Pietenpol Weight and Balance project

Builders,

Besides covering the world of Corvairs, I have done a number of additional projects in Experimental Aviation. One of the most important of these other projects was the Pietenpol Weight and Balance project, 2010 -2012. We did this project to serve all builders of this design, not just the builders using a Corvair. The work was covered in a series of five articles in the Pietenpol newsletter. There is information at the bottom of this story on ordering the back issues.

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Above, My Pietenpol at the last hours of Sun n Fun 1996. From L to R, Gus Warren, Steve Upson and a much younger version of me. I have been around Pietenpols my entire 25 years in aviation. Take a moment to look at all the aspects of this on our Pietenpol page at this link:

Corvair – Pietenpol Reference page

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The nature of the issue: People who know the design well, understood that a great number of these planes were being finished and flown near their aft CG limit or behind it. This is a dangerous situation. The problem was driven by a number of factors: people using light engines like A-65’s, pilots who are far past the 170lb FAA example, and the fact many people had no examples to follow, and operated on old wives tails. The Aircamper is extraordinarily sensitive to poor planning because the pilot sits entirely behind the rear spar of the wing, much further aft than a typical tandem cockpit light plane such as a J-3.

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Additionally, many planes were built with their main landing gear too far back. This lead to several airplanes being put on their backs. Combining axle placement from 1930s drawings with modern brakes caused this.

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Although there had not been any fatalities directly attributable to CG and axle placement, there had been significant preventable damage done. I also suspected that the poor utilization of a great number of finished planes was due to the undesirable handling caused by these issues.

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A weight and balance document that Bernard Pietenpol developed in the 1960’s with an example of showing correct axle placement for brakes, an example of W&B that allowed a 290 pound pilot to be in limits, and stating in all capital letters that the CG of his design was 15″ to 20″ and that it was never to be flown aft of this, was available, but largely ignored by builders. Additionally, I weighed “The Last Original, ” Bernard’s personal plane, confirming his design data. I can think of no other design where builders routinely ignored designers CG limits. Our goal was to demonstrate that there is no reason to.

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The project was done with the support of many well known Pietenpol people like Doc and Dee Mosher and Bill Knight. We also had great participation for pilots who allowed us measure their aircraft and weigh them. The project had broad support.  A gentleman who was personal friends with BHP told me that it was the single most constructive project undertaken since Bernard had passed in 1984.

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The data collection: In 2010,2011 and 2012, I brought a set of very accurate electronic scales to Brodhead and weighed more than 30 different Pietenpols with Corvair Ford and Continental  engines. All of the measurements of the aircraft, such as fuselage length, motor mount length, landing gear location and wing to fuselage location were accurately taken. I used the same set of scales every year. A number of the aircraft we weighed had very poor bathroom Scale type W&B reports. Several planes had not been weighed in years, or were purchased second hand and had W&B data that was clearly copied from a different aircraft. About 1/3 of the aircraft had flown to Brodhead at or beyond the designs 20″ aft CG limit. All of these pilots expressed thanks at learning the situation and made plans to correct it.

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The data showed many parts of builders lore to be foolish myths; Both long and short fuselage models were shown to be equally prone to CG issues;  Fuel and passenger weight was shown to have little effect; we proved that building a longer engine mount had very little effect on CG compared to wing placement; Lighter was not better, as the lightest planes as a group had the most aft CG.

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We did additional measurements on planes in 2011 and 2012. I used the same scales in Florida and South Carolina to measure several other planes. The total data set is now 33 aircraft, enough to cover the design thoroughly. For an example of a specific CG change and performance change in a Pietenpol going from a 65Hp engine to a Corvair read: Pietenpol Power: 100 hp Corvair vs 65 hp Lycoming.

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Bob Lester strikes the “Intrepid Aviator” pose with his Pietenpol.  Bob weighs 210 fully dressed up for open cockpit flying. with his Lycoming, his plane was flying near the back of the CG range at 19.1″. With the Corvair we moved it forward to 15.9″ This is a dramatic shift, and it would now take a pilot over 320 pounds to move his CG to the aft limit. This is a much better position to be in.

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The project was started at Brodhead 2010. With the help of the above crew,  we performed a weight and balance on 14 Piets. From left to right above, Ryan Mueller, Jess (whose shirt says “Real men fly  Pietenpols”), Emory Luth and myself.  Gathering the data was a quick process,  taking less than 10 minutes per plane once we had the drill down.

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The calculations and results: Technically every pilot and A&P must know how to do a weight and balance calculation to pass his test. The reality I know is 50% can’t do a weight and Balance calculation to save their lives. On the other hand, I am particularly good at this, especially the complex variable of adjusting the wing fuselage location to correct the issue.

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One of the first things Ryan and I did was develop a complex computer algorithm that we could plug each planes data into and it automatically spit out the maximum pilot weight that the plane could take before it went out the aft limit of the design at 20.” There were several planes we measured that had A-65 Continentals that could only take a pilot of 130-135 pounds before going out the aft limit of the envelope. Several of these were being flown by 180-190 pilots. You can get away with this as long as you have the engine running creating high air flow over the tail, but if the engine quit and the speed decayed, the plane would be very prone to an unrecoverable condition.

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Rational people do not build airplanes to see what they can get away with, they do it to effectively master the skills and utilize the design correctly. Anyone arguing that it is “OK” to build and fly a plane at or beyond the CG limit because he has evidence that it has been gotten away with before isn’t a person who should be taken seriously, and their judgment can rightly be called into question. Using our data, any plane, even one with a light motor can be set up correctly to fly with a pilot of 220 pounds. Planes using a Corvair, Ford or O-200 can be set up to fly 300 pound pilots in CG.  Several of the examples we weighed could have pilots over 305 pounds and still be in CG. There is no reason to build your plane and not have it operate in the designers CG limits.

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Where you can find the full data set. Click on this link:

Pietenpol Weight and Balance article source

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 Most people don’t view it as their task to correct negative or dangerous things others advocate. They value “getting along.”  For a reason explained below, my loyalty lies elsewhere.

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I earned my A&P license from Embry-Riddle in 1991. It was in an era when the department was run by men who were former military, who had come of age in WWII,  Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam. They took aviation very seriously, they all had seen its potential costs. They were tough.  I am biased, but I do think the program was without peer.  At the end of training, a handful of select students, I among them, elected to take a solemn oath in a private ceremony  to swear our unwavering allegiance to aviation safety.

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We did not swear to protect our employers, nor to defend the FAA or their rules, nor did we swear to defend our friends, careers or egos. We didn’t even take an oath to protect pilots. The only people we were taking an oath to protect was unwitting passengers who would fly in planes, people who had supreme trust and the belief that their fellow man, an aviation professional, was trustworthy with their very life.  The critical element of the oath is that we might be the passengers last line of defense, and if it was so, we were to “forsake every other consideration to protect them.”

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To have some understanding of my perspective, spend an evening reading my Risk Management reference page.  If you only have some time, just read this story: Effective Risk Management – 2,903 words ” It include the statement “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.” At the conclusion of the CG project I wrote the paragraph below when a builder sent me a photo of an 8 year old kid flying in a plane with an aft CG. Few people outside professional circles understood the tone, but I did get one short note from a guy who graduated from Embry-Riddle before I was born, when the school was still in Miami. He knew without asking I had taken the oath as he had, and the tone made perfect sense to him.

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” Many builders over 160 pounds with light engines are actually flying behind the aft CG limit, which is a great idea if you feel you have already accomplished every thing you wanted to do in this life. In my book if, you want to knowingly fly out the aft cg limit of a homebuilt, it’s your choice, I don’t base my happiness on the actions of others. If someone wants to tell other people this is a good thing to do, then they will find me disagreeable. If a guy wants to go a step further and fly passengers who know nothing about CG, like little kids, they will find me to be a vocal opponent of theirs, no matter who they are. When it comes to speaking up for the safety of unwitting passengers, I am not intimidated by any combination of the offending pilots wealth, experience, popularity or physical size far less peer pressure or being thought of as a mean spirited sob.”

Something worth an hour’s read

Builders,

Wisconsin Aviator Tracy Buttles has a link to this story on his web page.  I took 40 minutes to read it. Thought for the weekend: watch one hour’s less tv  and read this story instead, it may do something for you that the junk on tv never will.

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The story is about the life of Nascar driver Dick Trickle. Not interested in typical Nascar stories? Neither am I, and Dick Trickle was the furthest thing from a ‘typical’ driver the sport may have ever seen. Not interested in smooth talking good old boys with TV tuned personalities? Trickle was from Wisconsin, a middle aged chain smoker who liked bowling alleys and Pabst Blue Ribbon, married to the same supportive woman his whole life.   The story is labeled a “Elegy” which is a long lament for a life, with a somber tone. It is a fitting title. The story isn’t ‘nice’, and it isn’t uplifting in the surface sense. But I uphold that Trickle had legions of fans for one reason: He was the absolute real thing. In a time when people who play ‘sports’ are also required to be ‘celebrities,’ Trickle was one thing they could never be: a pure sportsman.

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Here is the connection to homebuilding, Read this slowly: Dick Trickle was Rookie of the year in Nascar at age forty-eight.  Maybe you have an airplane project out in the hangar, and maybe it has been 10 or 20 years since you soloed a plane, or maybe you never have. Maybe your not a spring chicken anymore. Maybe you have ‘friends’ who say your too old to get started, you should have done it earlier, etc.  Do you think when Trickle got called up from the short tracks to Nascar at 48 he didn’t hear bullshit like that? Go and read this story and take that lesson to heart. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what your destiny is.

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During the 5 years I spent at Embry-Riddle, I lived in a run down 1907 mansion at 1235 International Speedway Blvd. It was as close as you could live to the track, about 2,000′ off turn three. (the track is 1800 I.S.Blvd.) My brother, who is ten years older, taught me about what was good in the classic era of Nascar. By the time we walked to the ’93 Daytona 500 from my house, that era was fading, and today it is all gone. But for one brief period, one man, Trickle brought back the real era before everything was made ‘nice’ and polished beyond recognition by marketing people. Read the story, and hold in your mind for a few minutes, an era when character mattered more than marketing.

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In some ways, I think there are too many people who are trying to ‘polish’ homebuilding and make it ‘nice.’ There is a vital difference here, important to note: for Trickle, the arena was the track, and when the marketing people got a hold of Nascar, his arena was in the hands of others. Flying will always be different, because your arena is the sky, and no marketing person can get a trademark and TV rights to the sky. -ww

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Photos | Dick Trickle through the years

Above, Dick Trickle in the car. He won more than 1200 short track races before moving up to Nascar. He was the real thing, 100% American sportsman. Fan’s had to respect the drivers with more entries in the record books, but rank and file fans identified with a salt of the earth man like Dick Trickle.

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Click on the color link below to read the story:

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http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/7/30/4567960/dick-trickle-suicide-nascar-profile?utm_source=sbnation&utm_medium=nextclicks&utm_campaign=articlebottom

Mounts at Oshkosh and Colleges.

Builders,

In the last few days we have had a number of questions on ordering and picking up mounts at airshows and colleges. We are always glad to save the builder the shipping on a mount by delivering it in person to an event. A few guidelines make the process work smoother, and several of the letter’s questions can be covered here.

We have two different categories of mounts. Some we build in big groups just to have available, others are in small groups or done one at a time. For the most part, the Zenith 601/650 mount (4201-A) and the Zenith 750 (4201-B), we build in groups 4 times a year. Typically, we have several extras heading to a show like Oshkosh, but the surplus does not last there, I rarely have one making the return trip in the trailer. If you would like to pick one up, it is best to order it in advance.

The second group is built less frequently. We weld Pietenpol mounts(4201-C) 2 or 3 times a year. We will occasionally build one extra to bring to Brodhead. We don’t generally have extras hanging on the wall. Most of the other mounts are one offs, and we build them at any time of the year because there is no economy of scale with them. If you would like one of these, I will be glad to make it, but for obvious reasons, custom mounts have to be paid for before we get started.

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Above, a 2011 photo showing a large cross section of the mounts we make and bring to events. Scoob E examines the pile powder coated Motor Mounts that we produced. The front row is two KR-2 Mounts with a PA-15 Vagabond for Scott Statz’s project. Behind it is a Zenith 750 Mount that we delivered at a College, followed by a Flybaby mount for Bill Rotenberry. The last row is Russ Mintkenbaugh’s  PA-22-108 based Wagabond Mount, and the white one is for Bryon Stewart’s modified PC Cruiser.

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If you would like to be assured of picking up a mount at an event, ordering it ahead of time from our website is the best way to go. Every now and then I will have a guy say “I ordered one from you months ago”, and he is referring to sending me an email with a name like “RV6Fyr” that said “I want a mount for my project, see you at Oshkosh” I think most people recognize that I can’t build an motor mount for a guy who I don’t have his name nor know what plane he is building.

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If you have a special project or consideration, send me an email with your thoughts and please include a phone number and a good time to call you back in the evening. I will be glad to cover details on the phone at length. -ww

Henry Kissinger defends his new Heavy Metal album

Newsflash:

Former National Security Advisor to President Nixon came out with a strong defense of his new Heavy Metal album Rage with the Machine.”  The album’s lack-luster sales have been attributed to the fact Kissinger knows nothing about music and has never played guitar before walking into the studio. Still, fans of the genre are expressing great disappointment, saying they had expected much more from the 90 year old on his debut recording.

Henry Kissinger Shankbone Metropolitan Opera 2009.jpg

Kissinger in the studio: He laid blame for the weak sales with the producer Kayne West, saying that West failed to appreciate Kissinger’s artistic message, especially on the tracks I did know Dick and Dinner with Mao , which Kissinger upheld as “Free-form masterpieces, yet to be appreciated.”

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Ok, I made up that story to illustrate a point. Nearly everyone understands that expecting Henry Kissinger to make a good Heavy Metal album, something you might put on the shelf next to Sabbath, Zeppelin and Metalica, is a total joke, and no reasonable person could expect great music from a 90 year old guy who worked for the State Department.

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Then please tell me why people express shock and disappointment when they find out that their favorite Musician / Actor / Celebrity doesn’t have a brilliant position on Geo-Politics? I have no answer for this. Several times month people send me forwards from the internet pointing out that some celebrity holds some political or social position that most people associate with Genghis Kahn or a kindergartener.

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Many of the senders have had their sensitivities offended, finding out that a favorite artist is some type of imbecile. Not me. I start off with the premise that I can appreciate their art, but they are just as likely to be stupid as anyone else.

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I like optimistic people, but if you are one of the people who were disappointed Justin Biber turned out to be a moron, they let me suggest a little less optimism may be in order. If you are one of the people still surprised that Barbara Streisand falls short of the Teddy Roosevelt honor roll of self actualization,  I want to say it’s OK to stop hoping.  I like some Mel Gibson movies, but I go to the theater knowing he is an alcoholic and a bigot, just like other everyday alcoholics and a bigots I have had to deal with in the rest of my life.

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I don’t expect these people to be any more enlightened than anyone else. In most cases their lives are little more than a revenue stream for a media company and a bunch of “assistants” and “life coaches.” They don’t even get the benefit of the reality checks that you and I enjoy from our neighbors when they respond to our opinions with “What the hell are you talking about?” When I feel generous, I just feel sorry for them.

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Being wealthy isn’t a guarantee of happiness, and in many ways it seems an impediment to theirs. The people who are famous young are rarely educated, nor have time to read, and when they travel it is with an entourage rather than a humble guest. They are surrounded by people telling them they are gifted and brilliant. For these reasons, they are perhaps even less likely to have anything enlightening to say.

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Most people shouldn’t feel smug about dumb things celebrities say on politics and world affairs. Many people have put little effort into being informed or open minded themselves. I was recently treated to a 20 minute diatribe of how segregationist Governor George Wallace was “A typical Republican,” the speaker, who had given that symposium many times before, was unaware Wallace was a life-long Democrat. This goes on from all camps. Few people praising the US constitution can even tell you how many articles it has; perhaps half of Republicans cannot identify Lincoln as their parties first President; Few Democrats understand FDR sent US Citizens to internment camps; It’s endless. Even though we are in the “information age, ” it seems to have little bearing on how informed people are. For every person who read 15 books last year, there seem to be 50 who spent 500 hours watching the brand of TV news that challenged their opinions and biases the least. Put a camera and microphone in front of these people and they might sound just as foolish as typical celebrities.

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A large part of what I love about aviation is how the solutions are unique, but the physical laws they work within are defined; there are absolute measurements and known and provable ways of achieving results. Planes don’t look alike, but they work for the same reasons. Physics isn’t written in any language, and it isn’t subject to corruption nor lobbying. Two people who both love planes, from different countries without a common language can both love the same plane, and it will fly equally well in either man’s country, regardless of political or social factors. I actually like the fact the stakes are high here, I am not afraid because the rules of flight are not arbitrary.

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This said, I have trouble with people want to apply the same thinking, the need for absolutes, tests and universal laws,  to humans, not just machines. When it comes to human freedom, faith and life, I don’t think there is one ‘right way’ or ‘best result.’ I place no value on getting people to think alike on human issues. The only persons who’s mind I want to open is my own, and I have long since found that reading books is far more productive on this than arguing with people or listening to celebrities. While I may know a bit more US and social history than average, my conclusions are no more valid than anyone else’s. The only person’s life I feel entitled to run is my own.

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This website has nearly 500 stories on it, and our traditional site has 2000-2011 documented on a weekly basis. You could look through every page of it and not find a single word on how I vote, what faith I am, or any comment on a social issue. Not one paragraph on it. Yet many people write to say how moving some of the topics have been. Notice in 15 years of writing, I have never run out of topics that bring aviators in homebuilding together. This is proof enough that we have far more that unites us than divides us. This is the basic reason why the only had and fast rule we have at Corvair Colleges is: No talk of politics nor Religion.

Corvair powered 601XL, 2006 photo

Builders,

I was on the Zenith aircraft site the other day looking through their extensive photo archives for a picture of a particular plane. I looked at the photo below for several seconds before realizing that it was me, acting as line boy for Gus Warren on the test flight of Rick Lindstrom’s 601XL outside our Edgewater Florida hangar. It was the fall of 2006.

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Corvair-powered Zodiac XL

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Evidently I didn’t have gray hair when I was 43.  Seems strange to me that I didn’t recognize how I looked then, but I remember exactly the hour the photo was taken, and what we were doing. That part is timeless.

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Building airplanes has many long hours of work, but it also provides you with hours that don’t fade. Eight years ago is a long time, and just like everyone else, I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday. But, I can recall, with good detail, including how I felt, all the first flights I have been present for.  A Neuro-scientist would probably have a long explanation for the biochemistry of this, but for me the explanation is a lot simpler: I love planes.

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If you are working away in your shop tonight, and it’s still bitter cold where you are, take heart. In your future lies a day that you will never forget. Truth be told, you will also come to remember fondly the hours in the shop also. You will look at each part of the plane, built with your own hands, and be able to recall the hours you worked on them. I have been doing this for 25 years, and that part of it never gets old.

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Below, from our main website FlyCorvair.com on the Corvair College #10 coverage, the photo and the caption were from later the same day:

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“Friday was check in day at the College. A lot of builders showed up and the mood was upbeat as friendships and acquaintances from the  year before were renewed. Most of the visitors drifted away by 10 p.m. to get some rest before the long Saturday. The weather  Saturday was forecast to be clear and flat calm at sunrise. Gus, Rick and I planned the first flight of his plane for 7 a.m., before  anyone arrived. Prep work for the College kept me working at the hangar till 3:30 a.m. Gus and Rick returned in the morning, and  after one more careful inspection, and an idle adjustment on the carb, Gus took the plane up for a very smooth first flight. In the  photo above, Rick proudly moves the newest Corvair powered airplane in the fleet.”

Engineering, History and your project

Builders,

While I often talk about nuts and bolts of aircraft building, it is important that builders also have a ‘bigger picture’ to utilize the detail information within. Here is a look at why understanding the history of aviation directly benefits the homebuilding community.

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“General, Jack Ripper here….WW’s mind has gone soft; he writing complementary stories about the Ruskies, the French and the Brits…..”

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(Above, actor Sterling Hayden – Philosophy portraying the mad ‘Jack Ripper’ in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove.)

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OK, what the heck do my last three stories: 10 elements of UK Aviation to admire , French Aviation to be admired. and Russian Aviation to Admire. have to do with Homebuilding? A lot actually. If homebuilding has one Achilles heel, it is that many of the designers have little understanding of, and no respect for, the fantastic engineering that has gone into all the other branches of aviation in the last 111 years. I love homebuilts, but many people who work in our industry and provide products, are willfully ignorant of history and standards of other branches of flight.

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Conversely, I have spent virtually my whole life, dating back to age 10 or so, studying everything thing I could about the history of flight. For the last 25 years it has been my profession, and the pace of my study has only accelerated.  I bring this to my everyday work with the Corvair.

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Want some examples?  Mick Mannock’s story from 1918 instructs that fantastic skill will not save poor decision making, and emotionally stressed people make bad decisions like clockwork; Michel Detroyat in 1936 demonstrates that just when you think you are pretty smart, know there is someone who can humble you with what they can teach; Yuri Gagarin reminds that it isn’t the highest risk act that gets you, it is the typical one you do with your guard down that does it.

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Those are simple examples. There are complex details of engineering to be appreciated also, But the largest single factor is knowing that as great as homebuilding is, its value lies in the fact you are doing it, in the arena, not reading about it. I hear arguments made all the time about how homebuilding is ‘cutting edge.’ I disagree, and have a lot of physical examples to prove it. But the real danger in claiming cutting edge status is adopting the mindset that you don’t have anything to learn from the rest of aviation.

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Most of us have heard the foolish statement made by some alternative engine people calling Continental and Lycoming engines “Lyco-saurs”, implying they are antiquated. Almost everyone I have heard utter this phrase has no appreciation for why Certified engines dominate the market place. I know they do because they work, and I am smart enough to copy or adapt every bit of their proven approach into Corvairs that I can. I have no emotional investment in proving I am smarter than Lycoming, nor do I blindly worship at the temple of high tech. My only yardstick is “Did it work?”

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Conversely, I have watched a number of people selling alternative engines who claimed their “race car” backgrounds were more important than Lycoming’s track record, fail miserably, and I mean fail in the broadest sense, including getting killed. The emotional need to prove something is best left outside the airport fence; Physics, Chemistry and Gravity don’t care about such things and they don’t grant dispensations for the passionate. They only care what follows their rules. If it follows the rules, it will work. Wanting the rules to be different is a subject you can take up with God; break the rules and Physics, Chemistry and Gravity will provide you with the opportunity to have the conversation.

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I do not consider myself an aviation historian. It takes a lot more effort than I have put in to make that claim. However, I have no problem saying that in the last 25 years the only guy I have met in the profession of “aviation journalism” who had a far broader knowledge base than me was Bob Whitter. Putting Bob on a different level, I am comfortable saying that I know far more about the history of aircraft than any “aviation journalist” I have met. These people know how to produce magazines, but they often don’t know the background and history of subjects they are covering.

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Why this matters: Because countless times I have watched a new product introduced to journalists as ‘revolutionary,’ and the person writing the story bought it hook line and sinker because they didn’t know enough basic aviation history to know the concept in front of them either wasn’t new, or would never work. Many intriguing stories about ‘great’ products have been written this way. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the subjects disappeared, often with other peoples money.

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The easiest example I can think of is the “Carter Copter.” I personally watched many journalists taken in by Mr. Carters ‘revolutionary’ claims. When introduced nearly 20 years ago he said it would do 400 mph at 40,000′ and fly coast to coast, non stop. This was all published by Journalists who didn’t understand much about rotary winged aircraft to know they were listening to a story about Unicorns.

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When the did bring it to Oshkosh, it came with much fanfare, even from the EAA which saw it as an attraction. It flew into the pattern and flew for a few minutes. The announcer, reading from Carters press release, said that it had just “Flown in from Texas!” In reality, it had been trucked in to Fond du lac, 15 miles south, and had flown in from there, trimming the trip distance by 98%. Carter spring boarded from this to getting a $1 million dollar grant from NASA, which had 5 goals, only one of which was ever met. Even their own website points out it crashed 7 times in testing. That isn’t exactly cruising to California,

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Last time I saw Carter was 4 years ago, he was at the EAA chapter #1 open house in Riverside CA. He was the after dinner speaker, and he was trying hard to sell investment positions for his ‘New’ copter, which he said would shortly fly from Dallas to Paris France non-stop. Even at that time, there were journalists who still thought he was telling the truth.

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Had a single one of these journalists ever heard of a compound helicopter from 1967, the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne, they would know that the concept of a rotary wing plane that unloaded the lift to stub wings was nothing new. At Riverside many were impressed that Carter was said to have flown 172mph once. I was not, for 35 years earlier, the AH-56 had done 244 mph, while carrying many tons of weapons and ordnance. It held the speed record for rotary wing flight for almost 40 years. Today Mr. Carter has just landed another $2 million of taxpayers money. Lets hope he sends a thank you note to all the journalists who assisted him. Maybe this time he will reach more than 20% of the goals.

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Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne.jpg

Above, a machine that worked, the AH-56. If you would like to spend 9 minutes of your life seeing what real engineering looks like, check out this you tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csGWV541yjw

Russian Aviation to Admire.

Builders,

Russia produced an incredible array of hardware and personalities in 20th century aviation. Here is a quick look at 10 pieces of the Russian pantheon, including two titans of flight, one a household name, the other not. As the saying goes, ‘with the cold war settled, we can admire the other team without having our loyalty questioned.’

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My closest friend from Embry-Riddle got a degree in Physics and went on to a Masters in planetary science from the UA Fairbanks, where she picked up Russian Language as a side project. When she ended up with NASA in Houston, an opportunity opened up at Star City in Russia, working on the International Space station. Knowing the language sealed the assignment as a mission controller.  She eventually spent years there, and brought back a great respect for the people, pointing out they were far more patriotic than 95% of Americans. There was a story of a withered an poor old man in the market, and how strangers bought food and slipped it in his basket when was not watching. On his lapel, a small ribbon marked an act long since faded in time, but not forgotten; it identified him as a “Hero of the Soviet Union.”

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Every country is entitled to be proud of it’s veterans who contributed to ending WWII, but they should restrain their pride in the presence of Russians. They lost more lives in ‘the Great Patriotic War” than all other nations, (allied and axis) combined. For every American that died in WWII, fifty-nine Russians did. Statistics hardly reveal the horror, but this one always arrests me: 80% of the Russian males born in 1923 did not survive WWII.

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There is a foolish myth that says Russian hardware is crude, believed by a lot of people who should know better. Many years ago I worked for a German propeller company, which licensed production of their design to Sukhoi. A customer brought in a Russian made prop for overhaul, the first one seen by the German staff. They were dismissive, with terms like “Potato Farmers.” I inspected it personally, and the tolerances on the machine work were far better than the German version. The Germans were stunned, I was not. I pointed out that the Russians had perfected titanium hulled atomic subs, space stations , Hydrogen weapons with MIRV’s and Mach 3.2 fighters; a three bladed prop was probably within their capabilities. Being diplomatic and needing my job, I chose not to remind them who won WWII.

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1) Alexander P. de Seversky was a Russian born renaissance man of flight. A powerful balance of ideals and action.  He flew for the Tsar in WWI, lost a leg on his first combat mission. Came back to be an ace. Emigrated to the US in 1919, and became aide-de-camp to Gen. Billy Mitchell; Patented air to air refueling; Developed the gyro bomb sight while at Sperry; In 1938 predicted role of the ‘fighter bomber’ was more important than interceptor.  Outlined the P-47 Thunderbolt, and stated all US fighters should have 2,000HP and eight .50 Cal. guns. He went to Europe in the opening phase of WWII to observe first hand. The Board of Seversky Aircraft, the company he started, fired him. They renamed it ‘Republic.’  Seversky wrote the NYT #1 best seller (1942)”Victory through Airpower“, an indictment of the US aviation program, fearlessly pointing out errors such as the former VP of GM, now in charge of aviation war production, specified only Allison engines for fighters (Allison was owned by GM). He pointed out that elements at Ford were more concerned with post war market position than interests of quick victory. A man who could not be intimidated. Seversky is one of the few men who challenge Doolittle for the title ‘Greatest Aviator of all time’.

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2) The Antonov An-2 is a large STOL cargo biplane in production for more than 50 years. Grace and I have some flight time in one. Powered by a 1,000HP radial, carries several tons, lands noticeably slower than a Cub. Wing span is 60′, it has a full span LE slat on upper wing. More than 18,000 were built. On our first flight, I was stunned that it could do more than 120mph on only 60% power…..until I realized that this was still 600 applied HP.

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3) The Polikarpov Po-2 is one of the worlds most mass produced aircraft. It is about the size of a Stearman. The Russians used it in many roles, including as a night raider in combat. The particular example below is flyable and in Florida at ‘Fantasy of Flight’. More than 30,000 were built. Examining one closely shows it to be a work of simplicity compared to a Stearman or a Tiger Moth. Brings to mind the Russian saying “Quantity, has a quality all it’s own.”

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4) The Tu-95 ‘Bear’ Bomber is a cold war masterpiece. It remains after 50 years, the worlds fastest propeller driven aircraft, period. Production planes were clocked at 595mph, 140mph faster than a P-51. It is a huge plane, grossing over 400,000 pounds. It’s turboprops generate 44,000 HP, yet is has a 9,400 mile range, unrefueled. Each engine powers a pair of contra rotating 20 foot props that run at the speed of sound. Half a century of evidence proving slow tip speeds on props have nothing to do with efficiency.

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5) Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. grew up as a peasant under Nazi occupation, made his way to the tip of the spear of the space age.  Outgoing and friendly, He set himself apart from hard-liners with this post-flight statement: “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!” Awarded the title “Hero of the Soviet Union.” He was killed flying a regular training mission in a two seat MiG-15 in 1968.

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6) The Ilyushin Il-2, probably the most produced aircraft in history, 36,000 built in only 4 years. An armor plated attack aircraft that was ideal for ground support on the Eastern Front. Capable of absorbing great damage, the plane carried all types of ordinance, including bombs, rockets and early cluster bombs. Did vast damage to German armor and vehicles with 37mm cannon. The design and tactics were a completely clean sheet of paper approach to ground attack aircraft. It’s production and deployment in a country ravaged by war is a story to match any other in manufacturing.

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7) Lydia Litvyak: First woman fighter pilot; First woman to shoot down a plane; First woman ace; Highest scoring female ace of all time. She flew a Yak-1 almost exclusively, The plane was small and agile, but not exceptional. Never the less, Litvyak downed a number of Bf-109G’s flown by very skilled German pilots, including an 11 kill ace.

After witnessing the death of her squadron commander, she wrote her mother, saying in retrospect, she had been in love with him. He mechanic later testified that from this point forward, all Lydia wanted was more missions.  She died on 1 August 1943, on her 4th sortie of the day. She was 21 years old. In 1990, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev posthumously awarded Litvyak “Hero of the Soviet Union.”

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Lydia Litvyak.JPG

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8) Igor Sikorsky was born in Russia but emigrated to the US after the revolution. In Russia he was a well established designer, but in the US, he made a large and lasting contribution to many fronts in flight. His flying boats and amphibious aircraft are some of the most elegant designs ever, but his work with rotary wing flight made him a legend. In 1931, he filed and eventually received the patent on the standard helicopter.

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 Sikorsky may be the wittiest guy ever to set foot in aviation. His best known quote is “In the beginning, aeronautics was neither an industry nor a science. It was a miracle.” There are hundreds more, but my personal favorite is: “In those early days, the Chief Engineer was almost always the Chief Pilot as well.  This had the automatic result of eliminating poor engineering very early in aviation.”

If you would like to read more, His site: http://www.sikorskyarchives.com/IGOR%20SIKORSKY%20SPEAKS.php

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America was very lucky to be the home of four brilliant men who pioneered and perfected rotary wing flight: Igor Sikorsky, Frank Piasecki, Larry Bell and Charles Kaman. It is hard to overstate how influential and capable these men were. The practical helicopter did not arrive until after WWII. Consider that before the R-5 and the Model 47, the world already had Jet fighters (the Me-262 and Meteor), theater ballistic missiles (the V-2), supersonic planes (X-1) and Atomic weapons (Manhattan project.).

Several years ago at Oshkosh, a naïve guy said to me “I just went to a forum given by a guy from Texas who says he has a practical, affordable and reliable helicopter design. The man is a genius” I politely pointed out that perhaps his “genius” should start with an easier first project, like a jet fighter or an atomic bomb.

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9) Valentina Tereshkova, awarded title Hero of the Soviet Union, first woman in space. On her 70th birthday she told Russian president Vladimir Putin that she was personally willing to go to Mars, now, even if it was a one way “suicide” mission. Not your average grandmother.

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10) Russian aircraft builders and field mechanics.  Many people have heard that B-24s came off the assembly line every 45 minutes in WWII.  Most of the people who say that have never built a good set of shelves, far less a plane. Convesrely, homebuilders understand the challenges of actually building a plane. We know why the 1 every 45 minutes is ‘interesting’ it is astounding.

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In America, we celebrate the idea of ‘Rosie the riveter.’  Americans in defense plants did incredible work to be the “Arsenal of Democracy.” But to be fair, I don’t think the best job at an Il-2 factory was a nice as the worst one at the Consolidated plant in San Diego. The Russian workers produced record numbers of planes while subjected to un imaginable forces. Just the threat of direct conflict, starving or freezing, or even the NKVD deciding to liquidate you.  They worked on because they had family at the front who were being exterminated for lack of more weapons. On average, the Russian workers had less education and technical skills, but the test the met was one of toughness not just technical training. They did an outstanding job and made a large contribution to ending WWII.

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