Myths about dual ignition and reliability

Builders,

Last year, I had a pilot/owner of a Pietenpol powered by a Continental A-65 engine make the comment to me that he would not fly a Corvair because “It didn’t have true dual ignition” and that he selected a Continental because he had to “Have a really reliable engine”.  At a very surface hangar flying level, these comments seem logical, but lets take a look at them from a real practical level of an experienced aircraft builder, and see that the man who made these comments was living in a fool’s paradise provided by mythology that doesn’t hold up to practical inspection.

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First let me say that an A-65 Piet can be a fine combination, it obviously works, and people have used the combination for many great hours aloft. If you own/fly/are building one of these, instead of rejecting my comments out of hand, read this carefully so that you can make good choices that will allow your particular plane to work well, because contrary to mythology, simply choosing any A-65 for your plane is not a guarantee of complete safety and happiness.

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I was doing an electronic scale weight and balance on the plane. The owner was trying to say something nice about my work with Corvairs, but it kept coming out in sentences like “I really respect what you do, but I need a reliable engine.”  At times like that my stock response is “They are not for everyone” and “They are as reliable was the builder is willing to make them, just like any other engine.” He politely smiled, in the way people do when they are unwilling to think for 60 seconds about what they just heard.

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The particular plane was about 660 pounds, but had a typical aft CG problem. The limit on pilot weight to stay inside the aft limit at 20″ was down near 145 pounds. The owner was 40- 50 pounds over this, but his counter was that he never flew it slower than 65mph, he never stalled it, and since the engine was an A-65 it was totally reliable, so he did not need to be concerned about power off CG issues. To him, the critical issue that made his engine a magically reliable device was the fact it had “the right kind of dual ignition with two spark plugs.”

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When discussing what he could do about his CG issue my suggestion was that he could loose 40 pounds and put a metal prop on the plane. I said this because I knew that there was zero chance he was going to shift the wing on the cabanes. This guy didn’t build the plane, and didn’t strike me even being interested in building anything.  He didn’t touch the 40 pound idea, but he rejected the metal prop idea right away. The plane had a very nice looking wood prop on it made by a small production experimental prop maker. Our pilot said the way the prop looked made the whole plane for him, and he wasn’t going to use any other prop.  I pointed out that I thought it had too much pitch, diameter and area for 65 HP, I checked the full static rpm and it was only 2060 rpm. He jumped on this, saying “Everyone knows slower props are more efficient” and “Tony Bingeles’s book say to ‘keep your prop as long as possible for as long as possible’.” It was all I could do to point out his engine only made about 50HP at that rpm, that it would make more thrust, not less, if the rpm came up by 200, and ‘Uncle Tony’ and his ‘slogan’ were not about to cause a rewrite of Fred Weick’s classic work Aircraft Propeller Design.

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I spent another intellectually painful 1/2 hour with this guy. I can type that line without fear of hurting his feelings because he told me that he never reads stuff on our website because the stories are too long for him. He went on to tell me that he and his 275 pound friend like flying the plane (based in Georgia), but it did have a very poor rate of climb on hot days. I tried explaining that it was mostly the prop but also things like his carb heat cable didn’t allow the flapper in the box to go all the way to cold. It was wasted words, because he kept coming back to how good the prop looked and that since his engine was an A-65, with two plugs, he never again had to think about reliability. I kept thinking about the line from Cool Hand Luke, “Some men, you just can’t reach.”

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OK, here is what he didn’t get: If he is barely climbing out on a hot day at gross with the low rpm caused by the big prop, if he fails one mag, the plane will immediately have a forced landing. Sane people operating planes with dual mags know the exact weight and conditions that the plane has a positive rate of climb on one mag. Small engine, wrong prop, heavy weight, and hot day all add up to this guy hitting a tree off the end of the runway. You should never fly a plane with two mags at a condition that it will not climb on one. If you violate this, you are completely negating the advantage of dual mags and plugs. Airplane engines do not make full power on one mag, that is why they have ‘mag drop’ during the run up. Smart guys also understand that if you fly in a setting where it will not climb on one mag, then having two of them is statistically your enemy, not your friend.  If you understand that, you will know why Lindbergh chose an overloaded single engine plane and not an overloaded tri-motor for his flight.

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Contrary to what this guy thought, the Corvair does have a dual ignition system. If you fail one side of our Corvair ignition, it still makes 100% power on the other. It does not have any ‘mag drop’ in the run up. He also missed that because they have 6 cylinders, Corvairs have been long proven to fly on 5, making it acceptable to have single plugs. Because we have a 40,000 volt ignition with a .035 plug gap, fowling a plug is very rare compared to a 10,000 volt mag with a .016 plug gap. In 2005 Gus Warren was our demo pilot. On the ground we tested the power output of the Corvair in our 601 as it ran on 5 cylinders. We then simulated this in flight to determine the max weight and OAT conditions we could have a positive rate of climb at. Testing showed that our powerful engine, turning a 2,700 rpm prop still had a 100 fpm climb rate on a 100 degree day on five cylinders …..when the plane was 200 pounds above the gross weight. It was safe for passengers in a way that the Pietenpol owner’s plane was not. The critical difference was that I knew this from a test, and the A-65 Piet owner didn’t even understand the concept.

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Some thoughts on engine reliability: I was converting a Corvair builder’s oil case to a High Volume oil pump arrangement in the shop last week. On close inspection, I thought I saw a hairline crack radiating out of the fixed shaft bore. I looked at it with a 10X magnifier, couldn’t see anything conclusive, but there was a slight surface imperfection none the less. I had about two hours of work in it at that point between cleaning and machining. Without much thought, I tossed it in the trash can, went to the shelf (where I have about 50 more cores) and got another and started over.

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When it was done, I wrote the builder an email pointing out that he would not be getting the same one back, but there was no core charge. It wasn’t a big deal because these housings are worth about $10.  Conversely, if a guy had been working on the accessory case of an A-65 which he wants to sell without logs for a profit, a case which is worth about $500, if he thought he saw a crack, exactly how hard do you think he is going to look for it? Think he is going to throw the case in the trash just because he suspects something is wrong with it? It is a nice thought that people have morals like that, but don’t bet your life on it. If you want an A-65 and one is being sold as “overhauled” but it doesn’t have logs or it is called “experimental,” it will not have the same track record as a brand new Continental. It is a myth that all engines that once were made by Continental 60 years ago still have the same reliability no matter what has happened to them since.

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I have flown a lot of hours behind small Continentals 65, 75, 85 and 100HP. They can be very reliable, but just like a Corvair, it is the quality of the parts inside and the care they are assembled with that count. Suggesting that all A-65’s are reliable just because they are Continentals is just as dumb as suggesting that all Corvairs are less reliable because they were car engines to start. sixty years after the last A-65 was made, and 40 years after the last Corvair was made, each engine now has to be evaluated on its own merits. Do you trust a Corvair that you have learned inside and out that is made of almost all new parts or do you trust an engine that was assembled to make a profit and is being sold as “experimental only”? Your decision says a lot about your perspective. Self-reliant people like to know, but many people would like to be absolved of responsibility and just say “I don’t have to be concerned, I was told it was good.”

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A guy on the Pietenpol list who used to be a Corvair builder 10 years ago, stated he switched to a Continental because he wanted something easier and cheaper and reliable. Aircraft engines are my profession, and I am going to categorically state that those are mutually exclusive concepts in propulsion. Example: Buy a legitimate overhauled Continental with logs; Easy and Reliable but not cheap.  Build a reliable Continental: Reliable but not Easy nor Cheap. Buy a $6000 Continental because it was said to be “Zero timed” even though it doesn’t have real logs; Easy, not cheap, not reliable- a ‘Unicorn motor’. People eternally looking for the easy way to build a plane rarely get them done. The people who finish are the ones who follow a proven plan, even if it seems longer than something touted as a short cut. The mentality of looking for the easy short cut is the real culprit. What gets the plane done is the willful choice to make steady progress on a proven path.

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There is no free lunch in aircraft. Building a reliable small continental is just as hard to build as a Corvair, and arguable more expensive. Want a look at what is involved in a good Continental? Look at this link to Harry Fenton’s work: http://www.bowersflybaby.com/tech/fenton.htm. Read that and tell me it is significant easier than a Corvair. If you have not seen it, please read: Great lies from discussion groups…….part #1, including the comments section that has actual pricing on building a certified engine. Pay particular attention to my points about the insanity of expecting the reliability of a factory new Continental to be found in the lowest priced collection of parts that runs. -ww

Myths about propeller efficency

Builders,

On the Pietenpol discussion group, a well meaning guy reposted a story from the 1996 Pietenpol newsletter. The subject was on prop efficiency. It included the comment:

The Corvair engine is another compromise. They have a loss of efficiency due to the small diameter propeller and accelerate poorly (due to the tall gear effect) but produces good power. ” 

The guy who posted this probably didn’t know it, but I know that the comment is without merit, and no one who actually conducted a test, or understood propellers would make such a comment. Yet, here we are, 18 years later, in the information age, following the same myths that have been floating around for decades.

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The above comment has no educational value. Take it line by line: All engines, not just a Corvair are a compromise, period. Testing shows that a 100HP engine climbing at 60 mph with a 66″ prop may be close to 95% as efficient as one with a 72″ prop; Ask any tester you like, there is no such thing as an engine that produces good power but accelerates poorly. This only happens when it has a bad prop on it.

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OK, the whole point of having a dialog, reading thoughts or communicating about the building of planes is to learn something and use this knowledge to improve the plane you are building. The comment above serves none of these functions. It is only valuable to people who which to reinforce false realities they believe in. You can divide almost every story you read that allegedly shares information on airplane building into to camps: Valid testing that supports learning, and opinion or out of context stories that support myths. Only one of these will make your plane better.

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This division cleaves all discussion, any story can be put in one pile or the other.  What always gets me is this simple fact: Less than 20% of homebuilts are completed. I have been around Pietenpols a long time, and I would guess that their completion rate is far below 10%. What no industry magazine or salesman is going to tell you is that the completion rate, as a whole for our branch of aviation is actually dropping. Yes more planes get completed, but the sell many more these days. Given this fact, you would think that builders would all recognize that to personally beat the poor average, they have to make some smart choices, and a critical one is learn from valid tests, and don’t waste time listening to the same myths and old wives tales that lead 80% of previous builders to failure. But, for some reason, the myth mill still works every day, and people participate in it, directly sabotaging their own chances of learning and success

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It is somewhat frustrating to conduct a mountain of public tests, but they are cited less often than dubious sources from decades-old news letters. For people who wish to see real side by side thrust tests and dyno runs, get a look at this link to our testing page: Testing and Data Collection reference page. For Pietenpol builders who want to see that a 72″ prop doesn’t hold a candle to a 66″ one bolted to a powerful engine, look at: Pietenpol Power: 100 hp Corvair vs 65 hp Lycoming. If you would like to read about how most of the things said about “prop efficiency” are myths, get a look at this:The case of the Murphy Rebel, “eyeball vs. testing” I would hope that the next time the myth machine goes to work, someone will share a link to these pages, or even this story.

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Here is a simple example of testing and common sense from the last story link:

“Props with diameters of 74″ are only efficient on engines like the
Continental 65 with a low red line of 2300 rpm. Low rpm isn’t efficient in itself. A 65 Continental becomes a 75 continental with respect to power output by just a jet change and an RPM increase to 2600.  If turning the prop 300 rpm faster and using one with less diameter actually made less low speed thrust, than no one would have ever converted a 65 to a 75.”

Some pretty basic logic. I only ask people to believe what I can show them with tests and common sense like the point above. To counter this, the myth makers only have old newsletters and stories like “I heard a guy tried that once but it didn’t work.” Occasionally there will be input from a guy who touts a long dusty engineering degree as some credential as credibility for his favorite myth. If that is more valid than a specific test done in public, then I have a Unicorn to sell you.

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If you would like a simple example to destroy the myth that low speed aircraft have to have large slow turning props to have performance, let us take a look at some work from a man who only valued one thing in planes: Performance. This man was the greatest air racer who ever lived, and almost all of his work was done on planes that could be well powered by a Corvair. The Mans name was Steve Wittman.

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Let’s look at the plane below and the prop on it. It is Wittman’s “Big X”. It is a 4 seater powered by a 150HP Franklin. It was noted for having a very wide speed envelope.  Did Wittman use a big slow turning prop said to be efficient? No, he used a high rpm, smaller scimitar prop. This plane climbed at 70 mph, it had to have good low speed thrust, and it did. How long have people known that the only thing slow props have going for them is sound suppression? Well the photo here is from 1947.

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Below, the Buttercup. The photo is from the EAA museum where the plane was retired to after flying for 60 years. It is reported to have 3,000 hours on it. The prop is not the correct one, it is just for display. This plane will fly and climb at speeds well below the stall speed of a Pietenpol. it will also do 145 mph on the top end. How does it cover such a wide envelope with a C-85? Simple, it has a smaller diameter prop that it spins faster. For people who claim that high rpm props don’t make thrust, please explain what was making the thrust that drove the plane forward at 145 mph when the engine was turning 3,400 rpm. Again the ideas are not new, the buttercup was built in 1937.

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How about a slightly faster example? Below is a youtube link to Steve flying his Tailwind N-37SW, powered by a direct drive inverted Olds 215 V-8, bored and stroked to 262 cid. It has a 62″ diameter prop on it. It was cut down from a Cessna 150 aluminum prop. It climbed very strong and topped out at 3,600 rpm and 195 mph with out wheel pants. How do I know this? Because I flew in the airplane with him for a very vigorous flight in 1993. Notice that people who present myths always have a mysterious “guy who tried it”. I am essentially doing the same thing here, with the exception that I was there, my “guy” actually existed and was one of the greatest builders and pilots of all time, and, conversely, it worked for him. Other than those details, my story is just the same as any other internet myth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsH-j4pF4fE

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Something I wrote about real aviators at the core of flight:

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“If you look at their lives close enough, all of the greats offer something to guide us in pursuit of the timeless truth of flying. Pietenpol teaches that we are more likely to find it in the simplest of planes; Lindbergh knew that you started your search inside yourself; Gann said that we will not see the truth directly, but you can watch it at work in the actions of airmen; and Wittman showed that if you flew fast enough, for long enough, you just might catch it. These men, and many others, spent the better part of their lives looking for this very illusive ghost. Some of them paid a high price, but you get the impression they all thought it was worth it.

While it is possible that someone who rents a 172 or even a person who reads Fate is the Hunter has some access, I honestly think that the homebuilder who dreams, plans, builds and eventually flys his own plane is infinitely more likely to experience the timeless truth of man’s quest for flight. All of the aviators who had some insight to guide you found it while they were in action, in the arena. If you inherently feel that you want to build a plane, you feel just like Pietenpol did. When you’re building it, you will find out how determined you are and what kind of perseverance you have. Lindbergh evaluated these qualities in himself every day. As you finish and prepare to fly, you will find others of enormous qualities and flaws, and you will learn to sort them and their counsel, as Gann always did. And when you fly your plane, and come to trust it because it is your creation, and you cut no corners, you will never want to stop, the way Wittman never did.” -ww-(2008)

ERAU – models of integrity #4

Builders,

Bear with me for one more story; This one is taken from our old website, specifically the coverage of Sun n Fun 2010, When we were in the Zenith booth with our 701 Test bed aircraft. Into the booth walked Embry-Riddle Engineering Professor Joe Martin. The story below does a lot to explain my perspective on the men who shaped my understanding of aviation.

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I never actually had a single class with Joe Martin. But he was the best kind of professor, the guy with a lot of practical knowledge, who would spend a hour (or two) teaching you stuff in his office on a Friday, long after office hours were over, even if you were not one of his students. If you wanted to learn, he was there to teach.

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Years later, I got to know him much better, as he was retired (from teaching), and our hangar was only 100 feet from his hangar and shop. With the formality of the University in the past and two hangars full of practical examples, the setting was very good, and I look back on the period of 1996-1999, glad that I had it just as it was, but a little sad that I can now only visit in my memory.

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In a story about House calls I wrote the following comments. Although I didn’t say so at the time, I was thinking of Joe Martin when I wrote it:

“There are plenty of things we do just because I am a home builder and I like builders. People who have yet to meet me often incorrectly assume that things like house calls are just for friends. In reality, the recipient has little to do with my motivation. I know a lot about home builts, and a great part of this was taught to me by experts, mostly gone now. Those men didn’t charge me for their time. My willingness to pay attention and take their message seriously was enough. I also suspect that they were paying back a previous generation of aviators also. I have many flaws as a person, but being an ingrate isn’t one of them.”

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From 2010: “I often reference my years at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A small number of people dislike this, because they feel I am trying to tell people how smart I am. I will gladly tell anyone that I’m  not really clever, and when viewed in the larger group of educated aviation professionals, I hold only working class guy status.

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Want to know what a really brilliant aeronautical engineer with a lifetime of experience looks like?  Above is Joe Martin, with his lovely wife Mary. Joe was, and is, my mentor in structural analysis of aircraft. His years as a professor at Embry-Riddle capped a career that started with  bucking rivets on the F-104 production line. He put himself through night school and went on to a distinguished engineering career, mostly with Convair and General Dynamics. Want to know  the mathematical models used to analyze the F-106 wing? Anything you want to know about F-111s? Wind tunnels? Close coupled canards? Semi tension fields? Indeterminate structures?  Where Fortan 77 is still a viable tool? When you’re all done talking, he will take you out to the shop and show you how rivets are set to Lockheed standards.

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Joe’s background extends to very practical matters on light aircraft. He did the structural analysis on the Stewart-51 Mustang, and has designed a number of other light aircraft. In 1997, I was making  new landing gear for our Pietenpol. The legs were 4″ taller and had steel springs in place of the bungees. Joe’s hangar was next to ours, and I wanted to have him check the tear out strength  on the connection bolts for me. I came back from dinner and found a very neat hand calculation of the forces done by Joe on a little piece of paper. It was sitting on my cowl held  down by an empty Pabst Blue Ribbon can, and on the bottom it had the date, a line that said “it checks ok,” and the initials “JM.” A visitor to the hangar who also had been at dinner  was alarmed, and said they would never trust such a person, and that the empty can was “a bad image.” I told them that I felt sorry for anyone who went through life more concerned about  the right image instead of the right answer.

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Many years ago, I used to sit in on a Tai Chi class. Our instructor was African American, who had the improbable path of growing up impoverished in the U.S., joining the Navy, visiting  Okinawa, and later returning to spend 15 years adopted into a monastery on the island, where he began intense martial arts study. When entering the room, he demonstrated how we were to bow slightly and say “Sir.” One night a visiting  middle aged woman, with a certain dress and manner that implied she was worldly, open minded and enlightened, walked in and gave a full five minute dissertation to the instructor on  how she didn’t accept the “Paradigm of a male centric world” and that she was in no way obligated to bow to him, and that years of sisterhood allowed her to unlearn “self nullifying behavior,”  shaving her legs and saying thank you to men who opened the door for her. When she was all done, he simply said that it was a sign of respect for his instructor and his adopted family in Okinawa, and it had  nothing to do with him. Her entire response was to say “Ohh…”

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When I speak about my alma mater, I am not congratulating myself for attendance, I am really just making a note of thanks  to the professors like Joe Martin who made a very large difference in my life.

ERAU – models of integrity #3

Builders:

Because the two previous stories said something unflattering about Embry-Riddles’s administration, let me share another, with the other side of the coin. My time at the University bridged two very different presidents. The latter was a bean counter with an MBA named Sliwa.  The Board of Directors got him because they bought some line that the school had too many former Military men, and they needed ‘a corporate business’ man. Sliwa was a disaster, and the board learned that the Military is a more reliable developer of leadership and integrity than 1990’s corporate offices.

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When I arrived in 1989, the University was in an era of outstanding leadership, defined by the president, Lieutenant General Kenneth L. Tallman, USAF.  If the leader is dynamic enough, the institution can operate with his ideals, all the way down to the day to day operations. This was the case with president Tallman.  He had set a policy that the school’s sole reason for existence was to train America’s next wave of aviators; it was not there as anyone’s place of employment, it was not there to serve the alumni, it was not there to be some monument. All that mattered was the caliber of student it was going to generate with each graduating class.  He distilled this policy into a 100 word statement, had it framed, and required it to be prominently displayed in all the departments offices. There would be no ivory tower building on his watch. It was a pretty enlightened attitude for a guy who was West Point graduate, a three star General, and a serious Fighter jock.

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Gen, Tallman, when he was Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy. His experience included  graduating from West Point, being USN carrier qualified, graduating from Marine Corps Senior Staff School at Quantico. Note that he had served with every branch of the US Armed Forces.

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Let me share a singe story to illustrate the man’s approach: In 1989, the School lost a plane on a solo night flight, the crash found the next day. Although the school flew up to 250,000 hours a year, this was the first fatality in a long time. The school had a new public relations guy who faced this. The PR guy gave an interview to the News Journal where he took the initiave to  cleverly insert the detail that the student pilot lived alone, and the school had not found any friends on campus for background information. In print the next day, it was hardly three sentances, be it read as if the word loner was used. It set a tone that maybe it wasn’t the schools fault at all. Very clever and slick.

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A friend of mine worked in the adjoining office to the PR guy. When President Tallman read the morning paper, he was enraged. My friend said he physically stormed into the PR office, fists clenched, shaking with anger. He backed the PR guy to the wall and uttered just three words “You’re done here.”  President Tallman didn’t consult human resources nor the legal department to asses options, he just shit canned the PR guy. Tallman understood what command and leadership was about; The student pilot had been in his command, and now he was dead, and he would accept responsibility for this. It did not matter what the eventual outcome of the investigation would be, it would never change the fact that this student was gone, and there was no way of bringing him back. Tallman would not tolerate any disrespect or attempt to evade this. It is one of the strongest examples I can think of that demonstrates that the ethics and leadership requirements of flight are very different than what is considered acceptable in the corporate world.

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On our Carburetor Reference page, there is a story that relates to this; I wrote it last year, and I am sure that many people thought it was heavy handed at the time. Stop to now consider men that I was educated by, Men like Dick Ulm, Chandler Titus and Kenneth Tallman, and really ask yourself if someone going through a 40 Rotax course has really learned enough about decision making to do an annual on an aircraft that other humans will fly in. The answer is “no”. The people who would even propose this as acceptable maintenance have ‘corporate money values’, and they are in search of cheap and profitable. Historically, that doesn’t lead to good results in flight.

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“If someone chooses to buy a Rotax with their two German Bing motorcycle carbs, they are only fueling the trade deficit, and doing nothing to support American manufacturing and aircraft maintenance systems. And no, a person who took a 40 hour Rotax ‘mechanics’ class is not a trained aviation professional, they are just an extension of a foreign companies sales staff. For a reality check, my A&P training at Embry Riddle had the strict FAA requirement of 2,800 classroom hours.
If I had told the maintenance department chairman, Dick Ulm USMC ret. that I was ready to evaluate airworthyness on aircraft at the end of my first 40 hour week in the program, he would have laughed his ass off, and then punched my lights out. If I then complained to the University president, Kenneth Tallman, Maj. Gen. USAF, ret., I am pretty sure it would have had the same result. If anyone asks in 5 years why S-LSA”Light Sport category” failed live up to any of its potential to do positive lasting good for aviation, at least part of the blame will be on the fact the ASTM ‘certification’ standards on these planes are a bad joke, and the maintenance on them is done by woefully underqualified people.”

ERAU – models of integrity #2

Builders,

Below is a photo of Chandler Powers Titus, 1924-2010. The man was the human definition of aircraft engine mechanic. The engine repair station at Embry-Riddle Is named in his honor, because he worked there for Fifty-Four years.

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It is not even vaguely possible in a few hundred words to say anything accurate about this mans life. Lets just hit some big points: He is a US Army air corps B-17 mechanic in WWII; He moves from there to be a lower Ball Turret gunner, loosing his hearing to the two Browning M-2’s on either side of his head; He then beats out nearly 300 other applicants to be upgraded to Flight Enginner; He is now 19 years old; he elects to stay in the post war military and stays to Fly C-54s during the entire Berlin Airlift; After 10 Years in the service he ‘retires’ at 27 years old; He takes a job as a mechanic at Embry Riddle when they are still in Miami, and stays on in every teaching capacity, working with more than 10,000 A&P students. In 1995 he is awarded the FAA’s Charles Taylor Master mechanic rating, which requires 50 years of continuous A&P work, just to meet the application requirements. He is awarded the status of senior inspector, chief instructor and professor emeritus of ERAU.

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When he reaches the 50 year mark at the school, the administration gets the bright idea that it is time to retire him. They are going to throw him a dinner, and they spring the “thanks for your service” trick on him.  Word gets out to the alumni, and droves of them return from places all over the globe. At the dinner, Mr. Titus turns it around on those who would retire him, by taking the podium and pointing out that he has seen a lot of administrations come, and a lot go, and they better be more worried about their own jobs than his. To the great cheers of the alumni, this is a pure Chandler Titus moment. He stays four more years until he is good and done.

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To the above list, let me add this small fact: People who know Lycomings often mention Chandler Titus as the one human being on Earth who may have known Lycomings better than any person living. Stop and consider that Lycoming itself didn’t have anyone who worked on their engines every day for 54 years; When the wanted to know how things were done on their 1960 product line, they called  Mr.Titus. He also knew Continentals nearly as well, and he knew radials like no other man I ever encountered. I once asked him a question about slave rods in a 245HP Jacobs radial, and he gave me their entire history, including service bulletins and procedures, off the top of his head. It was 1993, and he probably had not seen the inside of one in 40 years. Riddle owns more than 120 planes, and they log about 2,000 hours each per year. 100% of these engines were overhauled in house by student labor in a system set up by Mr. Titus. They kept incredible records, and Titus studied part histories on engine series in detail and worked it statistically against the hours. The FAA gave the school the highest allowable TBO, in some cases 1,000 hrs over. The mean time between failures for the schools engines was roughly one million flight hours.

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Let me share a very important element of this man, one that was hugely influential to my own path, one that is important for anyone learning things in aviation to know and understand:

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Personally I did not like this man, but it did not stop me from learning from him. Saying he was gruff is the understatement of a lifetime. He liked some students a lot, others he never learned your name. I had him for two classes, I later worked in the next lab, I loved engines, but honestly the man never acknowledged my existence. My house mate Chris Welsh became very close friends with the man, almost family, but he remained unapproachable to me. Technically, my tuition paid his salary, but you would have to be pretty stupid to think that kind of appeal is going to move a guy with the guts to crawl into a ball turret for 25 daylight trips into the Third Reich.

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Honesty requires me to say that I feigned being pissed off about it at the time, but I will confess that it actually hurt my feelings. I was an outstanding student, I really cared about his particular expertise, and I was courteous to him. It made no difference. Over time, I accepted that he was simply too valuable a resource to discard because he didn’t have the time of day for me. The time it took to come to this perspective I now see as wasted, unrecoverable. Over several years, I learned a tremendous amount from him, and from the people he directly educated with care.  He was a very bright sun that hardly ever shone directly on me, but he did illuminate a great deal of landscape that I traversed. I took the lesson with me, and in all the years since I have never let my learning be limited by needing to be ‘friends’ with the person who was the master of what I wanted to know. In time I expanded this to not even needing to like nor respect the people who had information to learn from.

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Maybe half the stuff I know about planes comes from people I would never have chosen as a friend. I am fully aware there are many good reasons to dislike me. Do not set your goal on being friends with me, set it on learning everything I can teach you. That exchange in itself is a better basis for friendship than initially ‘liking’ someone. Trust me, on my worst day, I could run the White House protocol and etiquette department compared to Mr. Titus. I don’t know what he knew, but I am 50 times the people person he was. If I am not your kind of person, don’t let it stop you from learning what I have to share. -ww.

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When he was interviewed after retirement by an aviation career publication, Chandler Titus had this to say about the most important resource for mechanics, it was something I had heard him say countless times in the repair station:

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 “In my career I have found that the most useful resource for the mechanic is the information provided by the aircraft manufacturing companies who hold the most information about the aircraft you are servicing or flying.”

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If you are reading notes from me, pointing out how foolish it is to take advice from a local ‘race car guy’ or from an internet group of anonymous people for your flight engine, you are hearing the exact same line from me, only adjusted to our particular engine. I learned this from a guy who was hardly civil to me. It didn’t affect the truth nor the value in the statement.

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ERAU – models of integrity

Builders,

In a previous post I mentioned taking an oath to aviation safety in 1991. Perhaps when you read that you wondered what kind of man still believed in giving your word and then honoring it regardless of cost? What kind of man believed in words like “forsake every other consideration to protect them.”?

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That man was the Maintenance Department Chairman, Richard “Dick” Ulm.  He was the last guy who ever thought he would be a “College professor.” He was, first and foremost, 100% Marine. The obituary below puts it very mildly by saying “a strong and straight talking man”, it might be less tasteful but more accurate to say he was a Badass who didn’t mince words nor spare profanity. This said, if I were to pick a single word to describe the man it would be integrity.

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In 1992 I worked in his department teaching welding to A&P students.  I already knew him well, as all 1,500 students in the AMT department did. He was not an office guy, he taught classes, walked around every lab, knew all the people who worked in the department. In an era where all college conversation was politically correct, Mr. Ulm was very different. Example; Mr. Fraugi, the physics professor was the best dressed guy on campus, down to his footwear. I am standing there and Mr. Ulm walks over and asks: “Fraugi ,why do you wear those man slippers?” Without flinching, Mr, Farugi says: “To turn you on Dick”, to which Mr. Ulm casually says: “It isn’t working.” They both go back to work without further comment nor cracking a smile.

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When it mattered Dick Ulm had fierce integrity. A foreign student was caught red-handed stealing a test from a teacher’s desk. Mr. Ulm threw him out of the department. A week later, because the kid was from a lucrative foreign student program the administration had set up, they  sent word that he was to be readmitted.  Mr. Ulm, in a politely worded memo refused to accept him back. I was in his office and he told all the instructors who had the kid for a student “No fucking way that punk gets back in, period.” He made it clear to us that he was willing to go all the way on this, he would cash in his job if required, but he wasn’t going to have trash like that get through his department. Integrity mattered to him. The administration lost. Mr. Ulm had preached very high standards, but he also lived by them.

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I love airplanes as much as anyone else, but underneath this, I am very thankful to have had a number of great mentors in aviation who taught me that you can have all the fun you want in aviation, but if you are going to make it a profession, you had better damn well do it right, because the results are serious.  At a college 2 years ago, I was giving a young guy a hard time because he was too focused on getting it done, rather than learning. I was tired, and it would have been easy to let it go, inadvertently sending the false message that there are some circumstances where compromise in maintenance is OK, which it never is. If the recipient wondered where my attitude came from, It would be very easy to me to directly point to Mr. Ulm’s picture and say “This man taught us that you do not compromise principle to avoid conflict.” He is gone now, but his standards are not.

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Below, Mr. Ulm’s short obituary. I have thought a number of times about how this man who spent his entire adult life as a person unafraid of challenge nor conflict, passed from this Earth on Christmas Day.

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Obituary for Richard Ulm, USMC ret.

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Richard Herbert Ulm 74 of Port Orange Florida passed away peacefully December 25 2011.   Interment for Richard Ulm will be Wednesday January 4 2012 at 1:15pm at the Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola Florida. He was a retired Lt. Col for the United States Marine Corp and a former professor of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He was a loving husband father and grandfather. Richard was an outstanding Marine respected teacher a strong and straight talking man who will be deeply missed by everyone that knew him. He leaves behind his wife of 51 years Jan Oelschlager Ulm; his son William Ulm; his daughter Regina Shover; his two brothers Eric Ulm and Gerhard Ulm; his four loving grandchildren Brianne Ray Billy and Katie.

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Prices going up Monday night 2/24

Builders,

Since the beginning of the year I have been conducting cost reviews on all of the parts and services we offer. Over the last few years we have slowly evolved a number of our products without raising prices. Additionally, a number of our machine shops have slowly raised their prices to us. To address these issues, we are going to modestly change many, but not all the prices on our catalog page: http://www.flycorvair.com/products.html.

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Keep in mind that being willing to do work yourself has a very large effect on the cost of your engine.  If an engine importer raises his price, that’s it, pay it or don’t progress. With our program, the majority of the cost increases we are implementing address the fact I have severely underpriced our shop labor rate.  Most aircraft maintenance shops bill at $80/hr., which is still less than most people pay to have their car worked on.

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After building small batches of parts like starters and oil covers without interruption, I found out we were working on some parts for under $20/hr. Obviously we are not going to have a 400% price increase, but we do have to change some things.

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Keep in mind you can’t actually complain about my shop rate if I am willing to come to your state, hold a college and train you for free to do the same work on your own engine, and then supervise you doing it and test run it for you. I have always trained guys to do as much as they like on their project, but if you would like to leave parts of it in our hands, it is going to be slightly more expensive after Monday night.

 

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The change is going to go into effect around midnight on Monday the 24th. We are sending this out so builders who were thinking about getting a particular item can order it before the increase goes into effect.

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If any builder has a question on any part, please email me with you phone number and a time I can call you back. We are starting to pack for CC#28 in Texas, but I will make time to get back to everyone on Monday.

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Again, I would like to remind builders, that having an “order” with us means that the builder has sent payment or paid on line. In the case of complete engines, it means we have a deposit for your engine on hand. We do have people who just send us an email saying “bring a mount to Oshkosh for me …flyboy26ataol.com” That does not constitute an order. I would need an army of mechanics and a fleet of 18 wheelers to make and bring to Oshkosh every part anonymous people said they were going to buy. More realistically, we try to focus on regular orders made through regular means.

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Exemptions:

1) If you have a part on order with us, it will be delivered at the original price.

2) If you are one of the 4 people who have an engine ordered with us, and you have sent us the deposit without specifying all the options on your engine, the engine options will be priced at the original level, even if you specify them later.

3) If you have a part in the shop, like an engine in for a teardown inspection, and we quoted a price, it stays where quoted, even if the work is yet to be paid for.