Ken Pavlou, Zenith 601XL / Corvair, 620 hours.

Builders,

Ken Pavlou called to check in, and mentioned his 601XL now has 620 hours on it.  While that isn’t much for an airliner, in a homebuilt aircraft that can be an extraordinary amount of adventures and great memories. If a homebuilt design isn’t fun and rewarding to fly, they never accumulate much time. 600+ hours tells the story of a good flying combination with a lot of utility.

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Ken based in Connecticut,  and has flown his Zenith to Oshkosh several times, as well as our Barnwell SC Corvair Colleges.Ken is a skilled pilot, and knows and trusts his machine. He has flown directly over JFK at night, and made fairly long trips over water. This level of trust isn’t blind faith, it is based on understanding, building and maintaining both ether airframe and engine.

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IMG_8756Ken 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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For a much better look at the man behind the machine, take a few minutes to read this story: Ken “Adonis” Pavlou advises aviators: “Life is short, Live Large”

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Ken’s plane started out with a 100hp  2700cc Corvair and a Warp Drive carbon prop, which is our ‘standard’ Corvair displacement and prop for a Zenith installation. After flying 500 hours, he chose to upgrade to one of the SPA, made in the USA billet cranks, increasing the displacement to 3.3 Liters. This brings the power to more than 120 horses.  He has also upgraded to a Sensenich carbon prop, which uses the increased power efficiently.

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The plane has flown at 138mph with a high pitch setting, but Ken likes a slightly flatter pitch which yields a 128mph top, but will deliver 1,500 fpm ROC at 75mph with the aircraft flying at 1320 pounds.

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.Everyone who has spent an hour in Ken’s company understands he is very gifted intellectually and has accomplished many things since arriving in America as a young boy.  Ken’s career would have allowed him to buy any aircraft engine on the market, but after consideration, he selected the Corvair. It met his personal goal of learning all he could about the engine he would fly behind. Today, Ken is quick to point out the Corvair community are the kind of people he was looking for, traditionalist builders in experimental aviation. It provided a lot of motivation while building, is a venue to share what he learned when out flying, both elements were important to Ken. His flying and contributions to Corvair Colleges have made him one of the best known builders in our community.

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14 Years of Corvair Powered Zeniths.

Builders,

In 28 years of working with Corvairs, I can tell you what the best decision I made was: Oshkosh 2003, deciding to buy our own Zenith 601XL kit.  This choice not only gave us a great plane, but started a very rewarding relationship with the Heintz family and over the long run brought us several hundred builders, who’s success brought the Corvair to national recognition.

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Today, more than 150 Zeniths have flown on Corvair power, including the HD, HDS, and XL 601s, 701s, 650s , 750 STOLs and 750 Cruiser. Nothing good or lasting in aviation happens quick or easy. Being able to type the sentence above took 14 years of continuous support for our builders, including the 6 free Corvair Colleges we had at Zenith facilities and countless free house calls to builders shops. Today, the Corvair remains an ever popular option for Zenith builders. It isn’t for everyone, but for builders looking to find out how much they can learn, not how little, we have a long proven installation of a simple and rugged American made engine.

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Above, Our 601XL with our shop crew in the winter of 2004, in Edgewater Florida. This was the first Corvair powered Zenith. Our plane was the first tail wheel XL model, and it was the first 601 with dual sticks.  L-R, Steve Upson, Dave Vargesko, Gus Warren, Kevin Fahy, Whobiscat, Grace and myself.  N-1777W was displayed in the Zenith booth at both Sun n Fun and Oshkosh, and took more than 125 Zenith builders on their first flight in type.

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I have often pointed out that builders may want to read about “new and exciting” but they are much better served by “Old and Proven”, delivered by people who meet this standard:  What defines ‘reputable’ in our industry?

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2018 will arrive shortly, with another full year of opportunity to advance your plans and dreams in experimental aviation. All achievements start with imagining the future you want to have, and then making a solid plan to get there. For several hundred builders, we have been the guide on their personal path to success. All it takes is the decision that you will make 2018 your year.

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Vance Lucas, Zenith 750/Corvair, nearing 100 hours.

Builders:

 Vance Lucas, from western Canada, sent a note that his 750, which first flew in April, in now approaching 100 hours.  His 3,000cc Corvair powered Zenith 750 was a start to finish 36 month build, including Vance building his own engine at our Corvair colleges. Hats off to Vance, for a job very well done. His personal reward is amplified by being the master of his power plant, not simply it’s owner. He invested the extra measure of his own effort to achieve this. Corvairs are not for everyone, but if your individual path is driven to find out how much you can learn, not how little, you will find the engine and our program to offer a depth of understanding for those unwilling to settle for less.

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Above, Vance and his 3,000 cc / 120 HP engine during the perfect break in run. I took this Photo in Portland Oregon last year. If you are not a Corvair builder and wonder at times why we have a very strong following, this is an easy example to follow: I drove out from Florida with a trailer of tools and the test stand to cover colleges all over the west. (read: Back in Florida after 7,380 miles on tour.) The trip included a 1,000 mile extension to cover just 3 Zenith builders in Portland who were ready for a test run. Total Price I charged these builders for travel work and test run? Zero dollars. The great majority of companies in experimental aviation measure ‘success’ solely based on how much money they make. Since 1989, I have measured success by what builders have learned, and how they use this to safely operate their aircraft 

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 Vance drove down from Canada to Portland for his test run. He is a first class guy and good company. He also attended the Corvair College #30 we held at the Zenith factory in Mexico MO. For a look at the Portland story, read: A tale of three Zenith builders.

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Above, a picture Vance sent after his first flight. It is a sharp looking plane that runs and flies very well, but the real story is the man standing in front of it, and how much he learned about his power plant in the process of building his aircraft.

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The fact most people who complete an experimental aircraft have hardly any understanding of how the engine on their plane works is a reality, but not my issue to contest. My work is just focused on providing an excellent opportunity for the small segment of traditional homebuilders who are not satisfied to just ‘own’ an engine, they want to understand and be the master of the power plant they fly behind.  If this sounds like who you have always been, then perhaps Corvairs are your power plant.

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“On behalf of a grateful nation”

Friends,

Pictured below is my father’s place of rest in Arlington National Cemetery. My mother found it very fitting he is between a Navy Corpsman and a Marine Gunnery Sargent. When he joined the Navy on July 3rd 1943 as a 17 year old enlisted man, he had no ambitions of being an officer, he just wanted to serve. Yesterday would have been his 92nd birthday.

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One morning last month, at 5am, my brother and his wife quietly left their home several states away and drove to Arlington, for the simple act of placing the wreath above on my fathers grave in person. They drove home the same day. My fathers life inspired such acts. He would have told my brother not to do this, but dad had decades before shown the same reverence for his own parents. 

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I try very hard to focus on the better parts of our nation, but there are times where it is difficult to ignore the diseases and afflictions our society willingly succumbs to; The shameless worship of greed and wealth; Narcissism, once a mental illness, now often mistaken for self-confidence; The belief that all abuses of power can be apologized for if one just can find a ‘therapist’ or clergy to vouch for a fake contrition; The list seems endless and at times seems to bury all the national virtues we once agreed were sacred.

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However, there is a place were the ideals of this nation, not its day to day dysfunctions, are still sacred, fidelity and courage the only currency of value.  This place is Arlington. It is a place in our country were we have not lost our way, where our better angels are still alive and well. It is reserved for Americans who chose to give their youth, and in many cases the balance of everything they might have done with their lives, to a cause greater than themselves. When the hour of their lives closed, a solemn uniformed serviceman knelt in front of a widow, or a mother, or the casket, and presented a carefully folded flag of our nation with the same statement: “On behalf of a grateful nation”. 

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No part of my fathers story should ever be seen as a tragedy. He accomplished nearly everything he wished to do in life, including pass at home in the presence of my mother and family.  His 33 years in uniform were something he regarded as a privilege, his chance to demonstrate his complete fidelity to the ideals of our nation.

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Throughout his life, my father wanted to draw attention to the service of others who lost their lives at a young age. He had many stories of men he knew personally who sacrificed everything they might have done in this life, demonstrating their fidelity to the ideals of our country.  My father would want you to understand that my 90 year old mother accepting the flag was a simple honor, and the word tragedy should carefully be reserved for a 20 year old spouse or a 40 year old mother receiving the same flag. He would quietly point out that no matter with was wrong with our country, there would always be people willing to die for it, and that alone should motivate any citizen to conduct their life with thankfulness and simple decency.

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Bruce Brown, Film documentarian , 1937-2017

Builders:

Below is a 1960s picture of Bruce Brown.  He was the directory of many films, all documentaries. His two best known works The Endless Summer (1966)  and On Any Sunday (1971), changed our national culture with respect to Surfing and Motorcycling. Although these films were produced on tiny budgets, their impact is difficult to overstate.   Half a century later, they remain the quintessential film in each of these endeavors. They are first order examples of one individual, with something important to share, making a lasting difference in countless lives.

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If you have never seen either of these films, you should make a point of reserving the time to really study them. They are unusual documentaries, they have a light hearted narrative, and they capture what drove the people involved to follow their passions. The films are credited with explosive national growth of their respective sports.

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It is worth noting, Hollywoods machine had already worked the same topics in large budget commercial films which did nothing positive for surfing nor motorcycling, because they were pure exploitive trash. Conversely, the lasting appeal of Browns films defied their tiny budgets simply because they had a quality that Hollywood knew nothing about; Browns films were authentic , pure depictions of Americans at play and in competition.

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12 years ago, I put together a dissertation on how Experimental Aviation really needed an Authentic documentary, exactly like Browns films, to attract new people of high motivation and ideals to our branch of aviation. I made this presentation with some passion to a number of people in influential and leadership positions. Having grown up in Hawaii in the mid 1970s and been a rabid motorcyclist from the late 1970s on, I well understood the power of Browns films to present worthy endeavor which young people would work very hard to find their way into. I’m not speaking of having a hobby or a pastime, in my teenage years, motorcycling was my personal salvation, and be assured, I’m choosing that word intentionally.

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My appeals fell on deaf ears. Most of the people I spoke to had seen neither of the films, and were really just looking for more people like the models on the cover of a Sporties pilot catalog. When I spoke of the power of the films, they inevitably brought up Top Gun with Tom Cruise, and said “We have already had that film made”

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These people, our branch’s alleged leadership, was the problem. They couldn’t see that Top Gun was only entertainment, and it had no authenticity. It didn’t have anything to do with experimental aviation, (but then again these people really didn’t either) I really doubt any teenager watched it and then decided that he was going to build his own aircraft. The people I spoke with didn’t get they were arguing that because Hollywood made Gidget and Frankie Avalon beach movies that there was no reason why The Endless Summer need ever be made. These were the same people who though the LSA world was really going to take off because a $149,000 Rotax powered euro-trash LSA was “Affordable” compared to a new Mooney. They understood nothing but maintaining their own positions.

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Bruce Brown made On Any Sunday by getting Steve McQueen to fund it. If you want a good example of the word authentic, perhaps McQueen’s life will do; Besides being an actor, he was a Marine, a race car driver, a pilot, firearms expert, and one of the world greatest motorcyclists.

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If you need to understand what a phony is, go back and watch the scene in Top Gun where Tom Cruise is ‘riding’ the motorcycle next to the runway when the F-14 takes off. Look closely and notice the tie downs holding the Kawasaki’s handlebars down to the trailer it is being towed on. Evidently mr Scientology didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle. I couldn’t explain this difference to people a dozen years ago, and in retrospect it now seems like a foolish errand.

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However, each of us has full control, to bring full authenticity to all of our own personal efforts in experimental aviation. Make time to watch On any Sunday over the holidays, and spend a few hours alone deciding how you will make your hours in aviation in 2018 something that Bruce Brown would have put in one of his films.

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Wewjr

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Yearly Condition Inspection on Corvair Engine

Builders:

Get a look at the logbook entry below; This isn’t a joke, it is for real, it was ‘signed’ by an alleged aircraft mechanic six weeks ago in the Chicago area. It was done as a condition of sale for a Corvair powered aircraft which was sold as “Airworthy” and “Inspected” for a new owner who trusted the seller and his mechanic. It is complete bull shit, this doesnt constitute an airworthiness inspection nor a valid log book entry. This is no small matter, log book entries are subject to federal laws.

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I earned my A&P license at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University a generation ago. Our classes on documentation were taught by Professor Robert Routh, a retired NTSB administrative law judge. I am well versed in valid inspections and their documentation. Many homebuilders mistakenly believe that the FAA is somehow lenient on enforcement with homebuilts. I will grant they can appear arbitrary, but when they get focused on a case, they run it just as if it were an airliner. My FAA office is Orlando, and in our area, such an entry if discovered would be grounds for revocation of the mechanics license. That may not even be possible here, because I suspect the name and number are made up.

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As a homebuilder working on your own plane, you don’t have to be concerned about what the jackasses are doing. You are going to finish your own plane, get the repairman certificate for it, and then you are going to do all your own inspections. You will be independent of what others. The Corvair, sets you apart from other homebuilders, because for 28 years I have been teaching builders how to be skilled builder-operators, not just the person who bought something. Your willingness to learn, and our demonstrated commitment to builder education is the perfect alloy to free you from putting your life in the hands of clowns.

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Condition Inspection

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Yes, this is a real log book. Who cleans a $1.50 spark plug?  Why was the timing not set? Where is the oil change? Where is the test run? This is what you get when an uninformed person wants to make a quick buck and a seller wants to imply something is airworthy. Your life is too important to trust it to such people.

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What is this inspection?

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Experimental aircraft don’t get Annual inspections like Certified planes. Instead they get a Condition inspection, which, if an intelligent person with respect for human life is conducting it, is done to at leastthe same standard as an annual on a certified plane.  If you took a Cessna 150 and the average homebuilt and just kept flying them with no further inspections, the homebuilt would break first. No homebuilt has the production numbers nor the refining of a 150, far less having been certified, built by professionals and maintained by them. For this reason, homebuilts need better and more frequent inspections than certified aircraft, but of course they rarely get them. Set yourself apart from the lazy herd, be determined to never have anything in your plane break that you could have found with an inspection. An issue caught on an inspection is an in flight emergency or a tragic disaster prevented. 

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Who can do this inspection?

This inspection is required by the FAA for the plane to be airworthy.  To do the inspection the person conducting it must have been the builder of recordandhold a repairman certificate for that specific plane.  Alternatively, an A&P mechanic can also conduct the inspection.

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Below, I’m going to list all the steps that I consider a minimum to conduct an effective and valid Condition inspection on a Corvair Engine. These are gathered from my writing. There is nothing new here. As evidence read this:  Critical Understanding #12 – Yearly Condition Inspection 

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Now, two Comments:

A)   No one can conduct an inspection without documented standards they are checking the plane against, period. For example, an A&P can’t verify the timing on a Corvair if he doesn’t know what it is supposed to be. So no one would do that right? Guess again, I have seen more than 200 logbook entries for Condition inspections done by A&P mechanics that make no reference to ever checking the timing. These were all done for second owners of planes, people who bought a Corvair powered plane, and had no idea that the timing was ever to be checked. In the last 15 years, I have never had a single A&P ever call me and ask what he was to check on a Condition inspection on a Corvair. This means that almost all of the inspections were useless exercises that made people feel “Safe” when they were not.

B)    I have seen dozens of homebuilders who never followed up their airworthiness inspection with getting a repairman’s certificate for their plane. An inspection done by a builder without this is not valid, and if there is an accident in the plane, don’t expect the insurance company to pay nor the Feds to be nice either. Think this doesn’t happen? Guess again. I have personally looked at the books of a Lycoming powered homebuilt that had 9 consecutive non-valid inspections because the builder didn’t have a repairman’s certificate. But wait, it gets better: Because he was an airline pilot, he deceptively wrote “A+P” after his inspections to look like A&P. When I called him on this he explained that he was just writing the abbreviation for Airline Transport Pilot, ATP, and then he has the real BS line of saying “The ATP is really the superior rating to the A&P”. Before jumping to conclusion that no one ‘normal’ would do this, know that the guy is a retired flag rank officer and he flew more than 50 Young Eagles in a plane with fraudulent documentation.  If anyone thinks they could dance around that detail when you meet the Feds, they are delusional. Have an accident in that plane and the FAA, would charge the pilot with falsifying federal records, his insurance wouldn’t be valid, and he would he personally liable for civil action.  Flying a uninspected plane is something that people try to justify all the time. Just don’t be one of them.

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Below, I’m going to list 11 steps that I consider a minimum to conduct an effective and valid Condition inspection on a Corvair Engine. These are gathered from my writing. There is nothing new here.

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One)Get a copy of FAR-43 and read appendix D, it lists the minimum of items to be done to a power plant on an annual inspection. Your Corvair will need everyone of these done. The logbook entry when complete will specifically state that “This engine has been inspected in accordance with the scope and detail of appendix D”(https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2002-title14-vol1/pdf/CFR-2002-title14-vol1-part43-appD.pdf)

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Two)Conduct an up to date information search to make sure your engine is up to current standards. All valid inspections require the inspector to reference the source of his technical data. If someone wants to claim on their insurance form the have an engine to “WW standards”, they have to reference my most current manual, (2014) and the technical updates I publish like the critical understanding series.  This means that the plane will have Denso Plugs, it will not have Chinese rockers, it will have a 5th bearing, etc. You can’t pass an annual inspection on a Cessna ignoring all the AD’s published in the last 10 years, and no logical person is going to argue that a Corvair engine that reflects none of the advancements we have made in the last decade is really as safe as reasonably possible.  The Log book should specifically state the date of the manual being followed and that all Corvair Service Bulletins have been addressed.

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Three) Run up test. This is done to verify that the engine is running correctly. The full static rpm is to be noted, on each ignition, along with the OAT. The idle setting, and the drop with carb heat applied. The mixture, if equipped is to be tested. All engine instrumentation is to be checked for function. Any deviations from accepted levels or function are to be corrected.  Charge and Load test the battery. replace it if it fails or retire it if it is more than 5 years old. NEVER put a trickle charger on an AGM battery like an Odyssey.

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Four) Open the cowling completely, Perform a full visual inspection for leaks and cracked or broken parts paying particular attention to wiring chafing and any exhaust leaks. Wash the engine and dry it. Re-inspect it clean. This process should take at least one hour without interruption. Inspect the inside of the cap, the rotor and the wires. visible  wear is not acceptable. Oil leaks on the engine are not considered acceptable and are to be corrected as detected Carefully inspect balancer for any type of degradation of the elastomer. None is acceptable.

This is a good time to Check the prop. Re-torque the propeller to manufacturers specs. and enter this number in the logs, along with the next required interval for torque.

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Five) Fluids and filters: The oil and filter must be changed, no matter how recently it was. The old filter must be cut open and inspected, and the element saved for later comparison. Any increase in the amount of metal compared to a previous element is reason for further inspection. Log Book to reflect, brand, type and quantity of oil.  Clean or replace air filter, and note this in logs. Bracket brand air filter elements must be replaced at inspection, no matter how many hours they were used. Replace all fuel filters, drain and clean all sumps, including the carb float bowl.

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Six)Spark plugs, Denso only. While we used AC-R44F plugs for many years, We switched over to Denso plugs , both regular and iridium. We have several heat ranges we use with different displacements and compression ratios. They are the easiest, quickest, lowest cost way to add a much greater margin of safety against detonation to your engine. There is no reason why, years after we tested these plugs, that builders should not be using them, yet perhaps half the flying planes still have AC or some other brand plug in them. For the people who say “But AC’s worked fine, I’m still going to use them”  consider that before laparoscopic surgery, people s gall bladders were removed with surgery that was close to a midlevel broad sword wound. If you needed the operation, how would you feel if the doctor said “we are going old-school, it works fine.”

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Seven)Compression test: Learn more here: Compression and Detonation Testing, #2 . Perform a DIFFERENTIAL compression test. Note the compressions for each cylinder, and where the leaks are. Instead of 60/80 being minimum, make 68/80 minimum. anything less than 72/80 requires another inspection in 5 hours.

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Eight)Timing set with light on both ignitions Critical Understanding #4, ANY loss of RPM is Detonation.   Set the timing on BOTH, A and B ignitions, at full static rpm. Note the timing and rpm in the logs for each ignition. Make sure the RPM drop on the back up ignition is within limits.

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Nine)Two minute test Critical Understanding #6, The “Two Minute Test”   Write the OAT, DA, CHT, RPM and oil temp and pressure in the logs

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Ten) One person test flight Critical Understanding #7, The Most Qualified Pilot, ALONE.

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Eleven) Log book entry. Date and sign the logs with the final statement “I , xxxx xxxxx swear that I have inspected this engine, entered the data in the logs and declare this engine to be airworthy” put down your repairman’s certificate number or your A&P license number.

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NOTE: If the plane’s insurance specifies the engine is being operated  “In accordance with William Wynne guidelines” as some insurance does, this means the insurance will not be valid if the compression numbers in in the logs say “130 -125-….” indicating an automotive tester was used or if they find the motor to have NGK or Bosh plugs. Your plane, your choice, do as you wish, just answer for yourself what is to be gained by doing it differently, and what the potential cost is.

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IT Help!

Builders:

In 2017, I took a break from my normal pace of stories. Part of this was getting to the point where I believed few people were really moved or informed enough by the things I wrote to change their perspective on homebuilding and American manufacturing. Part of the reason for the writing break was taking time to contemplate the passing of my father. These have both settled in a bit, so I tentatively went back to writing. 

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In getting restarted, the largest impediment has been my frustration over technical stuff. When I want to share a tough story about a bitter but important lesson, in the right hour the words can flow out, but I find it infuriating technical BS like updated software will not allow a simple photo to be shared without distortion. Such maddening glitches which delay publishing a story for a hour, provide a window where part of me asks “who really cares anyway?” and I often delete stories I would have published. IT people may find existing software brilliant and intuitive, but I think it is the best example of thousands of unrequested ‘features’ in a product preventing it from being efficiently used for its ostensible mission, a common issue with too many appliances today.

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Into the dilemma, wades my brother in law, John. He has offered, to his eventual great regret, to assist me with the process of getting information out in a much more organized and accessible way. He is going to function as an editor and tech guy for my catalogue of stories. Simultaneously I have offered to teach I’m how to build a Corvair flight motor, this makes a balanced endeavor on paper, but in reality……..

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No matter how lacking John claims his knowledge of engines is, I will have a much easier time fulfilling my side of the bargain, not just because The Corvair designed by Al Kolbe was brilliant and the Mac designed by Steve Jobs would be reason to execute him were he not already dead from bad Karma, but critically, because John wants to be a Motorhead and the only thing in the world I would rather do less than be an IT person is to watch a beauty pageant hosted by Donald Trump which had Hillary Clinton as miss Arkansas.

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When you are done rinsing your mouth out after that last image, please welcome my Brother in law John to the world of building and flying Corvairs.

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Above, John and myself at the circle. Over the years we have had a number of adventures together,  Compared to teaching me computer skills, riding 5,800 miles to pose in front of the sign above was a piece of cake.

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BIL Note: I am slowly learning WordPress and hope to improve WEW’s amazing written word treasure chest. If you find a mistake, or have a suggestion, please email me @ aaajn7511@gmail.com

Cheers,

John (guy of the left)

 

Yes, Pietenpols do need 5th Bearings..

Builders,

Dan Weseman was speaking to a guy who wanted to build a Corvair powered Pietenpol.  He told Dan that it didn’t need a 5th Bearing. Dan told him he was not correct about that, that is was our joint policy that Pietenpols do need 5th bearings on their Corvairs.

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Funny thing happens next: Guy who has never built a Corvair, nor a Pietenpol, tells Dan, a guy who has about 1,000 hours of Corvair time in 10 or 12 different Corvair powered planes, works with this stuff every day, is the closest of friends with me, and has his finger on the pulse of the Corvair world, that Dan is wrong, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

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I don’t have the imagination to understand how a guy with essentially no experience, tells the guy with 15 years of hardcore experience and full access to all I know after 28 years, that he is wrong. That is beyond my comprehension. So just sticking with the direct question: Yes, Pietenpols do need 5th bearings, period.

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Above, Bob Lester with his Corvair powered Pietenpol at CC #39 in Barnwell SC. The plane is now approaching 900 hours. Ever since hour #1, the plane has had a 5th bearing on it. Before this plane, Bob had a Corvair powered KR-2, and experienced a crank break in it before the advent of 5th bearings. When it came to his Piet, he was not going to gamble nor rationalize; It has a first class 2,700cc Corvair with a 5th bearing. The plane has modest instrumentation and an ‘industrial’ finish.  Bob understood that actually managing risk effectively means a solid motor comes before paint and radios. 

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I’m not sure who is promoting the idea that some Corvair powered aircraft really don’t need a 5Th bearing, but let me be really clear: Every Corvair powered plane needs one, period.

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I have heard a lot of rationalizations on why Pietenpol do not, but these opinions are mostly based on very old experience, and I can easily name 4 Corvairs without a 5th bearing on Pietenpol that have fractured a crankshaft. Fortunately, no aircraft were destroyed nor anyone seriously hurt, but no one should gamble that he can become the 5th guy on that list, because he could easily become the 1st guy on a different list, a title  which is posthumously awarded.

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Here is something of a wake up: I go to Colleges to teach people how to build the best motors possible, and how to exercise good judgement. I do this for free. When I drive there, I take a 31 year old truck, worth about $1,500. The 3,000cc Corvair in my plane cost  5 times this amount of money to build. Although my work earns me a “McDonalds assistant Manager” level of income, I don’t cut corners on aircraft engines to save money.  Just like a Pietenpol, my plane has a passenger seat, and the person getting in it can read the FAA mandated sticker saying that the plane does not conform to certified standards, but the passenger has a rational expectation that the builder and pilot was intelegent enough to make a $1,050 investment in safety.

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When a guy comes to a College driving a pickup truck that litterally is worth thirty five times as much as mine, and he wants to cry poverty about the $1,050 cost of a 5th bearing, I may look like I’m paitently discussing it with him, but that is just an illusion provided by my first class anger management training. In reality, I think he is making a very poor decision. In my experience, there is no correlation between ability and willingness to pay.  I have seen an awful lot of people who drive $50,000 vehicles and live in $500,000 houses claim a $1,050 5th bearing is too expensive. Perhaps these people need to look into the rising cost of final expenses to understand what they can’t afford.

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Lots of people say “BHP didn’t have one” or “No one had one before 2003” My response: Great, go back to the first chapter of my book and read the sentance that says “I reserve the right to get smarter.” Look at it this way: Does anyone think at the FAA will accept an anual inspection on a certified plane that didn’t comply with any AD written since 2003 because the owner says “It was considered airworthy in 2002 before that AD was issued.” Really, run that past your FSDO and let me know how that works.

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In the greater Pietenpol community, theyre are many people who like old wives tales and don’t like airworthlyness. At Brodhead, the Pietenpol gathjering, I had one of them actually stand up and say to me that I was “Ruining Pietepols” by teaching people about CG issues on them. He stated “Some people just want to fly low and slow and not worry about that stuff.”  I told him he had just publicly advocated running out of altitude, airspeed and ideas all at once.

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I can’t help people like that. I can’t help people who think that a $2,000 paint job comes before a 5th bearing. I can’t help people who spend $1,500 on wire wheels but say things like “it will be alright.” In the words of the most famous guy from my Florida town; “Say you will be alright come tomorrow, but tomorrow might not be here for you.”

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Are you listening? Oshkosh 2016: Lynn Knoll, flanked by his sons, brought his 2700 cc Corvair/Pietenpol to Airventure. The plane took 12 years to build. It had 60 hours on it, and it did not have a 5th bearing.  After congratulating them on completion, I took them aside and flatly and plainly told them they needed to go diretly home and install a $1,050 Weseman Gen I 5th bearing. It would take one weekend. His sons thanked me for this and said they were certianly going to do this.

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The following spring, they called to say the plane now had 200 hours on it, they never put the bearing on, and now it had a broken crank. Besides the fact it now had $3,000 worth of internal engine damage, their dad flying the plane had just barely made it back to the airport. It had been a very close call. One of the son’s said to me “You were right” casually. He offered that his dad didn’t want to spend the money, and it was his plane. I wasn’t intrested in his addmision that I was right, that was evident enough, and I really wasn’t intrested in the rationalizations. I my book, you get one dad in this life, and if he is too cheap to take care of himself, you do it for him.

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Think that was the last time I’d have that discussion? At Corvair College #41, Keith Goff had his new Corvair Powered Piet on hand. It did not have a 5th bearing. I privately said to him that he needed to correct this, Dan and Rachel were right there, and he could directly order it on the spot. When he offered “It was on his priority list” I shared the story of the Knoll Pietenpol, and told him that he was in the process of making the exact same mistake.

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Standing beside me when I said this was Pietenpol builder Terry Hand. I pointed out to Keith that in the last 18 months, both Terry and I had lost our fathers, so neither one of us was casual about people taking unnecessary risks, particularly if it involved someones dad flying a plane, or someone like him, who is a dad.  I said that either Terry or I would have taken anyones serious advice to protect our fathers, and I didn’t understand anyone who was going to ignore what I had to say about this to save $1,050.

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Please read: “If only someone had told him……”

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WW

Little Green Barn story.

Update: Below is a story I wrote four years ago today, and put on this site.  It only appeared for a day, and then I removed it at the request of my friend, the owner of the very private airport where the story took place. He understood the attachment people would have to the story, but was concerned that a people he never met would try to seek out his secluded airstrip.

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I’m returning the story to this blog briefly, because the essential element, that each of us can find our own ‘perfect airport’  and use it as a place of mental refuge from the most corrosive parts of todays consumer life, remains very important. 

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In the four years, things have changed. My friend sold the airport, the barn moved, awaiting the discovery of another perfect setting and the man who owned the Fleet 10 has passed from this life. But these elements are just attached to one previous location. The concept in the story is alive, and I hope it can motivate other aviators to find the right location for their own ‘Little Green Barn’.

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In 2018, Im planning on a large loop, flying around the country with an eye out for such places. I have an image in my mind of a dozen or two people reading this story and finding a secluded airstrip for their own Barn. If, a few years from now, we privately shared the locations, it would form a perfect archipelago, just like small islands in a large ocean. A very pleasant way to use a small airplane to travel to a very different time in aviation.

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wewjr

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Important request: A number of people reading this could identify the location of the original airport, the name of it’s owner or the owner of the Fleet 10, or one of the other people in the story. I ask that people respect the privacy of these people and not mention their names in the comments. I left them out of the original story for this reason. The meaning of the story isn’t tied to their identity, the value of the story is solely about how it makes you feel as an aviator.

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From 2013:

Builders,

A long time ago, I had this idea called “the little green barn.”  Over the years I have talked about this with a number of close aviation friends who’s understanding of aviation adventure fits more into a setting from The Great Waldo Pepper than it does into the pages a Sporties catalog. For those of you with dreams that differ from the norm, read on……

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Above; It really isn’t a ‘barn’. I originally looked at the Ortho book on shed and shop plans, but stumbled on something called a ‘Sheppard’s hut’, common in Great Britain.  I used their size and shape, but my rustic taste was closer to tool shed than captain’s stateroom. My budget was $800. 

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OK, here is the idea:  Everyone I know has a “favorite small airport.” Mine happens to be 1,154 miles from my hangar.  It is a private airport out in the middle of nowhere.  I know the owner, and 12 years ago I asked him if I could detour on my way home from Oshkosh and spend a  few days building an 8′ x 12′ ‘little Green Barn’ at his airstrip.  I explained that I might use it for a week once a year, just to fly up there and sit in a comfortable chair and read an armful of books and enjoy the silence.

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My friend liked the idea right off the bat. The kind of guy who owns a rural grass strip 120 miles from his suburban house and corporate job doesn’t have to be sold on this kind of idea. He already understood that many of us need an oasis in our lives, and it can have great value in preserving your sanity, even if you visit it a thousand times more often in your thoughts than you do in person.

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He made some basic suggestions about putting it out of direct sight near a grove of trees, facing south. He said to make it lockable, but to have windows in it so that kids could look in and see that there wasn’t anything in there worth the effort. Because there is no power at the airstrip, I altered the design so that it could be built on a standard car trailer at an equipped shop, driven to the airstrip and towed into position on it’s pressure treated runners by a tractor. Far easier than building it in place. My friend also requested that I not tell people the exact location.

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He prefers to have met all the people who use his airstrip, even if this introduction was a brief as a handshake a Oshkosh 15 years ago. He has an incredibly good memory for people, which he attributes solely to looking at them in the eye and actually listening to their name when he shakes their hand. In a busy year his airstrip sees two or three hundred take offs and landings, done by 50 or so planes.  All of this happens between May and September. Most of the visits are flyers out for the day who will sleep at home. The handful of flyers stopping by on a cross country flight stay for an hour or two, but are looking for lodging with a shower, a diner and maybe a cold beer. For these reasons, almost no one has stayed in the little barn beside the grove of trees. For most people, a few hours aloft cleanses what life in modern society soils.  The little barn is best suited to those of us that need to soak a long time to remove the stains that are absorbed in a typical life.

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As it turns out I have been back to my favorite airport exactly once in the last decade. I planned on going every year, but didn’t. This said, I still think the place was a big part of my sanity. I looked at the weather there countless times, flight planned the cross country there a dozen times, looked at the picture of the little roof on Google maps, even turned down a great deal on a plane simply because it couldn’t land at the little strip, and thus would be precluded from my many pleasant hours thinking about flying to stay a week at the little green barn. I can honestly say that in 10 years, I never went two weeks without thinking about the place. I have the key to the barn door on my key ring in my pocket.

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When I did visit, the place was the simple refuge I wanted. It’s military surplus cots served well, and were the only furniture other than a card table, an Adirondack chair and a desk chair.  The Colman lantern I left years before was the only light, and a camp stove cooked the coffee and the little I ate.   My friend had installed a tiny wood burning stove, but didn’t need it. There was an old Schwinn single speed bike and directions to a convenience store 7 miles away, but I never went there.

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I got up in the morning at first light and watched the sun rise sitting on the barn’s front steps. I realized that unless I willed otherwise, the whole day would pass without me speaking to, or even seeing another human. No computer, no cell phone, no TV, no land line, not even a radio. Watching the sun set after the first day, I realized that I could string together a number of these days without interruption, and this would be a rare opportunity not to be squandered. Theoretically someone could do something similar in their house in suburbia, but they would essentially be hiding, where I was out, alive, in the full of things.  I had been alone at sea in a small boat out of sight of land, with the opportunity to do this same thing, but that setting requires a high degree of vigilance which keeps the mind occupied. Sitting alone at the airstrip required no such attention, and thus with the mind off guard duty, the spirit was free to come out and look around, unfettered.

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I spent a lot of the time reading.  Several years before I had walked around the book cases in the house and filled a milk crate with a mixture of favorites I wanted to read again and classics I had never made the time to. For all my talk about the spirit of being an American, I had never actually read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I tossed it in, and brought the crate to Oshkosh. I met my friend in the booth, and gave him the collection to take out to the airstrip. On my visit, I read the book and concluded that some things were meant to be read in a timeless setting, far from your normal distractions.

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My friend had installed a ‘logbook’ for the barn. It was on a rack on the inside of the door. It looked like a motel guestbook from a black and white movie. In it were about 100 entries from the first seven years of the Barn. Only 5 different people had used the place, and only three entries mentioned a ‘guest’. All of the entries in the log had the plane, the date, the pilot and a section for ‘remarks.’ Most of the entries had a note, often taking about the weather or flight in. This is probably a habit from aircraft logs, but also a reflection that most pilots don’t like to write personal things in public places, even logs that few others will ever see. They may love reading Gann’s words on flight, but the rarely add their own.

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What caught my eye was the 20 or so entries that followed the sign in “Fleet model 10F.” My friend had completely restored this plane for a very wealthy guy he knew, same guy who had stayed at the Barn. ‘Mr Fleet’ was the last guy I would picture retuning many times to a little wooden hut in the middle of nowhere. I had het him before at Oshkosh and was not impressed. Something moving he wrote in the remarks section about his late wife made me feel like a jackass for what I had previously thought about him.

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 One of the entries that included the words ‘ and guest’ after the pilots name had a long, beautiful paragraph written in a woman’s handwriting. It spoke about how quiet it was, and the color of the sky at sunset, and smell of the grass when you laid down in it to stare at the clouds blow by, and how unimportant time seemed on that day.  Although I don’t know her name and will likely never meet her, I have this very strong sense that if she walked past me on the street, I would somehow know it was her.

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If you tell people outside of aviation that “a plane can take you a lot of places”, they most often think of it as some sort of alternative form of a car. What is far harder to explain to them is how a plane is the ideal vehicle to travel to a different state, not a different geographical one, but a different mental state.

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I have tried telling people how you can go flying for the last 30 minutes of the day, stare at the sky in awe, and feel the distinct division between you and the plane fading. As the sun sinks, you can quietly come down the sliding board and roll out on the grass and come to a halt.  I can do this fluidly and gently roll into my front yard. This always gives me the very powerful feeling I have just been somewhere else.

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The timer on the dash may record the exact number of minutes aloft, but it seems untrustworthy. The correct answer seems to be that I have been gone months not minutes, that I have been to a place thousands of miles away not thousands of feet away.  It is just not possible to explain to people that a plane is the only vehicle that can transport you like that.

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I have tried to explain that it is much like looking up from the last page of an incredibly good book, and finding that you are sitting in a chair with a book in your hands, not in the world described by the author’s words. Good writing, really good writing, can give you the impression you have been to and seen things you have not. It can unstick you from your immediate setting and transport you to a different place, or even a different year.

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Planes and flying are the only things I have found in the physical world that have the power to do the same thing with an hour of your life.  Aloft, alone, just you the plane and the sky, and you become detached from the ground. With no radios, there is no connection. Half of your brain is keeping track of the minutes and the navigation, and that half will run the whole experience if you let it. But the other side of your brain, the side that absorbs the entire experience, the part that drinks in everything that the senses provide, is also there. It is this second half of the brain that takes you to places beyond the physical sense.

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If you can get to settings and planes without excess instrumentation and radios, you will relive the first half of your brain from being on full alert. It is exactly the same thing as I thought sitting alone on the steps of the barn:

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 “Sitting alone at the airstrip required no such attention, and thus with the mind off guard duty, the spirit was free to come out and look around, unfettered.”

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In a really simple plane, alone in the sky, when you trust your work and basic flying skills enough to let go of your analytical side, they you can think, see and feel with the other half of your brain in a way that isn’t possible on the ground. You can squint your eyes, and it doesn’t matter what year it is anymore, or where you thought you needed to be.

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Don’t mistake this for being dreamy or not alert; to the contrary, it is the analytical part of you brain that gets absorbed in minutia and misses the situational awareness of the moment. Consider that most great fighter pilots report having no sense of time in dogfights, proof they flew the whole event on the second half of their brain. You can exercise the same effect in a peaceful setting also.

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Writing, planes, simple flight and the second half of your mind can take you many places, locations that are just not accessible by other means.  They can take to both places you need to go, and places you should have been, and maybe even places that should have been.  If you have watched the great Waldo Pepper 50 times, go watch it once more and think about that last sentence.  “A Streetcar Named Desire was not a film about public transportation.*” and Waldo Pepper was not a movie about barnstormers.

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* When confronted by people who dismissed a film by its surface subject, Critic Gene Shalit blurted out “A Streetcar Named Desire was not a film about public transportation”