Thought for the day #2 – To the new homebuilder

Builders:

If you are new to the world of homebuilding, and maybe even flying, here’s something that you may not suspect: you’re actually in an excellent position to avoid the actions of fools.

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Compared to the general aviation pilots who are starting their flight lessons down at the local FBO mill, you have many distinct advantages. Down there, you take the first polyester clad flying prodigy they assign you as an instructor.  You’re flying a worn-out airplane, that they can hardly afford to keep going. Their mechanic is paid a wage that precludes him from living in a double wide trailer. The student enters a system that takes no consideration of who he is or what he wants out of flying. Whatever the intention of the FBO owner when starting out, a lot of these operations devolve to a poorly disguised system of draining your bank account into theirs.

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It’s very important to understand that such settings attract and tolerate idiots. Nobody wants to upset the system. Whatever ambitions they had of higher standards have long ago been worn away Homebuilding can be just as bad, but it doesn’t have to be. You can make it any way that you want to.

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In this case, you’re going to be the aircraft manufacturer, and the engine manufacturer also. You have time to seek out intelligent qualified people for your further learning.  Building an engine can teach you a lot about whose advice you take, and who you don’t listen to.  This phase can be done while you’re still safely on the ground. If you set your standards very high, you will attract other people who take flying seriously. Aviation works just like life, quality people tend to gravitate towards the same setting, and dirt bags tend to collect where the standards are low enough that they don’t stick out.

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In homebuilding you control the entire show. After the plane is done, you’re going to be the director of maintenance, the chief of flight operations, scheduling, dispatching, and the chief financial officer.  It’s a beautiful system where you’re entirely in control of things that you normally have to resign to others.

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To me this is at the heart of what is captivating about homebuilding. The process is an opportunity, but not a guaranteed transformation. If there is a guy in your local EAA Chapter who doesn’t really strike you as the human personification of self-reliance and self-actualization through homebuilding, yet he has completed an airplane, it isn’t the process’ fault.

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If you are new to homebuilding, do not judge the potential of the experience by looking at people who merely went through the motions, ended up with the plane, learned the minimum amount, etc. The greatest dad ever and a guy who made a deposit at a sperm bank are both technically involved in fatherhood. Only the former understands the rewards of the experience.

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 In general it is plenty of protection to not take advice from nor fly with idiots. There are rare occurrences their range is further, but for the most part if you give them up wide berth and don’t listen to them you’ll do okay.

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If you have not spent much time in airports, the basic rules are pretty simple: Pay attention to what’s going on; don’t talk on your cell phone or walk around with your head somewhere else; don’t drive your car on the runway, taxiways or parking aprons; don’t smoke around airplanes or in hangars; do not interrupt people who are pre-flighting airplanes or engaged in intensive maintenance. Introduce yourself before you ask a question, and if you do ask, make sure that you listen to the answer. If you’re addicted to looking at your smart phone, leave it in the car. Most older aviators take it as a sign of real disrespect if you glance to your phone the whole time they’re talking to you. Spend twice as much time listening as talking. If someone specifically tells you not to do something, don’t do it. This is all that it takes to blend in at 90% of the airports in America.

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There are a couple of obvious character traits in people who I like to steer clear of when it comes to planes.  I only fly with people I know fairly well; I will not get in an airplane that a guy pre-flighted while he was talking on his cell phone. I stay away from people who are in a big rush at the airport. These people often don’t have the time for a preflight, a mag check or taxiing to the downwind and to the runway. I will not speak to a person who knowingly does downwind takeoffs or landings to shorten the distance to his parking spot. I have nothing to do with people who brag about having their annual inspections or biennial flight reviews pencil whipped. I don’t fly with pilots who do things that are forbidden in capital letters in the pilots operating handbook (Example: slipping a 172 with the flaps down).

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I’ve never taken a flight lesson of any kind with an instructor who couldn’t tell me what condition achieves the minimum turn radius in any aircraft ( Maneuvering speed, bank angle increased until the plane reaches its positive G limit, full power.) I stay away from pilots who say things like “this plane has a bad glide ratio when it’s heavily loaded” (aircraft of the same glide ratio and gross weight glide as they do lightly loaded) I steer clear of people who offer testimonials on flight characteristics planes they never sat in (“Republic Seabees glide like bricks” ),  avoid people who are poor listeners or openly brag about things that they have gotten away with.

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The above paragraph might describe 40% of the people in airports. That’s okay, I don’t need to pal around with everyone.  If you’re new to aviation, spend some time observing people and develop your own set of values. Be discriminating. If you’re new you have no track record, then you’re a thoroughbred as far as anybody’s concerned, and the only way that is changed is if you spend a lot of time with fools and idiots and let them turn you into one. If you believe this is possible, then the corollary is also possible. You can choose to spend your time with skilled, competent, aviators and let their experience and your hard work turn you into one yourself.

 -William Wynne

About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

3 Responses to Thought for the day #2 – To the new homebuilder

  1. Dan Branstrom says:

    Great advice. I need to remind myself of the listening/talking ratio.

  2. Blaine Schwartz says:

    William, you bring up some very good points and it reminded me of a somewhat related story of a time I was on a commercial flight to Newark, NJ and we were experiencing bad weather. There was an announcement that we may have to divert to Laguardia or JFK. I asked a flight attendant what the chances were that we would divert. She replied that she was sure we would get to Newark. When I asked her how she was so sure, she replied; ” the pilot’s car is parked there”. We landed at Newark.

  3. John Fawkes says:

    interesting, same thing can be about diving. Its amusing to see how those in the know gravitate away from the talkers.

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