Thought for the Day: What an AR-15 could teach you about homebuilt aircraft.

Builders,

Even if you are not disposed to appreciate firearms, please follow the perspective I’m trying to share, it’s important.

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The AR series of weapons is now 60 years old, but it remains incredibly popular because it is a very versatile modular design, adaptable to be the best answer to a wide range of tasks. It was originally the product of two brilliant Americans, Eugene Stoner and James Sullivan.

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“AR-15” is now a generic design term, and there are literally 100’s of companies that make them. One can be assembled from $400 of parts, or you can easily spend $5,000 on a custom rifle. This leads to endless internet and magazine discussions about what is “The best AR-15” at any price point, typically $3,000. Once the argument is introduced, fan’s of different brands will argue this endlessly, because we live in a society of consumers, people who mistake ownership for understanding and skill.

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Eventually,  A thinking person will point out the valid answer: The worlds best $3,000 AR-15 is a good $1,000 rifle, $1,000 worth of professional instruction, and $1,000 of practice ammunition. If the discussion is using it as a defensive tool in the 1/10 of one percent lifetime chance of needing to protect one’s family, this is the only valid answer to the $3,000 question. No one sane thinks ownership of an expensive device is a substitue for really knowing how to use a modest one.

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Above: Yes, I do own a suit, and it is fashion coordinated with my ‘hardware’.   Took this photo in the yard after I was called as a witness at a local land use civil trial. It was meant to be funny, I originally published it with the caption “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money”, a nod to Warren Zevon.

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YOUR AVIATION CONNECTION:

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If you follow aviation posts on websites and social media, it is easy to see people wowed by interiors, paint jobs and avionics. It’s a mostly free world, and people can focus on whatever they like, but these items are consumer accessories to flight. They should come way after a builder has covered a good airframe, a good engine, understanding and mastery of both , and has budgeted for serious transition training and has a significant budget for continuous improvement of his/her personal flight skills. This should be your “$3,000” answer in homebuilding, but few people look at it that way.

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If there is a .1% lifetime chance of needing a defensive tool to protect your family, Consider this: If your plane has a passenger seat, it’s roughly one thousand times more likely that you will have to use your flying skills and understanding of your airframe and engine to protect the safety of a member of your family. Does that make a better case for professional training and serious study?

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Consider the simple case of a Corvair powered Zenith aircraft. My wife and I put the first one together in 2003. In spite of being an A&P and experienced builder, I went to the factory to see how Zenith puts their design together. I knew the engine, but still did extensive ground testing of it; The day it was ready to fly, it had no interior, no paint, and no radios, those resources were used elsewhere; We had the most skilled pilot on hand, Gus Warren do the test flights, and later we paid a very skilled CFI for transition training. Only much later were ‘accessories’ added. The plane was flown hundreds of hours and gave 125 demo flights without incident. Priorities in the right order.

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Both Zenith aircraft and myself offer a number of essentially free training opportunities for builders every year. As I type this, Zenith is down at the Sebring airshow, and anyone can see how their planes are correctly built. I hold several Corvair Colleges per year, including one at the Zenith factory. We are across from each other at Oshkosh, yet very few builders take much advantage of these chances to learn. Many of the people at Oshkosh spend days shopping for avionics, but never ask Roger Dubbert a single 3 minute question about flying. There is specific professional transition training available for these planes and Zenith encourages people to use it, but only a small percentage take this seriously. These people are subconsciously buying into a $3,000 rifle accessories ‘solution’ instead of seeking the $1,000 X 3 solution of training and mastery. 

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If you think I’m being overly critical, consider this. At Oshkosh 2011, I asked 6 pilots who flew in with their Zenith 601XL’s “What is the maneuvering speed (Va) of your plane?” The four with nice paint jobs and interiors didn’t know it. It isn’t a coincidence that the two who said “105 MPH” instantly had modestly finished planes. If you have been the passenger in a plane where the PIC didn’t know the Va, you have taken a serious risk, no matter how nice the paint job was. If you have ever sat in the left seat of a plane and contemplated leaving the ground in a plane without knowing the Va, it’s time to rethink priorities.

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A plan for your 2019 season: It doesn’t matter what the herd is going to do. You didn’t get into homebuilding to follow the crowd in seeing how little one can get away with. You are an individual, you can set your own standards, and live up to them. Make the decision that this year, you will devote more time to learning than shopping, you will spend some portion of your travel, time and money focused on learning from professionals, not shopping from salesmen.

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Start here, buy and read this book: Greatest Book on Flying Ever Written, (Is your life worth $16?)

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Wewjr.

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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 www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

13 Responses to Thought for the Day: What an AR-15 could teach you about homebuilt aircraft.

  1. parker wood says:

    I recognize the lower but who is the guy in the suit.

    Woode Zuehl Field Texas

  2. Earnest Fontenot says:

    William,
    I read “Stick and Rudder” because of reading your blog here. Excellent book!
    If I were asked to describe in one short phrase the most important thing I learned from this book I would say without a doubt, “Angle of Attack”.
    Thanks,
    Earnie

  3. John C zschmitz Jr. says:

    You. clean up good.

  4. jaksno says:

    I agree with everything you said, of course. Just one deviation…as far as home defense…a short Rem 870 12 ga with ‘big balls’ (buckshot) and a sleeve on the stock with 5 more shells mounted upside down for re-load should that near impossible necessity present itself. But none of that is near as important as what you said and say about flying reliably and long lived. Thank you again.

    • My primary lines of defense are having a lines of vehicles no one else can start, nothing most people want, and living a long way from no where. If anyone invaded my home I would poison them with my cooking or bore them to death with my conversation, both cruel and unusual treatment, worse than the 870 treatment

      • jaksno says:

        Hahaha!…that’s better! {;^) (Yes, 40 miles from the nearest traffic light makes a difference here, too.)

  5. David says:

    I built my own AR15 and im on my 3rd trip through stick and rudder, I learn something new every time I read it.

  6. Steve says:

    My copy is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I’ve never regretted any book, seminar, video or presentation. If I got just one crumb of new knowledge I knew it would be worthwhile. Like many things in life its better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Besides it’s about flying.

  7. Jeff says:

    William,
    Thanks for the 2019 challenge. I too finally picked up a copy of Stick and Rudder after reading your post. I wanted to go a little different so I bought the oldest copy I could find in an hour’s worth of looking online. I found one from the 3rd printing of the original 1944 hardcover edition that is reported to have come from the estate of a USN Aviator. It still has his name stenciled inside the front cover and has enough wear & tear to indicate that it was obviously read a lot but also well cared for. I paid over twice the $16 but the fact that this book may have help train one of our Nation’s heroes long ago (in addition to the old book smell) makes it well worth it to me. Hopefully it will bring me luck (which is actually the original owner’s last name).
    As for long-gun jollies, mine are provided by a December/1943-serialed Springfield Garand which is still in very nice condition.
    Oh, the stories I wish my book and rifle could tell…

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