The cost of tolerating fools

Builders:

My Father related this story yesterday:

It is the spring of 1945, and the freshmen midshipmen, Dad included, are at the Naval Academy 500 yard rifle range across the Severn river. It is the introduction to weapons for many men. The instructors are all USMC Gunnery Sergeants, veterans of savage pacific battles. Each of them has seen many men, friend and enemy alike, die of wounds inflicted by rifle bullets.

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They reiterate many times that inviolable rule #1 of firearms is to never point one at anything which is not to be destroyed. One must be absolutely conscious of the muzzle direction 100% of the time, there are no excuses, there is no talk of unloaded, or safeties, it is never done. Period.

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Within the first hour, a midshipman approaches a Sargent to ask a question, the muzzle of his M-1 carelessly pointed at the Marine’s chest. The Sargent delivers a lightning quick punch to the face, the midshipman is an unconscious pile on the ground with a very bloody nose. The Marine picks up the rifle and continues the lesson, pausing only briefly to say that he didn’t survive Guadalcanal only to killed by moron in Maryland.

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It is very harsh, but instinctively the others do not rush assist the crumpled figure. They are all starting down a path of a very dangerous career, and if today’s lesson has exposed a dangerous fool who couldn’t follow a simple instruction in a serious setting, maybe they were better off never having to later trust that man as wingman or a shipmate. They were starting a life that didn’t afford second chances nor much forgiveness, and it might cost you dearly to cling to things from less serious settings. The lesson was harsh, but it served my Father for 33 years of active duty and it is with him 69 years later.

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Here is your aviation connection: In the last 50 years, life in America has gotten very forgiving, we have had a giant national shift away from personal accountability.

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I am not just speaking about teenagers here. It is pervasive; Airbags in cars allow people to drive like idiots; lawyers show people how to win the lottery for stupid things they do; one can shoot public officials and claim to have eaten too many Twinkies; advances in medical science often allow very expensive life extensions for people who made 5 decades of poor choices; we no longer think it is abnormal that corporate CEO’s get giant bonuses after taking bailouts; celebrities can say any racist thing they like if they later go to a posh ‘rehab’ for 20 days; The government gave Wen Ho Lee $1.6 million instead of executing him as it did the Rosenburgs. The pilots of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 were released without even being drug tested….. the list is endless.

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The general public goes along because they are afraid of the safety net not being there for them. We have been transformed to a society where everything is someone else’s fault, people forgetting that in a world where the individual is never responsible, neither can he ever make a legitimate claim of personal achievement.

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 In this setting, it is very good to understand that we still have a few places where personal responsibility reigns supreme, and building an flying planes is perhaps the single best example left. No matter what anyone tells you, Physics, Chemistry and Gravity will always remain just as unforgiving as 1945 USMC Gunnery Sergeants. People who wish to just ‘drift’ into experimental aviation may find this disturbing, but I am actually attracted to the unforgiving nature of flying; the rules are not arbitrary, they are not subject to popularity contests and they don’t change. In a world that is ever more fake, manipulated and plastic, flying remains something very real, and I like it that way.

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If you are new to flying, do not let any of this bother you. Please read this story, it may be the most influential piece of data a new guy can read this year: Concerned about your potential? . All new people should understand that first and foremost, I am an instructor, and my goal is to share what I have painstakingly learned, not just about Corvairs, but building and flying planes as well. If you are new you have plenty of time to learn this, and a Corvair College is an excellent place to start. If you attend just one, you will then have a good yardstick to measure other settings by.

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If you are new to homebuilding, I can not over emphasize the importance of investing your time with good people. You need to spend time in a setting where knowledgeable professionals are, who are in a community of builders who are focused on doing everything that has long been proven to work, where skilled people are committed to sharing this knowledge with new aviators. This goes all the way from who you speak with at your airport, what books you read, which websites you follow, and especially where you spend your money and find your training. Fools and morons tend to collect at places that tolerate stupidity. You can rest assured that I have not spent the last 25 years developing the community of Corvair builders to allow such people space in our Arena.

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The rest of society long ago set out on the fools errand to make the world a “safe” place. It starts with making things ‘Child Proof’ , then fool proof, and later it moves to treating all adults as children or fools, in a vain attempt to keep people from hurting themselves, because this can never be done, the final result is always not allowing people to engage in these activities, because they can not be made safe for fools and idiots without judgment.

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Fortunately, aviation resists this pretty well.  There will always be some jackass trying to show people how little you need to learn to go flying. That a GPS means you don’t have to know how to read a map and a Bing carb is for people who don’t want to spend a hour to learn how mixture controls work, but these are not the values nor ethics of the Corvair movement. Here we are looking for people who want to learn as much as possible, not as little as they can get by with.  If that sounds like your goals, I say “Welcome aboard.” -ww.

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img003Above, Dad, the Seabee base XO at Davisville RI in 1967, with a Garand. He is wearing a shooting jacket, but the uniform and the shoes suggest he came straight from the office. He held Expert ratings with both rifle and pistol. Dad has always been good at anything that required hand eye coordination.

Selecting an engine for your experimental aircraft

Builders,

The designers of experimental aircraft have an incredibly wide difference of opinion on the rights of builders to choose their own engine once they buy the plane. I know this personally, I have been in the alternative engine business for the last 25 years, and the designers names I use below are people I have met in person, who directly said these positions to my face.

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Moreover, I have done a lot of work over the years on advisory boards and sat through a lot of closed door meetings. I have directly heard many things that were later diluted by PR people until they were non-offensive. I have heard countless well intentioned, but under informed builders relate positions that their favorite designers supposedly held, positions which I know from personal contact, not to represent the designers actual beliefs. I have tried to correct misconceptions, but it is a usually a waste of time to try to expand the understanding of people who are absolutely sure they already know everything.

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Examples; Burt Rutan does not like builders using auto engines on his designs, and actively didn’t want anyone doing so to be able to use his name for the plane. On the other end of the spectrum, Randy Schlitter, the founder of Ran’s aircraft told me “They buy it, it belongs to them, they can put a car engine on it if they want, or make a yard decoration if they want, to argue otherwise is to be against private property.”

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Between these extremes are all many other companies. Zenith aircraft has been very successful by stating that builders have the right to use any engine they want, just strongly suggesting that the engine be in below a specified all up weight. This is a position very close to Randy Schlitter’s. Richard VanGrunsven, founder of the RV series of aircraft is much closer to Rutan’s position. He was vocally against any engine other than Lycomings. (until he designed the Roxax powered RV-12, which he is vocally against anyone using any other powerplant on.)

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VanGrunsven is the largest Lycoming dealer in the country, but I think his adamant insistence on their use is driven by an combination of his belief they are good engines and his attitude that he should be able to say how people use “his” planes, even though these people own them as their private property and are consider the plane’s manufacturer by the FAA. There are many things I admire about the man, but this kind of heavy handed control of others lives while working to be perceived as a ‘nice guy’, isn’t one of them. I actually preferred Rutan’s direct and blunt, ‘do as I say because I am smarter than you and I don’t care if you like me’ approach. I prefer unapologetic dictators over those that seek to be perceived as benevolent.

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Between these positions are many companies that like to promote the use of their “Approved” engines for the sole purpose of making money. Most people have no idea that when a builder buys a kit, and later buys a Rotax (or many other imports), the person who sold the kit makes a several thousand dollar kick-back off the engine company. Walk into many kit company’s booths at Oshkosh and tell them you are planning on using a Corvair, and the most common line is “I have met WW and he knows engines, but …(Insert: “Corvairs weigh 350 pounds, they don’t really work. they don’t use 72″ props, they..”) so just do the smart thing and get a Rotax, here I will call lockwood on your behalf”. Look at the math on this; The airframe guy invests 10 minutes having this conversation with a builder six times, one hour total, and then makes a $2,500 kick-back. Yes, they do this not out of the goodness of their hearts, it is for the 2,500 dollar per hour pay-off.  The fact that the kit buyer does not understand the system is what makes it deceitful, and he is unaware of the kit sellers motivation. This system in one of the largest single reasons why conversion engines are not more popular.

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If you have ever wondered why we have so many Corvair powered Zenith’s flying, it is not just that it is technically a very good match and that we have done our homework starting with buying a kit for ourselves and building and flying it personally, but the attitude of Zenith is a very big factor. Sebastien Heintz, president of Zenith, has always believed that the builder, as an individual and owner of the kit, has the right to select his own engine. I find it humorously ironic that a guy born in France and raised in Canada turns out to be a much stronger champion of the personal freedom individuals making an educated decision for themselves than many kit company owners who would rather make a buck off builders obediently doing as told while these men try to polish a public image of respecting the freedom and individuality of builders.

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Photos from Zenith Aircraft Company's 23rd annual Open Hangar Day & Fly-In at the kit factory in Mexico, Missouri. September 19 & 20, 2014

 Above, the Engine Selection forum from the 2014 Zenith Factory Open House. From the left, the panelists represent, Rob from Rotax, Robert helms from UL power, Corvairs (myself), Pete Krotie from Jabbaru usa, Kim Winner from Continental, and Jann Eggenfelner from Viking. Sebastien Heintz is the moderator, standing by the wing.

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In keeping with the Zenith Aircraft perspective, the forum allows builders to directly ask questions to be addressed by the panelists who all represent proven power plant options on Zenith airframes. This approach speaks volumes about how the company views it’s builders; they are seen as adults, capable of making informed choices for themselves. This is very different from companies which dictate to their builders what they will do.

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Zenith is an actual dealer for many of the brands of engines that work on their aircraft. They make mounts and cowls for some of these. But this is not a consideration, the goal is to match each builder to the right engine. Each builder is provided with opportunity to get to know many engine providers and make the selection that best matches their goals, budget, time line and philosophy.

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I have heard every possible argument for the dictatorial approach, but in the end, traditional homebuilding and real flying, at their very core, are all about learning building and flying, and these are things that are best done as an alert individual, not someone blindly following orders. -ww.

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