Ken “Adonis” Pavlou advises aviators: “Life is short, Live Large”

Builders,

In the Corvair movement, we have many characters, and space for plenty more, but no aviator in the world of Corvairs is a bigger character than Ken “Adonis” Pavlou……and this man has a simple message for his fellow aviators: Live Large.

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Ken holds The Cherry Grove Trophy, 2014 at CC#31 Barnwell. His aircraft is named “The Blue Speedo.”  The humorous origin of the name is best left unprinted and only related verbally between adults with Ken’s sense of humor.

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A bit of background: Ken was born in rural Greece, and he didn’t speak a word of English when he was 9 years old and entered the 4th grade in Connecticut. Ken shares the story of a slightly awkward kid with a lisp from the land which was the butt of many childhood jokes. Think you had a difficult day being the ‘new kid’? On his first day he brought a roasted goat’s head to school for lunch. But inside that small schoolboy surrounded by screaming classmates lived the indomitable sprit  of a character who was destined to live life in one size only… large.

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Fast forward 35 years; Ken is literally a renaissance man, and insomniac-genius who packs two working days into every 24 hours and still has 8 hours to entertain himself. The happily married father of two, he is a critical care nurse and the state ballroom dancing champion of Connecticut.  He is guru on electronics, mathematics, and finance. He professionally plays traditional Greek music, and much, much more…..Oh, yeah, and he built and flies his own plane, including building the engine for it.  When Grace commented on Ken’s depth and breath of knowledge, he took a long drag on his cigarette and said  “The mind of Aristotle, but the Body of Adonisand so the most popular nickname was born.

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I have known Ken for 10 years. I met him when I was driving a plane on a trailer from Florida to Boston. I was exhausted, it was midnight and a giant snowstorm was starting. I was thinking of stopping at Ken’s.  Within a few minutes Ken convinced me that the snow would clear I-95 of all the ‘amateur drivers’, we would have the whole road to ourselves, 4wd was crutch for lesser drivers, and we would make great time, be back by sunrise, and he knew a great diner we could hit on the way back.  This was my introduction to Ken’s ‘live large’ concept.  He took over when I drove too slow, rolled the windows down, chain smoked and told hilarious stories.  In the decade since, I have never known the man to shrink from any adventure. He is a 300 pound bull in life’s china shop of timidity. After a lifetime of reading about Teddy Roosevelt,  I believe a few days with Ken gave me far more insight into what TR’s world looked like.

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What do you do when you encounter a 300 pound Greek guy with an I.Q. of 160 and a wicked sense of humor? Make friends with him seems the best option. Ken is the very definition of infectious fun, a pied piper of things you thought you were too old to still do. You will laugh at stories like “the airport manager and the shovel” and “the 100 mph minivan”.  While many ‘characters’ are a one hit wonder you quickly tire of, Ken is the opposite.  Ask me about dressing him in a black suit and thin tie, putting a fez and wrap-around 1960’s sunglasses on him, and introducing him as “Kamal Mustafa, my attorney.”  He is versatile, and always the center of the fun. He could give lessons on swagger to guys from the Dominican Republic. But through it all, he rolls with the motto “Life is short – Live Large”

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Many people Know Ken because he has flown is Corvair powered 601XL to events all over the country, nearly 400 hours on the meter in the first two years. This includes two trips to Oshkosh and a number of Colleges. We awarded him the Cherry Grove trophy in 2014 for is outstanding work behind the scenes supporting Corvair builders and the Colleges.  In technical settings, he is a wealth of experience, assisting other builders, in social settings, he makes every evening memorable, right up to the point where people trying to keep up with him can’t remember what happened.  At Oshkosh 2015, a number of friends all stayed at our tent late, after the cookout and night airshow. Several of them staged a misguided attempt to keep up with Ken. It was a beautiful night and lots of fun, and one by one I relieved them of their car keys after they traded a little stuffy dignity for youthful fun. It ended at 3am with just Ken and I awake. He then gave a very interesting take on the mistakes of Athens in the 2nd Peloponnesian war while we looked up at a starry night.  At sunrise he made a big pot of coffee and revived our sleeping friends, saying “drink this, I’m a medical professional” , the same thing he had said at 2am.

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The point of this: Your workplace is filled with people who talk cool, but have lives that consist of fantasy football, drink special night at Applebee’s and talking crap about other people. When you mentioned building and flying your own plane, they mocked it and called it crazy, because they needed to disguise the fact they are scared little people and they almost wet their pants when you said it.

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Everyone building a plane should feel the same swagger as Ken, but sadly they don’t.  They should walk around knowing they have set themselves apart from the masses, but instead they get side tracked by defensive ‘Geeky-ness’ brought on by the critique of non flying people. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. These people just need to channel their inner “Adonis”.

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The easiest place to see this is in builder discussion groups on line, and the common expression for it is endless talk, to the point of compulsive behavior, over “Saving weight.”  Now don’t get me wrong, I know a lot about building planes and I am not advocating intentionally making them heavy, but it is easy to spot the new builder who is endlessly concerned about if his plane is ‘worth building at all’ if it is going to weigh 20 pounds more than others, which many without a flying plane have determined to be ‘ideal’ empty weight. This is sad, because they are concerned that the success of their project will be measured on a scale, with some number, determined by others to be a ‘failure’.

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Here is the real “failure” in homebuilding: If any builder misses the opportunity to understand that by merely choosing to build and fly his own plane, he has set himself apart from the timid people who were so afraid of ‘failing’ that they didn’t even get in the arena.  Second, if a builder gets too comfortable as a perennial ‘builder’, taking their guidance from other perennial builders, fixtures on the net, rather than pilots who are finished and out there flying like Ken. The real failure is not adopting the mindset of Ken Pavlou, who is out there in the arena, having a great time, unconcerned about the judgments or others on the net. Homebuilding is your opportunity to live a facet of your life as a lion, and you will not experience this by exchanging emails on builders groups. If you are going to let others determine if you are a failure, just save yourself a lot of time and money and head back to Applebees with the rest of the co-workers.

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Read this: The installed weight difference between a Rotax 912 and a 3,000 cc Corvair is about 40 pounds. The installed weight difference between an FAA standard person and Ken Pavlou is about 130 pounds. If a new guy read the hand wringing on the net over how ‘terrible’ the performance of a 601 would be with 40 extra pounds, he would have to conclude that it would barely leave the ground with Ken, far less Ken and a Corvair, and not get airborne at all with Ken, a Corvair, a loaded airframe, and a passenger……and yet Ken has 380 flight hours on his plane, all saying his reality is more accurate than the theory of people making internet pronouncements over 40 pounds.  Keep in mind that Ken is also using the smallest Corvair we suggest building, the 2,700cc engine.

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Much of what people say about weight on the net is wrong, or ridiculous oversimplifications: I have a degree from Embry-Riddle, and I was a stellar student on the subject of Performance. and I am in a good position to call BS on many things people say, including often quoted paragons like Tony Bingelis. He was a ‘nice guy’ and wrote useful tips, but he was out of his element on performance. His books are one of the chief sources keeping old wives tails alive. Look through his books and notice the complete lack of testing or calculation to back up his claims on props or weight. His statement saying that weight hurts a planes glide ratio is patently false. Weight of a plane affects sink rate, but has absolutely no effect on glide ratio, and this holds true for any plane, 601XL or B-52. If you doubt me on this, go ask any competition sailplane pilot why they add water ballast in a sport where glide ratio is everything.

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Another example:  “If a 912 is 40 pounds less than a Corvair, the 912 will have 40 pounds more useful load right?” This is a ridiculous oversimplification, and not usefully true. To actually understand aircraft performance is to know that planes can “Gross out, cube out or CG out”. This means that the limit, depending on the specific case loading, can be set by the plane reaching it’s gross weight, running out of interior volume, or running out of the aft limit on the CG range.  Anyone who makes a statement about useful load without checking the specific case of this last factor is not qualified to be giving you comparative advise, period.  I put a lot of work into designing our Corvair installation in 2003 to insure that it’s maximum take off weight was not limited by reaching it’s aft CG limit. I flew our 601XL at 1525 pounds (on a 105F day), and it was safe because it was in CG. Ken’s plane will not reach the aft limit until the plane weighs 1625 pounds, and it has been flight tested at such weight.  Anyone on the net tempted to argue CG with me should review some of my credentials on the subject: Pietenpol Weight and Balance project. It is a topic I know very well.

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If you are sitting at home reading this in front of a Computer, and anyone has said something about the weight of ‘auto engines’ that has made you reluctant to have faith in yours, understand that those people don’t known enough to give you advice, and we have plenty of flying examples like this: 16 Flying Corvair powered Zenith 601/ 650s to prove my point.

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If you are sitting at home reading this in front of a Computer, and like most American men in homebuilding, you weigh a lot more than the FAA imaginary 170 pound person, don’t let any techno-geek posting how critical he thinks 5 pounds it to the ‘success’ of a homebuilt affect your positive determination to build, finish and fly your plane. The whole point of homebuilding is to get you to the self reliant mindset, where you follow positive flying examples rather than listen to people who still live in a world of doubt and fear.  You deserve to have your own adventures like this: 1,500 mile Corvair College flight in a 601XL , and when your plane done and proven, and you fly to a College or Oshkosh, and are greeted by the warm welcome of others who rejected the negative techno-geeks, I have only one further suggestion, If Ken is there, don’t let him talk you into “just one small glass of tequila.”

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Above, A 2014 picture of the five Corvair powered Zeniths that flew into Corvair College #30, all parked for a photo in front of the Zenith Factory  The engine installation on these planes are clones of the one we developed in our own 601XL 12 years ago.  Read more here: Corvair College #30 Good Times and here: Corvair College #30 Running Engines

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