruments and decision  paths, you will probably even forget to fly the plane.

    I know pilots, like Dan Weseman,  Gus Warren,  Anthony Hanson and our friend ‘Frosty’ who are immune to stress in the  air. Most of us are in a different category. Safety lies in honesty, and honesty requires each of us  be truthful when evaluating our skills and laying out or planes for the  pilots we can train to be rather than the ones people daydream they  are.

    Having been in a stressful situation, it is very hard, once safely  back on terra firma, to continue to believe that you are in the ‘ice water circulatory system club’, if you have just seen your skills shrink under real pressure. I  am OK with this revelation, and I use it to my advantage.*(see  below)

    Because the Corvair started out life as a car engine, a lot of people  with a good background in cars feel like they know a lot about how a plane with  a Corvair engine should be arranged. Some things do translate, but if I had to  name the single facet of aviation that car people fail to understand, it is how  little of their troubleshooting and analysis skills will function when the fan  stops. For this reason, the layout  should be simple, and the emergency procedures well practiced.


    *Risk Hierarchy of piloting:


    Most Safe: Daydreamer, never finishes, never flies, dies at  keyboard choking on potato chip. Not an aviation statistic.

    Moderate Risk: OK training, self illusions never challenged

    High Risk: OK training, finds way out of a few jams, thinks he is in ice  water club, keeps taking more risks.  Often incorrectly eulogized as a member of ice water  club.

    Acceptable Risk: Good training, realistic self evaluation, practices  emergency procedures, OK with getting autograph of guy in ice water club.

    Very Low Risk: Card carrying member of ice water club.



    My Favorite Dog photo, – January 2009


    I drank too much coffee and it is now 3:35 am, so I am just combing through photos to finish a couple of technical posts on Instrumentation and Human factors. I came across this photo from Super bowl Sunday 2009. It is one of my favorites:


    Above ScoobE’s first plane flight. He, Grace and I are aloft just before sunset in Grace’s 1946 Taylorcraft. We had only had him a short while then, and had not learned how to keep up with how fast his hair grows. It looks like a paw, but that is actually an ear draped over Grace’s wrist. His front paws are on her elbow. Out the window you can see a swath of Northern Florida. This was the only flight ScoobE did without hearing protection. Since then he has his own set of Mutt-Muffs. I was concerned that he might panic in the flight, but as it turned out he fell asleep in about 5 minutes and only woke up on final.-ww.

    Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels -book


    Going back for a moment to books, I want to bring this one up also. It was highly influential in changing my perspective and definition of adventure. I read it when I was 17 years old in the fall of 1980.

    Most books you cannot remember how you heard about them, certainly not 34 years later, but this one I can. On a weeknight, I was driving my 1965 Buick Skylark around my home town in northern NJ. It was late, and no one was out at any of the usual haunts. The car only had an AM radio, the kind that said B-U-I-C-K on the five push button selectors (If you are less than 50 years old I will explain that at a college) I was listening to WABC, a New York City AM Clear Channel. around midnight they went over to an interview show. Their guest was an English motorcyclist who had spent 4 years riding a 500 Triumph around the world solo. He was a captivating conversationalist. I drove up to Washington Rock and listened to the whole interview, which ran until 3am.



    When you are 17, and you get a license, high school is coming to an end, and your horizons are expanding, you start looking for some path to follow to your next place in life. For most kids in my town, the single word ‘college’ sufficed as planning enough, and they contentedly went on their way.  Although I later spent many years in college, at the time I  encountered this book college looked more like a yoke and harness than an adventure.

    Ted Simon’s interview and book opened my eyes to just how full of adventure the world could be. In his perspective, nothing was predefined, you were only limited by what you were willing to try. It particularly caught my attention that Simon had hardly ridden a bike before, and he openly expressed self doubt about every aspect of the trip. He explained that if you knew you could make it before you left, than it wasn’t an adventure at all.

    His book taught all kinds of lessons about patience, about the difference between being a tourist and a traveler, about how few people who have been abroad can say they have dined in the home of a native.

    It isn’t coincidental to me that this book, Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance, and Shop craft all have an element of motorcycles in them. Before I came to aviation, motorcycles were my machines of adventure. This is a common thread going back to Lindbergh and Curtiss.  Jupiter’s travels was my introduction to external travel. The following year I read Zen, and it was a guide to traveling in your own thoughts and perspectives. Shop Craft is a very interesting book that bridges the two together, speaking of how the physical work affects the cognitive perspective of the world.

    Before Christmas I spent an hour looking at a few photos of me as a 16-19 year old that I found in the bottom of a box of papers.  The connection between myself and the person in the photos seemed long and distant.  I looked closely, but I couldn’t really say what thoughts the person in the photo possessed.  I like to ask him to remind me, to establish more of a connection that the fact that 10,000 days later I find myself inhabiting his body. I would like to remember what he cared bout, was planning, was doubtful of, and hoped for, but I can’t. Almost all of it is gone. Except for one small sliver of an evening, where he listened to a guy from England explain that the world was completely accessible to anyone who would just wander out there and live in it. Those hours I remember clear as a bell. -ww