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”