Food for thought on Fuels

Builders,

Below are four observations on fuels, a subject that rarely sees opinions based on numbers and reason. The topic of fuels draws out emotional responses ranging from compulsive cheapness to conspiracy theories, neither of which serve the serious builder. Feel free to use the comments section, keeping in mind I reserve the right to delete any comment which doesn’t have a human name attached to it.

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(1) Yes, high octane unleaded fuel exists. Above is a can of 110 Octane unleaded fuel in my hangar. We use it for dyno tests and other research. The detonation resistance of this fuel meets or exceeds 100LL.  I buy it in our little town, off the shelf, it is about $8 a gallon, a price which includes a healthy profit and the container. It is sold at a little golf cart repair shop near our town’s drag strip. If ordered in a 55 gallon drum, it is substantially less than $5/gallon. Every year I hear “Experts” at Oshkosh talk about how having unleaded fuel with an octane higher than 94 would require a scientific breakthrough.  Reality: it already exists, no one need ask for a federal grant to re-invent it. I strongly suspect that if it were manufactured in the volume of 100LL, it might even be cheaper. Even if it wasn’t, aircraft engines would live a lot longer without lead in them. Extending the life of a motor 20% would offset a substantial price differential. Think it over.

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(2) Fuel cost is a much smaller cost of aircraft ownership than people think. When the price of fuel goes up by a dollar, several people in every EAA chapter will pontificate that “flying just became unaffordable.” Try this at your next meeting: Poll ten people who have a hangar at the airport on how much their hangar rent was last month, and then ask them how many dollars they spent on fuel the same month. 9 of 10 will have bought less fuel than rent, yet they don’t complain with the same venom. Picture this: A lower cost homebuilt which took $25,000 to build, not to mention years of labor, which costs $1,000 a year to insure and $250 a month to store. The builder has an AARP card and may have only 10 or 15 good flying seasons left. If he flies 100 hours a year at 5 gallons an hour, he will spend $1,500 on $3/gallon fuel or $2,000 on $4/gallon fuel.  Only a fool would choose to fly a lot less because his annual operating cost went from $5,500 to $6,000/year. Reality says the sand is running out of the hour glass and you built the plane to fly it, not to protest the price of hydrocarbons.

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(3) Aviation Gasoline is not expensive and apparently here to stay.  Above Is a photo I took at the Palatka Florida airport the day Paul Salters Panther flew. Notice the $3.29 100LL price. This isn’t accurate today, as the price has come down 9 cents in the last 2 weeks. I have worked in aviation basically every day since 1989. In that time I have heard several dozen experts and magazine editors citing “new laws” , “Federal standards”, “lead being outlawed” all predict that 100LL would disappear in 1990. 1992. 1996, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Lord knows, there will be people saying it is being outlawed in 2017, and people will believe them, in spite of the fact they have never been right. On the price of 100LL, people like to quote the price at the signature FBO at Miami International Airport, because it justifies their statement “I would fly all the time, but no one can afford to anymore.”  The actual local price of 100LL is a small fraction of this distorted number..

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(4) There is a very ‘popular’ internet forward that states “Gas was $1.89 the day President Obama took office, and it is a record high today at $3.69” People like this, it gets passed around in aviation circles all the time, it just doesn’t happen to be true. The record peak gas price in the US was August 2008, when  George Bush was president, and it was $4.11/gallon. The change to $1.89 in 5 months reflects the economic collapse in the fall, and it says nothing about either president.  The $3.69 was July 2014, the actual national average today is $2.13 a gallon. essentially unchanged in eight years. There are a lot of people who think the price of gas is set in the oval office, and there are even more who decide if they can enjoy their life based solely on which party is occupying the public housing at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. My personal love of airplanes goes so far back in my life, it certainly predates my awareness of politics. Given an chance to go flying or argue partisan debates with misleading data, I confess to being in the minority, the people who would rather build and fly.

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Corvair Performance from 1980-2016

Builders

Yesterday was Dan and Rachel Weseman’s “Black Friday” party, which is a day long celebration of freedom at our airpark. Our side kick and neighbor Vern Stevenson took the occasion to give his Corvair powered sand dragster, which he hand crafted in 1980, to Dan and Rachel’s sons. They plan on putting in back in action at our town’s 1/8 mile community drag strip. It should prove to be a great learning tool for them, and an  important example of the generosity of spirt that some people make the centerpiece of their lives.

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Above, Vern’s hands hold a photo of him launching in 1980. Sand drags are only 100 yards, a mere 300′, but with an exceptional power to weight ratio and paddle tires, this can be covered in 2.3 seconds with a terminal velocity in the 85 mph range. Yes, that is launching on loose sand. In the photo, Vern is 28, today he is 64.  Stop and look at your own craftsmanship on your plane and ask yourself if you can imaging giving it to a young person 36 years from now. Things that you make with your own hands are far more important to the quality of your own life than anything someone could buy.

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The dragster, dusty from 25 years of storage, was moved across the runway to take up residence with another Corvair Powered vehicle, Dan’s Panther Prototype, now powered with a 3.3 liter engine and propped to hit 180mph turning 3,500 rpm.  The dragster has a 2,700cc Corvair fed by 2 two barrel Del’ortos, set to turn 7,000 rpm. It has a reversed VW transaxle with live 3″ axle through the differential case. it only uses 2 gears. The narrow tires are just for transport. Every bit of this was made from raw materials, to his own design by Vern. It was highly successful and very competitive. It had only one issue: In the early 1980s a friend showed Vern what a Weed Hopper ultralight was, and started his long addiction to ultralights and experimentals, and all of Vern’s ground based adventures kind of fell by the wayside.

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Thanksgiving eve in the shop….

Builders,

In anticipation of a day off, I spend the evening wrapping up some details on engines at the SPA/Panther factory. A pleasant time in the shop listening to Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece, “Physical Graffiti” for the zillionth time in my life.

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Above , two Corvairs; a 2,700 complete case assembly and a finished 3,000 cc.

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I was 13 years old and living in Hawaii when Physical Graffiti was released. I was in 7th grade  at tough private institution named Punaho. It was an excellent education; one of my schoolmates became President of the United States 32 years later.

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I distinctly recall hearing the song “Night Flight” and not really knowing who Led Zeppelin was, but intrinsically understanding this was something different than the ubiquitously popular KC and the Sunshine Band.  40 years later,  I have spent countless nights working on machines, in too many different shops and hangars to remember.  The songs on Physical Graffiti  are an unchanged constant, threading these places and times in my life together.

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Happy Birthday Chris Heintz 

Builders,

Today is the 78th birthday of the founder of Zenith Aircraft, Chris Heintz. While I have great admiration for the legendary designers of experimental aircraft, and I have had the good fortune to meet Wittman, Rutan, VanGrunsven, and Monett, I can say without the slightest hesitation that Chris Heintz has a greater impact on my work in aviation simply because I learned more about the design of aircraft from him.

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I “met” him nearly 30 years ago, through a series of articles he wrote for the EAA publication Light Plane World. The articles demonstrated three things very clearly: He wrote to educate, not impress readers; He had values, refusing to design planes with stall speeds that precluded survivability;  and sharing what he knew was a vital part, maybe even his primary mission in aviation. I read these as a freshman at Embry Riddle, in the periodical section of the library. I appreciated them greatly, but could never have imagined the long term impact of the mans work on my years ahead in aviation. For this, I remain most grateful, and I join thousands of other aviators in celebrating the life’s work of Chris Heintz.

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Above, Sun n Fun 2006, L-R: My Father, Chris Heintz, myself, Grace Ellen, my Mother, and Grace’s Mother. Aircraft design is a field that draws people with strong egos and yet to be explored social skills. In this arena, Chris Heintz stands out completely against the norm. Without question, he is the most approachable and modest of all the major designers I have ever met.
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Further reading:

12 years of Zenith’s powered by FlyCorvair Conversions.

Zenith’s Roger Dubbert, man who has flown 10,000 demo flights.

Ken Pavlou’s Zenith 601XL hits 500 hours.

Corvairs at the 25th Zenith open house.

Zenith / Corvair installation 

16 Flying Corvair powered Zenith 601/ 650s

Woody’s 2,850cc Corvair/601XL hits 400 hours.

A tale of three Zenith builders.

Patrick Hoyt, new Zenith 601XL, now flying, N-63PZ

Zenith 650-2700cc Dave Gardea

Another new “Zenvair” 601XLB, Jim Ballew, 2700cc

Second “Zenvair”, the McDaniel’s 2700cc 601XLB

 Patrick Hoyt, new Zenith 601XL, now flying, N-63PZ

Guest writer: Phil Maxson, flying a 3100cc Corvair in his 601XL

 601XL-2700cc Dr. Gary Ray

 Zenith 601XL-3100cc Dr. Andy Elliott

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Waiex engine, 3,000 cc / 120HP Corvair of Gordon Turner. 

Builders

The fifth engine to run at Corvair Finishing school #2 was Gordon Turner’s 3,000 cc engine, slated to power his Waiex airframe (The Vee tailed Sonex.)  The Engine is a first class power plant featuring everything in the FlyCorvair / SPA Panther Catalogs, including an SPA billet, made in the USA crankshaft.

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Although the project started as a regular build and an core motor, Gordon, who is an international corporate pilot,  opted to convert this to an “Engine in a Box” complete kit engine. He selected this path after considering his available time vs the value in one of the Kits. If you would like to find out more about engine options, Call Rachel directly on the SPA hot line at 904 626 7777. (Her extension is #1)

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Above, Gordon’s engine on the run stand. For the break in we don’t use an oil cooler because we want the oil to come up to full operating temp quickly, to boil off any entrained water and evaporate solvents from things like assembly fluids the factory puts in lifters. Given the option of breaking in an engine on 140 vs 240 degree oil, absolutely pick the latter. The Sonex and the Waiex both use the #2601-R reverse Gold oil filter housing shown, To clear the fuel filler neck on these airframes. The oil like to the 5th bearing is connected to the case by a special fitting that Dan makes. Standard Gold oil filter housings do not need this, they use a #2802 block off plate.

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Above, the 3,000 cc Corvair at power, during the break in run.  It ran flawlessly during the run and accumulated a little over an hour. WE check a number of post run details closely, and the engine passed them all, this flying colors. Rather than take the engine with him, Gordon elected to have it shipped to his home, a task easily accomplished by the SPA team.

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Bolkow MFI-9HB and Corvair- sold to good home – 12/1/16

UPDATE: This has been sold to a very good home in the Corvair movement. I was very pleased to hear this news. Roger would like to thank everyone who showed an interest in his project and his story as an original EAA member. When we get progress pictures from the new builders, we will be glad to share them. Thanks-ww.

Builders,

Below is a unique project for sale, offered by Roger White, a fellow Corvair builder who is also an EAA legend, with a two digit EAA number If you are interested, or know someone who is, Roger’s number is listed below.  Anyone who  buys the engine (a Weseman 5th bearing equipped 2700 with older black series systems) or the airframe or both, who deals with Roger fairly and with great respect, can count on my support with the engine. Roger is a warm and friendly guy and an experienced aircraft builder. He is a pleasure to speak with, and at 89 years old, he is an American from a different era, when people had simple decency as a common trait.

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The plane is a 90% complete Bolkow Junior, a two seat, side by side all metal professionally designed aircraft . More than 200 of them were built in Europe, but the design originated as a homebuilt in the US, designed by a Convair engineer. It is not a difficult plane to fly. It is not specifically listed as an LSA aircraft, but the builder of record, it could be listed as such. Although it is almost done, there will not be an issue getting it registered as 51% amateur built. The FAA just wants to know that 51% of the plane was built by amateurs, it doesn’t require the last builder to do 51% of the work.   The design has a long history, including being used as a highly successful attack aircraft in the Nigerian civil war. Flown by European mercenaries on behalf of the starving population of Biafra, it was used to destroy most of the Soviet supplied Nigerian Air force MiGs with rocket attacks.  Read more here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malm%C3%B6_MFI-9

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The plane is located near Tulsa OK.  Roger is Asking $4000 for the engine, and another $4000 for the airframe. He is willing to offer a slight discount to a builder who would like to buy both. It is not a difficult project to transport. I have not seen it in person, but highly skilled Corvair/Piet builder Mark Chouinard has, and reports of impressive workmanship. If you wish to contact Roger, feel free to mention reading of his plane here. I have absolutely no angle on it’s sale, but it will tell roger that you have read and understood the notes shared here.

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It should go without saying, but I will make this crystal clear: Roger has hundreds of friends and admirers in experimental aviation.  If I hear the slightest report of anyone with a lowball offer, failing to treat Roger with the utmost respect, or failing to have a square deal with him, I will regard it as my duty to inform Rogers friends as to the identity of that individual. Aviation is a small place, and poor behavior in dealing with Roger will have long lasting consequences. Inexpensive projects offered by senior aviators have a way of attracting rip off artists, but let me assure such people this is the wrong place to try something.  Let this be enough said.

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Above, a picture of Roger and myself at Oshkosh 2010.  Here was the commentary from our Oshkosh coverage that year: “Noted old school homebuilder Roger White stops by the tent at Oshkosh. His current project is a very nicely done Corvair installed on a Bolkow Junior. The theme of Oshkosh this year was “A Salute To Veterans.” In last month’s update, I mentioned the irony of people promoting Chinese-made products at the same location. If you look closely at Roger’s hat, you’ll see a rectangular blue patch with an embroidered musket. In an era where we talk about saluting veterans, people should be taught to immediately recognize the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. This is only awarded to men who served in the U.S. Army who were directly engaged in combat face-to-face with the enemy. Too few Americans understand that the Korean war was directly fought against Chinese Communist troops. No matter what position people hold on a conflict, we are all intelligent enough to understand young foot soldiers don’t make national policy … they just pay for it.”

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 Bolkow MFI-9HB  –  Bolkow Junior

Due to health and circumstances I need to find a new home for my project.  NOT A KIT!

Aircraft built by amateur from approximately 75% factory unfinished parts,  factory drawings and supporting documents.

Has converted Corvair engine mounted and 5th bearing conversion installed

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Above, an image of Count Carl Gustav Von Rosen’s MFI-9B, pictured in attack configuration as used in the Nigerian Civil war.  While every rich guy with a Stearman will tell you he owns a “warbird” the MFI-9B is an actual combat aircraft that destroyed a number of MiG 17s and Ilyushin-28’s.  I would like to see Rogers plane take it’s rightful place parked with the other actual warbirds at Oshkosh, particularly if the parking space had previously been used by a T-34 or other training planes.

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Pietenpol 2,775 cc Corvair; Trevor Rushton from UK

Builders,

The fourth engine to run at the Corvair Finishing School #2  was the 2,775 cc engine done by Trevor Rushton, who flew over from Britain for the school.  He assembled the entire engine from its most basic components in two 10 hour days.  Because aircraft in the UK must meet the stringent standards of their LAA, the assembly required a high level of documentation, which I had to sign off as done under my supervision.

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Even with this extra time requirement, Trevor easily got the engine documented, completed and on the run stand during the finishing school.  As a crass colonial grease monkey, I am usually the champion of American ingenuity, but truth requires I say that Trevor might very well have come close to setting the record of most efficient builder at a Corvair event.  I honestly don’t think any of us could have gone east across the pond and made as good a showing assembling a Gypsy Major engine on their soil.

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The engine is a 2,775 cc “Engine in a Box” kit that Trevor purchased through SPA/Panther in advance of attending the Finishing school. If you are interested in learning more about the kit engine program, please call Rachel directly at the SPA hotline: 904 626 7777.

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Above, Trevor hard at work, measuring and documenting the case bore diameters utilizing the advanced tooling that Dan and I maintain for engine development and process quality control. The LAA governing body of sport aircraft in the UK, requires individual engines built to be documented in great detail, under supervision of approved inspectors. Trevor secured prior approval from the LAA that I could act as such an inspector on his engine build.  For builders with great enthusiasm, we will gladly match any effort they make toward special requirements. Much of the original contact and communication with Trevor was done by Terry Hand (in Happy Birthday to the USMC   story last week) who runs our “Pietvair” discussion group.

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The pay off: Trevor taking his engine through a perfect test run.  It is destined to power his Pietenpol, slated to be finished at the end of 2017 or early 2018.  After watching him work, I tend to think his time estimates are reasonable.  I told him I would probably fly to Britain to see it launched.

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Something about working with Trevor: I had many things I wanted to hear his perspective on, but we ended up speaking about the greatest UK import to the US in the last 100 years: Music. In the last 40 years I spent countless hours listening to Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones, all band from Trevor’s land.  I have never been to the UK, but know something about Brighton in the 1960s from listening to Quadrophenia a zillion times. Trevor said he was neither a Mod nor a Rocker, perhaps just a little of both.

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