A different path in homebuilding

Builders:

If you are something of an ‘old school’ guy in the world of alternative engines, you might recognize both of the people in the picture below:

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Above, Subaru guru Chuck Condas on the left, and a much younger version of myself on the right. The photo was taken 12 years ago at Sun n Fun.  Although we look like kids, 2004 was my 15th consecutive year at the fly in, and Chuck had already moved on from the world of alternative engines.

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Something most Homebuilders are yet to understand: Homebuilding really isn’t a big industry, and the world of alternative engines is a small part of it. In this world, most alternative engine guys who have been around for a number of  years,  know each other, and usually get along pretty well.  The partisan rhetoric on the internet said by ‘fans’ of one engine over another is not reflective of how established engine guys get along in person. Our website has many photos of engine gurus of all types and layouts hanging out at our Oshkosh tent after hours.

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While there are a lot of zealots who come and go, the people who last in alternative engines tend to be people who find an innovative solution that serves a segment of the market. To a zealot, anyone who doesn’t choose his engine is ‘stupid’, to an innovator, they are just an individual making a choice that suits them differently. There are fans of a particular design, brand, layout or provider that are far bigger zealots than the guru that actually works with that format. Most alternative engine guys know this well. If you think about it, I have a lot of experiences in common with the other dozen alternative engine gurus who have been around for a decade or more than I do with any internet commentator who is going to buy or build and engine ‘someday.’

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Fifteen years ago, my work with the Corvair was most often compared with that of Subaru guru Chuck Condas. Chuck had put a belt reduction on a turbo EA-81 and installed it on his avid flyer, accumulating 500 hours. He wrote a very candid book about it, and self published it. His approach was not the kind of ‘vanilla ice cream Disneyland experience’ that print magazine editors insisted on then. Chuck really didn’t care, he wasn’t born to be a conformist. His book was a very big seller in the late 1990s.

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I spent a lot of evenings at Sun n Fun with Chuck, and he told me that he felt the whole industry had gone commercial, and homebuilding had changed, and he wasn’t a fan of things people said on the net. I thought these things also, but wanted to fight the trend. Chuck was of a different mindset. He had said his piece, and wasn’t interested in the conflict. He said he was going back to Taos NM, and was going to build planes his own way, in anonymity, in a very beautiful setting.  To his perspective, one would have to be a masochist to try to rekindling the original spirit and values of homebuilding in the age of the internet discussion group, when all the trends were heading the other way. Sun n Fun 2005 was the last time I saw him, but it wasn’t quite the last time I heard from him.

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A few years later, I wrote a long post on an internet discussion group, about a series of tests we had done on Corvairs. I thought it had been interesting work, and it had opened my eyes to some new ideas.  Alas, my testing had contradicted the pet theories of some internet personalities, and they responded with a long series of posts saying the test were worthless, I was condescending,  I was just a salesman, their mechanical engineering degree trumped any A&P tests and observations, some comments about my alleged politics, etc. near the end of these was a strange encrypted post from a mystery email name that simply had the numbers “36.40 – 105.60.”  Everyone else missed it, but I knew this was the most mocking criticism of them all…….It was Chuck sending me the Lat-long of Taos NM.

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-ww.

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