Fuel Injection – Corvair flight engines reference page

Builders:

Here is one spot where we have collected a number of different stories on Fuel injection for Corvair aircraft onto a single reference page. Like the other reference pages, it is a central starting point on the topic, and easy to keep updated or make additions to. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, read on, there is a significant amount of information here.

If I were to pick a single topic that new builders are interested in, but know little about the applications of, It would be Fuel Injection. This is a topic dominated by misconceptions and myths. Here is a quick check: Do you think that a port fuel injection engine or one with a carb on a long intake manifold makes more power? Would you be surprised to learn that the evaporative cooling effect of the carbs fuel delivery can give it a significant advantage? It does, and to learn this and many other points on reliability, read on. Unlike much of the info on the net from armchair experts, the information below is straight from experience and testing…in aviation settings, not in cars.

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The information below is in the following order:

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1) Links to stories I have written on FlyCorvair,net

2) A full print of my Group numbering system #3700 EFI notes.

3) A reality check story from 2008 on EFI failures

4) Notes on Internet ‘experts’ you should beware of

5) A 385 mph EFI plane and some final thoughts.

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Above, a rear view of the Panther engine. Mounted on the intake is a Precision Mechanical fuel injection system. Initially, these was the planned fuel system for the Panther, but after careful evaluation, Dan Weseman opted to go with a very simple MA3-SPA carb. All of the aerobatic flights on video on the Panther site are done with a one barrel aircraft carb, not injection.

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1) Links to stories I have written on FlyCorvair.net:

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Click on the titles in color to read the full stories:

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Mechanical Fuel Injection Testing

Compares Precision and Airflow performance instalations

Fuel Injected Corvairs

stories on 3 running EFI engines

Group Sources for the new numbering system.

Covers that EFI is Group  #3700 and Mechanical injection is Group #3800.

Panther Prototype Engine 3,000 cc/120 hp to OSH

Another look at the Precision system

Corvair Powered Davis DA-2, w/EFI

The only successful flying EFI Corvair powered plane. A hard won achievement.

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2) A full print of my Group numbering system #3700 EFI notes:

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3700- EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection)

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Many people just arriving in aviation are interested in electronic fuel injection.  Some homebuilders are impressed with its performance in cars or have read about one of the handful of experimental aircraft flying with fuel injection. After listening closely to builders, I discerned their interest originated from five reasons: 1) They thought it would make the engine more powerful; 2) They thought it would reduce fuel consumption; 3) They felt that it would eliminate the possibility of carb ice and eliminate the need for carb heat; 4) They thought it would be more reliable than a carb, or; 5) They just wanted to try it. Experience has shown me that the first four are not true to any meaningful degree, and that #5 is the only reason that makes sense. If you are pursuing EFI for reasons #1-4, you are going to be disappointed, but if #5 is your motivation, then the project may be a success to you.

Let me first say that I am not against EFI, but I think that builders should know the facts before they pursue it. My background on EFI installations in planes is better than most. A guy who works on them all the time in cars, but doesn’t put them in planes, has a long way to go before he learns what he needs to know to be reliably and safely flying. I did a lot of work on Jim Rahm’s 427 cid V-8 Lancair IVP. It had the best EFI system in the air. We had the best people working on it, a nearly unlimited budget and experience that no homebuilder in his garage could match. It took a lot of very hard work to make it the reliable system. Just because Jim’s motor made 600 HP and you only want 120 HP doesn’t mean that solving the installation issues will only cost you 1/5 the time and money. And even if it did, we would still be speaking of time by the calendar years and money by the cubic foot. When I read discussions on the Net about EFI on experimental aircraft, I can quickly tell who has never assembled and flown a system.  95% of the advice on the Net is offered by people without flight experience. Out of the 30,000 experimental aircraft in the U.S., I am fairly sure that less than 300 of them have EFI. I cannot think of a single significant aviation record below 500 HP that is held by an EFI engine. There have been many clever people who put a lot of effort into EFI on planes, with little result. No matter what caliber of auto mechanic you are, experience says that you will find exceeding the performance of carbs or mechanical injectors very difficult, and EFI may never have the reliability record of the simple 1 barrel carb.

Out of the roughly 300 experimentals flying with EFI, the vast majority of them are using 1990s auto engines with EFI from the factory. In this case, the factory engineers did most of the work. If you think about it, there are very few motors like O-200s, VWs and Corvairs flying on EFI. And the ones flying can’t boast the flight record of carbureted engines. I have seen a number of these planes flying with 35psi fuel pumps inside the cockpit with barbed hose connections and hose clamps. No one should dream of flying things like this. Let’s examine the points one by one objectively to learn about the issues and make an informed decision.

1) I have seen claims that EFI makes the same engine 30% more powerful. Nothing of the sort is true.  Engines make power because they burn a mass of air mixed with the right amount of fuel. There is no way that an engine is going to inhale significantly more air because it doesn’t have a venturi carb. This advantage is slight, and would be well below 5% on an engine like a Corvair. To see any more difference than this, the cylinder heads and intake tract would need to be designed for it right from the start, by very smart people with a lot of sophisticated equipment (of the caliber found in Detroit factories). Slapping an EFI system on the Corvair will not have the same effect. Fuel injected motors are said to make slightly more power because the fuel is better atomized. But carbs, even simple ones, are surprisingly good at this. The amount of records still held in racing by carbs should tell anyone that the EFI power advantage is minimal. Carbs have a very serious advantage of vaporizing the fuel well upstream, and having the air/fuel mixture cooled and its density increased. In almost every case, this offsets any gain in power from atomized fuel. When running at power, Corvair intake manifolds are cold to the touch from vaporizing fuel. EFI does not have this effect.

2) EFI will not significantly reduce fuel burn in a Corvair engine. For best economy, engines need to run a lean mixture. EFI has the theoretical ability to atomize fuel slightly better allowing it to run slightly leaner mixtures than a carb could without detonating. In actual use, it is foolish to run an engine this close to detonation. Modern auto engines can do this because they have computer-controlled ignition tied to a knock sensor and the fuel injection. Without these devices, any significant fuel burn advantage is lost. Many of the well known auto power proponents, even those who work with computer controlled EFI engines, clearly state that EFI doesn’t significantly reduce fuel burn for a given HP in aircraft engines. The efficiency advantage in cars is gained by running in “closed loop” with air/fuel ratios near 14:1. Under this operation, the injectors are fine tuned by reading the O2 sensors many times a second. The reality that few new builders understand is that any engine running at 75% or more power has to be running an air fuel ratio of 12:1. At this setting, O2 sensors don’t reliably work, and the system will operate in open loop, forfeiting any efficiency gains while retaining all the complexity and vulnerability. I have never seen any EFI flight engine that will fly at cruise power in closed loop mode. They are all just operating off a set of pre-programmed values based on RPM and MAP. These can be very crude, as some aftermarket EFI systems have RPM increments as rough as 250 RPM. In cars this would be masked by the O2 sensor moderating the injectors, but it can’t when it is in open loop. It is technical reasons like this that allow carbs to often demonstrate smoother operation than EFI in experimental aircraft.

3) EFI is less prone to carb ice, but is not immune to this trouble. There are still conditions that can cause this trouble. Almost all injected engines have an alternate air source. Homebuilt aircraft in Canada are required to have heated alternate air no matter what the fuel system is, and there is good logic to this. For a more complete discussion of this, see the article on carb ice at the end of the Manual.

4) Many people feel that EFI will free them from things like carb ice, reducing their level of risk in flight. While the risk of carb ice would be reduced for a pilot too careless to use carb heat, many new risks are introduced. EFI requires high pressure pumps, regulators and lines; it can be stopped by a piece of trash in the fuel that a carb would easily pass; its numerous electrical connections are prone to failure by corrosion or poor crimping; and the whole thing is so electrically dependant that most people fly with two batteries. Contrast this with a gravity feed fuel system in a plane with distributor ignition which will run for hours on a small battery with no input from an alternator. You cannot focus on the one possible advantage of a system without considering all the downsides that come with it. Automotive EFI installations are reliable today because auto makers spent literally billions to make them so. Brilliant people in Detroit who are specialists in dozens of details of the installations and privy to incredibly accurate statistical data on failures allow them a great corporate body of experience to tap into with every installation. It is my feeling that anyone looking into EFI who states that it is more reliable is making an argument for the car, not what an individual homebuilder can do in a plane, where a single detail of installation may compromise the system.

My observations on reliability are simple: Any system that uses lower pressure fuel is less likely to leak. Gravity is better than 5 PSI, and 5 PSI is better than 40 ; any system that uses no electricity is better than one that uses  a little, and one that uses a little is better than one that uses a  lot, especially if the one that uses a lot needs it to be a  certain voltage; any system that has less parts and connections is less likely to  fail,; digital electronic connections, working a low voltages, are very sensitive  to corrosion, temperature, and vibration, things planes produce more than newer  cars.

5) Being an experimenter at heart and wanting to address the challenges of an EFI installation is a valid reason for trying it. You know a good, reliable and airworthy system is quite a challenge because you don’t see them often. Anyone who achieved this could be justifiably proud of his creation and would learn a lot along the way. A person who is motivated by this will be satisfied when it works, whereas people motivated by #1 – #4 are bound to be disappointed when EFI cannot live up to the overblown claims many armchair/Internet experts make for it. The only good reason to work on an EFI Corvair is because you want a challenge, and this is more important than finishing your plane soon, or operating at a lower risk level. This is a valid position, and I support anyone who knowingly makes it.

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3) A reality check story from 2008 on EFI failures:

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” A Christmas story”

 At 8 a.m. on December 24th 2008, I was driving my 175,000 mile EFI S-10 up I-95 at 75mph. I had promised my parents that I would make it to their house for Christmas Eve dinner. I had never had a bit of trouble with this EFI engine. Near Richmond, Va., it quickly died out, and I was only able to coax it into a truck stop at 10% power. A morning of diagnosis showed that the pressure regulator had died. It was not in an easy place to get to, no one had a replacement and the truck was worth maybe $500 before it was broken. I gave the truck to a 20-year-old tow truck driver wearing a Chevy hat and a Jack Daniels sweatshirt, as a trade for a ride to a car rental place. We got there 10 minutes before they closed. The driver asked me several times if I was really giving him the truck and if I really was from New Jersey. The experience was counter to many things he had been told about people from N.J.  After some reservation, he took the gift of a truck from a Yankee on the eve of the birth of Jesus to have special significance.

 Such a warning less failure in a plane might prove to be lethal. Note that aircraft carbs almost always run even when they are having an issue.  A good look inside Pat Panzera’s Contact! magazine issue #96 shows a destroyed homebuilt aircraft, product of a sudden EFI failure. Here is a story of a guy who may have felt that carbs and engines without O2 sensors were stone age. Maybe, but stone age tools are noted for reliability. I am glad the builder was not more seriously hurt. Over the years, a number of people have written to explain that they are going to engineer their own EFI systems, or use something called “shareware” to program one (the blind leading the blind on the Net). Out of perhaps 50 people who have written this, not a single one of them went on to produce a running EFI engine. Experience tells me that people who arrive with a big flourish and little consideration for what has been accomplished have a very low chance of flying anything.

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4) Notes on Internet ‘experts’ you should beware of:

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A modest search on the internet will reveal many people speaking about EFI for Corvair powered planes. Armed with the information I have printed above, you can debunk most of the claims people make. Still, there are people who present a case to new builders as if they are some type of experienced expert to be followed.

The internet is an odd storage device. I holds more old trash better than any landfill on earth, and it keeps it fresh, even long after the project was abandoned. Let me share by example: Don’t waste the time to look it up, but there is a long detailed website run by “Haynes Engineering.” Sounds official, but it was just one guy in a barn who had never built a flying plane before, offering a long how to session on putting EFI on a Corvair in a Zenith 601. I never met the guy, but I did email him several times, and he spent a long time on Mark Langford’s discussion list, where he had many fans who eagerly awaited Mr Haynes demonstrating all the things he promised from is Harley Davidson salvaged system. Although I offered to publicly test run his engine at a college, Mr. Haynes soon despised me, probably for not recognizing his brilliance. His website is all about putting a Corvair on a 601, but makes no mention of Our success with doing this, or my work at all.

If you have built planes, it was easy to see that Haynes didn’t know much about planes, but had the kind of ego that didn’t like admitting that. He was a foolish cheap skate, ‘rebuilding’ his engine with a used cam and worn gear, and using angle iron to build a motor mount. His EFI system had hard aluminum lines where it needed flex ones, and he spent a lot of time trying to use a little outboard starter. In the end, after getting many green guys excited, he couldn’t make the engine run, and instead started it for 5 seconds on starter fluid, and then wrote a post to the internet silmaltainiously declaring victory and quitting airplane building altogether. Does this sound like a stable person who you can learn from? Is it the kind of information that you want to bet your life on? This was years ago, yet I saw the website just last week, with no mention of the system never working or the whole aircraft project being abandoned.

If you are new to home building, the quicker you learn never to be distracted for real progress by day dreamers and fools without experience, is the quicker that you will learn what really works, and how to incorporate these skills into your own experience and your own plane. The internet will provide an endless stream of people like that. 80% of the people who start a homebuilt do not finish. Be determined to be in the 20%. One of the things that the 20%ers all have in common is not getting sidetracked by fools.

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5) A 385 mph EFI plane and some final thoughts:

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I’m known for advocating simplicity in aircraft engines. This recommendation comes  from my experience on the opposite end of aircraft powerplants. Above,  Arnold Holmes (host of CC#17,#25, #29) and I stand behind the engine installation on a V-8 powered Lancair IV-P.  This is an EngineAir package that I helped develop from 1993 to ’98. It’s 450hp, geared,  injected, intercooled and turboed, and features air conditioning. Get a good look at the size of the 5-blade MT propeller.

  Eventually, about a dozen of these took to the air. They were stunning performers. I flew  from Oshkosh to Daytona Beach in three hours and five minutes in our first airplane, N420HP. This aircraft is on the cover of Sport Aviation in July ’97. If someone suggests I don’t understand EFI, ask them if they have flown in a 385 mph EFI plane they helped develop and build.

 The development of this engine took the work of many clever, dedicated people, and one  guy with cubic yards of money, Jim Rahm. It worked, but taught me that homebuilders at all levels  tremendously underestimate the effects of complication, primarily its delays and expenses.  Whenever I read discussions about electronic injection or computer controlled engines, I  can tell in an instant who has no practical experience with attempting to prepare these  systems for flight.

Evaluate your interest in fuel injection carefully. for most builders, it is a distraction, for some it will become a stumbling block, for a tiny number of people it may become a dangerously complex part of their plane, a part they thought would be the most reliable, but turned out to be the part they trust the least. This is pretty far from the goals that most people have when the first think about putting EFI in their plane.-ww

Mechanical Fuel Injection Testing

Friends,

One of the things that we have been testing lately is a mechanical fuel injection system from Precision, makers of certified aircraft fuel systems.

Precision has developed a single point fuel injection system that is entirely mechanical for engines in the Corvair’s power category. We have had one of these for several months and conducted a number of tests. Below is a quick outline of some of the data we’re collecting.

Above on the left is the Precision fuel injector, on the right for size comparison is an MA3-SPA Marvel Schebler carburetor, the most popular Corvair carburetor. The Precision injector is designed to fit in exactly the same space with the same bolt pattern as an MA3.

Just for starters, let me say that many people do not understand the function of mechanical fuel injectors on aircraft. The above unit is closely related to the operation of an RSA fuel injection system, the gold standard of mechanical fuel injectors. Part of what confuses experimental aircraft builders is the fact that there are a number of carburetors that include in their name the misnomer “throttle body injector” or “Aero injector.” Both the Ellison and the Aerocarb are useful carburetors but in no way shape or form are they fuel injectors. They are simply flat slide carburetors that do not have float bowls.

The defining characteristic differentiating a mechanical fuel injection system and any other type of carburetor is simply that the mechanical fuel injector meters off density, not off volume. Anything that meters fuel off the volume of air flow that comes through the throttle is a carburetor. Such systems will always change their air/fuel ratio as the density of air changes. Conversely, mechanical fuel injectors, such as the Precision unit, meter off density. When they are set to a specific air fuel ratio they hold it, no matter what altitude you climb to, nor how the conditions change. If you look closely, there are four chambers on the diaphragm of the Precision unit. These four chambers allow this to function as a very precise pressure regulator and metering device based on the mass flow of the air passing through the assembly.

To give you some idea of the quality of this unit, and its adaptability to different airframes, the directions actually spell out that it can be run on any fuel pressure unregulated between 20 and 80 PSI, and it will handle momentary over pressures to 180 PSI without damage. Because of the diaphragm assembly, the pressure can actually fluctuate between any of these pressures and it will not change the air/fuel ratio.

The primary difference between the Precision system, and typical certified aircraft systems, is that this is a single point injector that does not have injector nozzles in the intake ports. It has one nozzle that is in the body of the unit after the throttle plate. This unit is immune to carburetor icing. Yet in operation the fact that the fuel is vaporizing 18 inches upstream of the intake ports allows a very significant evaporative cooling effect. Unique to this unit is the fact that it is equipped with a very potent accelerator pump that gives it instantaneous throttle response that one associates with port fuel injection.

Above, the Precision injector mounted on a 3,000 cc Corvair on our engine test stand. Bolting on the injector in the place of our typical MA3 only took 30 minutes. Even the throttle arms are in the same location. As far as I know, this is the first mechanical fuel injection system that has ever been used on a Corvair engine turning a propeller.

The system is not cheap. Its suggested retail price is more than $2500. If you are building a Pietenpol and were planning on using a Stromberg, you’re probably not going to change plans and pick up one of these injectors. However let’s look at this from a different perspective. People who are spending $18,000-$20,000 to buy a Rotax 912 or a Jabaru 3300 will find that their engines are equipped with one or two Bing motorcycle carburetors. Although these carburetors are allegedly altitude compensating, in practice they are far from it. You can ask any operator of a Jabiru engine and they will tell you that at high power settings and high altitudes, their engines are very thirsty, and they have no way to compensate for this.  These expensive buy-it-a-box engines come with Bing carburetors because they are cheap. 

Now let’s look at the 3 L Corvair engine with the injector above. It is the most expensive Corvair powerplant I have built in the past couple of years; the price of the engine complete without the fuel injection on it is $11,500.  At $14,000, it is $4000-$6000 less expensive than imported engines fed by motorcycle carburetors. Combine this with the Corvair’s made in America pedigree, and its reputation as tough as nails, and many people find that it’s a choice they’re interested in. Corvairs are not for everybody. Most people don’t actually care where their products are made, or if they will be serviceable in five years. It’s a free world and those people can find engines that suit their needs. For people with different value systems, I am glad to conduct R&D to find out what is a real value in high-end engines.

Above, the engine runs on the stand in front of our hangar. The fuel line leads down to a rack of instrumentation, a high-pressure pump, and an external pressure regulator used for testing purposes. The engine ran very smoothly, and passed our early tests. I will have the unit on display and more information in our NO34 booth outside Building C at Sun N Fun all week.

Air / Fuel ratios on Corvair carbs.

Builders,

Here are some short notes on the topic of carbs.  It is my hope that builders will read and think about them, consider the logic before jumping up to debate. The Comments are based on 25 years as a working aircraft mechanic and working with Corvairs since 1989. These comments are not based on a single planes experience, but take into account all types of testing, education, and practical experience.

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How Rich is right?  Recently, a builder has told people that correctly running aircraft carbs on Corvairs need to have black sooty tail pipes.  I can flatly state that this is way too rich, and there are a number of very good reasons why you should not fly a carb running that rich.

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As a logical base line for what exhausts should look like, perhaps we can all agree that an Exhaust of Certified plane, running 100LL fuel, with a correctly running engine, with by the book performance, a Certified aircraft carb running without adjustment for more than 20 years. is a standard we should use. This engine has never fouled a plug in 17 years, has never harmed the engine in any way. Notice that the inside of the exhaust pipe has a dusty light gray color, and that new paper towel was vigorously wiped on the inside of the pipe, and only produced that light stain between my thumb and the exhaust pipe. This is the correct color and soot content for any Corvair running an aircraft carb.  I know this from working with countless flying Corvair powered planes over the years.

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Why not black and sooty? A correctly running aircraft carb on an air cooled engine will have an air/fuel ratio of about 12:1 in normal cruise. This will automatically go richer, to some thing like 10.5:1 at wide open throttle, and in low power cruise at altitude, it can be leaned to 14:1 for maximum efficiency.  Any engine that is making black soot in the exhaust and can be seen to visibly smoke at 1,000 rpm is running an air/fuel ratio of 9:1 or so. I know this not just from books, and working on certified planes, but from directly reading a laboratory grade A/F meter while running an EFI Corvair on my dyno in 2007:

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Above, An exhaust evaluation as part of an Electronic Fuel injection test on a 2,700cc Corvair in 2007. It is shown running at power on my dyno. With this arrangement, a simple twist of a knob on the computer produced any A/F ratio you wanted to test. This is how I can say what A/F ratio produces visible smoke on a Corvair, and it is part of how I can speak about it’s relationship with power output.

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At any airport with a density altitude less than 3,000 feet, your Corvair should run perfectly smoothly and make good power with the mixture set full rich, just like any Cessna 150 with the same carb will do.  One of the reasons why I use MA3-SPA carbs is so they have the exact same ‘normal’ operation as any certified plane I have flown, and if the carb doesn’t work like it does on a Cessna or a piper, don’t fly it, period.

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A builder with an MA3-SPA carb reciently said his engine only ran correctly with the mixture pulled half way out. He was considering actually doing his first flight in that condition. His home airport elevation is only 516 feet. If I went to his airport, and got in a Cessna 150 and it took pulling the mixture out half way to run correctly, You could only make me fly that plane with a gun to my head. Something is wrong with it, and sane people do not fly planes with things wrong with them. It doesn’t suddenly become “O.K.” because the carb is now on an experimental. Wrong is wrong, time to correct the issue, not to find some condition where it kind of works for the first flight.

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Any guy who would consider flying a plane in that condition, has missed the point of this story: Risk Management, Judgement Error, money in the wrong place. Where Ken Lien was killed on the very first flight of his plane because he didn’t bother to correctly assemble the mixture control on his plane and it moved to idle cut off on its own. If you are in a plane, getting ready for the first flight, and the mixture has to be pulled half way out to run, please explain to me how you know that this isn’t the first sign that the mixture is assembled incorrectly.  You wouldn’t, and there is a significant chance the engine will quit.  People who want to die should step in front of busses, not fly planes that are not set correctly, as using a plane and poor judgment to end ones life only unfairly punishes those of us who practice intelligent flying.

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If the mixture was half way out on the first flight, and the new pilot had to do a go around on the first approach, most pilots would instinctively push the throttle, carb heat and mixture to the firewall.  This works, and it is the correct procedure. However if the pilot is tolerating a plane that must have the mixture half way out, when he does this, the engine will quit, he will overshoot the runway, and smash up the plane on the over run. All the local experts will then say “The Corvair quit, I told him not to use a car engine, he should have used an O-200” Neatly ignoring the fact that it is the same carb as the O-200, and it would have done the exact same thing.  If instead, the same pilot stepped in front of a bus, preferably while holding the hand of the ‘Expert’ who tells everyone not to use car engines, aviation would benefit, and the rest of us would come out ahead. Cold, but you know it is true.

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Engines running black soot are wasting fuel, prone to fowling plugs, can damage the cylinder walls, and will have excessive carbon build up. On the other hand……..wait, there is no upside.

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Anyone who says that an MA3-SPA needs to be jetted differently for different displacement Corvair engines is wrong. Think of how many different engines have run on my test stand, all with the same, untouched in 15 years, MA3-SPA. Note that I have the mixture set full rich on the stand, and it runs cleanly on all engines. And yes, my stand has both EGT and O2 sensors. Beyond this, Dan Weseman and I recently took his 3,000 cc and 3,300 cc Corvairs to one of Florida’s most respected dyno shops and ran them both is a day long session.  What carb did we use? Why the same one off my run stand. It ran perfectly on both motors and the shops very elaborate instrumentation showed that the air/fuel ratio stayed correct through out the power range on both engines, without any kind of adjustment. Aircraft carbs work like that.

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Would you like to know how aircraft carbs are supposed to be operated? Read this story: Cylinder Head Temperature measurement and learn what a Lycoming Operations Manual is.  Down load it, print it, read it and know it. This is what successful people will do.

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Conversely, You could get advice from a guy who is neither an pilot nor an A&P, who has never owned nor flown a plane with a mixture control, teamed up with a guy who has never seen a Corvair turn a prop in person, and another guy who damaged his engine by using a carb no one ever head of so he could save some bucks. Take your pick, but if someone doesn’t like the concept of listening to the professionals and people with experience, again, I am going to suggest that bus thing again, I know it sounds mean spirited, but people willfully doing dumb things shouldn’t even be called ‘accidents’ because they are not really. an accident is someone trying to do the right thing. Willfully choosing not to do the right thing is not an accident.

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This ends the technical part of this story.  No valid technical information follows.

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I am not listening to William Wynne because:

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One: He sounds arrogant, and although I have never met him, and he wrote stories about people he loved: Risk Management reference page in hopes that others could avoid being hurt, I still say he is a jerk because I found two sentences in the 855 stories that are on this site that offended me, and I refuse to learn anything from him since.

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Two: I own a Prius, and he is always mocking people who own Priuses, and I can tell he isn’t kidding, and he feels superior about this, which is stupid because as a Prius owner I alone have a right to feel superior to all other car owners because I know the best way to protest the use of fossil fuels is to buy a car that you can feel superior about.

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Three: When I was in his tent at Oshkosh pontificating about how America has been ruined because no one follows the Ten Commandments anymore, he asked me to name them, and I couldn’t. The year before I said the problem with America was no one followed the Constitution, and he asked me how many articles it had and I said 10, and he said “guess again, you are off by three” , and I guessed 13.  I don’t get the connection that I should read more before being sure I am right.  I never listen to people with long hair, even though William has essentially the haircut as Jesus and everyone at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

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Four: I don’t listen to people who sell things, because they are trying to make money off me. I only listen to people on the net who’s opinion about how to do things can’t get them a job doing it, nor is it apparently worth money to anyone. Those are the people I trust.  Yes, I know that I should trust William because he has a vested interest in my success even if he actually likes me or not, But I would rather trust people I have never met, who write in nicer tones, who I have a simplistic childish belief are motivated to tell me the truth, unstained by their limited experience, personal bias, and ego.

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If anyone read the above for points and didn’t find them funny, you probably have good taste, and I remind you I am a mechanic, not a comedian. I have a small but consistent group of people, most who have never met me, who remain quite sure that I have a “Condescending tone” and a “Giant ego”.  Before anyone is temped to say those things, I ask that they read the two paragraphs below, which appear both on my website and in every manual we print, and please share with me how this isn’t adequately honest and frank:

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“If you have never met me, but read this and think that I am charmed with myself, you got it all wrong. I know countless humans who are better people than I. They are kinder, smarter, and harder working. I can’t sing nor dance, I learn slowly, and I can’t stand to hear my recorded voice nor see my image on film. If I was once handsome, all trace of it is gone along with my uncorrected eyesight. I can be a conversational bore, and I deeply wish I had given my parents more moments to be proud of me. At 50 I look back on my life with a very critical eye and stand on the far side of a very wide gulf from the heroes of my youth. Even our dog, impeccably honest and loyal as canines are, Loves Grace and only tolerates me.

Honest evaluation leads to harsh thoughts like this. I spend a lot of time alone and have long bouts of insomnia, which can lead to thinking about things excessively. But the secret I would like to share with anyone who at times feels the same way, is that I have a sanctuary where I am insulated from much of my self-criticism, and a have a front, where at 50, I am much better on than I thought possible in my youth. When I am building things with my hands in my shop, I rarely feel poor. Although I now need glasses to do any close work, and my hands have lost a lot of dexterity, I am a far better craftsman than I ever was in my youth. I am not a great craftsman, but over a very long time I have worked to develop these elements in my life, and I compete with no one except who I was last year. While all else fades, these things flourish. It is a gift I am most thankful for.”

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Fuel Injected Corvairs

Note to readers coming from the Cub Crafters site: This information is not directly applicable to Lycomings. The 6% power increase came from a major change in the intake configuration, not from the EFI. Look at 360 Lycomings; Yes most of the ones with a carb are 180HP and most of the injection are 200HP, a 10% gain, but this is ignoring the fact that the 200HP models (the -As and -Cs) have a very different angle valve head and a tuned induction system. Note that the 360s that just change from a carb to injection, (the -B series) remain at 180hp. There is no magic power in FI.  Also note that all Corvairs in the last decade all have electronic ignition. If a Lycoming has a perfect set of mags and they are replaced with electronic ignition, there is no reason to expect a measurable peak power increase.  The far easier way to get a small power increasein almost any motor without adding any complexity is to turn it slightly faster. -ww.

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Friends,

Here are some notes and photos of five fuel injection systems for the Corvair. The first three are electronic systems, the latter two are mechanical injection. Fuel injection is a topic that many builders ask about.  I think a lot of the interest is generated by the awareness that high performance certified aircraft have mechanical fuel injection. A number of builders have learned that these systems are comparatively immune to carb ice. Beyond this, very few people have a good concept of the pros and cons of these systems vs. carbs. Even guys who know a fair amount about engines often miss important realities about the applications of these systems. This post gives a general overview, and covers details that are rarely discussed when builders bring up the topic of injection.

Electronic injection is the type of system that modern cars use. There have been a number of auto engine conversions that came from cars that had EFI that have gone on to fly in planes, and some suppliers to certified engines are just starting to look at EFIs fitted to Lycomings. What gives modern cars good mileage, long plug life, low emissions, etc.,  is the ability of the EFI system to operate in closed loop mode. It does this almost all the time the car is cruising down the road. When it is not doing  this, it is operating in “open loop mode” and falling back on the computer’s pre-programmed data that says ‘at 3150 rpm and 26.5″ MAP squirt in so much  fuel.’ In open loop, much of the advantage of EFI disappears. Up to here,  what I have typed falls into the category of  “Lots of people know this.”  Here is  the corollary only a few people understand.

In aircraft applications, the EFI systems almost never operate in closed loop. If you are going to cruise your aircraft at 75% power, it will spend its whole time in open loop. This is true with liquid cooled engines, but  really true with air cooled ones. Very few engines run with air fuel ratios of  14.7 to 1 at high power settings. They mostly run 12 to 1, or richer, and  O2 sensors have a hard time getting the loop to close at rich ratios. Sure,  there are exceptions to this, like wide band sensors, but you really cannot  compare a made at home system to a 2007 Corvette with perfectly tuned knock  sensors, 1 million lines of code in memory, and the ability to look at  individual cylinder exhaust pulses as they pass the O2 sensor. Even still,  GM knew that 75% sustained power in the Vette would be about 155mph, and the car  would spend .002 percent of its life there, so it’s OK if it is in open loop at that point.

After CC #9, I got Mark from Falcon to walk over to Jann Eggenfelner’s hangar. Jann is the king of Subarus, and like it or not, most people concede that he has flown more different types of EFI than anyone else. I know him  fairly well, and he is very smart, and unbelievably tenacious. With Mark’s OEM background and Jann’s flight experience, they had a very detailed high speed  data exchange. The recurring point that Jann kept coming back to is that no system, including the Subaru OEM stuff, will reliably operate in closed loop at aircraft power settings. In open loop, EFI begins to look like a very complex, high pressure, electrically dependent carburetor.

Above, the EFI 2,700cc Corvair built by Mark at FalconMachine.net in 2007, at power on my dyno. The urethane wheel directly reads foot pounds of torque off the digital scale. Note that this engine is using headers with collectors. We also tested it with cast iron manifolds and mufflers. It has distributorless ignition. Six LS1 coils are mounted on the sides of the black airbox. After a lot of careful calibration runs, this engine achieved a 6 percent power increase over a carbureted Corvair. Merely saying this will certainly activate the keyboards of armchair EFI experts, but it’s simple measured facts. Before questioning the test methodology or results, consider that Mark has earned his living with these systems for the past 20 years and the instrumentation included such niceties as a $500 laboratory grade digital oxygen sensor. Anyone who says that adding EFI to an engine like a Corvair will add 30% more power is just making their information up. The system above was tested a number of hours but was not flown. The controller on this was a Tracy Crook unit. This engine was equipped with equal length intake runners. It was laid out to fit in a 601/650 cowl.

 This is a redundant ignition, electronically fuel injected, fifth bearing, 2,700cc test engine built by Roy at RoysGarage.com in 2007.  It features coil on plug technology and throttle body injectors along with a rear mounted 40A alternator. It is mounted on Roy’s 701. It was run and tested, but not flown. Roy also has extensive experience with digital EFI systems. This provided good data, but in the end, Roy thought about the complexity he was applying to a very simple aircraft and chose to finish the aircraft with a simple gravity feed carb instead.

My thesis on EFI in 5 simple points:
1) Any system that uses lower pressure fuel is less likely to leak. Gravity is better than 5 psi, and 5 psi is better than 40. EFI runs at high pressure.

2) Any system that uses no electricity is better than one that uses  a little, and one that uses a little is better than one that uses a  lot, especially if the one that uses a lot needs it to be a  certain voltage, like digital EFI.

3) Any system that has less parts and connections is less likely to  fail. Digital electronic connections, working at low voltages, are very sensitive  to corrosion, temperature and vibration, things planes produce more than newer cars.

4) Almost all the things that EFI advocates hope for, HP increase, smoothness, fuel efficiency, and reliability, will prove elusive or minimal.  Before debating this, seek out a single flying system that will go into a closed loop in cruise flight. Realize that monitoring voltage and fuel pressure is not a work load reduction from using carb heat.

5) The only good reason to work on an EFI Corvair is because you want  a challenge, and this is more important than finishing your plane soon. This is  a valid position, and I support anyone who knowingly makes it.

Let me introduce a man who personifies point number 5, Rex Johnston. As far as I know, Rex is the first guy to ever fly an EFI system on a Corvair powered aircraft. This makes him someone special, because there were a lot of hurdles to jump over. His Corvair powered plane is a Davis DA-2, a sporty little two-seat sheet metal aircraft. Rex’s work is an outstanding example of building to meet a challenge that you personally feel. He was not after some illusive performance goal, he was just looking to challenge himself and learn a lot. Hats off to Rex.

Above, the underside of Rex’s plane. His system is a Holley Projection throttle body unit, that Holley originally sold for 258cid Jeeps. Rex’s  engine is a 3,100cc Corvair. Notice that it still has carb heat. A project like this isn’t for everyone. It takes significant experience building to be able to develop and flight test a complex set of systems like this.

The standard for aircraft injection are mechanical systems. These use no computers, they work entirely on a balance of pressures and flows. They meter fuel very accurately, and offer instant throttle response. They typically operate at 25 psi, somewhat lower than EFI. Unlike EFI, they are not sensitive to fuel pressure changes, and they do not need an external pressure regulator. By design, they are always operating in open loop mode. Because these systems have been used on aircraft for half of the history of powered flight, they are fully understood and developed.

The above photo shows an Airflow Performance mechanical fuel injector specifically calibrated for the Corvair. For size reference, a core Stromberg carb is at top left in the photo. Below it is the gold flow divider. One of the installation advantages of mechanical injection is the extremely small calibrated nozzles. Packaging six electronic injectors that will fit in a tight cowl is challenging. Mechanical injectors have an 1/8″ pipe thread on the bottom and are roughly 1/4 the size of electronic injectors. Airflow performance is owned by Don Rivera, a very smart guy who has owned and driven land-based Corvairs. This system is made in the U.S. The parts for this system cost over $3000.  Corvair builder Sarah Ashmore is putting one of these on her Personal Cruiser airframe. Her heads were modified for the injectors by Mark at Falcon. She works in the aerospace industry and made the choice to equip her aircraft with a system that met her specific goals.

Above is a photo of a Precision mechanical fuel injector.  The pictured unit is a port injector, but they also make a very compact unit that has the same quality, but has just one injector built into the body of the unit. The system does not require any modifications to the Corvair’s heads or intake, as the unit bolts onto the same flange as an aircraft carb. Peter Nielson of precisionairmotive.com is our engineering rep who has supplied us with a test unit, which we are now testing on a 3,000cc Corvair. This system is about $2,500. Precision knows quality, as they produce parts for and service certified fuel systems. We will release more data as we move through the tests. We are planning on flight testing this on Woody Harris’ 601, and Dan Weseman is planning on using the aerobatic capability of the system on the prototype of his new Corvair powered design, the Panther.

Today, 99.75% of Corvair powered planes use carbs. However, I think the Corvair is a good platform for fuel injection, and there are a small number of airframe applications that could really benefit from a fuel injection system. While there has always been a lot of talk about EFI, only a rare few clever and persistent builders like Rex Johnston will see the project through. I personally feel that the mechanical systems offer the best reliability and most proven track record, having flown in many demanding settings on other engines. As always, the proof and the progress is in the hands of the builders, the people In The Arena.

Thank you,

William

Amphibian story

Builders:

Below is a flying story I wrote a long time ago. It has no technical information. If your time is valuable, don’t read it, I will not be able to refund your 15 minutes. It is a “fictional” companion piece to The Hypocrisy of Homebuilders. I have the quotes on the word fictional, because only the settings and the central character are imagined. Every other element, the people, the issues, the experiences, are all thinly veiled reality. I wrote it so builders, as individuals, might better imagine what future rewards lie ahead when the project in their shop transitions to the flying machine they spent several years planning, building and imagining it would be.

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Above, sunset on Montserrat, British West Indies. 

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Lets us imagine a homebuilder in Florida, a man who put years of work into designing his own plane, a homebuilt amphibian. It took years more to build it, and because he liked the challenge, he powered it with an alternative engine. He got a seaplane rating, and carefully expanded his experience envelope getting to known his creation. In the year following the first flight, he accumulated 220 hours flying it around the state in all kinds of conditions, and he further refined his creation with improvements that reflected this experience.

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With the confidence in a proven creation and his mastery of it, he broke out a map of the Caribbean and carefully began planning a trip 1,400 miles south east to the island of Martinique, a place he had never been. Because he prepared, and would bide his time on weather, trip  promised to be a beautiful adventure. Along the way there would be stops in the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, The Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Dominica and finally Martinique.

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While the flying would fill his mind with images of astounding beauty, His most vivid memories would remain all the people he met along the way. Even though most of them knew nothing about planes, they were all attracted to the person they intrinsically understood to be engaged in the adventure of a lifetime. This attraction became stronger when they discovered that this man had actually built this aircraft.  Invariably this delayed his departure as new friends took him to dinner or brought him to their homes. They looked at the images of his flight, and they were all impressed that he had made the engine also, and it had come from a model of car that some of them had once owned. Nearly every single person would ask for his email address, ask him to stay with them on the way back.

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Eating lunch in Brades on Montserrat,  a woman sat down beside him and asked if he was the person who arrived in the small plane the day before. She was 45 or 50, very tan, a geologist. She had a European accent he could not place.  In the afternoon  she showed him around the island, including the remains of the AIR recording studio. As the sun sank low in the sky, she asked him to take her for a flight. They went around the whole island, alternatively skimming the water and climbing to 1,000′.  They spent some time in a slow orbit at looking at the ruins left by the volcano. They landed back at Little Bay just after sunset. As they walked up the street to a restaurant, she reached over and took his hand.

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He awakened in his little bungalow at first light, and found himself alone; for a moment his thoughts were not clear, it all seemed to have been a very pleasant dream. He looked to the window, the sky had it’s first hint of blue. On the nightstand was a tiny note. In very elegant script it had her name and email, and the single sentence “Think of me as often as you like, but only write if you are coming back.”
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When he made it all the way to L’anse Macabou, on the south eastern tip of Martinique,  he sat in a tiki bar on the beach at sunset, lost in thought.  His bartender, and older man named Henri,  and asked if he was ok. It was a slow night, and Henri had the time to listen as the builder explained he was really moved by all the people he had met on his journey, and that it had been a great many years since he had known such warmth and kindness. Henri smiled and softly said “Bienvenue à la maison” It has been 35 years since the builder’s last French class, but he still understood Welcome Home.

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Upon his return, a friend convinced him to write a short piece about the adventure for an aviation magazine, and include a dozen of his of photos. The builder was reluctant, because he is something of a private person. He never did much on line, kept no builders log, his plane was one of a kind so these was no builders group to join, nor did he have a Facebook page. His friend reminded him of how much he was inspired by old magazine stories. Even though he had never met  any of the builders in the old black and white magazines he had poured through, he felt he knew something about each of them, and this was the connection that set him to sharing the story.

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His plane was made of wood and fabric, built with old techniques. Most of the magazine articles he had used for inspiration were from the late 1950’s and early 60s. In the photos, the builders wore collared shirts in their shops and hats outside. These details are a subtle reminder that five decades have past since the men were photographed, and they and their planes are likely just memories now. He ignored this and looked at the planes and studied  the smiles on their faces. He was the same age as they were then. They are his secret sharers: they know what others can’t; why he spent those years in the shop, how he felt on the hour it first flew. While the people on his Caribbean trip had been attracted to the exercise of freedom and idea of adventure, It seemed that only another homebuilder could really understand what burned inside him, that made him need to create and fly his plane.

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When the article is printed a few months later, his friend brought over a copy. He didn’t have his own because he never kept subscriptions to current aviation magazines. They looked at it together and agreed it was good, they even compared it to the old magazines. His friend mentioned the words “paying it forward.” They spent the evening sitting in the old chairs in his workshop, had some beers and just talked.  The friend imagined  a great number of builders reading the story and being inspired by it. Even after a few beers the builder didn’t like the thought of himself as being ‘inspirational’ to anyone, he couldn’t think of himself that way.

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 After a day or two of looking at the color pictures and the opposing pages with ads for glass cockpit stuff, Our builder did something that made him more comfortable: He put the magazine in the copier, and made a black and white copy of his story, and trimmed off the advertisements. He liked it more that way, and he put it on the wall of his little workshop with a thumb tack. It now looked timeless, just like the old stories he was inspired by.

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The invitation to Oshkosh came by phone call.  A very nice gentleman said that the magazine article generated a lot of talk on line, and if the builder was thinking of flying to Oshkosh, they would arrange a forum time for him.  He had already been once before, but it was almost 20 years ago. He thought about going again many times, but had always put it off because he wanted to go in the plane of his own design. He was a little reluctant to agree to public speaking, but the gentleman said it would likely be “A dozen or two guys just like you.” With this, he got out the maps and started planning the flight, about 1,400 miles, same distance but on the reciprocal heading as Martinique.

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The  six stops on airports on the trip were a reminder of how long it had been since he had been on a domestic cross country. All the restricted airspace didn’t bother him much, but friendly airports he visited 25 years before now all looked like prisons, with razor ribbon topped fences with cameras and gates with electronic locks. The people there seemed indifferent to being on an airport. At one airport the only person he spoke with was a person saying he was parked in the wrong spot.  In Tennessee the airport manager came out in a golf cart and told him “We don’t allow Ultralights here.”  The builder simply pointed to the foot tall N-numbers, required for his international flight, the manager just made a puzzled look and drove off.  None of this really bothered the builder. He had been around aviation a long time, and he knew that not everyone was passionate about it or overly friendly. Light aviation had always been segmented, and few people at airports knew much about homebuilts. It was fine, he was headed to the mecca of homebuilding, and soon he would be among his people.

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He arrived at Airventure the afternoon before his forum. The people at homebuilt headquarters were busy, but couldn’t have been nicer. He was unprepared for how many people were there. Oshkosh had grown a lot in two decades. While many of the people had to be homebuilders, most of them seemed like airshow spectators or people from other branches of aviation. He put a prop card with all the information on his plane. He sat in the shade under the wing and watched the people who walked down the row of planes.

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In the two hours before the airshow, at least 20 people came by and made a negative comment about his creation. This ranged from “What the heck is this?” to “They made a lot of these kits but they were no good.” These people never stopped to think the guy sitting right there might be the builder. People who recognized him as the owner, said things like “Hey, what brand is this” and “Does it come in any good looking colors?” and “What does it cost” and the ever popular “How fast does it go?” When this was asked, he politely pointed to the prop card which said “Cruise 90 mph at 5 gph at SL”.  The most common reply was “Why is it so slow?”  Some of these people were pilots, and mostly EAA members, but maybe not homebuilders. When he pointed out to one of them that this was the same plane in last months magazine which had flown the Caribbean, the guy actually asked “Are you sure it’s the same plane?”

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In the late afternoon, a man came by and asked a few questions. His name tag identified him as the president of an EAA chapter. His questions were a little more thoughtful. The builder noticed the man was wearing a Cherokee shirt. The builder mentioned that he had also owned a Cherokee, but found the amphibian more fun for himself now. The man said “Maybe, but I would never build or even fly in an experimental, they are dangerous.” The builder wondered why, if the man felt that way, he would be a chapter president, but he was not going to ask. He was never confrontational, and it had been a long day.

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  One of the last visitors for the afternoon was a man from Germany. Before he said anything, he read the prop card closely, and then walked over to the builder, introduced himself, and offered his hand. He complimented the builder’s design, and said he had really liked the magazine article, read it many times. He asked a question about how the vertical CG affected the location of the hull step, and the builder said he calculated it from Thurston’s book.  The visitor thanked him and shook his hand before moving on.  It was a nice note to end the day on, as the visitor walked away, the builder put the canopy cover on.

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His forum was at 8:30 am. He was surprised to see 40 or 50 people there. He thought these must be the real homebuilders. He introduced himself. Speaking into a microphone made him feel awkward, he had never like the sound of his own voice. He spoke for a few minutes, gave an outline of the specifications of the plane, how long it had taken to build, etc. He had planned on saying something about how the plane made him feel, how at sunset it was easy to loose track of time and place, and how small he felt on the overwater legs, but strangely not out of place nor in any danger. He had felt these things, but was never any good at putting them in words, and something told him that today wasn’t the day to try.

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The first question came from a guy who asked if he was selling plans, and the builders said he didn’t draw any, and didn’t plan to, but invited they guy to take any dimension off the plane he liked. The guy wasn’t really listening and he said he was “Going to wait for CAD drawings because they make the best plane.”  The builder thought people would chuckle when he said ” I made an OK plane, and there were no plans at all”  but no one got this.  The next guy asked “Why did you choose such a thick draggy airfoil?” The builder tried to explain that it didn’t have a lot of drag because it didn’t have much camber, and it had almost no pitching moment, but the guy who asked the question sat with his arms tightly folded. The man next to him offered “That is a “Killer” airfoil.” The builder politely asked “Who said so? My plane has docile stall behavior.” The man shot back “Ribblet knows a lot more about airfoils than you do.”

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The next person asked “Why didn’t you choose a better engine?” The builder said he thought he had an acceptable engine, because he didn’t have any issues with it. The guy who asked the question said “Well it isn’t as good as a Mazda engine.” The next guy asked what reduction ratio it used, and when the builder said it was direct drive the man said rolled his eyes and said “Oh brother. “ The next guy said the plane would be “20% faster and 30% more fuel efficient if it had electronic fuel injection.”  The builder patiently explained that the fuel system was a single, well baffled, 46 gallon tank that gravity fed the carb, and considering the mission, the simplicity seemed better than any theoretical advantage. The man who asked the question fumbled through the airshow program and didn’t appear to listen to the builders answer.

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Near the end of the forum, a guy asked what the prismatic coefficient of the hull was. The builder said he didn’t know. The guy with the question said that after the magazine article, a discussion group on homebuiltaircraft.com had a long thread on “How poor your hull design was.” The builder let the guy go on for 3 or 4 minutes, including all of the ‘fixes’ that could be done. When the guy stopped, the builder explained that the hull was an exact copy of a Wipline 3450 float, done in wood.  The guy who made the comments had a puzzled look on his face, having never heard ‘Wipline’ before. He has a momentary pause, realizing he had previously made 12 negative comments on line about the builders hull.

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 Clearly, there were normal, socially adjusted people in the forum, but the builder noticed that when the fringe people wanted to pontificate, the regular builders had nothing to say. In time, it devolved to the ‘homebuilders’ in the forum, disagreeing with each other, almost ignoring the builder. At the end of the time, he asked for a show of hands on how many people had flown behind an alternative engine, and not a single person held up his hand. Next he asked how many people had a sea plane rating, and again, not one single hand. He asked how many people hand finished a homebuilt, and 3 people held up their hands. None of these three had asked a question. He looked at the clock and said “Thanks for coming” even though he didn’t feel it.  When leaving, he overheard the two airfoil guys say to each other “That guy is really defensive – I’ll bet he knows his plane isn’t any good.”  The guy who said the hull was a bad design was speaking into his cell phone, and made the comment “The guy is just a  dumb mechanic, didn’t even know what a prismatic coefficient was, he tried to change the subject to the ‘water line’ on the floats.”

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The builder was in no hurry to get back to his plane and meet more spectators with ‘comments’. He wandered past other larger forms, and spent some time listening to the speakers and the questions they received. He noticed a funny thing: Some of the same people from his forum sat in larger forums from commercial companies, and said nothing critical. In general, the more lavish the product, or the greater the ‘celebrity’ of the name associated with it, the more likely it was to be hailed without question.  This wasn’t just at the forums, but was also at the commercial displays. He stood and watched a presentation where the salesman told a group of media people the prototype on display flew great, and had excellent performance. Yet the lack of an n-number, a tail data tag, an airworthiness certificate in the cockpit nor any brake fluid in the clear lines said the plane had never flown, but the display was slick, the presenter was sure of himself, and no one questioned anything he said, there was a small line of people writing deposit checks for a ‘Delivery Position”.

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The builder walked back to his plane after listening to the departure briefing. Right next to his plane was a two seat tandem high wing plane. The designer, a friendly guy with a gray bead, was talking to the guy from Germany. The designer asked  the builder “So, how was your first forum?” and added “Don’t take those clowns seriously.” The builder said he was leaving. The designer suggested stopping at his place, in the hills south of Roanoke, gave him the coordinates.

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While the builder was packing the tie downs, a magazine guy from AOPA stopped by. He claimed to love homebuilts, but when he noticed that the builders plane said “alternative engine” on the prop card, the magazine guy asked if there were any others of this model “with a real engine.” The builder pointed out that he had 600 hours on his engine, so it seemed pretty real, but the guy from AOPA said, “You know what I mean, a good engine.” The builder said ” Please don’t photograph my plane.”  Offended, the writer turned to the designer of the high wing plane and said “Guys like that with car engines give homebuilts a bad name.” The designer just nodded. The joke was the high wing airplane had the same engine as the amphibian.

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The builder decided to hit marinas on the route home, opposed to airports. Because he had an amphibian, he departed to the east, crossed lake Winnebago at low altitude, and was shortly over lake Michigan. Eighteen years earlier, he took this same path in the Cherokee, but he had climbed to 9,000′. On this day he flew  across the lake at 75′. It is the reverse of most pilots, he is far safer flying over water. In a short while the Michigan coast showed up and he followed it down south. Much of the time he was lower than the dunes, but 1,000′ off the beach. He has a large muffler above the wing, and he wasn’t disturbing anyone. At 75 mph, the plane is burned about 3 gallons an hour.  He had 11 more hours range at that setting. With the stress of crowds and critics fading behind him, he didn’t feel any rush to be somewhere else.

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He turned a smooth arc around South Bend, and 25 miles later he over flew Lake Winona. The chart showed a sea plane base. He didn’t need to stop, but he thought about overflying it to check it out for later trips. Nearly as soon as he formed that thought, he realized that he probably wouldn’t be coming this way again.  He flew over at 500′ anyway. It was a weekday, but great weather had a lot of boats out on the lake. As he looked down at all the different types, Ski boats, pontoon boats, Kayaks, and sailboats, all out having their own fun, he wondered why in aviation pilots have to be so compulsively critical of the planes of others? In 30 years of boating in Florida, he couldn’t remember people spending a lot of time concerned about what other boaters chose to do.

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The GPS showed 369 miles to the little airport south of Roanoke. With the 15mph tailwind, he would be there with many hours of fuel and three hours of daylight to spare. The designer said no one would be there, but he was welcome to stay as long as he liked. “There are no locks on the house or hangar, the pickup keys are in the ignition.” It was a good reminder that he had met countless good, generous people in aviation.  To some people, it was a brotherhood like he wanted it to be, but they were a lot farther apart than hoped. He used to be more tolerant of negative people, but one day when he was watching an old film he heard the dialog “There are times you suddenly realize you are nearer the end than the beginning.” The actor was speaking about realizing your life was already mostly over. From there forward he was unwilling to throw away hours of his life by spending them around the compulsively negative.

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After tying his plane down and getting a look around, the builder decided to go find dinner in the small town he had seen when looking for the airstrip. The pickup was a late 60’s F-100, ‘three on the tree’. He liked the way the designer had just assumed everyone knew how to drive this kind of transmission.

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 At the restaurant, the waitress was very friendly, but he knew she was just passing time on a slow night. Away from his plane, his rumpled clothes and tan made him look just like any other guy who had been camping or on the road for a week.  The man at the cash register asked “Are you friends with Bob?” It caught him off guard, and the builder just looked blankly. The man followed with “You are driving his truck.” The builder was temped to tell him they had met at Oshkosh, but tried a disarming smile and simply said “Yes.” Walking out to the parking lot the builder felt funny that he knew a lot about the designers planes and work, but until standing at the register, he had not known the man’s first name. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. It wasn’t that he was particularly bad with names, it just some part of him wasn’t really listening during introductions, perhaps because the probability of getting to know someone new on a first name basis seemed pretty low at this age.

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 It was a really a very nice town, all old brick front two story buildings, gas stations with 1950s architecture, and a little park with a civil war obelisk with ‘Bivouac of the Dead’ inscribed on it .  Sitting in the park he imagined moving here, but a moment later remembered he didn’t have the accent, and he was too old to be ‘the new guy in town’ for a decade. He liked his town in Florida just fine, but it wasn’t his hometown either. Belonging was made of something else.

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It was the same old thought: the more comfortable you are in your own skin, the more independent, the less likely you are to feel at home or needed anywhere. It was the ultimate irony of the builders life: He had spent all his adult years carefully preserving his freedom, avoiding marriage, kids, lasting friendships and debt. He had honed his independence and self reliance, and had modest needs that allowed ‘retiring’ before he was 50. Theoretically, he was to have total freedom to wander and travel as he pleased, stay as long as he liked, meet new people without reservation. He had achieved this, but belatedly come to understand that people most often travel to people or places they are attached to, and most humans like being needed, and rarely feel comfortable with the rare person who really is totally independent. He could travel anywhere he liked, but spent vastly more time sitting at home wishing he had someone out there who was longing to see him. Years ago he had confirmed the past is better left in the photo albums and it isn’t out there to visit anymore.

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He checked the weather after driving back to the airstrip; it was going to be perfect for the next few days. Staring at the maps he had to fight the urge to see how many miles it was to directly return to Florida. He understood that everyone felt this way near the end of every long adventure, the feeling that it is done before you have made it all the way back. But he had to remember that most other people had family to return to, a sense of belonging that wasn’t to be found by rushing home. He went back to his original plan of flying the 250 miles to Kitty Hawk, and then exploring Pamlico sound for a day or two. He had not been there in 30 years, his amphibian was the perfect way to see it again. His quiet house in Florida, with it’s empty refrigerator, was indifferent about waiting a few more days for his return.

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He sat out on the front porch and watched the sun sink off the western end of the airstrip. The sky and the mountains were incredibly beautiful at that moment. He started to take a few pictures, but stopped himself after a few when he realized he couldn’t think of anyone he would show them to.  He sat there staring at end of the day, and he kept coming back to the voice saying “Suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning.”  After a long hesitation, he did something that he had previously been able to resist doing. He took out his wallet and carefully extracted a little piece of paper that said “Think of me as often as you like, but……  

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The Amphibian Story

Builders:

Below is a flying story I wrote a long time ago. It has no technical information. If your time is valuable, don’t read it, I will not be able to refund your 15 minutes. It is a “fictional” companion piece to The Hypocrisy of Homebuilders. I have the quotes on the word fictional, because only the settings and the central character are imagined. Every other element, the people, the issues, the experiences, are all thinly veiled reality. I wrote it so builders, as individuals, might better imagine what future rewards lie ahead when the project in their shop transitions to the flying machine they spent several years planning, building and imagining it would be.

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 -ww.

 

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Above, sunset on Montserrat, British West Indies. 

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Lets us imagine a homebuilder in Florida, a man who put years of work into designing his own plane, a homebuilt amphibian. It took years more to build it, and because he liked the challenge, he powered it with an alternative engine. He got a seaplane rating, and carefully expanded his experience envelope getting to known his creation. In the year following the first flight, he accumulated 220 hours flying it around the state in all kinds of conditions, and he further refined his creation with improvements that reflected this experience.

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With the confidence in a proven creation and his mastery of it, he broke out a map of the Caribbean and carefully began planning a trip 1,400 miles south east to the island of Martinique, a place he had never been. Because he prepared, and would bide his time on weather, trip  promised to be a beautiful adventure. Along the way there would be stops in the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, The Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Dominica and finally Martinique.

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While the flying would fill his mind with images of astounding beauty, His most vivid memories would remain all the people he met along the way. Even though most of them knew nothing about planes, they were all attracted to the person they intrinsically understood to be engaged in the adventure of a lifetime. This attraction became stronger when they discovered that this man had actually built this aircraft.  Invariably this delayed his departure as new friends took him to dinner or brought him to their homes. They looked at the images of his flight, and they were all impressed that he had made the engine also, and it had come from a model of car that some of them had once owned. Nearly every single person would ask for his email address, ask him to stay with them on the way back.

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Eating lunch in Brades on Montserrat,  a woman sat down beside him and asked if he was the person who arrived in the small plane the day before. She was 45 or 50, very tan, a geologist. She had a European accent he could not place.  In the afternoon  she showed him around the island, including the remains of the AIR recording studio. As the sun sank low in the sky, she asked him to take her for a flight. They went around the whole island, alternatively skimming the water and climbing to 1,000′.  They spent some time in a slow orbit at looking at the ruins left by the volcano. They landed back at Little Bay just after sunset. As they walked up the street to a restaurant, she reached over and took his hand.

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He awakened in his little bungalow at first light, and found himself alone; for a moment his thoughts were not clear, it all seemed to have been a very pleasant dream. He looked to the window, the sky had it’s first hint of blue. On the nightstand was a tiny note. In very elegant script it had her name and email, and the single sentence “Think of me as often as you like, but only write if you are coming back.”
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When he made it all the way to L’anse Macabou, on the south eastern tip of Martinique,  he sat in a tiki bar on the beach at sunset, lost in thought.  His bartender, and older man named Henri,  and asked if he was ok. It was a slow night, and Henri had the time to listen as the builder explained he was really moved by all the people he had met on his journey, and that it had been a great many years since he had known such warmth and kindness. Henri smiled and softly said “Bienvenue à la maison” It has been 35 years since the builder’s last French class, but he still understood Welcome Home.

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Upon his return, a friend convinced him to write a short piece about the adventure for an aviation magazine, and include a dozen of his of photos. The builder was reluctant, because he is something of a private person. He never did much on line, kept no builders log, his plane was one of a kind so these was no builders group to join, nor did he have a Facebook page. His friend reminded him of how much he was inspired by old magazine stories. Even though he had never met  any of the builders in the old black and white magazines he had poured through, he felt he knew something about each of them, and this was the connection that set him to sharing the story.

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His plane was made of wood and fabric, built with old techniques. Most of the magazine articles he had used for inspiration were from the late 1950’s and early 60s. In the photos, the builders wore collared shirts in their shops and hats outside. These details are a subtle reminder that five decades have past since the men were photographed, and they and their planes are likely just memories now. He ignored this and looked at the planes and studied  the smiles on their faces. He was the same age as they were then. They are his secret sharers: they know what others can’t; why he spent those years in the shop, how he felt on the hour it first flew. While the people on his Caribbean trip had been attracted to the exercise of freedom and idea of adventure, It seemed that only another homebuilder could really understand what burned inside him, that made him need to create and fly his plane.

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When the article is printed a few months later, his friend brought over a copy. He didn’t have his own because he never kept subscriptions to current aviation magazines. They looked at it together and agreed it was good, they even compared it to the old magazines. His friend mentioned the words “paying it forward.” They spent the evening sitting in the old chairs in his workshop, had some beers and just talked.  The friend imagined  a great number of builders reading the story and being inspired by it. Even after a few beers the builder didn’t like the thought of himself as being ‘inspirational’ to anyone, he couldn’t think of himself that way.

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 After a day or two of looking at the color pictures and the opposing pages with ads for glass cockpit stuff, Our builder did something that made him more comfortable: He put the magazine in the copier, and made a black and white copy of his story, and trimmed off the advertisements. He liked it more that way, and he put it on the wall of his little workshop with a thumb tack. It now looked timeless, just like the old stories he was inspired by.

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The invitation to Oshkosh came by phone call.  A very nice gentleman said that the magazine article generated a lot of talk on line, and if the builder was thinking of flying to Oshkosh, they would arrange a forum time for him.  He had already been once before, but it was almost 20 years ago. He thought about going again many times, but had always put it off because he wanted to go in the plane of his own design. He was a little reluctant to agree to public speaking, but the gentleman said it would likely be “A dozen or two guys just like you.” With this, he got out the maps and started planning the flight, about 1,400 miles, same distance but on the reciprocal heading as Martinique.

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The  six stops on airports on the trip were a reminder of how long it had been since he had been on a domestic cross country. All the restricted airspace didn’t bother him much, but friendly airports he visited 25 years before now all looked like prisons, with razor ribbon topped fences with cameras and gates with electronic locks. The people there seemed indifferent to being on an airport. At one airport the only person he spoke with was a person saying he was parked in the wrong spot.  In Tennessee the airport manager came out in a golf cart and told him “We don’t allow Ultralights here.”  The builder simply pointed to the foot tall N-numbers, required for his international flight, the manager just made a puzzled look and drove off.  None of this really bothered the builder. He had been around aviation a long time, and he knew that not everyone was passionate about it or overly friendly. Light aviation had always been segmented, and few people at airports knew much about homebuilts. It was fine, he was headed to the mecca of homebuilding, and soon he would be among his people.

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He arrived at Airventure the afternoon before his forum. The people at homebuilt headquarters were busy, but couldn’t have been nicer. He was unprepared for how many people were there. Oshkosh had grown a lot in two decades. While many of the people had to be homebuilders, most of them seemed like airshow spectators or people from other branches of aviation. He put a prop card with all the information on his plane. He sat in the shade under the wing and watched the people who walked down the row of planes.

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In the two hours before the airshow, at least 20 people came by and made a negative comment about his creation. This ranged from “What the heck is this?” to “They made a lot of these kits but they were no good.” These people never stopped to think the guy sitting right there might be the builder. People who recognized him as the owner, said things like “Hey, what brand is this” and “Does it come in any good looking colors?” and “What does it cost” and the ever popular “How fast does it go?” When this was asked, he politely pointed to the prop card which said “Cruise 90 mph at 5 gph at SL”.  The most common reply was “Why is it so slow?”  Some of these people were pilots, and mostly EAA members, but maybe not homebuilders. When he pointed out to one of them that this was the same plane in last months magazine which had flown the Caribbean, the guy actually asked “Are you sure it’s the same plane?”

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In the late afternoon, a man came by and asked a few questions. His name tag identified him as the president of an EAA chapter. His questions were a little more thoughtful. The builder noticed the man was wearing a Cherokee shirt. The builder mentioned that he had also owned a Cherokee, but found the amphibian more fun for himself now. The man said “Maybe, but I would never build or even fly in an experimental, they are dangerous.” The builder wondered why, if the man felt that way, he would be a chapter president, but he was not going to ask. He was never confrontational, and it had been a long day.

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  One of the last visitors for the afternoon was a man from Germany. Before he said anything, he read the prop card closely, and then walked over to the builder, introduced himself, and offered his hand. He complimented the builder’s design, and said he had really liked the magazine article, read it many times. He asked a question about how the vertical CG affected the location of the hull step, and the builder said he calculated it from Thurston’s book.  The visitor thanked him and shook his hand before moving on.  It was a nice note to end the day on, as the visitor walked away, the builder put the canopy cover on.

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His forum was at 8:30 am. He was surprised to see 40 or 50 people there. He thought these must be the real homebuilders. He introduced himself. Speaking into a microphone made him feel awkward, he had never like the sound of his own voice. He spoke for a few minutes, gave an outline of the specifications of the plane, how long it had taken to build, etc. He had planned on saying something about how the plane made him feel, how at sunset it was easy to loose track of time and place, and how small he felt on the overwater legs, but strangely not out of place nor in any danger. He had felt these things, but was never any good at putting them in words, and something told him that today wasn’t the day to try.

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The first question came from a guy who asked if he was selling plans, and the builders said he didn’t draw any, and didn’t plan to, but invited they guy to take any dimension off the plane he liked. The guy wasn’t really listening and he said he was “Going to wait for CAD drawings because they make the best plane.”  The builder thought people would chuckle when he said ” I made an OK plane, and there were no plans at all”  but no one got this.  The next guy asked “Why did you choose such a thick draggy airfoil?” The builder tried to explain that it didn’t have a lot of drag because it didn’t have much camber, and it had almost no pitching moment, but the guy who asked the question sat with his arms tightly folded. The man next to him offered “That is a “Killer” airfoil.” The builder politely asked “Who said so? My plane has docile stall behavior.” The man shot back “Ribblet knows a lot more about airfoils than you do.”

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The next person asked “Why didn’t you choose a better engine?” The builder said he thought he had an acceptable engine, because he didn’t have any issues with it. The guy who asked the question said “Well it isn’t as good as a Mazda engine.” The next guy asked what reduction ratio it used, and when the builder said it was direct drive the man said rolled his eyes and said “Oh brother. “ The next guy said the plane would be “20% faster and 30% more fuel efficient if it had electronic fuel injection.”  The builder patiently explained that the fuel system was a single, well baffled, 46 gallon tank that gravity fed the carb, and considering the mission, the simplicity seemed better than any theoretical advantage. The man who asked the question fumbled through the airshow program and didn’t appear to listen to the builders answer.

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Near the end of the forum, a guy asked what the prismatic coefficient of the hull was. The builder said he didn’t know. The guy with the question said that after the magazine article, a discussion group on homebuiltaircraft.com had a long thread on “How poor your hull design was.” The builder let the guy go on for 3 or 4 minutes, including all of the ‘fixes’ that could be done. When the guy stopped, the builder explained that the hull was an exact copy of a Wipline 3450 float, done in wood.  The guy who made the comments had a puzzled look on his face, having never heard ‘Wipline’ before. He has a momentary pause, realizing he had previously made 12 negative comments on line about the builders hull.

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 Clearly, there were normal, socially adjusted people in the forum, but the builder noticed that when the fringe people wanted to pontificate, the regular builders had nothing to say. In time, it devolved to the ‘homebuilders’ in the forum, disagreeing with each other, almost ignoring the builder. At the end of the time, he asked for a show of hands on how many people had flown behind an alternative engine, and not a single person held up his hand. Next he asked how many people had a sea plane rating, and again, not one single hand. He asked how many people hand finished a homebuilt, and 3 people held up their hands. None of these three had asked a question. He looked at the clock and said “Thanks for coming” even though he didn’t feel it.  When leaving, he overheard the two airfoil guys say to each other “That guy is really defensive – I’ll bet he knows his plane isn’t any good.”  The guy who said the hull was a bad design was speaking into his cell phone, and made the comment “The guy is just a  dumb mechanic, didn’t even know what a prismatic coefficient was, he tried to change the subject to the ‘water line’ on the floats.”

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The builder was in no hurry to get back to his plane and meet more spectators with ‘comments’. He wandered past other larger forms, and spent some time listening to the speakers and the questions they received. He noticed a funny thing: Some of the same people from his forum sat in larger forums from commercial companies, and said nothing critical. In general, the more lavish the product, or the greater the ‘celebrity’ of the name associated with it, the more likely it was to be hailed without question.  This wasn’t just at the forums, but was also at the commercial displays. He stood and watched a presentation where the salesman told a group of media people the prototype on display flew great, and had excellent performance. Yet the lack of an n-number, a tail data tag, an airworthiness certificate in the cockpit nor any brake fluid in the clear lines said the plane had never flown, but the display was slick, the presenter was sure of himself, and no one questioned anything he said, there was a small line of people writing deposit checks for a ‘Delivery Position”.

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The builder walked back to his plane after listening to the departure briefing. Right next to his plane was a two seat tandem high wing plane. The designer, a friendly guy with a gray bead, was talking to the guy from Germany. The designer asked  the builder “So, how was your first forum?” and added “Don’t take those clowns seriously.” The builder said he was leaving. The designer suggested stopping at his place, in the hills south of Roanoke, gave him the coordinates.

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While the builder was packing the tie downs, a magazine guy from AOPA stopped by. He claimed to love homebuilts, but when he noticed that the builders plane said “alternative engine” on the prop card, the magazine guy asked if there were any others of this model “with a real engine.” The builder pointed out that he had 600 hours on his engine, so it seemed pretty real, but the guy from AOPA said, “You know what I mean, a good engine.” The builder said ” Please don’t photograph my plane.”  Offended, the writer turned to the designer of the high wing plane and said “Guys like that with car engines give homebuilts a bad name.” The designer just nodded. The joke was the high wing airplane had the same engine as the amphibian.

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The builder decided to hit marinas on the route home, opposed to airports. Because he had an amphibian, he departed to the east, crossed lake Winnebago at low altitude, and was shortly over lake Michigan. Eighteen years earlier, he took this same path in the Cherokee, but he had climbed to 9,000′. On this day he flew  across the lake at 75′. It is the reverse of most pilots, he is far safer flying over water. In a short while the Michigan coast showed up and he followed it down south. Much of the time he was lower than the dunes, but 1,000′ off the beach. He has a large muffler above the wing, and he wasn’t disturbing anyone. At 75 mph, the plane is burned about 3 gallons an hour.  He had 11 more hours range at that setting. With the stress of crowds and critics fading behind him, he didn’t feel any rush to be somewhere else.

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He turned a smooth arc around South Bend, and 25 miles later he over flew Lake Winona. The chart showed a sea plane base. He didn’t need to stop, but he thought about overflying it to check it out for later trips. Nearly as soon as he formed that thought, he realized that he probably wouldn’t be coming this way again.  He flew over at 500′ anyway. It was a weekday, but great weather had a lot of boats out on the lake. As he looked down at all the different types, Ski boats, pontoon boats, Kayaks, and sailboats, all out having their own fun, he wondered why in aviation pilots have to be so compulsively critical of the planes of others? In 30 years of boating in Florida, he couldn’t remember people spending a lot of time concerned about what other boaters chose to do.

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The GPS showed 369 miles to the little airport south of Roanoke. With the 15mph tailwind, he would be there with many hours of fuel and three hours of daylight to spare. The designer said no one would be there, but he was welcome to stay as long as he liked. “There are no locks on the house or hangar, the pickup keys are in the ignition.” It was a good reminder that he had met countless good, generous people in aviation.  To some people, it was a brotherhood like he wanted it to be, but they were a lot farther apart than hoped. He used to be more tolerant of negative people, but one day when he was watching an old film he heard the dialog “There are times you suddenly realize you are nearer the end than the beginning.” The actor was speaking about realizing your life was already mostly over. From there forward he was unwilling to throw away hours of his life by spending them around the compulsively negative.

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After tying his plane down and getting a look around, the builder decided to go find dinner in the small town he had seen when looking for the airstrip. The pickup was a late 60’s F-100, ‘three on the tree’. He liked the way the designer had just assumed everyone knew how to drive this kind of transmission.

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 At the restaurant, the waitress was very friendly, but he knew she was just passing time on a slow night. Away from his plane, his rumpled clothes and tan made him look just like any other guy who had been camping or on the road for a week.  The man at the cash register asked “Are you friends with Bob?” It caught him off guard, and the builder just looked blankly. The man followed with “You are driving his truck.” The builder was temped to tell him they had met at Oshkosh, but tried a disarming smile and simply said “Yes.” Walking out to the parking lot the builder felt funny that he knew a lot about the designers planes and work, but until standing at the register, he had not known the man’s first name. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. It wasn’t that he was particularly bad with names, it just some part of him wasn’t really listening during introductions, perhaps because the probability of getting to know someone new on a first name basis seemed pretty low at this age.

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 It was a really a very nice town, all old brick front two story buildings, gas stations with 1950s architecture, and a little park with a civil war obelisk with ‘Bivouac of the Dead’ inscribed on it .  Sitting in the park he imagined moving here, but a moment later remembered he didn’t have the accent, and he was too old to be ‘the new guy in town’ for a decade. He liked his town in Florida just fine, but it wasn’t his hometown either. Belonging was made of something else.

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It was the same old thought: the more comfortable you are in your own skin, the more independent, the less likely you are to feel at home or needed anywhere. It was the ultimate irony of the builders life: He had spent all his adult years carefully preserving his freedom, avoiding marriage, kids, lasting friendships and debt. He had honed his independence and self reliance, and had modest needs that allowed ‘retiring’ before he was 50. Theoretically, he was to have total freedom to wander and travel as he pleased, stay as long as he liked, meet new people without reservation. He had achieved this, but belatedly come to understand that people most often travel to people or places they are attached to, and most humans like being needed, and rarely feel comfortable with the rare person who really is totally independent. He could travel anywhere he liked, but spent vastly more time sitting at home wishing he had someone out there who was longing to see him. Years ago he had confirmed the past is better left in the photo albums and it isn’t out there to visit anymore.

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He checked the weather after driving back to the airstrip; it was going to be perfect for the next few days. Staring at the maps he had to fight the urge to see how many miles it was to directly return to Florida. He understood that everyone felt this way near the end of every long adventure, the feeling that it is done before you have made it all the way back. But he had to remember that most other people had family to return to, a sense of belonging that wasn’t to be found by rushing home. He went back to his original plan of flying the 250 miles to Kitty Hawk, and then exploring Pamlico sound for a day or two. He had not been there in 30 years, his amphibian was the perfect way to see it again. His quiet house in Florida, with it’s empty refrigerator, was indifferent about waiting a few more days for his return.

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He sat out on the front porch and watched the sun sink off the western end of the airstrip. The sky and the mountains were incredibly beautiful at that moment. He started to take a few pictures, but stopped himself after a few when he realized he couldn’t think of anyone he would show them to.  He sat there staring at end of the day, and he kept coming back to the voice saying “Suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning.”  After a long hesitation, he did something that he had previously been able to resist doing. He took out his wallet and carefully extracted a little piece of paper that said “Think of me as often as you like, but……  

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Thought for the Day: Jack Northrop’s aviators

Builders:

Our home has a large sunroom for a back porch, and one wall of it is bookshelves. Most of this space houses Grace’s aviation magazine collection, containing nearly every Sport Aviation ever printed, a lot of pre WWII journals, and an original set of Flying and Glider manuals.  About 25 feet of shelving hold my textbooks from Embry Riddle, which I still look at for reference material on tasks I do infrequently like messing with prop governors and fuel injection. At the end of the last row is a thin blue binder, which has my diploma in it, and a picture of my parents and I the day I graduated. The last sheet of paper in the binder is one I keep to remind me of a path not taken. It is a letter from the 1980s, my acceptance to a legendary aviation school that is now only a memory: Northrop University. 

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Jack Northrop

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Above, a photo of a young Jack Northrop, borrowed from Northrop-Grumman’s website. He was a brilliant visionary, much more interested in cutting edge research than production. He worked for Lockheed, Douglass and founded two different companies named Northrop. He is publicly known for his pursuit of flying wings, but his contributions were much greater, he pioneered many techniques in Aeronautical Engineering which radically advanced stress analysis and design. One of his lesser known achievements was one of the things that mattered most to him: He founded one of the greatest aviation universities. It lasted 50 years, it outlived him, but today it is gone, its remaining impact solely rests with it thousands of graduates, and the people they in turn educated.

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After high school I worked many mechanical jobs for a few years, went to night school, and eventually moved to Florida to finish a degree in Political Science from St. Leo University. I went back to the world of drag racing, toured on motorcycles, but knew I eventually wanted to do something in Aeronautical Engineering. I was first focused on Schools in California, and I rode out from the east coast and toured the state on my Z-1. After visiting Northrop, which was just on the south side of LAX, I decided I had found my place. I spent a few days there attending classes. The place wasn’t fancy, but it was serious. The Composites class I sat in on was taught by a B-2 materials engineer on sabbatical. I returned to NJ, and in a few weeks I opened the letter I still have on the porch.

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Jack Northrop was something of a renaissance man, and the school he founded reflected this. It both a hard core Aeronautical Engineering program and a first class A&P program. In the 1970s they added a Law school. To Jack Northrop, the aviator who was going to make a difference in industry was the guy who could conceive it, design it, build it, patent it and negotiate a contract for it, by himself if required. The school was never big; it wasn’t there to fill the ranks of industry, it was there to provide the individuals that would make a difference, just as Jack Northrop had.

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I am well known as an Embry Riddle graduate, but that was actually a last minute plans change, driven by something outside of aviation that seemed very important in my 26 year old mind, but not so much today. When Jack Northrop passed in 1981, the school lost it prime supporter, and it was on borrowed time, but there was no hint that it would close when I was visiting. Had I elected to attend, I would have graduated with the last class of Engineers.  The school closed in the early 1990s, and today the grounds are used by an unrelated tech school that uses part of the original name. I don’t think about it often, but had I chosen to stay at Northrop, I would have likely had a very different path in aviation. I keep the acceptance letter to remind that life has a lot of paths, you always have options, and you should choose them carefully.

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A quarter of a century later, I have a much better understanding of Jack Northrop’s motivation to build a school.  Essentially, all the real value of my work is educational. I could earn a living working on planes or restoring them, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. The part that always is rewarding to me it sharing what I have learned, it makes more of a difference than just putting the machines back in order.

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In the back of my mind, I have always had the remote dream of building a modest school which would teach A&P work, manufacturing techniques, and good stick and rudder skills, with the goal of generating instructors of these subjects, so they could further pass along the learning. Northrop wanted to generate industry leaders in the high end of technology, but I would aim for the most fundamental part of flight. If it all worked what would be my version of Jack Northrop’s law school? A degree program in Philosophy of course, because the renaissance man of experimental aviation should be able to build his own plane and engine, fly them with solid stick and rudder skills, and when he lands at sunset, pull up a lawn chair and a beer and savor the hour of his achievement in the context of aviation’s practical philosophers like Lindbergh, Bach, Saint-Exupéry and Stockdale.

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-ww.

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ww.

Eyeball Exhaust Evaluations

Builders,

For as long as I have been working with Corvairs, I have had a segment of ‘experts’ tell me their opinions about the  Corvair exhaust such as ” It would make 30% more power with headers” All of these people were basing their misguided theories on ‘eyeball evaluations’ and the were just sure they were right. I knew they were wrong because I have testing on my side.

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Below is a very interesting video showing how eyeball evaluations of exhaust systems are worthless. It shows a very potent 6,000 rpm V-8 on a dyno, in back to back tests where they flatten header tubes horribly, and it has next to no effect on the output. And that is on an engine making one and a half HP / cubic inch. The effect is even lower on engines like your Corvair flight engine.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azPKIjxmmdU

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Engine exhaust requirements depend on cylinder head design and camshaft design. Typically, low rpm engines like your flight motor, have modest cam profiles with short duration, to build torque. These engines are not punished for having the backpressure of a muffler, nor are they rewarded for having perfect free flowing balanced tubes. In our application, the systems we use are the correct balance of reasonable flow, matched to the cam profile, with the two critical factors: Low surface area and stainless construction to prevent it from heating the inside of the cowl, and having low weight and a stiff design that will not resonate and crack. The systems we offer are made of the best materials, with the best welding, to long proven designs. Sorry if reality offends the ‘eyeball evaluation experts’, but that is reality.

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Get a look at some of our exhausts here: http://shop.flycorvair.com/product/3901-a-zenith-exhaust/

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Read about our designs here: Stainless Steel Exhaust Systems

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Above, An exhaust evaluation as part of an Electronic Fuel injection test on a 2,700cc Corvair in 2007. It is shown running at power on my dyno. The urethane wheel directly reads foot pounds of torque off the digital scale. Note the engine has headers on it, that could be swapped in minutes for other exhaust. The EFI allowed the air/fuel ration to be corrected to optimize the exhaust instantly at the twist of a knob, giving the fairest scientific evaluation of exhausts. The air / fuel ratio was read on a laboratory grade digital O2 system. The data conclusively showed that headers make very little difference on a Corvair, and EFI was not impressive either. Read more here: Testing and Data Collection reference page

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-ww.

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Weekend work, December 2015

Builders,

In our week, the normal work runs through Saturday at noon, as this is when the local post office closes. We mail almost everything by USPS, as 20+ years of trying everyone in the shipping business mailing tens of thousands of packages has conclusively proven “If it needs to get there economically, send it with the Post Office, if you need the item smashed, send it UPS, everyone else falls in between.” The hours between noon on Saturday and when ever we shut the shop down late Sunday night constitute “the weekend” but almost all of this time is spent in the hangar anyway, we just shift to projects instead of production parts.

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IMG_9127

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Above, Ignition testing in action. Corvair/Panther builder, friend and neighbor Paul Salter works as an aeronautical engineer for the US Navy on the EA-6B prowler program at NAS Jacksonville M-F. Since Paul is a graduate of Embry-Riddle’s rival Parks, and he is a dyed in the wool Ford guy, it is nothing short of a miracle that I have talked him into using a Chevy on his plane.

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 On Weekends, Paul spends all the hours at the airport here, and he has long proven to be a great asset, and if you have a Corvair in your shop, you are a beneficiary of his contribution if you have met him or not. His contributions run from loaning me his truck for the 3,400 mile Corvair College #34 tour: Back in Florida – 10 / 5 / 2015 to running ignition tests on retard boxes for these Ignition part #3301-DFI, a new optional system. Shown is “Dinosaur meets space program.” My 1947 Sun distributor machine is running the DFI distributor, while Paul’s laptop is programing the delay box that can control the timing curve electronically. This will be of use for planes in high altitude cruise, planes with turbos, or ones using N2O injection. The white box is a digital  DC power supply. The spread sheet on the laptop is displaying the information while also allowing the curve to be altered due to RPM and MAP.

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IMG_9129

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Above, a test of how low a voltage the Crane ignition unit will work at. Look at the distributor machine, the red flashes are the firing indications shown by a strobe, projected onto a degree wheel. It is doing just great, and note the power supply is only showing 4.3 volts! Most computer ignitions on modern cars, that also involve electronic fuel injection, loose their ability to work below 10.5 volts. Our system works at far lower voltages (It actually needs slightly more than 4.3 to run the coil to send powerful sparks but the brains still work at 4.3V) The crane units and simple coils also use very little power, allowing a Corvair to run many hours off a battery that had just enough power to crank it. Many electronically dependent automotive conversions will run less than 20 minutes after the alternator throws a belt or the voltage regulator gives out. As responsible people, we test things to know that we promote a system with a great margin of safety.

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IMG_9138

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Above, our test stand, under constant refinement since we made it in 2004. It replaced the original stand that served from 1989-2003. Together they have run hundreds of engines. In 2016, this one will make the great western tour, covering these events:

Outlook 2016, College #36 and Western building tour

Outlook 2016, Corvair College #37 Chino CA, 4/22/16

Outlook 2016, Corvair College #38, Cloverdale CA, 5/6/16

To refine the stand and make it work better, and also get a N2O port in the intake, we spent some of Saturday afternoon working on it. One of the improvements was junking the cable throttle that it has used for years and replacing it with the lever and rod arrangement, which is much more positive. Alright motor heads, prepare to date yourselves: You are officially middle aged if you know the throttle arm is a Hurst Shifter: you could be approaching middle age if you know what a Hurst shifter was, and if you have never heard the term, you are likely a millennial, which is ok, but know that you missed the good cars. A Prius doesn’t make the world a better place in the same way that a W-30 455 cid Hurst Olds did. The rest of the linkage is an AN turnbuckle and a used Corvair pushrod, TIG welded to a ball socket.

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IMG_9131

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Above, Vern Stevensen’s latest transportation project, in my front yard. What is good about Florida? Get a look at how green the grass is, on December 5th. On weekends, Vern is ‘On Call’ in our shop. He works on his own stuff, but is available 12 hours a day to jump in as required on flight stuff. Vern’s original trike: Fun with Agkistrodon Piscivorus and Vern’s Aero-Trike now has more than 20 thousand miles on it. It gets about 60-65 mpg, but Vern wanted to shoot for 100 mpg, in a vehicle built out of purely recycled tras….ahem, ‘Treasure.’ Thus the new “light trike.”

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IMG_9132

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Above, The powerplant is a Honda 250 elite scooter driveline. In stock form, these will drive a large scooter to 70+mph. The frame is random tubing cutoffs from my hangar pile. The front suspension is a widened 4 wheeler ATV, steering is a rack and pinion from lawn equipment. Front hubs are Geo metro rear brakes, which I turned down the ATV spindles to fit. The canopy is RV-3 flymart buy. Front tires are space saver spares from a Geo. Thus retains the full electrical harness and instrument panel from the scooter. In Florida, this is an entirely street legal vehicle that requires no insurance, special paperwork, nor inspections. Vern is thinking about putting stringers on it and making the ‘body’ from fabric aircraft  covering. The canopy and frame lift to get in and out, but the canopy also slides forward 18″ while driving for optional ventilation. The weight right now is about 200#s but he wantes it to stay under 300 done.

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IMG_9134

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Above, ScoobE checks the mailbox. It is a half mile walk from the house. Our business address that we use for work is actually 10 miles from the house, but that is where the closest grocery store is, etc. It gets checked just about every day. The neighborhood box is just for family letters. My Dad who turns 90 this month, is one of the worlds great letter writers. Since I first moved to Florida in 1984, he has send me about 200 a year. I have every single one of them carefully stored. The are often just regular news, but they are the glue that holds the family together, and they are also the documentation of all the family history, going back to all the stories my father’s  grand parents told him 80 years ago, like how my great grand mother walked alone, the 90 miles to Belfast, and got in 4th class steerage to begin work as an indentured servant in a wealthy home in NJ. It was 1868, and she was 12 years old. Through years of toil she was able to bring her siblings to America. She never saw her parents again. Somber, but a great reminder of how comparatively wonderful my life has been.

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-ww.

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Sherpas. Part #2

Builders:

Maybe you read yesterdays story on Sherpas and thought my central point, that no one should follow the advice of anyone who has never built a flying plane, was a little obvious, and that everyone knows that, it’s just a given.  If you are aware of that, you have probably been around planes for a while. On the other hand, a great number of new arrivals in homebuilding either don’t know this, or think I am overstating this. I am not.

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Above, the EFI 2,700cc Corvair in 2007, at power on my dyno. This was built as a joint project with Mark at Falcon. Conclusion: It offered little or no benefit while adopting a giant level of additional risk over a simple carb. Read more here: Testing and Data Collection reference page If you want to understand what successful people are doing, read this: Carburetor Reference page

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Case in point: A potential builder contacted today expresses an interest in EFI, specifically one promoted by a guy named Robert Haynes. New guy undoubtably read Haynes’s website, which clearly states that Haynes has been working on this project for 11 years, and it has never satisfactory run, far less flown. That  is the definition of a guy standing in the village for more than a decade telling people that he is going to climb the mountain real soon, just as soon as he gets his electronic climbing gadget to work. The new arrival is yet to understand why people who want to climb the mountain work with Sherpas.

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Haynes is at least direct and honest, if misguided. He says he doesn’t believe in 5th bearings, and he is so cheap that he assembled his engine with an old worn stock cam and gear. He changed the rod bolts and goes through an elaborate balancing routine, completely missing that resizing the rods is the critical element of rebuilding them, the one step he didn’t do. His basic engine is flawed, and represents an obsession with rationalizing not doing any of the advancements we have made in Corvair in the last 15 years. He then uses this as the basis of a decade long search for a way to make a cheap homebuilt EFI system. If you are thinking I am kidding about this, the site is: http://www.hainesengineering.com/rhaines/aircraft/corvair.htm. If you think I am judging harshly, read the part where he took apart a very filthy, internally rusty core, and he is actually going to use the same lifters again, because spending $3.60 each for new ones is a waste of money in his book.

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Now think that our new arrival looked at Haynes’s website, including his wooden motor mount and plywood disc in place of a test prop, the engine roughly running for 20 seconds in a video clip without a cooling shroud, nor even a rudimentary exhaust system, read descriptions of going through a series of batteries trying to make it run, even looked at Haynes welding skills like the photo below, and believes that this guy is on to something that negates my observations on EFI : Fuel Injection – Corvair flight engines reference page

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thatcher cx4

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Above, a photo of the motor mount weld Hanes did for his VW powered Thacher CX4 project. If this was good enough to photograph and use, I contend that Mr. Haynes doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know about aircraft construction. If you are not familiar with the definition of the word “Hubris”, take a moment to look it up, it will enrich your understanding of a mindset that does not match well with building planes.

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Haynes might be a very nice family man, clever with computers, but his value system and workmanship has not generated anything one would include in their Corvair with the expectation of trouble free reliable performance, but evidently the new arrival to village saw this and still thought that some of these ideas were better than what the Sherpas of the flying Corvair world are doing. In 25 years of homebuiling, I have met countless people who held the same perspective, yet I can’t think of any who built a reliable plane.

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There is a mindset that wants to believe that there are countless ‘un discovered’ improvements to any system developed over 25 years that can be revealed by an amateur who looks at it for a week, particularly if that amateur is going to apply high tech in the form of electronics. The root interest is almost always the promise of saving money, or not having to put in some type of work.  It doesn’t matter that they have thought this most of their life but can’t cite 2 example cases of it being true.  If any new arrival thinks that a guy with rusty old lifters in an engine he thinks he will fly with his kids, has discovered something about Corvair powered flight that I don’t know, he is working with a mindset that is common to many people who have not, and will likely never build and fly a plane. People can send me hate mail over that, but they can’t send evidence refuting it.

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It is important to me that Homebuilding find better ways of binging new people in, not just as a spectator/ EAA member but as real, active builders with an effective plan for success, which I define as finishing a good, reliable plane and really learning skills, traditions and ethics of aviation. That is transformative in a persons life, most other aviation experiences pale in comparison.

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So, How do we get more people into a position where they have a fair chance at success in homebuilding? First, you have to be honest with them. You have to tell then that the odds are against them going in, so before they look at anything else about it, they should me most interested in one single thing: Understanding the different approaches between the 20% who make it and the 80% who don’t. If they are focused on anything else, but have not even considered this, they are almost certainly in the 80%.

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In reality the new builders don’t divide into neat groups of reasonable and unreasonable. This division and the percentages actually exist inside each new builder, and I believe that you can appeal to the reasonable side of each builder by articulately explaining why he might want to invest the real effort in transforming is abilities and knowledge, and how merely finding a short cut to a finished plane is not synonymous with this. You will not reach all people, and some will take time, but after decades of hands on teach in writing, I still think it is worth the effort. -ww.