Competing for 2nd place


 In previous posts, we have had some fun  comparing some people’s applications for the Darwin awards. As long as we are learning the underlying lessons, there is no harm, but I wish to be clear on one point: They are all competing for 2nd place, because I already know who the biggest idiot I have ever met is, and unfortunately, he looks a lot like me.



Above, a 2005 photo of yours truly standing on a stepladder working on the Vagabond. This was taken at our old Edgewater hangar, the day I made the dumbest mistake I have ever made turning wrenches on planes. Notice the dual point distributor is removed from the engine.


The task of the day was to determine the ideal jetting on Stromberg Carbs. The NAS-3 comes with several venturi sizes and jetting combinations, and we wanted to nail down the best one for Corvair builders. This involved a lot of wrenching, with each iteration being test flown by our resident test pilot, Gus Warren.


Everything was going smoothly, and after replacing the distributor  I decided to base line the ignition timing with a strobe light at 30 degrees. After doing this, we buttoned up the cowl and Gus went to the runway. He took off on the 4,000′ runway, and the engine sounded great, but abruptly at 250′ Gus cut the throttle, slipped the plane and landed straight on the runway. He couldn’t say what was wrong, nothing on the instruments, but he thought he felt a slight reduction in rpm, so he aborted the climb out. ( See: Critical Understanding #4, ANY loss of RPM is Detonation. ) He wasn’t going to sit there and see what happened next while his option to land straight ahead evaporated.


We brought the plane back, and went over it with a fine tooth comb, including rechecking the timing with a strobe light. It was all right. After an hour of this, Gus went back to the runway, everything was great, but again he aborted the climb out at 2 or 3 hundred feet, and landed straight ahead. Back at the hangar, nothing can be found. Gus is not pleased, suggests another check. Looking very carefully, I see what I had missed both times before: The white line on the harmonic damper has been erroneously painted on at 15 degrees not zero. I have been setting the timing to 45 degrees total, not 30. The sag in rpm Gus has felt is the engine reaching full temperature in climb, and beginning to detonate, even though the plane was fuelled with 100LL. I had just sent my friend to the runway with an in-airworthy plane, twice in the same morning.




If anyone cares to hear my full set of credentials on my first class imbecility during my 28 years in aviation, come find me after hours at Oshkosh, be forewarned to bring a cooler and a lawn chair, it’s going to be a long night. I have not made many errors doing maintenance, and I don’t count all the holes drilled in the wrong spot, the thousand or so tubes, carefully measured and then cut too short. That is stuff everyone does, I am talking about real mistakes.


 Try this: When I graduated from Embry Riddle, the world famous Kosola global aircraft salvage firm showed up to hire just two people. Just 105 graduates met the criterion for an interview, and three days later this was whittled to 3 people, and I was one of them. At dinner that night, which was supposed to be casual, but I understood it was part of the process, I let another candidate bait me into showing my sharp tongue.  It cost me the job.


I went on to spend several years building Lancair IVP’s, every hour of which I now consider a mistake. Read it’s harsh lessons here: 2,500 words about levels of aircraft finish……


  Try this: On 7/14/01, Grace called me and said not to go flying, the one and only time she had said this. I didn’t listen, and that was the day my Pietenpol crashed.


I quit being an instructor at Embry Riddle because I thought advancement was to slow; one of my class mates who told me I was making a mistake is now a department Chairman.


In 2009, a guy who really understands economics and finance, took an entire evening to explain that my customer base, the working middle class, was never going to recover their confidence in the economy. I said people would scale back planes, but if flying was in you, you don’t quit. Today, after 8 years of effort,  I can admit he was more right that myself.


  I could fill an evening with stories of employees and subcontractors I never should have hired. I read the Maya Angelou quote “When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.” 30 years ago, yet I gave 40 idiot builders the second chance they needed to really defame our work with Corvairs.


None of this even touches on the errors which affected other people, like this : Thinking of Mike Holey, an Aviator and a friend.




This story has two simple morals:


Never trust anyone in aviation who tells you he doesn’t make mistakes. He is either a liar, or he is delusional, and over the years I have certainly met plenty of both working in aviation. Take note that the delusional ones feel there is no need to them critically examine their own thinking or work, and they will not even do so when presented with plain evidence. Stay away from these people. If I have a single redeeming feature, it is being willing to listen to others and be swayed by evidence. I have no fear of changing my mind. I have long said I would rather be successful and be called a hypocrite, than be an unchanging zealot and a failure.


Second, no builder should repeat the tests I have done or the mistake I have made. I have spent an awful lot of years learning this stuff, and it is really wasted if people feel the need to argue the basics or are determined to try things that our testing conclusively showed not to work, 10,15 or even 20 years ago. Seems obvious, but just today, I got a note from a guy essentially saying I don’t know where to put an oil cooler on an engine.  Never mind that I have tried 10 coolers and six locations, I am sure he will need to prove me wrong. I accept that such people will always be there, but if you wish to get much out of my work, don’t be one of them.






About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at and in more than 50 magazine articles.

10 Responses to Competing for 2nd place

  1. Dan glaze says:

    Show me a man that makes no mistakes and I will show you a man that’s an armchair idiot that does nothing but sit on his butt and pass judgement on the rest of us. Dan-o

  2. Rob Sackmann says:

    I second Dan’s response.

  3. Terry Hand says:

    Your loss – job, career path, even injury – has been our gain. But it has only been our gain because you chose to use those things to help others. Most of us would never have had the opportunity to learn from you had all those things not happened in your life. Our thanks go to you.

  4. Dave Hoehn says:

    William, I respectfully disagree with your assessment that that mistake ranks high in the applications for the Darwin Award. After all, you, and much more importantly, Gus, survived your mistake with no more injury than wounded pride and most important, a lesson learned. The highest ranking applicants are those who having survived their mistake refuse to learn from it and insist on repeating it until it is fatal (you have mentioned several over the years in this blog). Of course if you think about it, insisting on getting out of bed every morning meets this criteria…

  5. Bob 'early builder' Dewenter says:

    Oh the paths we have all taken, and somehow survived, but remember

    “No man is a failure that has friends” -Clarence the Angel

  6. Dennis McGuire says:

    You are to hard on yourself. We are human and faluable. Mistakes are made and what we do after them is more important that the mistake. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results Is stupid.
    You don’t do that, you learn from your mistakes and mover on.
    I admire you and the work you do for the sake of others wanting to help people.
    Dennis McGuire

  7. feregas says:

    Mr. Wynne,

    Do you believe that on “The task of the day was to determine the ideal jetting on Stromberg Carbs.” where Gus Warren had to land twice, had you done the “Understanding Flying Corvairs Pt. #5, Two Minute Test”, that could had shown the problem before attempting the take off?

    Just trying to learn how and if this test can prevent this type of mistake

    Thank you

    • Very good point, one I should have made in the story directly. The most typical way we had used the two minute test was a verification of the cooling system, and I had not yet used it for all maintenance, and prior to the day illustrated, I wouldn’t have considered it required on a proven plane, when I myself was doing the work, just the kind of thinking I am speaking of when you start to think you don’t make mistakes. You are correct, a two minute test would have caught this. A regular preflight 30-40 second run up didn’t. Thanks for reading the series, and obviously giving it some good thought. -ww.

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