when new people arrive in homebuilding, they have to make a critical decision, although they have little experience to make this call. It is the choice of who to work with.
A common misconception is that the worst thing that could happen is spending tens of thousands of dollars, waiting years, having the company go bankrupt, and being stuck with worthless junk. While that is bad, it isn’t the worst outcome; You could be killed trying to operate junk from people without ethics.
Think it doesn’t happen? Come to my booth at Oshkosh after hours, bring a lawn chair and a few beers, and I will share plenty of stories of good people who made a poor decision of who to work with. What is the most common reasons what normally rational people work with junk merchants? #1, to ‘save money’ and #2, because the junk merchants were polite, and never challenged them, and their egos liked this when they were spending money. That is the attitude of a consumer, not a student of aviation. Flying is a notoriously unforgiving pursuit, and living under the illusion that “The customer is always right” applies to homebuilding can have very serious consequences.
Above is an example of who a ‘wrong’ person was. Do you believe in Karma? For evidence, I offer the 2006 letter above. Notice how the writer is complementing my commitment to experimental aviation. What he actually did was take every part that we painstakingly developed for Zeniths in 2004, bought them, and proceeded to make cheap copies of them. He had no aviation experience, he was a lawyer who personally sued people for a living. He started a big website called “Ventureray LLC”. you think that he wouldn’t get anywhere, but he actually sold parts to people who were looking to ‘save money’. He did this, in spite of signing a products agreement to not do so. The Karma part? He killed himself and his wife (who was also a lawyer who sued people) in his plane, hitting a 40′ tree 5,000′ from where he started his take off roll. Read the story here: Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy……Keep in mind, it doesn’t normally work this way, the person who usually comes to tragedy is a customer, not the junk merchant.
That wasn’t the only guy to have tried that trick, I have at least 5 people who posed as builders to get access to what we have learned, to then turn around and try to sell cheap copies and untested ideas to other builders. You would think that people planning on building a plane they will fly would understand that you go the source, not a copy cat for aviation parts, but #1 and #2 above are very powerful factors in a society overflowing with people who understand the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.
The easiest way to recognize bad people: They started off as customers of the person they copy parts from; They claim to have many years of experience, but have an LLC that is new, because the last 2 LLC’s they had got closed; They always agree with the customers never saying anything an egotistical person would find offensive; They don’t have any known people in the industry who are willing to vouch for them. Just because they have a booth at an airshow or even get a magazine story, use your head, and google the names of the principle people. Do your homework….like your life depends on it.
The other side of the Coin:
Above, Phil Maxon’s 601XL airborne over the Florida coast at Ponce Inlet, 2006. Phil built his engine in our shop, and did the installation and test flights from there. It was the second Corvair powered 601XL, after our own. He is still flying the plane today. Part of why this is a success story is he chose the right people to work with.
Read these links:
14 Years of Corvair Powered Zeniths.
What defines ‘reputable’ in our industry?
EAA Major Achievement Award.
3 Replies to “Successful Homebuilding: Selecting the right people.”
I came to the Corvair movement because a person, let’s call him Mr. X, was claiming on a type forum that he was going to power his plane with a Corvair and kick everyone else’s ass on the forum with it. He wasn’t flying yet, hadn’t built the airframe, but bought one with a VW engine mount, and cobbled together an adapter to a Corvair without testing it. Mr. X also cut off the aluminum intake logs and built his own intake manifold, claiming that the total engine weight was under 200 pounds. (He never showed the engine being weighed).
Because of Mr. X’s claims, I went to Corvair College #5 to investigate the Corvair for myself. I met William and had a long discussion on the Corvair and what this person was doing. I came away impressed with William’s dedication to testing, and left with a wariness toward’s Mr. X’s claims. After installing the Corvair in his airframe, Mr. X had to rebuild it after only about 20 hours, because of a stupid mistake.
The rumor was that Mr. X wanted to go into business and sell Corvair parts in competition with William, and was acquiring engine cores to start. The first part he developed and sold was a deep oil pan that was thinner, cheaper, and lighter than the one that William sells. He called it “flight tested” after only 35 hours in the air, and his attitude was that people who bought it were engaging in experimental aviation, and should understand that his oil pan was an experiment. He didn’t care that newbies to the homebuilt movement wouldn’t know that is far too short a test period.
Pictures of the installation of the oil pan showed massive amounts of RTV used to seal it to the engine, indicating a sealing problem.
Mr. X flew his plane once to Oshkosh, a one hop trip, and never published performance figures, nor, according to other pilots based at his field, ever gave a ride to anyone else. To my knowledge, he never took a long cross-country either. He’s not making Corvair parts any more, thankfully.
If you want to hear horror stories about automobile engines converted for flight, go to one of the Alternative Engine meetings put on by Pat Panzera’s Contact! Magazine. You will also see some interesting experiments. I was surprised one year when the mere mention of one, very well known supplier of widely advertised experimental engines brought howls of anger and ridicule from the group that included customers and friends of customers. As far as I can determine, that business was using its customer base to test its products. If something went wrong, it was always the customer’s fault, and the customer had to pay for any upgrades or improvements to fix a problem that was inherent in the engine or the business’ conversion.
The owner had been in business for several years with beautiful ads and big claims for power and weight in magazines, but shortly after the time of that meeting, shut the doors. To my knowledge, customers got no refunds on unfilled orders. He’s now selling a different engine conversion under a different business name.
There have been well-meaning people who have worked hard to develop all sorts of automobile conversions. Some didn’t understand all of the engineering problems inherent in the engine and persevered, but eventually couldn’t solve all of the problems or found enough of a market for their products. Some have run into legal problems. and have been put out of business, others were not well-meaning, and simply snake oil salesmen, and a few have been pure rip-off artists, like the couple described above who have copied other people’s work.
I am not an engineer, and I have not recently stayed in a Holiday Inn to make me an expert, but I’ve been hanging around the homebuilt movement for well over 45 years and watched a lot of businesses come and go. William’s survival in the business and his willingness to test and learn from those tests puts him in a class of his own.
In late 2003, I read the first 13 pages of William Wynne’s 2002 Conversion Manual where William’s internal philosophical core beliefs are on full display and I knew that I could work with this person. I needed a reliable information source that would tell it like it is. I was starting from scratch and I expected a long learning curve. When I started this project, I made a promise to my wife that I would not do anything stupid. I admit, sometimes I didn’t know what I need to know and that took time to sort out. I made some mistakes. Fortunately, they could be fixed with money, time and my normal don’t quit attitude. William was always available. I think he knew that I was not going to one of the people that did not finish what they start.
I could not put William’s conversion manual down. I read it several times. Each time I learned more about each of the systems that went into the engine conversion and most importantly, I learned why it had to be done this way. An added bonus was, the parts would become available, (not all were available off the shelf as it is today). When William announced that he would be building the Zenith 601 XL, I knew that the FWF setup would be worked out in an expert manner so all I would have to do is copy it. This was the deciding factor for me. I ordered engine parts from William and the Zenith Kit in 12-2003 and my journey began. My Zenith kit arrived on my birthday March 2004. Best birthday ever.
Ten months later my airframe was finished. I built most of it in my nine by sixteen Veterinary business office. Then one and one-half years more to get the avionics, engine, FWF and wiring installed. I was flying by September 1st 2006. In retrospect, I know I chose to associate with the right person. I have met many remarkable people over the last 12 years that are associated with aviation. They excel in the areas of honesty, intelligence and an upbeat ‘can-do’ point of view.
The building and flying process is a Zen experience. It is refreshing to the spirit as is being able to share the experience with others that have a similar interest.
Good Luck to the builders out there. The effort is worth it.
An old saying I heard quite awhile back ;
Especially with regards to aviation, the laws of physics are absolute. Violate them at your peril, for justice is swift. There is no appeal. And your last name doesn’t matter.