Instrumentation: Perspective on Risk Management

Builders:

The letter at the bottom below is from Ken Pavlou, Who’s 601 XL has a dual Dynon display. It is some clear thoughts on how instruments are just a part of an experimental aircraft’s flight capability, I think it is worth considering in detail before making a decision on which level and type of instrumentation will be in your plane.

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In the paragraph immediately below is a link to a story about the crash of Air France 447 several years ago. It was sent to me by builder Terry Hand, who has the perspective of being a former USMC flight instructor and having also flown a global career with a major airline. He has logged more than 20,000 hrs, but critically his experience spans the change discussed in detail in the article.

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Because the black box of 447 was recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic 2 years later, a great level of detail is known about the last 5 minutes in the cockpit. I have read countless accident reports, and it breeds a certain dispassion, but this article is different, I read it 3am. I had nightmares the rest of the night.

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What does this have to do with light planes? Easy: earlier this year we had CH-750 pilot with 60hr on his plane fly it into the ground by the exact same method that the Air France crew used to kill themselves. To avoid repeating this it is worth studying and discussing.

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The pilot took off with his first passenger and climbed away from the runway. At several hundred feet the plane began to sink and would not respond to back stick and climb. Unaware, he responded in the exact same manner as they did to excessive angle of attack, by pulling the stick back and holding it there, not understanding that the planes sink rate was caused by slow airspeed and massive drag, not a reduction of power. He and his passenger lived. Put them in most other light planes, with sharper stall behavior, a Cub or a C-150, and they die.

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The builder initially told everyone he has a power loss that allowed him to sink into the ground, but after reflecting on the behavior of the controls he quietly realized that he had held the plane at an excessive AOA and let it sink all the way into the ground. contrary to what many people were told, the follow-up tear down  and test run on the engine showed that there was nothing wrong with it, but it was too late for most people to learn that, what they ‘learned’ instead was ‘Corvair engines are unreliable.’

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What can be done about this? Training. Start by reading this article on departure stalls:

http://flighttraining.aopa.org/magazine/2006/June/200606_Departments_Accident_Analysis.html

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“Here is a link to an interesting article on the Air France 447 crash. Note the writer’s last name. (He is the son of the man who wrote Stick and Rudder-ww.)

http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2014/10/air-france-flight-447-crash?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=website#

I thought you might find this an interesting discussion, based upon your studies at ERAU. -Terry”

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“William,  I love flying with my glass panel, but the truth is 99% of my flying to date was done behind a standard six pack of instruments. The bottom line is they work and they work reliably. The reliable part is what interests me more than anything. Glass cockpits can be reliable and often times reduce cockpit workload significantly.

The caveat is you have to know how to use the equipment and understand what they are telling you. I’ve been witness to pilots increasing their risk flying behind a glass panel, even in perfect VFR conditions, simply because they didn’t take the time to master the equipment which led to a lot of fumbling around and taking concentration away from the primary task of flying the airplane. No matter how sophisticated an instrument panel is, it will never improve basic stick and rudder skills, turn you in to an IFR pilot, or replace prudent judgment.

I spent countless hours sitting in my plane after I built my panel with all the instruments on together with their operation manuals making airplane noises and familiarizing myself with all the knobs, buttons and features of my equipment. An important part of knowing your equipment is it’s failure modes. Just like a simple mechanical altimeter can read high, low, or level depending on different pitot-static faults, glass panels can at times produce inaccurate information. For example, On my flight back from Barnwell my Dynon EMS indicated my oil pressure was high. It would blip from the usual 45 PSI to 55 or 60 and back. At first I thought maybe my regulator spring and piston were getting stuck. As a precaution I removed the spring and piston at my next fuel stop. Both items were in perfect condition and functioned as they should. The problem turned out to be some electrical contact corrosion on my oil pressure sending unit.

The point is that computers can’t take the place of critical thinking and decision making. Whether the data they report is valid and how its used is really up to the organic computer embedded inside our heads. -Ken”

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Grace took the above photo in Ken’s Cockpit at CC#31, before taking off a few minutes after sunset for a local flight.

Risk Management reference page

Builders,

Below are links to a number of stories I have written on the topic of risk management. They contain the names and stories of men I knew, errors people made, and an indication of the costs. Note that this isn’t second hand tales, or mystery email names, There were real people I knew, and in some cases loved.

Aviation magazines are full of stories about accidents, but two things are different here. Almost never, does a magazine writer have the task of speaking of a person he knew. This distance doesn’t assure objectivity, it just allows condemnation without consideration. Second, I am one of very few business owners that ever makes comments about accidents. If you want people to blindly buy things, everyone knows you don’t talk about dead people. I know this too, but my goal isn’t just to sell things, it is to share the things that others before me took the time to teach me.

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Above, a 2006 photo of our friends Bob and Sarah Bean. I can say without the slightest hesitation they are the finest human beings I ever met in aviation. Most people cherish others attached to them by blood, experience or common thought. I shared none of these with Bob; I loved him solely because he was the human embodiment of “Love thy neighbor.”  It has been a number of years, but the loss of Bob and Sarah is still a spear in the heart that makes all other cuts seem small.

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If you are new to flying please read this first:

Concerned about your potential?

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 Also, please read and understand this: Comments on aircraft accidents

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Below are the titles in color, and a brief segment of each story to indicate the contents. You can click on any color title and read the full original story:

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Risk Management, Factor #1, Judgement. “Judgement is the vital element, and without it, the other factors, experience, education and all the rest, don’t add up to any protection.”

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Risk Management, Experience vs Judgement. “I want to show people that when I am writing a simple sentence like “two personal friends of mine with more than 25,000 hours each” I am not kidding, and the point I am making isn’t some abstract Flying magazine platitude”

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Risk Management – Human factors ” The evidence that fools present for the existence of luck is vague and anticdototal at best.  Hard, proven and factual evidence for the existence
of Physics, Gravity and Chemistry can be found at any crash site.”

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Risk Management, Wrong airframe, Wrong experience level. “when a guy is new, he makes a critical decision, before he has much experience or good advice to base it on. This choice is which airframe to build.”

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Risk Management, Judgement Error, money in the wrong place. “There are many people who are great people who don’t make good decisions around planes. There are also people who are first class A-holes who exercise good judgment.  Like it or not, the later live a lot longer.”

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Effective Risk Management – 2,903 words “This was the first time I can clearly say I understood the cost of keeping your mouth shut. This was the first step to me becoming the kind of “Bastard” who publicly points out people doing dangerous things.”

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“If only someone had told him……”  “they chose to ignore the warnings or discount them for reasons that frequently seem hard to remember after the damage is done. It is not the lack of information, but the willful choice to ignore it that is at the root of trouble.”

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Expert Witnesses in civil Aviation trials. “The important point that I would like traditional homebuilders to understand and take away is simple. All three of these men wrote books that purport to be grave warnings about terrible flaws in aircraft designs in aviation. I cannot comment on how strongly any of these men felt about these topics, but I will tell you that each of these men aggressively pursued legal positions on these subjects so they could hire
themselves out as industry experts in some very expensive and damaging lawsuits, including the highest one ever paid out in aviation.”

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Steel tube fuselages, “Safe” planes and 250mph accidents “Keep factor #1 in mind: Who is flying? I would rather land a fast wooden plane at night with a zip lock bag of 100LL in my lap, a lit Cuban cigar in my teeth and my feet chained to the rudder pedals than take a trip around the pattern on a sunny day in a Stearman with some of the pilots I have met. I am serious. Avoid these people like your life depends on it, because it does. Make it your goal in aviation not to be one of these pilots.”

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Greatest Book on Flying Ever Written, (Is your life worth $16?) “GPS, radios, arbitrary boundaries and written tests have nothing to do with
flying. Don’t worry about the test from the FAA: be much more concerned about the one run by Physics, Chemistry and Gravity when you leave the ground as there are much greater consequences to failing theirs. Langewiesche is going to teach you to pass this far less forgiving exam.”

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Above, My friend Bruce Smith, a 25,000 hour aviator for whom I had the greatest respect. He was the personification of  why we used to hold airline pilots in great esteem. He was a classic Pan Am overseas captain in the Golden Age of jet travel.  He was a man who lived life in a way that Teddy Roosevelt would have called strenuous. Bruce raised his children abroad and captained his  own sailboat across the Atlantic many times. Eating dinner with him involved immodest drinking and commensurate storytelling. He’d always  flown light aircraft. His Navion was the very first airplane I ever worked on as a newly minted A&P.His fun-loving side coexisted with his far more serious morality. His wife was on the Pan Am 103 flight that was  blown up by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland. I met Bruce after this when he was living in modest circumstances. He was one of  a very small minority of the victims’ families who refused to accept any compensation offered which did not include a Libyan  acknowledgement of their involvement. He traveled to Africa and offered his services to anyone willing to do damage to the Libyan regime.  He was principle above all else. In recent years, the Libyans admitted their role and denounced terrorism in order to get their  assets unfrozen in the U.S. This never would have happened if Bruce and the handful of others had capitulated on their principles.Over the years that I knew him, Bruce spoke little on these subjects. He was far more concerned with getting the most out of the day  at hand. But this was all done while living his life according to his code of what was right. The years I knew him were a sterling  example of how a principled and resilient man lives. He was truly a pilot in command of his own life.He died in the crash of a certified Swift airplane. He was ferrying a plane only 10 miles. The plane had been sitting outside more than a year. It was not in good condition. The engine failed shortly after take off.

The New York Times obituary for Bruce Smith is  worthwhile reading at  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/01/us/01smith.html

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Above our friend Ken Terry, A man of huge influence on Grace’s flying. A pilot of tremendous skill, he had flown more than 40,000 hours. As much as his ability it the cockpit was impressive, it was his human character I respected. He was a hard and principled man who had a difficult time sharing space and conversation with people who chose not to care about, nor get involved in the troubles of their fellow man. He could be gregarious and his friendship came both with great trust and the expectation that you would live up to your side.  For people who need others to be “nice”, he was intimidating. If you needed a man with principles who was always willing to fight for them, literally if required, Ken was a person you would have treasured.

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Thought for the Day: Columbus Day, 1925.

Builders;

170 years ago, half my DNA lived in Germany, the other half in Ireland.  The first element of the Irish half came to America in the form of a 12 year old girl who walked 90 miles to a port, took 4th class steerage to Castle Garden immigration station, and began 8 years of work as an indentured servant in a wealthy home in New Jersey.

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She had a number of sons, almost all of whom became police officers, among them my Grandfather Michael Wynne and his older brother William Wynne. Starting before WWI, they worked as patrolmen for the Passaic and Clifton departments respectively.

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On Columbus day 1925, my great uncle was on duty for the parade in Clifton. He observed the marchers in the lead holding the Italian flag up high, while intentionally holding the United States flag dipped beneath it. He was not one to tolerate such intentional disrespect, and he stepped off the curb and grabbed the pole of the Italian flag.  When a number of the marchers moved on him, he drew his revolver to make it clear he would not be assaulted without cost.

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The mayor was pressured to fire him, but there was a public outcry, exemplified by the poem in the paper shown below, written by a woman who’s father was a civil war veteran. William Wynne kept his job, but in the long run paid a price for it. He advanced through the ranks, but not at the pace he deserved or one that matched the success of his brothers. If he ever regretted his actions that day, he never mentioned a single word of it to anyone. He put his loyalty to the ideals of this country above all else.

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My Grandfather and his siblings were aware of their heritage, but were not attached to it; They considered themselves 100% American. In their formative years, Teddy Roosevelt was the outspoken president of the United States. One of the things TR spoke against was anyone identifying themselves as a “Hyphenated American.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyphenated_American ) . Roosevelt was absolutely clear that he considered any naturalized citizen just as good as one who was born here, but he had no tolerance for people who were unsure of their loyalty. To some of todays ears, this is terrible, but my grandfather and his siblings understood it without reservation. A century later, I confess to feeling the same way.

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We have all seen the commercial for DNA testing where some person feels their life is changed because they discover that 300 years ago their ancestors lived in a Slavic country, not Spain. I find the very premise laughable, because that person could have traveled to both Slovenia and Spain, and they would really know nothing of the customs, far less the mindset, yet the new results bring them some “identity”.

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Conversely, I have no confusion on these issues: for better or worse, I am an American, period, end of sentence. I have known many Germans, worked with them and have been to Germany; in spite of the fact 50% of my DNA is from there, I feel no attachment to the culture, it isn’t mine to claim. In Munich I was simply a tourist just as I have always been in other countries. I suspect the peoples of those lands would prefer Americans didn’t harbor the fantasy their DNA tests qualify them to understand what it means to be a native of those places.

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Unlike most Americans, I am particularly well read on our history, including its lowest points. I was born 72 years to the day after the US 7th Cavalry killed several hundred people, mostly women and children, at a cold desolate place called Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  This was considered the very last ‘battle’ fought between Native Americans and all the people who had come since Columbus.  398 years of warfare came to an end that day, not with just peace, nor even a fair fight.  On a day where most people are somehow blindly celebrating a man who ushered in the Europeans, you can set yourself apart by reading the story of Wounded Knee, including the really ugly parts where women with infants who ran miles from the battle where run down and executed by US soldiers. There were less that 500 soldiers there, but 22 of them were awarded the Medal of Honor for their ‘heroic’ actions.

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The awareness of my countries failings doesn’t condone or justify weak loyalty. The awareness just requires my vigilance against further mistakes during the ‘watch’ of my adult years as a citizen. There will be national failings, such as this: Political Reality Check , but they should not be cynically accepted as inevitable. It is beyond me why many people believe that our mistakes are made by the other party, my personal feelings are expressed here: Patriotism has no Party .

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Worth reading:   What the 4th of July means to me.

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Your Aviation Connection: Just as I believe that a person can choose to be an American, and make the conscious choice to live within our laws and values, I also believe that anyone, can choose to be an Aviator, and abide by and enjoy the equal protection of the laws of physics chemistry and gravity.  It has been my long experience that the rewards of being an aviator go to the people who give it the ‘loyalty’ of their best efforts, not those who dabble in it with half hearted interest, a hyphenated loyalty where the casual retain the customs of lands outside the airport fence where “It should be alright” is a national moto.

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Read: Risk Management – Human factors ” The evidence that fools present for the existence of luck is vague and anecdotal at best.  Hard, proven and factual evidence for the existence
of Physics, Gravity and Chemistry can be found at any crash site.”

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When I was little, maybe 9, my Father took us to The Jefferson Memorial. There he explained to us that The United States of America was neither a business nor a playground, it is a set of ideals, which made it the last best hope of mankind. The dream that mankind had moved past kings and dictators, past theocrats and oppressors, to a world where individuals governed themselves as equals. We could look at the ceiling and read Jefferson’s words plainly:

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“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

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 From there we went to Arlington, where my father explained that the nation had set aside an eternal resting place for the citizens who had laid down their lives for the ideals of this country, and if he were ever to take a place among them, we should not weep, as it would only mean that he had lived for something greater than himself.

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Dated Sources of Information: Example – Fiberglass fuel tanks

Builders:

I am now about to demonstrate my commitment to the risk management of today’s homebuilders, by “Touching the Third Rail” of homebuilding, I am going to say something that strongly disagrees with a man who since his passing has been elevated to infallible sainthood in homebuilding,  Tony Bingelis. This will certainly generate hate mail, but that’s OK it just keeps the Christmas card list short.

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Before people get up in arms, let me make several statements: Tony Bingelis was a real homebuilder, He made about 10 planes, he wrote a lot of useful articles, particularly in the era when many homebuilts were plans built, and the plans lacked a lot of finishing details. Critically, while his writing didn’t include phrases like “I might be wrong about this” no where did he claim to be infallible. That aspect of his legend came later, not from people who appreciated his books (like me) but from people who wanted to have an infallible saint to follow, who’s comments were often vague enough to seem to support their particular personal myth they wanted to believe.

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Want an example? In his book on power plants, Bingelis’s advice on prop length is  “Keep your prop as long as possible, as long as possible” Sounds like a witty clever idea, but doesn’t constitute any learning, testing or experience. It is just a catch phrase that countless people have used as ‘evidence’  that their belief that props turning over 2200 rpm are inefficient, and any prop smaller than 72″ makes no thrust. Let’s compare an actual data point, from a contemporary of Bingelis: Steve Wittman. get a look at this story: From The Past: With Steve Wittman 20 years ago today. I went flying with him, his prop was a Cessna 150 prop cut down to 62″, and when we were doing 195mph, it was turning 3,600 rpm. Anyone who understands anything about the life’s work of Wittman knows that if the plane would have been 1 mph faster with a 63″ prop, it would have had one. My point is that Bingelis published a lot of great detail design stuff, but when he didn’t have first hand experience, he resorted to vague hangar mythology statements like his one on props, that later generations would treat as some kind of religious body of wisdom, which is a bad concept, in a field where we are supposed to Learn Build and fly.

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One of the first things people are going to say is that Bingelis’s book has a disclaimer in the introduction. It does, stating that none of the information is guaranteed to work. Actually this is one of the things I dislike about his writing. Go back and read it with a fresh set of eyes. Nearly every chapter has a subtitle disclaimer in it saying ‘this may not work for you, you should ask around. Read his comments on tank sealers: he will not come out and say “Don’t use it” he kind of says it but has a CYA, statement about how you should “ask around for yourself. ” If that was how one was to get information, why was the book written?

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What is wrong with a Fiberglass tank in the fuselage? First , It is the least crash worthy of any tank material. Second, they put stuff in fuel today that was not even dreamed of when Bingelis’s book was written in 1986.  The stuff can even be regional, and it might be in the tank of fuel you get on a cross country, after years without issue. Third, fuel tank sealers that worked great 15 years ago, don’t reliably work against the ethanol content in fuel today. Fourth, I have done a lot of high end composite work, and most home made fuel tanks including the one pictures are brittle pieces of crap, because the guy who laid them up had no training, and put about twice as much resin in the weave as desirable.

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So what is the real lesson here? I had a guy tell me that he is building a Pietenpol, and his Piet buddies, told him that Bingelis’s books are “timeless” and that he didn’t need anything other than the plans. I pointed out to him that I own an original set of 1930’s flying and glider manuals, I love them, they worth more than $1,500, but I am not going to build a Pietenpol tank out of soldered tern plate, just because that is what is shown in the plans, and 1930 or 1986, it doesn’t matter, dated information is dated information. Books on aerodynamics structures and physics of flight don’t change, however, books on materials and process do, and only a foolish person would restrict himself to information 30 years old.

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Today, there are lots of sources for proven information. There are modern day Steve Wittmans, and you should follow them, because their suggestions are based not on quaint sayings, but on tests you can study and understand.

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Above, a fiberglass 12 gallon aux tank that flew for several years in the passenger compartment of my friends Caviler, a wooden low wing plane with a 60mph landing speed. The book is one of Bingelis’s three, immensely popular books. In this one, it details all the attributes of making this kind of tank, even on planes where the tank is in the fuselage, with narry a word about the kind of risk this is. The book was published 30 years ago and Bingels has been dead for 15 years. Perhaps if he was alive he might revise his recommendations in light of modern opinions about such tanks.

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If you or your buddy have such a tank in your plane, I am not suggesting that it is “Un-airworthy” , but I am asking you as an intelligent human being to do some research and consider things. If your buddy says, “It’s been in there for years, I have seen plenty of them. besides, it is in Tony Bingelis’s book”  Then he is just the kind of mythology spreader I am speaking of, and it is a waste of time to try to get him to think, he just wants an infallible source to cite as validation for him being too cheap or lazy to change it. Please read carefully: If you have seen my story:Steel tube fuselages, “Safe” planes and 250mph accidents, and you decide that you still are ok with this kind of tank, because you have given it open minded thought, I am ok with that, that is actual thinking, not validation.

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Above, dull hatchet, half hearted swipe, and it is right through. Aluminum would do much better, and I doubt any human could put a dull axe through a rotationally molded plastic tank. There are countless plastic tanks, look at SummitRacing.com and search “Fuel Cell” Yes, they are cheaper than the materials in a fiberglass tank.

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I have been an aircraft mechanic for 25 years. If I was doing an inspection on a 70 year old plane, but only used the AD’s written up to 1986, under the justification that it was a “classic” plane and the information about it couldn’t have gotten any better since 1986, the FAA would take away my License, period. If some one was hurt in the plane because it was not compliant with a post 1986 AD, then I would be looking at a complementary vacation at a federal gated community. Experimental aircraft don’t have AD’s but the logic of using up to date information is exactly the same.

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Why this stuff matters to me: I have been burned over 40% of my body. I have written very plainly about the experience, and written articles like this: Pietenpol Fuel lines and Cabanes but quite frankly, I think most people don’t really care. Improving the fuel lines in a Pietenpol could be done for about $100 and four hours work, yet, years later, 75% of the planes still have hard fuel lines on them. Some people don’t care, others don’t like me personally and will not improve their plane, just because the suggestion came from me. I write this knowing that the great majority of people will not take the information seriously. I am OK with that, I don’t base my happiness on the actions of others.

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-ww.

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To read about the contributions of Tony Bingelis to Homebuilding follow this EAA link:

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http://www.eaa.org/en/eaa/aviation-communities-and-interests/homebuilt-aircraft-and-homebuilt-aircraft-kits/eaa-homebuilt-airplane-programs-and-resources/eaa-tony-bingelis-award/learn-more-about-tony-bingelis

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“God has a sense of humor I am yet to understand”

Builders:

Six months ago I wrote this story: Comments on aircraft accidents, and I would hope that builders who missed it then will take 5 minutes to read it now. It includes important perspectives I would like builders to stop and really consider, like this:

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“Even if a builder had a god’s eye view of what went wrong in every accident of the type of plane he is building, this still doesn’t tell him anything about what is right, only what is wrong. Study success at least as much as failure.”

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One of the elements of the story is how often I am called to provide information on experimental aircraft accidents, and the strong restrictions on disclosing any information about ongoing investigations before the final report is issued. To give you some idea about how long a process is, I spent some time last week working with the feds on an accident from the middle of last year. The investigation is now done, but the report isn’t out yet, so there isn’t much I can say about it, but here are a few things:

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None of the things speculators said on the net were even remotely close to the probable cause, and that includes what the pilot initially thought the issue was. Like the great number of experimental accidents. it would have been prevented if the pilot had just exercised better judgment. The one fortunate thing about the accident was the pilots injuries were low. Most of the people looking at the accident were very surprised he lived. Even people who have seen a great number of accidents, and know the damage can appear random, made comments about how lucky this guy was in light of the choices he made.

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On this last point, I made the comment in the title of this story. I can share it now because it was not put in the official record. Over the years I have supplied background information and test data for a number of accidents, and you can see it in a number of older final reports. While there isn’t a section for philosophy in final reports, maybe there should be one day. I would certainly like reader of the report to understand that if they replicated the decision making of pilot, they would likely not live.  No one should take this mans survival as an endorsement of his choices, skills or even the strength of the airframe design. When I have to consider it in comparison to a number of very skilled pilots I knew who did not survive their own accidents, (Risk Management reference page),  I can only conclude that “God has a sense of humor I am yet to understand.”

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Above, the 1894 Paul Gauguin Painting “Day of the god.” It was inspired by his first visit to Polynesia, today it is in the Art institute in Chicago.  I have long studied the work and life of Gauguin. He was a French impressionist painter who worked beside many of the greatest artists ever; he was close friends with Van Gogh.  He spend almost all of his life without success, in poverty. In 2015, one of his paintings broke the absolute record for highest price ever paid for any painting, $300,000,000 dollars. When negative people criticize your choice to build a homebuilt aircraft, reflect on how many people must have told Gauguin to give up painting.

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Take a moment to consider that Gauguin thought Paris in the 1890’s, the worlds art and pleasure capitol, was too pedestrian, predictable and moralistic; he spent most of the last decade of his life exploring his primitive side in Tahiti and the Marquesas. The academic description of the painting above is a number of long paragraphs on themes, influences and movements.  I tend to think it is better understood after considering Gauguin’s affections for Drink, Morphine, Laudanum and  Native women.

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In the last year of his life, Gauguin wrote:

“No one is good; no one is evil; everyone is both, in the same way and in different ways. …
It is so small a thing, the life of a man, and yet there is time to do great things, fragments of the common task.”

He died in 1903 at age 54.

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Please note: The title of this article is said in jest, It is not a serious comment on Faith, not intended to be offensive to anyone.  It should be considered in the same category as A.E. Houseman’s poignant observation: “Ale does more than Milton can, to justify Gods ways with man.”

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-ww.

Thought for the Day: “My Dreams”

Take a moment to contrast the lives of two human beings, both living in New York City on Sunday, Christmas day, 2011:

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the 20 wealthiest people who has ever lived, is serving his third term. This was made possible because he spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to erase the long established two term limit. His 2001 and 2005 campaigns each broke the record for spending for any elected office in the history of the state. While his net worth of 30 billion dollars allows him to consume any beverage he desires, he was the primary supporter of dictating a limit on the size of a soft drink people could drink in the city. He would set the limit for everyone. This was one of his dreams. Today he announced that being President of America is another one of his dreams, and he is willing to spend a billion dollars to buy the job.

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Donna Fountain, a 38 year old single mother from Brooklyn, one of the millions of working people in New York who struggle to stay above poverty, was walking to her job as a health care assistant at 7:30 Christmas morning. Her plan was to be home that afternoon and share it with her eight year old son Elijah.  She never got there, instead she was mortally wounded by a hit and run driver, and died at the hospital without ever seeing her son again. The car was found, but no one was ever charged.

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Looking for her identity, police found a simple hand written note in her purse, titled “My Dreams.” It spoke of working on getting a better job, buying a home, things she would like to do for others, falling in love, and ended with her fervent wish that her son Elijah graduate from college.  Friends later reveal that Donna carried this note everywhere she went, and, in spite of her very humble circumstances, was determined to see her dreams become reality.

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Above is a photo of Donna Fountain’s note. I find it very moving that most of what she worked for were things for other people.  She did not dream of wealth or power, nor using these things to control the lives and dreams of others.

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Your Aviation Connection: I highly encourage builders to actually write down their aviation dream. A dream written down is already being formed into a plan; a plan with a time line is a goal, and the building blocks are the defined achievements which are milestones along the path. The dream can be inspirational, but it really starts with a plan on a piece of paper in your pocket.

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I am often accused of being opinionated, mostly by people who have never spent a day with me.  In polite response, I point out there are nearly 1,000 stories on our two websites, and yet I challenge anyone to say what political party I belong to, what faith I hold, or where I stand on any social issue. I have never endorsed any cause, forwarded any story by any organization, nor approved of anyone’s claim of being exclusively right. I may sound opinionated, but in reality I never share much on typical topics, because I don’t see my perspective as being valid for anyone but me.

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All of the thought for the day stories include my wish that they be “thought provoking, not thought providing.” The first pages of my manual specify that I “reserve the right to get smarter”, and I not only promote that, I exercise it.

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The only belief that I will always openly champion, the belief that is at the central core of the story above, is my unshakeable faith in the goodness of common, decent people.  I have no interest in the people the media tells us to worship, the rich, the powerful, the famous, the celebrity.

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Instead, I choose to reserve my admiration for those people in our everyday world who quietly lead decent lives. If I have criticized anyone’s favorite celebrity, I apologize, I was focused on people like:

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The old man who lived next to us:

What the 4th of July means to me.

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A homeless man with two dogs:

A thought on Easter….

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A School bus driver who sacraficed his life:

Charles Poland Jr., An American of whom you could be proud.

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A very spiritual woman:

In defense of plain speaking……

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A man who abandoned popularity for personal ethics:

Risk Management, Experience vs Judgement.

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A simple friend:

Thinking of Mike Holey, an Aviator and a friend.

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-ww.

 

 

Blast from the past 1993-2003

Builders,

I came across an old box of photos from a long time ago. Below is a little sample. Many of the stirred long forgotten memories. Over the years there have literally thousands of builders we have worked with, and I am pretty sure I have actually touched more than 1,000 Corvair engines destined for planes, met their builders, worked with them. I have run 400 or so engines on our test stand. Sounds like a lot, but the work dates back all the way to 1989.

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The most common ‘complaint’ about Corvairs from people, who have frequently never met me, is that I must have some giant ego. I am not sure how these people missed the fact I am a self described Grease monkey-troglodyte.  My success with Corvairs isn’t because I am so smart, it is actually because I have always been just dumb enough not to know when to quit. The progress was made, not by brilliant insight, but more often by exhausting the permutations of what wouldn’t work, and being very observant of all of the information available, not just the small fraction that served a pet theory.  Ironically, many of the  these critics are the same who need to believe that in their first Corvair engine they have discovered something that eluded detection by myself and all the builders that came with us. That is arguably the very egomania they desperately need to ‘expose’ in others.

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Enjoy a look into the long past, to see some of the milestones of 27 years of work. I have outlasted nearly all of the alternative engine companies of the last decades. There are a number of skilled, experienced builders, but few who have been continuously at it without break, attending airshows in person from coast to coast. It isn’t a contest, but it is a fair reminder that I am still here and I have left a long trail of compulsive critics in the rear view mirror.

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Above, Grace takes apart a core engine at Corvair College #3 at Spruce Creek Florida, 2002.  With her is Gus Warren and Mark Christmann.

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Above, two eras of Corvair advocates: Left is Bud Rinker, right is a young version of me at Sun n Fun 1995.  Bud developed his ‘Rinker Gearbox’ in the late 1960’s. It worked, but he never personally flew it. His two practical articles with data in 1970 issues of Sport Aviation was actually a great contribution, and provided turbo data we later built on. Bud perished in a car accident about 10 years ago.

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Above, before there was gray hair: Pat Panzera and myself looking at the first Dragonfly / Corvair engine mount I built, 1999 or 2000 at the tandem wing fly in in Kansas.

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Above, Myself and Virl Deal at Brodhead 2000. Virl logged 1,100 hours on his Corvair powered Pietenpol over a 15 year period. The button I am wearing says “This ain’t Oshkosh” a then popular Brodhead motto. I am wearing my father’s hat.

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Above, something different, flying an hour of jet aerobatics in Heintz Peier’s L-39 Albatross. 1993.  My work has crossed my path with that of many interesting characters. Heintz was from Switzerland, but lived at Spruce Creek.  My years at Embry-Riddle and this kind of exposure gave me a lot ‘bigger picture’ than most alternative engine guys. Many people like to talk about “pulling G’s” but most light planes have a lot of drag for their energy. Conversely, the L-39 can sustain 5 g’s for 20 seconds without bleeding off all the energy. It was the limit of what I could take at age 30.

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Above, myself and the illustrious Terry Bailey of alto mud creek GA, 1999. Terry was a character from the world of tandem wing planes. The tail of my Pietenpol expresses thanks to people who believed in what I was doing. Bob Bean was the finest person I ever met in aviation, you can see his picture here: Risk Management reference page, he and his wife Sara perished in a weather related Glass air accident in 2006.

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Above, Jake Jaks and myself, at the conclusion of Corvair College #1, in May of 2000.  Jake went on to fly this engine in his Pober Jr Ace. In 2009 he flew it to Sun n Fun and was greeted by the designer and founder of the EAA. Read the story here: http://www.flycorvair.com/snf2009.html .

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Above, At Paul Poberezney’s SAA fly in at Frasca Field IL, 2003.  I am in the green jacket with muttonchops. Grace was the first guest speaker at the fly in that year. In the black jacket is Tom Brown, who’s 1,600 hours in his Pietenpol makes him the worlds highest time Corvair pilot. In the blue jacket is Bill Knight who owns B.H. Pietenpol’s “Last Original”, Bernard’s last plane which lives and flies out of Brodhead. We are standing in from of Bill’s Waco F-2 replica, which was hand built by Tom.

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Above, In my shop with WWII veteran and builder of 8 experimental aircraft, the late Steve Magill of Florida. The engine seen here later flew on Steve’s Pietenpol.  Take a few minutes to read Steve’s story here: Four Men.  Steve was a Landing Craft Coxswain on D-Day. He wanted me to know me how bad that day was, but he just couldn’t put it in words. He said several times “They were just boys” and “It was murder.” He said that leaving those men on the beach was the worst moment of his life, and it never went away.

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Grace and I never charged Steve a dime for all the assistance putting his engine together and running it. Most good businessmen wouldn’t ‘waste time’ on a guy with a thin wallet like Steve. That is their loss, they can live in a shallow world worshiping dollars if they choose. For myself, the hours we shared with builders, particularly the ones of Steve’s generation, were their own reward.  This is a concept that the compulsively critical fail to understand.  We have now held 38 Corvair Colleges, and we have never charged anyone for all the things we offered to share at the events. It wasn’t charity, it was an expression of gratitude for men like this:  ERAU – models of integrity #2,   who took the time to freely share with me knowledge they had learned, some of it at a very steep price.  We all live in worlds of our own making, and looking back on the photos gives some satisfaction that I chose to put something positive back in Experimental Aviation, it is small thanks for all that it has brought to my life.

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-ww.

Risk Management, Experience vs Judgement.

Friends,

Before I leave this topic and go back to speaking of Corvair hardware and airframe components, I would like to put down one more story on the subject. As the title indicates, part of this story looks at how Judgement is more important that experience. At the center of this story is Ken Terry, a friend of mine. I wrote the last part of this story 18 months ago. The risk management part of this is tangential. On the surface I bring up Ken’s story because I want to show people that when I am writing a simple sentence like “two personal friends of mine with more than 25,000 hours each” I am not kidding, and the point I am making isn’t some abstract Flying magazine platitude, it is something directly taught to me by a man I knew well. You read about people with 40,000 hours, but do you know one? Was he your instructor? Did he lead a life that Hayden or Hemingway would have understood? Ken Terry was this and more. He was tremendously influential in Grace’s flying, an incredible instructor on many fronts. Although I was angry with him at times, I want to publicly say I was very lucky to have known him.

Most people go through their life with the detachment of a grazing cow. They are insulated in the little cocoon, mesmerized by their smart phone, unaware of humanity around them. If asked to engage, they most often camouflage their insecurity in some feigned cool cynicism, always safely indifferent on every topic. Ken was the anthesis of this, he was 100% alive, and he felt that Everything Mattered, and he was willing to fight for these things at the drop of a hat. If you wanted to live in a cocoon, he was threatening. If you needed to act to save someones life, you would treasure him.

Below the surface, There is a different story that matters to me. Ken is the last member of a trilogy of friends I once had. They did not all know each other, but they are directly connected in my life. It’s about brotherhood, how far you would go for another human in trouble, and what it might cost you, but it isn’t a happy story. They are all dead now.

Ken was the only person with my compulsive need to save Mike; I thought Mike was fate serving me a second chance, possible redemption for failing to save Ben. Deep inside I want to tell you why they were great people, how much richer my life would have been had they lived. But I can’t find the words to make anyone understand that, so all I am left with is a tangential story about risk management and some note typed last year at 3 am, thinking of people who still seem alive.

Looking at the risk management part of the story, you can read the link below to Ken’s accident. Get a good look at the destroyed T-34. Grace flew that plane many times, she did most of her aerobatic training in it. It would be very hard to express to you how skilled a pilot Ken was. He was not a former airline guy with a T-34 for putting around in retirement. He was a master of competitive aerobatics, and I saw him fly a number of planes, T-34, Eagle, Skybolt, J-3, C-152, and many others with a degree of control on the limit of the envelope you didn’t believe existed. He didn’t run out of skill the day he died.  What he ran out of was options, and getting to that point is about making decisions headed into an ever narrower position. I find it very hard to say this, but it was probably an error on his part to get to an optionless position. That isn’t condemning the man, it’s me really asking you to learn something from him.

http://kathrynaviationnews.com/?p=21318

The 3 am story from 2011:

I just spent the last hour and a half out in the shop doing small stuff like deburing fly wheels and bending mounting tabs for oil pickups. I have done these tasks so many times that it is the kind of task that I can do without thinking about it. I just spent a lot of this time thinking
about a guy named Ken Terry.

Ken has lived at Spruce Creek, our old airport as long as I have known him. A cantankerous guy, I met him back in 1991 or so, the way that most people met him, by having an argument with him. Ken was a difficult guy to like right off the bat. He had an anger management issue that makes me look like I’m ready to guest host “Mr Rodgers Neighborhood.”  He was always an in your face, tell it like it is, kind of guy. He didn’t need you to like him.

Twelve years ago Ken, who was a regional aerobatic champion and a life long pilot taught Grace how to fly fundamental aerobatic maneuvers in his T-34 and Christan Eagle. She used the second plane to get her IAC patch. It was a milestone in her flying, and Ken treated her like a daughter he never had. To Grace, he was a very nice guy, but to others he was gruff.

I was thinking about Ken tonight because he was killed in the crash of his T-34 on Saturday. Arnold called me up to say that he was dead. We live 100 miles north, and news travels the gap slowly.  Here is the most important thing Ken taught me; People who are hard to like at first are often easy to respect later, and vice versa. It makes a lot of sense it you think about the qualities that make many people popular, and then think about how these are not an asset it a moral dilemma.

When I was president of EAA-288 I had a big argument with Ken that almost came to blows because he pulled a snap roll on take off in a 290HP Skybolt at an EAA picnic we were having, where I was trying to show people in the community how civilized aviators are. I was fed up with him, and I couldn’t think of anything good about him that was worth the other costs. About a month later he pulled up in front of my old hangar at midnight. He got out and said that a very good mutual friend named Mike Holey had fallen off the wagon for the thousandth time, and was out driving around drunk, and we should go find him. Ken explained that he was still not speaking to me, he just wanted a one night truce.  I explained that I had done this for Mike many times before, and it never did any good. Ken asked if I was OK hearing tomorrow that Mike was dead, and I told him I didn’t think I could stop that it if was going to happen. Getting angry, Ken said what if he runs over someone’s little kid, was I OK with doing nothing and finding that out in the morning?

I got in Kens truck, and it only took an hour to find Mike, drive him back to his place at the Ra-Mar trailer park, put him to bed and remove two tires from his truck. Ken drove me back to my hangar. When we got there I tried to say something about how he was right about doing it for some strangers kid. Ken got mad and asked me how dumb I was. He got in my face and said we didn’t do it for Mike, or some stranger or his stupid kid, we did it for ourselves, so we could wake up in the morning without having to add anything new to our lists of reasons for hating ourselves. He said that every honest intelligent man who has done something with his life already has a full list of things he has done that he now finds contemptible. No further explanation, he drove off. I watched his Suburban drive down Cessna Blvd. I realized that Ken was very hard to like, but he was easy to respect.

I was sitting at the work bench two hours ago thinking about that night and trying to remember what year it was. I was tired and couldn’t come up with the answer right away, but it was at least 10 or 11 years ago. For about 10 solid seconds I thought about calling up Mike Holey in the morning and asking him. I have known Mike since 1989 and I didn’t think he would be offended if I brought up a bad night in his life from long ago. Then I remembered that Mike shot himself and has been dead since 2003. Ten seconds is a long time to forget that, even when your real tired.

I like working alone in the shop late at night. Our airport is out in the woods and it is very quiet here late at night. Long after anyone would call, long after Grace went in, it is a good time to think about stuff you never do during the day. In another month I will be 49. Ken was right, if you live long enough, and your honest with yourself, you will have plenty to regret in the quiet hours. Mostly things you should have said or done, and a handful of things you wish you had not.

Tonight, I add Ken Terry to my group of friends that never get older. During the day I almost never think of them, but late at night, when I am alone in the hangar, they don’t seem nearly as dead. When I think about them I subconsciously let them get older, it’s a way of pretending they have been with me all along. It not all regrets, there are plenty of good memories.

At Oshkosh this year I had a guy told me that he liked home builts, but he really didn’t get into having to spend all the hours in the workshop, largely alone. I listened, and shrugged, didn’t say anything, couldn’t really. It was broad daylight, and far from my shop, and besides, if you tell people you don’t mind working in your shop alone because it gives you time to think about people you have lost, they will just think your mentally ill.   -ww, 11/2011.

Risk Management, Factor #1, Judgement.

Builders,

I was at the airport yesterday and spoke with Dan Weseman just after he completed test flight #4 on the Panther prototype. You can read the story of these flights on the Panther blog at:

http://flypanther.net/

Just like the first three flights, the fourth was mechanically flawless. Dan has inspected the aircraft carefully after every flight, but he has not had to make a single change nor adjustment.  This is how every test flight program should go. Theoretically, Dan is flying a new design on a just built conversion engine, and this is thought to be dangerous. But I contend that he is actually at very low risk, because of one single outstanding factor: He has, and exercises, good judgement.

For comparison, let me point out that a number of people are killed in proven homebuilts with certified engines on their very first flight every year. In my 25 years of experience working with homebuilts and homebuilders every day, it is very clear that the number one cause of such accidents is poor judgement.

Ask a 5,000 hour pilot what is the most important risk management factor, and he is sure to tell you it is experience, yet I will tell you that I have had 2 personal friends with more than 25,000 hours each die in a plane because they chose to do something unnecessary and foolish. Ask a PhD engineer what is important, and he is sure to tell you that education is the number one factor. I have had several friends with engineering degrees that had been educated to know better, but still willfully did their last act in aviation against better judgement. Ask a guy who has been getting away with doing stupid things for years and he will tell you it is just luck or fate. Only idiots speak that way. Ask the man of great faith, and he will tell you that God protects.  I will tell you that I have never met a man of greater faith than my friend Bob Bean, but when a poor decision and serious weather came together, Bob’s God protected his soul, but not his mortal life.

Judgement is the vital element, and without it, the other factors, experience, education and all the rest, don’t add up to any protection. Are you new to aviation and concerned because your flight instruction didn’t cover judgement? If the instruction was good it did. Quality instruction spends a lot of time on the subject of “Decision Making,” and this is the topic of Judgement. If your instructor spent more time teaching you radio procedures, then go find a real instructor and correct this error, now, before you fly again.

Here is very simple advice for the new: Don’t spend any time hanging around people with bad judgement. Here is some easy ways to ID them. If they ever use the phrase “It should be alright”; If the person speaks of luck; If they preflight planes while speaking on cell phones; If they are in a rush; If they planned on being home by dark, but then decide night flight is ok because they ran late; If they are poor listeners and finish your sentence for you with the phrase “yeah, yeah, I got it.”; If they brag about things they got away with, pencil whipped annuals or biannual flight reviews where they didn’t actually fly;  If they are inherently cheap or complain about the cost of maintenance that is half what their car dealer charges; Any pilot who can’t tell you the Va speed of a plane he is about to fly;  If they have the slightest tendency to show off in front of people; If you see any of these things, have nothing to do with such people. All of these are signs of poor judgement, and ignoring them and flying with these people is the equivalent of continuing to play Russian roulette.

The past 36 hours brought several examples of poor judgement. An email from a builder who is now taking the advice of his local Corvair car expert over how I teach people to torque flight heads, complete with a follow on email from the expert on how I do things absolutely backwards;  A phone call from a builder who admitted to me that he ordered weak stainless head nuts by mistake, but was in a rush so he bolted the heads on with them anyway. In this process several of the nuts galled, but his solution was to just put more lube on them and put them back on (same man also used uncalibrated Chinese torque wrench to kill most of the studs in his engine on assembly); Third guy is trying to have an 8″ prop extension made for his Corvair, to be used on an airframe with a very high stall speed and little chance of survival in an off airport landing.

Now, back to my point about experience and education being no defense. One of the above people has a PhD in engineering and thousands of flight hours; another comes from a flying family and has attended two Corvair Colleges; another actually considers himself an aircraft mechanic. One of these people has been a paid expert witness at a civil trial over the mechanical judgement of others. I would not fly in any of the planes that these people are working on, and unless these people change what they are doing, neither should anyone else.  I have seen about 50 Corvair projects seriously compromised by people who followed car mechanics over me, including 3 destroyed planes; I have seen countless people use substandard or incorrect parts because they were cheap or in a hurry, this was the direct cause of a fatality on a first flight, and about a dozen destroyed engines; a 7″ prop extension broke a non-5th bearing crank a few hours after I said it would, aircraft destroyed, pilot seriously injured. 

Do you want your first flight to go like Dan’s Panther flights, or do you want me to be typing a story about your judgement in a few years? Is saving $10 that important? Want to “show” people something? Are you going to follow the advice of a car guy because he stops by your shop and pressures you? Think no one would do these things? They already have many times, and there is a long history of these things not working, at times with tragic results. I write about it all the time, but in one way or the other, 1/3 of builders make the same judgement errors. One out of five people flying today have never timed their engine with a light. Right now I could type in 100 stories of poor judgement off the top of my head; Flying 65 hours on break in oil, taking off for the first flight without a working charging system. Flying 4 flights without 1 spark plug connected, a take off and 90 mile cross-country with a completely blown head gasket. First flight with a car distributor with 45 degrees on mechanical advance. Static timing set to 32 degrees. etc, etc, etc.

Who can you trust? Yourself, that’s who. Every single one of the above things was unnecessary. In 75% of the above cases, people knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it anyway, willfully. That is the definition of poor judgement.  Let’s make up a number and say 1 out of 1,000 people who builds a plane gets killed flying it. The first thing to understand is that it isn’t a random drawing. This is not a lottery, it is almost completely under the control of the people in it.  By my estimation, people who are chronically cheap, always in a rush, don’t do their homework, are show offs, or demonstrate any form of “get-ther-itis” are 50 times more likely to buy the farm. Having 5,000 flight hours is no defense compared to exercising good judgement.

 

I am not clairvoyant, but after 25 years of  studying builders and having the time pass to see how their story works out, I have come to posses a disturbing ability to accurately predict people coming to harm. Every airport has a guy who predicts every single person will come to trouble, and when  1 out of  his 10,000 predictions comes true, he wants to gloat over it. He would likely have a much more somber perspective, like I do if he had my track record of 1 out of 3. If I ever have a detailed conversation with you about rethinking your judgement, take it seriously. I don’t do it often, but I now need two hands to count the names of the people who thought I was kidding or not worth listening to.

 

If I ever seem short-tempered and cranky at times, much of it can be traced to a very ironic reality that I must live with. For 25 years I have worked to teach people they can participate in the best part of aviation, a path where they can learn to count on themselves, to really know what taking control of their life means. The Corvair itself is just good hardware, the real project is yourself. I have seen this work out for many, many people, and I find this very rewarding.  But it remains very ironic that when I am done, the experimental aircraft community will judge the value of our efforts not on the track record of the builders with good judgement who achieved the most,  but on the trouble caused by the ones who had poor judgement, people who would have had issues no matter what type of engine they chose. I have almost no control over this. This irony is true for most people who work in this field, they also know they have little control, so they wisely don’t ever bring up the subject. I’m not that smart, and every now and then, when I have a day with several examples of poor judgement, I try one more time to convince a few more people to exercise better judgement, just as if their life depended on it. -ww

Comments on aircraft accidents

Builders,

I am well known in experimental aviation for speaking of the things we can learn from accidents. I have an entire section of my website devoted to this: Risk Management reference page . Very few people in our field do this. The reluctance of most companies to comment has nothing to do with protecting their work nor our industry, it is simply the unspoken acknowledgement that very few people are listening, and altering their actions as a result of findings. I have worked in experimental aviation for more than a quarter of a century, I was trained as an accident investigator at Embry-Riddle, and the focus of my work is teaching builders, and yet I have to concede that my fellow aviation business owners are actually correct, very few people in experimental aviation are willing to alter or improve their behavior over time. They may want to read about accidents and comment on them, but the statistics say that few people are learning and changing their actions.

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If you are an individual, it doesn’t matter that 90% of people are doing what 90% have always done. This statistic is a concern of the industry, but it need have no effect on you. It applies to people who behave like a herd, but not the individual. I write the following points with the assumption that I am speaking with an individual, but the acknowledgement that this will also be seen ( I don’t use the word read here) by people of the herd who will ignore, take offence at, or misquote it. I can do nothing about that because my craft is teaching aircraft mechanics, and if my goal was to control herds, I would have been a shepherd.

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For individuals who want to learn something, the following points are based on 26 years of continuous work with Experimentals:

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Know the ” WW 100 Rule “: If the prototype breaks or has an accident before anything is being sold, that is called testing and R&D, and that is what responsible companies do; If 3 or the 5 first prototypes have accidents before getting to 100 hours, there is likely an issue with the product; If 2 of the first 10 have accidents before getting to 100 hours, you are likely looking at something about people, not the product; if 20 of the first 100 people have an issue before getting to 100 hours, then you are certainly looking at a human issue because it logged 8,000 hours for people who used it properly, and I have plenty of evidence that more than 20% of people have no judgment around planes. Read : A visit to the insane asylum .

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There will always be accidents with every plane and product, even ones with several hundred examples. Fools would have you believe this a reflection of aircraft companies randomly producing a defective mechanical devices, and that is a joke. What it actually shows is that there is a large persistent group of people who think that transition training, following instructions, biennial pilot reviews, pre-flighting and spending money where it is needed, do not apply to them. This is not unique to flying, think of anything you engage in, boating, shooting, motorcycling, eating, breathing, whatever, there are at least 20% of people who also do these activities with a willful disregard for safety. The only difference with flying is that the results make better TV news.

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The fleet of flying Corvair powered planes is about 400-500 active planes. While my original builders may be as low as 5% fools, there are strong industry records that show second owners of aircraft are a very accident prone herd. They are drawn from modern societies’ Darwin award candidates, and they are often people who thought learning enough to build a plane was for egg heads who like books. Second owners have a very high percentage of people with the pre-flight motto “kick the tires, light the fires.” These factors produce a steady flow of accidents. In most cases, if the engine is a Corvair, I will get a call from the FAA or the NTSB within 24 hours of the accident.

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Remember Martha Stewart?; most people think that she went to jail for insider trading. She did not, she actually went to jail for simply misleading (not even directly lying to) Federal agents conducting an investigation. When a billionaire can’t hire enough lawyers to keep them out of jail after misleading Federal investigators, a reasonably intelligent blue collar guy like an aircraft mechanic concludes one should only say pure factual information to Federal agents. Not only because it is legally a good idea, but it is also the ethical thing to do.

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There are rules about what you can share before the preliminary report is filed. Now, just think about how many times I have been informed about what was found, but then read stupid speculation from people on the internet, saying things I already knew not to be a factor in the accident. In the last 25 years, I am yet to see a single speculator, who was later shown to be absolutely wrong, come back on the net and admit that their speculation was complete BS.

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Random Comments on the Net: Following an accident, there will be people who always comment, and in most cases, they will not use their real name. This may be the guys friends “sticking up for him”, but you are almost certainly looking at one of three things; 1) An on line know-it-all.  2) An axe grinder trying to do some PR damage by speculation. 3) A small business competitor. (The most famous cases of this were on the Matronics/Zenith list where there were it was later shown that many of comments following accidents originated from other aircraft companies.) Anything that doesn’t come with a guys name and address, from a known person is to be considered BS.

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When there is an accident, new builders focus on it, but the time spent learning about accidents, particularly when people are just speculating, would be far better spent studying the people who didn’t have an accident. I have seen countless new guys focus on what they ‘think’ happed in some particular accident, but they can’t name a single successful builder’s plane they have studied in the same detail. This is stupid. Their time would be much better invested in learning to emulate the success of another builder who isn’t having accidents. Good flying is about patterning your success after what is proven to work. Even if a builder had a god’s eye view of what went wrong in every accident of the type of plane he is building, this still doesn’t tell him anything about what is right, only what is wrong. Study success at least as much as failure.

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Keep in mind that when you see an accident, you are arguably looking at the guy who wasn’t following procedures nor exercising good judgment. If he comes right back and says, “I f^#*ked up, let me tell you the mistake I made”, he is the total rarity that can teach you something. but far more often, the person who had an accident says nothing because they didn’t know what they were doing, or still argue that they were doing nothing wrong. A person in that position has nothing to teach you.

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After an accident, out comes the guy who met him: In many cases this speculator is the guy who knew the guy from his EAA chapter, or knew him from an airshow. Invariably the guy will include a comment like “I thought his plane was nose heavy” OK, and this is based on? Notice the guy never says “I did a weight and balance on it personally and found it to be at the front of the CG range in the drawings” it is always some random judgment, often meant to express how his own personal plane is somehow better than the one in the accident. All of these guys “just want to share facts” but in realty they don’t know what they are talking about. Even well meaning guys who post a link and say “He had an engine failure” are jumping to a conclusion themselves.

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Do you know that the FAA lists running out of gas as a loss of power? I worked for several years with the late Jeremy Monnett trying to get a category called “Gross Pilot Error” to be included in the descriptive terms because we both thought that is a better description of running out of gas than calling it a “loss of power.”

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I have written countless times that any commentary on an accident, other than a PIC report or the actual accident investigation is nothing but speculation, But this never stops idiots from doing it. Consider that both this plane: Flying Zenith 750 w/3000cc Corvair, Doug Stevenson, California and this plane: New Zenith 601 XL(B), Conventional Gear, Jerry Baak, S.C. were destroyed in accidents.  If you search the stories on websites, you will find at least 200 random speculations about what caused these accidents, mostly centered on what a terrible engine choice the Corvair is. Ready for reality? Both aircraft were run out of gas.   I flew to California and proved this on video:

http://www.flycorvair.com/stevenson.html

  The Federal investigator agreed with the conclusion. Yet not one single speculator had the self-respect to go back on any list and say “I was wrong”. You can wait as long as you like and you will not see that on the internet.

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For people thinking of speculation on vague info, consider how stupid the TV news commentator feels today about reading the “Confirmed Names” of the pilots in the Asiana 214 crash:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1JYHNX8pdo

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-ww.

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Above, a 2007 picture of the homebuilt of Ken Lien of WA state. The following year, he was killed on the very first flight. You can read the story I wrote a long time later here: Risk Management, Judgement Error, money in the wrong place. By an absolute coincidence, a life long best friend of Ken’s, named Denny Jackson became my neighbor at our airport in FL just after the accident. Denny was deeply hurt by his friend’s death, and finding out that I was the ‘Corvair guy’ lead to him angrily confronting me at our EAA chapter. He was 6’5″ and 325 pounds and not to be trifled with. Because I was part of the investigation, I already knew what Denny did not: It was caused by his friend putting his carb together incorrectly, it had nothing to do with Corvair engines, yet I could not say this to him, I could only ask that he withhold judgment. Months later, Denny understood the report, came and explained that he was just hurt at the loss of his friend. I told him I might have done the same thing. We ended up as friends, spent a chunk of time around the airport together. Denny’s picture is now on our EAA chapter wall, as he was taken by cancer 3 years ago.

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:)