Corvair Thermal Image Testing


Here is a quick look at a tool that Corvair/Panther builder Paul Salter, Dan Weseman and myself employ to collect data. It is a HD thermal imaging video camera which Paul has linked to store the images and video for analysis. The tests shown below on Paul’s  3,000 cc Panther engine were just to calibrate the equipment and evaluate using the scissors lift as a stable platform for an overhead view of the running engine. This is just a quick look to demonstrate another tool we use here. The long term plan is to integrate the camera into my run stand, so we can look at sustained high power runs, and Paul as a cable set up he can feed through his oil door in the cowl to connect the 1″ camera to a tablet in his cockpit.



Above, when you want something stable that will not blow around, the scissors lift in Paul’s hangar does the trick, it has racks of batteries in the bottom and weighs thousands of pounds. Paul is using a ratchet strap to secure the tripod.



Above, this is what the arrangement looked like from the lift. We had just finished a short run, and the video camera was still looking at the engine. KEEP IN MIND: this isn’t a new engine, it has 200 hours on it. A new engine should never be run without a cowl or airbox even for 1 minute. I tried to upload a 1 minute film to demonstrate how fast the engine, even a broken in one, heats up without a cowl, but the data file is excessively large. Take my word for it, without a cowl, the temp comes up much faster than you would think, and the thermal camera confirmed that without a cowl top or airbox, very little air flows through the engine. In the image it is very easy to see how cool the welded on intake pipes stay on the heads (because they have cool air and evaporating gas flowing through them) The camera can pick up temp differences down to 1 degree.



Above, we live and work in the total aviation immersion environment. I looked up for a moment to shoot our neighbors Piper taking off. Paul’s hangar is at mid-field, Mine is 600′ south, and Dan and Rachel’s place is another 1,200′ south on the overrun. Our little grass airstrip has about 50 hangars and 100 aircraft. All the work on the airstrip, from mowing the grass, fixing the tractor, keeping the irrigation and drainage up, filing the paperwork, maintaining the lights, etc,  is  100% done by neighborhood volunteers. We all contribute $25 a month to the airport fund, and believe it or not, we run a large budget surplus in a typical year. As you can tell by the tractors and trucks in yards, and the stories of shooting .50BMG rifles, it is not your typical rule burdened airport. Dirt bikes are more common than golf carts here. For a look at the flying environment here, get a look at this story: 5 years ago today.



Above, a slightly closer look at the camera. The image is a lot better than this photo captures. We were later blowing it up to look at individual cylinder fins. Even in this picture you can see the cooler plug wires and the bolt heads on the top cover. Notice the dip stick can be seen as a cool spot. The scale on the color range is on the bottom of the screen.


You can look at Paul’s plane at this link: Paul’s Panther. He is an aerospace engineer for the US Navy, a 15 year specialist on the EA-6B program. Paul’s education is a Masters degree from Americas oldest aviation university, Parks. If you would like some insight into Dan Weseman’s background look at this: Panther Roll out. Mesh those two with my grease monkey story: Who is William Wynne? and you get an overview of how we stay ahead of technical topics here. One of our strengths is that we like to argue. We don’t think the same, and none of our approaches nor backgrounds overlap a lot. This is a big asset, even if it doesn’t always sound that way to spectators. The one thing we have in common is a trust of testing over discussion, and a respect for letting the facts have the last word.  I have long found that “guru’s” who work alone, never have their pet theories challenged, but it took me 20 years of working in aviation to fully understand that many of these same people specifically chose to work alone, because they don’t like listening to others, nor even conceding that others may be right.


Conversely,  since day one, I have lived by the motto “I reserve the right to get smarter”, and this is done by listening to others and getting past the idea that you have all the right answers. Next time you are reading a website, look for the part where they guy tells you what he learned from others. I’m not speaking of a guy citing sources from ‘experts’ to prove how right he was all along, I am speaking about actual mechanical humility. It isn’t common enough,  If it is missing, you have an important insight into the person’s handicap: They have a learning disability, specifically  the inability to learn from others. -ww.


4 Replies to “Corvair Thermal Image Testing”

  1. Hi, William,

    Great article!

    Really like the thermal camera idea.

    Would you be willing to post some sketches/dimensions of the air box you use on your test stand? Would like to build one for running engine cowl off such as when setting timing.

    Going along with your “continuing to get smarter” idea is a thought my father left me with: “Learn from the mistakes of others because you do not live long enough to make them all yourself.”


    Grant Ziebell
    Savannah, TN

    1. Grant, look at the photos of running engines I have posted, like the ones of Spencer Rice’s engine, and you can see the air box is about 2″ taller than the top of the starter. The dimensions are not critical

  2. OK….. the third picture just slays me. It has:

    – a plane
    – a motorcycle
    – a tractor
    – multiple pick-up trucks

    Almost heaven!

    just need a hot rod (AC Cobra, Corvette, Superbee, etc.) and some guns and it would be Nirvana….

    1. Bill, Our neighbor Eddie has a 1966 Cobra, and I believe if you found a square mile on earth with more privately owned firearms in it you would be in Lebanon.

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