Zenith 650-2700cc Dave Gardea


Dave saw his plane on the List of Flying Zeniths and sent us this letter and photos:


Above, Dave and his 650

Dave Gardea              CH-650          N631DG           2,700            First Flight – 5/4/11

“N631DG now has 81 hours on the hobbs and would have a lot more except I was down for a few weeks last summer while waiting for my new heads from Falcon. My project Web site is at http://n631dg.t15.org/home.html
My YouTube video channel of the first and other flights is at http://www.youtube.com/user/dgardea11/videos

(Dave started flying on a set of heads that just had a simple valve job done on them.  After one of them had a valve guide slip he got to learn first hand that Corvairs fly just fine on 5 out of 6 cylinders.  At that point he went to a set of heads rebuilt by Mark Petz at Falcon machine.-ww)

“The engine I built includes Falcon heads, all your high quality parts, Niagara cooler, a Dan 5th bearing, nitrided crank, Marvel Schebler 10-4894 (Model MA3-SPA) carb, front starter, John Deere alternator, and a Warp Drive prop. I have never had the opportunity to attend a Corvair College. Larry Hudson in the Indianapolis area was a great resource during the build as well in addition to your detailed manuals.
I have also attached a few pics. Please keep up the great posts on the new flycorvair.net! “

Dave Gardea

Above,  the 2,700 Dave built. The engine is straight out of our Conversion and Installation Manuals


Above, the rear view of Dave’s engine. Gold Oil Filter Housing and optional Sandwich Adapter feeding a heavy duty oil cooler. These components and the Baffle Kit from J.S. Weseman make a very clean professional look in the engine compartment.

Mail Sack – List of Flying Zeniths


 Here are some letters we received on the List Of Flying Zeniths:


 Joe Goldman, a Sprint builder from FL (Submitted on 2012/02/09 at 9:52 pm)

“William, Could you add the location of the planes. I am looking for a ride in Corvair powered Zenair 601xk or 650 as it is the closest to my Sprint. I am in West Palm Beach, Fla.Thanks”

Joe, Scott Thatcher and Zersis Mehta are both in your area, Charles Leonard is on the other side of south Florida. They all have pages on the Zenith Builders and Flyers Web site, a Facebook-style page that is administered by the Zenith Factory, and you can touch base with them directly there.-WW


Sonny Webster, 650 builder from TX (Submitted on 2012/02/09 at 8:33 pm)

“Many of these names certainly look familiar. According to my countdown clock I have 8 years, 5 months and 16 days to get my CH650 on this list. Until then I’ll be occupying my place in the arena. That’s too bad about Scott Laughlin (aka cookingwithgas). He was the first scratch builder I can recall who had a good Web site documenting his build. Larry Winger and Ron Lendon have provided a lot of good insight via their respective blogs and e-mail correspondence. I’m anxious to see these two take wing.”


Becky Shipman, 650 builder, 2700 engine, Submitted on 2012/02/09 at 4:13 pm

“It’s a pretty impressive list. When I went to the Zenith builder’s workshop last March, half the participants were talking about using Corvair Power. Hope to add my 650B to the list, though not likely by Oshkosh. Also, I love the ZenVair logo with the Korean Yin Yang circle superimposed on the Chevrolet badge.”

Mail Sack – James Stockdale


Here is a sample of the letters we received on The James Stockdale – Philosophy story:

From  Andy Elliott,  601XL builder and flyer, Mesa, AZ. (Submitted on 2012/02/07 at 9:11 pm)

“Regarding Admiral Stockdale – I heard Admiral Stockdale speak at a pilot graduation one year when I was a young LT. He was a truly impressive man. I was totally depressed by the performance during the vice-presidential debates, thinking that he should have taken those little men who were his opponents and simply vaporized them with the strength of his character, that they so clearly lacked.  There is a Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the USNA.”


From Stu Bryant, Atwater, California
“PP-SEL. and wanna-be homebuilder; the dream remains ALIVE!”  (Submitted on 2012/02/07 at 4:12 am)

“There are just two blogs which consistently have enough substance to be worth my while to follow regularly. Each are penned by men who tend to swim against the current. Who else is bold enough to stray away from the well worn ruts to actually say something both significant & interesting? Both of you are patriots, and both deeply touched (as I have been) by the generation who fought the last world war. Thank you for all you do for the homebuilding cause, but also for your well spoken thoughtful musings of matters /significant/ in general. It is my increasingly curmudgeonly opinion (despite my age being within a couple years of yours) that most live life in the shallowest way possible. I find it refreshing indeed to see someone express something which transcends the merely selfish and comfortable in order to provoke both deeper thought and feeling. Life is wasted if we settle for less! Anyway, this was right on!”


Terry Hand, USMC aviator, wrote:

“I had just checked into the Training Command in Pensacola as a T34C Instructor in early 1987, when the entire Training Command shut down for one day. We all drove over to Mainside Pensacola to attend the Naval Aviation Association’s 1987 Symposium. The morning’s symposium was a discussion of the topic, “The Air War in Vietnam.” I will never forget the moderator’s first question posed to retired Admiral Tom Moorer, who had been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for much of the Vietnam War in the Mid 1960s. When asked what he had learned from the Air War in Vietnam, Admiral Moorer’s reply was, “I didn’t learn a damn thing about how to conduct an air war in Vietnam. I knew how to conduct an air war. The politician’s just wouldn’t let me.” The cheers just about brought down the house!

The afternoon’s discussion was “The Code of Conduct, and its Effect on POWs”. Admiral Stockdale was one of several members of the discussion. The strength of character of the man was so evident as he spoke, and you knew that he was a man who had walked the walk, and not just talked the talk. His words were strong, heartfelt, genuine, and could be seen as having come from the crucible of his experiences. I had just finished reading his book, In Love and War, and, afterward, I wanted to shake his hand and simply thank him for his sacrifice as well as his words of that day. I was fortunate to shake hands with not only Admiral Stockdale, but his lovely wife Sybil. He spent a good amount of time speaking to myself as well as many other pilots and student pilots. I hung around til the end just to say one last goodbye, and as he walked away, I saw that he walked with such a limp, that I said to myself, “That man truly carries the scars of his service to this country, and bears them with pride and honor. What a man!” I have carried the memory of meeting him for almost 25 years now.

On a slight aside to the story, in the first publication you reference of Admiral Stockdale’s discussion of Stoicism, he mentions that his wingman on one of his cruises was a young Marine Lieutenant Duane Wills. I knew him almost 20 years later as Colonel Wills, and he was my MAU (Marine Amphibious Unit) Commander in 1984 and 1985 while deployed aboard the USS Tarawa in WestPac. I had the privilege of flying with Colonel Wills many times during that deployment, and he was another fine Officer and Aviator. I just did not know until I read that paper that I was only one degree of separation from Admiral Stockdale!

I hope that all of this only serves to motivate you to keep writing of the things that you care about in Aviation, because there are many of us that can and do relate to what you write. Thanks again. Semper Fi”

Note: The time stamps on this web page are in Zulu time (GMT).

List of Corvair Powered Zeniths


Below is a partial list of Zeniths that our builders finished and have flown.  I am still combing our records to bring all the data to one spot. A handful of the first flight dates may have the wrong month, please feel free to write in with any correction or addition.  My intention is to gather the info and use it to update our page on the Official Zenith builders Web site. Grace is out of town with family for a few days, so the errors or omissions on this list are mine. Many of you know that Grace has a phenomenal memory and could have typed this data out directly from her head. Between Grace and some help from builders, we should have an accurate list shortly.

When looking through the information, the first thing I thought is that it is a large body of work.  It is quite a success story. There have been a lot of alternative engines that got a lot of play in the aviation media that never ended up with this many planes flying total. Here we are just looking at the Corvair powered planes from a single airframe brand, albeit a very popular brand. These builders put in a lot of work to reach the finish line, and we were very glad to play a role in their success. If we were just a buy-it-in-a-box engine company, these names would just be a list of consumers.  Because of the nature of the Corvair movement, the builders listed all learned a lot more about engines, have much more pride in their planes, and a greater degree of achievement at the finish line. When you think about what these builders knew and what they thought they were capable of before starting, and then contrast that with the same people the day their planes flew you are looking at the real body of work. Speaking with Chris Heintz at Oshkosh last year, I said that the planes that are built are hardware, just the end result of the real project, each builder working on himself, improving his skills, capabilities and expanding his belief of what he can do. He smiled and agreed that this was the fundamental value of homebuilding.

This list has planes on it that are not flying today. One of the best known Zenith/Corvair pilots on the list is Scott Laughlin. His aircraft was the first plans built 601XL. He had never built a plane nor an aircraft engine before, and was not a pilot when he started. He had a lot of great times in his aircraft, some of which can be seen on YouTube videos. After flying about 200 hours he kindly let another pilot try a landing in the plane. It was damaged so badly that Scott took the plane apart, and sold off the pieces. Hopefully time will see Scott’s return to another round of homebuilding. The list also includes 2 planes that have moved to a different engine. There are several other aircraft that have flown that we will add later, so the total aircraft number is a good representation. When the list is compiled, I will write up a set of notes on each aircraft, and include photos of each of the planes. For right now we will start with the basic list.

We have a list, far longer, of builders who could finish and fly their Zenith before Oshkosh this year: Ken Pavlou, Larry Winger, Patrick Hoyt, Jeff Cochran, Thomas Siminski, Gerry Scampoli, Larry Webber and Ron Lendon are the first names on this list that pop into my head.  You can get a good idea of the number of builders close to the finish by looking at the pictures of running engines in our Corvair College albums. This effect is continuous, in 30 days we will be at Corvair College #22, and we have already lined up four engine runs for the event.  All of these are going into Zenith airframes that are largely complete.

We have a third wave, just as important, who have been chipping away at their project for a number of years. A number of these guys were slowed by a move, a kid headed to college or a change in jobs.  I know many of these builders just as well from having them at Colleges and making house calls to their shops. People outside the Corvair movement are often mystified by some of our most vocal supporters.  Many of the people who go out of their way to say something positive about our work are in this third group. This is because I take their project seriously and treat them just like builders with more available time or funds. Every aviation LLC takes your project very seriously when you are in their booth at Oshkosh with your hand on your wallet. The outfits that are here for the long run take your project seriously all the time. We are here for the long run and I look forward to adding your name and N-number to this list of successful builders.


Builder’s Name             Model           N-Number           Engine       1st Flight

William Wynne              601XL              N1777W              3,100         May ’04

Greg Jannakos               601HDS            N4399               2,700        June ’05

Randy Stout                    601HD              N28RS               2,700         May ’05

Gary Ray                          601XL              N24845              2,700         Sept. ’06

Phil Maxson                    601XL            N601MX               2,700         Mar. ’06

Brandon Tucker            601HDS         N601XT                 2,700          Nov. ’06

Rick Lindstrom              601XL             N42KP                  2,700           Nov. ’06

Cleone Markwell           601HD            N998ZZ                 2,700           Mar. ’07

Dave Harms                   601XL              N618PZ                2,700            June ’07

Charles Leonard           601XL               N920EL               2,700           June ’07

Murray Rouse               601XL                N47186                2,700            Oct. ’07

Ken Smith                     601XL                N601KS               2,700            Nov. ’07

Scott Laughlin              601XL                N5SL                   2,700            Jan. ’08  

Woody Harris             601XL               N734WH             2,850            Feb.  ’08      

Sandy Crile                   CH-701               N9569S              2,700             Feb.  ’08

Lincoln Probst             601XL                C-GXLP              2,700              Apr. ’08

Scott Thatcher             601XL                N601EL              2,700               May ’08

Steve Mineart               601XL                N164SM             2,700               July ’08

Lynn Dingfelder          601XL                 N4ZK                 2,700                Oct. ’08

Jay Bannister              601XL                 N2630J             2,700                 Oct. ’08

Andy Elliott                  601XL                N601GE             3,100                 Nov. ’08

Ray Griffith                  601XL                N614RK              2,700                Dec. ’08

Al Barnard                   601XL                N472AB              2,700                 Dec. ’08

Zersis Mehta                601XL               N601ZM              2,700                  Jan. ’09

Louis Cantor                601XL               N601LV               2,700                 July  ’09

Gary Thomas               601XL               N124GT               2,700                 July  ’09

Dave Coberly                601XL              N601XZ               2,700                 July  ’09

Rich Whittington         601HDS             N601RW             3,000            

Shayne & Phyllis McDaniel-650        N5880Z               2,700                 July ’10

Rich Vetterli                 601XL              N56DV                  2,700                Sept. ’10

Doug Stevenson          CH-750             N632DR              3,000                April ’11

Lathrop/Neff             601XL                N601LN                2,700                 April ’11

Dave Gardea              CH-650             N631DG                  2,700             May ’11

Alan Uhr                    601XL                 N15AU                 2,700                 Mar. ’11

Roger Pritchard         601XL               N20RB                  2,700                 Oct. ’11

Corvair College #22, One Month Away


We are now just one month away from the opening event of the 2012 season, Corvair College #22 in Austin, Texas, hosted by Shelley Tumino & Kevin Purtee. It is time to sign up and make plans. Do not let this event pass you by. 

I spoke with Shelley last night, and she has this event so well-organized that I am thinking of having her write a briefing book for future College hosts. Kevin did want to have it pointed out that he did a lot of muscle work, including building many all new work benches for builders. For storage purposes, Kevin told me that he is leaving the final bench assembly until the day before the event. Shelley chimed in with the detail that it takes exactly 16 screws to finish each one. Now that’s having the details down cold.

On the serious side, Shelley did say that the motel reservation discounts that she lined up at the selected locations expire in 10 days. If you’re heading to the College, time to get the plan in gear. We have a great airport facility for the event, but there is no on site camping nor anything near by, so you want to get the motel lined up quick, as there are other events in Austin at the same time, and you don’t want to get stuck with a long drive to the airport.

“Brother Roy” of RoysGarage.com is headed to the event also. He is bringing a limited number of parts and tools because he is driving down in a solo banzai run from Michigan and in the interest of  fuel mileage and a respectable cruise velocity, he’s planning on driving his Caddy down without his enclosed trailer. If you need something from him, contact him in advance and he will squeeze it in the car.

Corvair/601 builder Ken Pavlou, aka The Central Scrutinizer, has set up the online registration for #22. Ken has covered this on 6 of the previous 8 Colleges from his workshop in Connecticut. Here is the direct link to the registration page:


Shelley had organized the food and has all the meals planned from dinner Friday through Sunday afternoon.  All of this is included in the registration cost.  This will be a hard-core working event, where we want you to get your hands dirty. Builders at any stage are welcome, from just looking, through ready for a test run. I am tuning up the run stand and bringing a truck and trailer load of parts and tools. Ken told me that we have about 60% of the capacity of the event signed up already, so don’t wait too long. The sooner you sign up, the more prep work you can do, and the more you can get out of the event.

Below, I have a series of photos to give some flavor of the hosts and the event for people who are yet to meet Shelley and Kevin.

Above, Kevin’s Pietenpol (2,700cc, Weseman bearing). It has flown from Texas to Brodhead, Wisc., twice.

Above is a photo of  Hans van der Voort’s Corvair powered Air Camper. Kevin said that he is hoping to have Hans at the College.


Above, the very first time I met Kevin in person was just after he landed his Piet at Brodhead, on one gear leg. Kevin  had the left main gear on his Piet give out on a touch and go on a muddy spot on the field. With incredible cool and skill, he made a well planned landing after selecting the runway that allowed landing right into the wind. It was about 10 a.m. He was assisted by many members of the local Brodhead Gang, and the plane was back flying by the end of the day. A lot of people were very impressed by the chain of events. Kevin told me that he was moved beyond words by people he had never met before working diligently on his plane with him for eight solid hours. The plane was back flying before sunset, the same day. He was impressively positive, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. It was just the kind of attitude you would expect from a guy whose day job is flying combat helicopters for the U.S. Army.

Kevin never brings it up, because he isn’t that kind of guy, but I think all Corvair builders should take a look at the link below to understand what kind of quality human being we have for a host at #22:


Above, in a photo from Corvair College #18 in California, Ryan Mueller, in the black shirt, attacks an unrepentant Stromberg. Ryan won the battle and fixed the carb we used to break in the engines that were built at #18.  He has signed up for CC#22 to assist in any way he can. I will be bringing my own MA3-SPA equipped run stand from Florida, so he will not have to demonstrate his field expedient carb repair techniques. But we will have plenty for him to do. I was thinking of challenging him to see who could lay down more productive hours of work at #22, but this isn’t a good idea because Ryan is half my age and I would have to resort to my world-class coffee drinking skills to even the odds. Ryan returning to Colleges as a volunteer to assist other builders with their own projects is a great example of the spirit of these events.

Above, Kevin airborne in his Piet. When it was first done he sent us the following note: 

“The bone-simple, black-smithed eyebrow cowls appear to be working pretty well. I’ve flown the Piet 98 hours in 8 months. Wanted more but the plane was 3 hours away for a good portion of that time. My circa 2005 per-the-plans WW motor ticks along with no drama I appreciate all that you and your crew do.
Take care, Kevin”

If you have not been to one of my previous Colleges, take the time to read about any of our Colleges from this section of our Web site: http://flycorvair.com/cc21.html

We will be continuously sharing more information on the College in the coming weeks. If you have a specific question, feel free to e-mail it in or leave a comment at the bottom of this post and we will gladly cover it.

Thank you,

William Wynne

Zenith 601XL-2,850cc, Woody Harris


I had a chance to speak with Woody Harris on the phone late last night. He spent some time telling me about the flying he had done lately in his Zenith, but he also spoke of other aviators he had met and flown with and that he had just bought a set of plans after getting to know an experimental aviation stalwart, Callbie Wood. Woody also told me about his new hangar nearing completion on a small airpark in northern California. If you were listening to Woody and didn’t know his background, you might think he had been in aviation for 50 years, a real old school guy. But that is an illusion, Woody has been around aircraft for only 5 years. Even knowing Woody very well, I often forget that he arrived recently.  There is a good lesson here: If it is worth doing, Woody immerses himself, he gets in and stands In The Arena. It isn’t his nature to sit on the sidelines and watch the game.

I know guys who have been thinking about doing something for more than 10 years. They have read all the stuff I have written, we have talked about it, and a big part of them would like to have the adventures Woody is having. Most of these guys have much more time in their lives and more funds than Woody. Some inner message tells these guys to hold back. They were not born with this attitude of reluctance, someone taught it to them along the way. Some one subtly sent them the B.S. message that they “were not good with their hands”; taught them to worry about what other people would think; told them they weren’t good pilot material; simply, they weren’t worth the investment, that their place was on the sidelines watching the action.

If someone sent Woody these messages, they never stuck. If I had a time machine I would go back and restart all the reluctant guys with a pure positive attitude. The only real option is to start today, and replace all the negativity with positive experience, and really come to understand that Woody is just like you. You are entitled, by virtue of just being an individual, to the same adventures he is having. If someone hasn’t said this to you, let me make it clear: Flying a basic aircraft safely is a skill that anyone can learn.  Building planes and engines that are reliable is something that anyone can learn. For various reasons, none of them good, some people like to pretend that you have to be Chuck Yeager to fly a basic homebuilt, and that you have to be a Northrop master craftsman to build a safe plane. Both of these are false, and if you buy into either, you’re letting someone escort you off the field, to a seat in the spectator section. Yes, building a plane is a challenge. Yes, flying your plane is a great and liberating milestone in life. But these rewards belong to anyone who rejects the negativity and fears, any builder who puts in the hours and wants to learn the skills. I am speaking from experience here; for a number of years I bought into some of the B.S. that says aviation is for special people with “talent” or “gifts.”  I only started making real progress when I rejected that kind of thinking. To this day, when I encounter that kind of attitudes, stories or writing, I quietly repeat the mantra “F.T.S.” (For polite people, think of this as “Forget that stuff.”)

Woody spent years building and racing cars at an international level. He probably learned a lot of the stuff a bit faster than a person with little or no mechanical experience. This doesn’t matter, you’re not in a competition with Woody or anyone else. You’re only measuring yourself against how you will feel if you let another year slip by, loosen the grip on your dreams a little more. Any step in the correct direction of putting you in the center of your life is progress against drifting away like that. Just as negativity is contagious, so is being positive. I have always done much better when I spent my time with guys like Woody and actively worked at having no contact or exposure to negative people. This means attending events like Corvair Colleges and making positive friends, while ceasing to listen to people who think planes are all dangerous, and reading negative comments on the Net.

Below is a photo series that I have taken from our main page, FlyCorvair.com. (This blog is FlyCorvair.net.) I have gathered it here to put it in one place. Because they happened over time, they appeared on our FlyCorvair.com pages in many different months on the “At The Hangar” updates. The latest photos are now 6 months old, but they are still a good read. Woody is sending in more soon and we will put them up here. I have left the original notes with the photos, but I have added some current notes in blue.

Thanks you. 


Woody Harris’ ZenVair #18, N743WH, taking off on its maiden flight at 0733 PST February 27, 2008.
Our man on the West Coast, Woody Harris of Vacaville, Calif., ecstatically reported that he enjoyed the first flight February 27, 2008, pictured above, of his Corvair powered 601 XL. Using the 601 XL quick build kit and All Our Installation Components, he finished it in a little over a year. Woody has a very busy schedule, which includes running his high performance automotive shop, auto racing, co-hosting two West Coast Corvair College Events, flying Rick Lindstrom’s ZenVair 601 XL (as featured in Kit Planes magazine) from Florida to California, and being a good husband and father, as one of his daughters got married in the past year as well. This shows you Woody knows how to use time well, and also demonstrates that a 601 quick build kit is one of the fastest to assemble that we know of. Choosing a Corvair to power it does not add a major time component to the construction of the aircraft.

Here, Woody Harris works on his installed engine. It is a standard 2,700cc with Falcon Heads that Woody built himself using all of our Conversion parts. While our customers build very good engines in general, most of them have small details which, while not affecting airworthiness, leave them slightly short of the Engines we build in our shop. This is to be expected as we’re professionals, and our amateurs do an outstanding job for first time builders. With this understood, I’ll say that Woody’s engine is the closest customer built example I’ve seen to matching our production engines. His engine had ARP case and head studs, and a very high level of finish. It may have been two different colors, but it’s only one level of quality: Excellent. (The above photo was taken at Corvair College #11 in California a few months before Woody’s first flight. His first engine was  2,700cc. He later added a Dan bearing and upgraded to 2,850cc pistons and cylinders.)

Woody is a very outgoing and modest builder. When I first spoke with him I asked him what he did for a living, and he told me, “I work on cars.” Something inside told me he didn’t change oil on Toyotas at Jiffy Lube. On the visit to California, we passed through his MSI shop, a high end tune up and road racecar import operation. It’s the first shop I’ve seen in a while with a chassis dyno built into the floor. Amongst the racecars, mechanics, slicks and lifts are mementos from decades of all out effort at tracks from coast to coast. (The first time I hung out with Woody we went to the Performance Racing Industry trade show. I had a hint that he knew a lot about racing when we walked past the Cosworth display and everyone knew him on a first name basis.)

A head on view of Woody’s N743WH taxiing in from its first flight.
The 601XL is an outstanding packaging of a very roomy cockpit, a fairly sleek airframe in a very buildable package. The narrow 28″ width of the Corvair and our Low Profile Nosebowl and 601 Cowling Kit complement this.

Woody, above left, and his friend Steve celebrate with cigars and Piper Heidsieck champagne after the first flight. Woody has had a lifetime of achievements in the world of motorsports that the rest of us only dream of. Yet he still rates flying an airplane that you built yourself as a landmark event in life.

This is the output side of the turbocharger that we will be using on the turbo engine. Note that it has an integrated wastegate. This is a common feature on modern car turbos. However, almost no modern car turbo has the capability of being used in a drawthrough application, which is a highly desirable format for aircraft use. It took us a long time to find an expert on turbos who could properly fabricate a modern turbo, appropriately sized for our application, with a carbon seal. (Eventually, Woody’s plane will be retrofitted with this turbo. The 2,850 is the best engine for turbocharging, as it intentionally has a lower static compression ratio than a 2,700cc engine.)

This Exhaust System is built out of 321 stainless. Its future home is on Woody Harris’ 601 XL. Woody just completed a 66 flight-hour circumnavigation of the United States.  He will be retrofitting his 2,850 cc engine with a turbocharger. This is the engine half of the exhaust system, and it was built in my jigs. Our regular Exhaust Systems are built out of 304 stainless, which is extremely durable and fairly resistant to heat flow. 321 is the alloy of choice for Turbo Systems, as it withstands elevated temperatures even better. Notice how the one pipe crosses underneath the engine to go over and meet with the other before heading into the Turbo. After thorough testing, we may offer this as an option to a handful of builders who have need for it. It is worth noting, however, that naturally aspirated Corvair powered 601s with 2,700 cc engines have exceeded 17,000’ and have little problem with density altitudes over 14,000 feet. People building a Zenith today can continue to work with it knowing from Woody’s example that the Turbo system is intended as a later retrofit for an existing flying aircraft.

In the above photo, Woody Harris’ 2,850cc Zenith 601B sits at the end of the ramp in North Carolina at First Flight Airport with the Wright Brothers Monument in the background. This brings his aircraft to the end of his first leg of a coast-to-coast and return flight. I believe that this is a pretty classy way for Dad to show up at his daughter’s house on the East Coast. Although Woody has spent a lifetime in the mechanical world predominantly driving race cars in both Europe and America, it’s worth noting that he’s been in aviation less than five years. While he certainly would have thought of it before, it was at the urging of his daughter who is an ATP, that he explore some adventures in flying. I mention this because if you’re out there reading this and you’re thinking that you might be too late in the game to have your own adventures, you’re quite wrong. If you don’t have a pilots license, you have never built an airplane before, and you’re 63 years old, you are at the exact spot where Woody was four years ago. Yes his mechanical background gave him a leg up, but it plays a smaller role than most people suspect. His determined character and his quest to learn new things were much bigger factors in his favor. If you had been standing next to me at Oshkosh when Woody arrived, and watched him hop out of the airplane and talk for 4 minutes straight about the previous days flying, including sentences like “We timed it perfectly because Old Faithful went off just as we flew by,” you would note that all the hours that you’re putting in your shop are well worth the adventures that lie in your future. Go out there tonight and get one evening closer to writing the same chapter in your own story that Woody has written in his. (I have Woody looking into his logbooks, but I am pretty sure he has flown a Corvair powered plane in more states than any other person. I don’t bring this up as a point of competition, I just want builders at home to understand that with good judgement and training, you can go a long way, even if you have not yet written in the 500th hour in your logbook.)

James Stockdale – Philosophy


Aviation has always attracted its share of adventurers, but it has also seen a good number of people who lived by a personal code that made their lives and actions stand out in history.  I have made a point studying the lives of these men, reading most of the available works on them. There is much to be gained by understanding their  perspectives, ethics and philosophy.  Although I have read the biographies of several hundred aviators in the past 25 years, I can say without hesitation that James Stockdale had the most impressive personal code of all.

Above, Stockdale’s official USN photo. The blue ribbon supports the Congressional Medal of Honor.

More or less, anyone can be said to have some code of personal conduct. The majority of people have a very flexible set of personal guidelines, bendable enough when combined with a little hypocrisy to ease their path through the day. Many people who do have a firm code have the luxury of never needing to demonstrate a fidelity to it. Others are tested only once, for a short moment in their lives. James Stockdale not only lived by a very demanding code, he spent 2,700 days in the Hanoi Hilton living up to it. It is hard to think of another man in aviation whose personal philosophy was put to such a test.

There is an important distinction here. Stockdale credited his survival to philosophy more than faith. There are a number of moving biographies of human survival written by men who endured much of what Stockdale did.  Jeremiah Denton’s book When Hell was in Session is one of the most moving stories I have ever read. Denton clearly states that first and foremost, faith saved him. Likewise, this is also the central thesis of Robbie Risner’s The Passing of the Night. John McCain’s Faith of my Fathers speaks of his desire to measure up to the code of his father and grandfather.  Each of these men felt the common ground of duty, country, honor, family and faith, each man differing in  the proportion of strength he gained from his allegiance to each of these elements. Stockdale felt all of these, but contended that a set of values, based on ideas that were 2,400 years old, afforded him not only survival, but gave him honor, effective leadership, and allowed him to thwart his enemies despite being their captive.

Above, James Stockdale before his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. As Commander of the Air Wing he flew all of the aircraft types they operated. At the Gulf of Tonkin, he flew an F-8 Crusader; later he was shot down flying an A-4 Skyhawk.

What Stockdale endured as a POW  is covered on a number of Web sites. Here is a sample from his Wikipedia page:

“Locked in leg irons in a bath stall, he was routinely tortured and beaten. When told by his captors that he was to be paraded in public, Stockdale slit his scalp with a razor to purposely disfigure himself so that his captors could not use him as propaganda. When they covered his head with a hat, he beat himself with a stool until his face was swollen beyond recognition. When Stockdale was discovered with information that could implicate his friends’ ‘black activities,’ he slit his wrists so they could not torture him into confession.”

This went on for years. Stockdale was in solitary for half the time he was a POW. He spent several years in leg irons. He endured 15 torture sessions, many lasting more than a week.

Above, on the left, Colonel Risner with Stockdale beside him about a week before their release from the Hanoi Hilton. These two men, as the ranking U.S. officers, bore the added burden of leadership of all the other POWs. They took this as a deadly serious responsibility. Stockdale did not have youth on his side during imprisonment; he was 49 years old when this photo was taken.

Although the actions of the North Vietnamese officials look purely sadistic, Stockdale knew they were driven by the goals of destroying the morale of the POWs, forcing them to make “confessions,” and advancing their political goals of eroding U.S. support for the war. Stockdale saw his war as continuing through a contest of wills. He effectively and repeatedly demonstrated that he was willing to die before he would be their tool. Winning this contest is credited with convincing the prison officials that it was futile to further torture the POWs. This is the centerpiece of his being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Although many people know what Stockdale was able to accomplish, they spend far less time trying to understand how he did it. In all of his writings and recorded speeches, he stated that the means he had at his disposal was his understanding of Greek Stoic philosophy. His actions demonstrated that in a contest of wills, stoicism is very effective armor and weaponry. Three years before his capture, he was in graduate school and his instructor had given him a gift of the works of Epictetus, the best known of the Greek stoic philosophers. Stockdale absorbed this material in great depth. He brought the books with him on all three of his combat deployments.

Stoicism was the dominant creed of the Greeks, and for a long period, the Romans. Like most developed systems, it is not possible to accurately summarize it in a few sentences. Among its basic tenets are that man does not control his circumstances nor the actions of others, so they should not be lamented. Man does however have absolute control over his opinions and conduct. He cannot abdicate from this if he is to have a life of value. Men should strive to be indifferent to things they cannot control. The only thing that Stoics should never be indifferent to is the struggle between good and evil, and this battle takes place in each man’s heart, not in the external world. Each person should define their own moral purpose or quest, and not be deterred from it. Stoicism is not about allegiance to a system or state, it is about developing an allegiance to your own moral purpose. Although it is focused on the individual, its end result is not self-glorification nor narcissistic. Its goals are tranquility, freedom and leading a life without fear.

I highly recommend going to the bottom of Stockdale’s Wikipedia page,


and looking under the heading of “Writings” where you will find a link to a 22 page paper titled “The Warrior’s Triad.” This is a transcript of a speech that Stockdale gave in 1995. It is of sufficient length to come to a good understanding of the role that Stoicism played in Stockdale’s life.  For a simple example of Stoicism in action, here is what Stockdale said when asked which prisoners had the hardest time in captivity:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  

Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.

What is in this for you the homebuilder? Something very important that it took me a long time to learn. The primary determinant of whether or not your aircraft is ever finished is not how much money, skills, information, time nor previous flight experience you have. The single most important factor is your personal attitude toward the project, and your willpower to bring the factors you do control to effective use in advancing your goals. You are never going to read this reality in an aviation magazine, as I am sure most editors don’t know it.  If they do, it isn’t in their interests to say it.

In Stockdale’s test of wills, his enemy’s goal was to make him succumb to fear. If he did, they could determine his mindset and actions from there forward.  It is easy to say that 99.99% of us will not find ourselves in such circumstances. Literally true enough, but perhaps misleading. Stoic philosophy is all about being in command of yourself, and not letting anyone or any circumstance dictate your opinions, attitudes or actions. Stockdale’s enemy was obvious, his goals were clear. Your life and the challenges you choose may not be as dramatically profound as Stockdale’s, but they are no less important. These things literally are the value of your life and your satisfaction with leading it. Choosing to learn, build and fly are not common goals. The vast majority of people are afraid of these things. If this fear stops them from acting on their ideas and dreams, then someone else is controlling them. People are not born to be afraid, they are taught this. Stoic philosophy is a method of undoing this, recognizing your own value and sovereignty as an individual. Aviation is a singularly appropriate Arena to develop one’s personal codes.  It offers near limitless potential to those who take it seriously, it holds serious risks and penalties for those who do not.  At any level worth engaging, it is not a pastime, a game, nor a sport. It is a real endeavor worthy of your devotion.

We are now in the 6th decade of homebuilding, and the resources available to homebuilders, in terms of disposable income (compared to 1950s households), tools (actually cost less today), information (the Net) and access (the Sport Pilot Rule) are better than ever. So why does the completion rate for projects remain low? It took me 10 years to understand that the answer lies inside each person. When I first started in homebuilding, I had training and information, but little money. This latter element became the helpful scapegoat for a slow start. Around me were plenty of people sending the message that if I just had more money, and blindly spent it, the trajectory of my progress would change. This is the common message of consumer aviation, and it is a lie.

Aircraft are not free, they do cost money to build. I sell parts for engines and components to mount these engines on aircraft. I consider the things we sell a very good value.  On the surface, this appears to make us like every other aviation business. The difference requires a moment of thought to consider; I am here to share what we know, to teach you what I have painstakingly learned. The things we sell allow you the builder to put this knowledge into action in your own life.  I am working to assist people in becoming successful builders, not blind buyers. Having worked with Corvair builders for more than 20 years, my plan is long-range. The completion rate of our builders is twice the industry average, despite many of our guys working inside tight budgets and often being new to aviation. A here-today-gone-tomorrow LLC is focused on selling things. I have always focused on the success of individual builders, and the sales have taken care of themselves.

We have all seen a guy with an untouched kit in his garage, a shelf full of electronics and instrumentation, an interior kit, and a stack of sales brochures he picked up at Oshkosh. None of the people who sold him these things made it clear to him that he couldn’t spend his way to success in experimental aviation. It wasn’t in their interests to do so. If it were my sole goal to sell things, it wouldn’t be in my interest to type this. My goal is to get many people flying. To achieve this, I need to make them aware of what really stands between them and their success. The single most common reason why people don’t finish their planes, learn to fly them and achieve their personal goals is simple: They have been continuously exposed to the subtle message that they can’t do it, they shouldn’t trust themselves, they are not worth the time and treasure of the quest. People would reject this if it were delivered this plainly, but it is sent in a thousand subtle messages that seep into the back of your head and gradually slow your progress and steal your pride. It comes from consumer co-workers who want to see your desire for adventure beaten down to the level they settled for; from the 20,000 hour pilot who would rather have you marvel at his achievements than to counsel you to have your own; from the people who live their lives in fear of everything, unable to differentiate between the odds of being eaten by a shark and dying of heart disease. It is a lot to counter, but if you have the mindset of Stockdale, you will win your contest.

Thank you.


Postscript notes:

James Stockdale is sometimes remembered as Ross Perot’s 1992 Presidential running mate. Perot, also a graduate of the Naval Academy, selected Stockdale based on his belief that Stockdale was a man of spotless character, superior intellect and proven moral courage.  In the Vice Presidential debate, both of his opponents knew his life story and wisely were as respectful as possible. The media did little homework and focused on Stockdale’s deafness (a byproduct of beatings he endured in captivity).  This disrespect initially made me livid, and the public lapping it up made me depressed.  Stockdale would have chided anyone for reacting the way I did. A fundamental tenet of Stoic philosophy is being indifferent to the reactions of others.  In time I got over it, but I learned that you can never trust people who endlessly try to reduce the world to sound bites to teach you anything of importance. H.L. Mencken, a real journalist, always pointed out that Americans were drawn to short, simple, and conveniently neat answers … which were invariably wrong. Mencken died in 1956, mercifully before the proliferation of TV news as we know it.

Spark Plug Installation


Here are a few quick notes on spark plugs. Print this off and keep it in your maintenance notes. I have a 3 ring binder that I keep in the top of my engine building tool box. In it I keep any data that I am not going to memorize. In my case, this is part numbers for things that we repeatedly order by phone, CC vs. compression ratio data, and research notes and test data.  Lots of stuff, like this plug data, I obviously have memorized, but the point is that well organized builders have notebooks and reference data, and it is a good habit to develop, especially if your workshop and home are not at the same place.

What plugs should I use? A common question. At our place, I often use Autolite 275s just to run engines on the ground. People have flown them, but the primary use I put them to is break in runs. They are in stock at most chain auto parts stores, and are often on sale for less than $1.50 each. I still like AC R44Fs for everyday flying. People have flown a giant variety of plugs, and the engine is not that sensitive to them with one exception: Do Not Fly an engine that will use 100LL fuel on platinum plugs. Other than this, make sure the plug you are looking at is the correct application. For many years the Bosch catalog listed for the Corvair a plug that was 3/16″ too long, and actually hit the piston head. If you are thinking of trying a different plug, go with one that people have already flown in a Corvair like yours, with the same carb and the same kind of fuel. For example, Woody Harris has a lot of flight time in his 2,700cc and later 2,850cc engines using Denso iridium plugs, part number IWF16-5359. His plane has an MA3-SPA carb and flies on 100LL. If you want to eliminate variables, use R44Fs, as they have proven to work well on the broadest variety of engine configurations.

How much torque do I put the plugs down to? This is a very important question. People used to cars with iron heads always overtorque Corvair plugs. The Corvair Shop Manual says you can use 20 pounds, and I have had new builders ask if 25 or 30 was ok, as they didn’t want them to “get loose.” If you routinely torque them that much on installation, they will get loose, because they are going to strip out of the heads. A much better number to work with is 7 to 10 pounds. I use 7 pounds more often than 10. After an initial ground run, I will recheck the torque.  The Corvair’s plugs seal by a gasket, and it takes almost no pressure on this to get it to seal. Don’t overdo it; it isn’t a lug nut on a diesel truck.

Above, final prep work on Lary Hatfield’s 3,000cc engine destined for service in his Zenith 750. I built the engine for him in our shop this week. It has all our Gold Systems and one of the Weseman’s Billet 5th bearings. After careful set up, the engine fired up after 3 seconds of cranking and laid down a flawless and smooth 1 hour break in run. Notice how short my personal plug wrench is. It is a 13/16″ plug socket with a hex top. I apply the torque with a cut down 12 point offset wrench that is only 4″ long. This arrangement fits in a small storage space. Because the wrench fits on up or down, it is very easy to use in confined spaces like the front two plugs without the Nosebowl removed. The bottle on the head is Champion plug lube.

What should I use for anti-seize?  There is only one substance you should ever put on any plug in an aircraft: Champion 2612. This is the only stuff that aircraft mechanics use. It is black graphite liquid with a tiny brush. It does a neat, controlled job. Over the years, I have seen a great number of planes of all types with plugs coated in silver anti-seize.  I have seen people apply it in the thickness one might better use to put peanut butter on a sandwich. Its brush is sized to apply it to diesel truck lug nuts, and the stuff is messy, and conductive. I have seen builders get enough on their fingers and on the ceramic part of the plug to cause a short, and make the plug boot slip off the plug. Stay away from it, get the real stuff. Aircraft Spruce sells small bottles that go so far that I am only on my second bottle in two decades of being an A&P. They cost less than $10.

What gap should I use? The ignition systems that I build are not too picky about it, but start with .035″. Measure it with a wire, and use an actual electrode tool to open the gap if required. Resist the temptation to pry the gap open with a screwdriver or a feeler gauge. As always, if you have any questions, give a call or write in.

Thank you,


Corvair Powered Davis DA-2, w/EFI


I asked Rex Johnston to send us some more info on his Davis with electronic fuel injection. He mailed back the following letter of technical notes and the photos. As you may be able to tell from the spelling in my previous post, my editor in chief, Grace, is out of town for a few days. This is my first try at posting pictures from files on the Web, we will see how it goes. Worst case, Grace will be back in a few days. 

Again, hats off to Rex, as I am pretty sure he is the first guy ever to fly an EFI Corvair engine. A lot of people think about doing stuff like this, but a very special group of builders meet the challenges of doing something very different, and see the project all the way through flying. This is not for everyone, but the beauty of the Corvair is that you have the choice to build it the way that meets your personal needs. The Buy-it-in-a-box alternative engines only come one way, the configuration that makes the manufacturer the most money. With your Corvair, you are the manufacturer, and you can make the engine in the best configuration for your plane and personal flight goals.

Every Corvair builder, even the ones using simple carbs, can read this post and understand that Rex is to be congratulated not just for the EFI, but for finishing an outstanding aircraft, a plane he dreamed of, and then persistently worked on until it became a reality. You don’t need to ask if he felt like a king the day it flew. I am sure he will vividly remember the day for the rest of his life. Every Corvair builder reading this deserves to have his own personal version of that day. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or that it will not be worth the effort.  Reject these negative messages and go to work for yourself. Be persistent so that I can post pictures of your completed aircraft and you can enjoy the praise of fellow builders who truly understand your achievement.


Here are the pictures you asked for. Highly modified Davis DA-2A with RV-4 spar, Riblett airfoil, left side door, rounded fuselage and wing mounted fuel tanks.

3100 Corvair, machine work done by Ray Sedman. Standard VW cylinder and piston 3,100 conversion. 100LL only due to compression ratio. Roller rockers due to an off center valve guide on number 5 which caused the stock rocker arm to not stay centered on the valve. At least that’s what I think was causing it. Conversion parts are all yours from a few years ago. No 5th bearing but nitrided crank. May install a fifth bearing at some point but this is a 120 mph point a to point b aircraft and I’m not particularly worried about the crank.

Holley projection system modified for use in an aircraft. Manual mixture adjustment set by a wide band fuel air ratio meter. The system only picks up rpm and throttle position. Dual fuel pumps with a manual bypass valve to a nozzle in the intake to be used if the injection system fails. The engine runs surprisingly well at 2,500 rpm with just this nozzle. I run dual batteries in the aircraft with a generator failure warning system. I also have a knock sensor installed that is connected to a warning light. Neat system but I have no way to calibrate it so don’t know how useful it is. So far it hasn’t gone off but I haven’t done anything to the engine that I think would cause it to detonate.

Have about eleven hours on it now. Starts and runs very well. Hard to keep the mixture set during warm up in very cold weather but otherwise the mixture is very stable. I can take it anywhere from 11 to 1 to over 14 to 1. Engine runs smoothest in flight in the 14 to 1 range. I use 12 to 1 during high power settings.


Rex Johnston


Top view of the 3,100cc engine. It has a Front Starter and a rear alternator.

Above, a rear quarter look at the back of the engine. Note the cover that keeps the alternator belt from attacking the ignition wires if the belt is thrown. This is a crucial safety device.

Above, a bottom view of the engine. Note that it still has carb heat. Fuel pumps are on the firewall on the right in the photo.

Above, the modified airframe. A Davis is a classic design from the 1960s. Rex’s has extensive modifications.

Above, a view from the bottom of the left side of the engine. Large black strut is the nose gear.

Above, the same view from the other side.

Sterling Hayden – Philosophy


The subject of today’s post is a man best known for his work as a Hollywood actor. His autobiography, The Wanderer, is a an excellent reminder that the public persona of celebrities, good or bad, probably bears little resemblance to who these people really are. In the book, a very complex man is revealed: He captained an America’s Cup yacht to victory before he was 25; sailed to Tahiti and became engaged to a princess; in WWII he was an OSS agent fighting with the Partisans in Yugoslavia; he is in films like Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather, but detests acting and Hollywood; he is a harsh critic of himself and others, yet has great respect for the common man; above all else, Hayden is an adventurer who rejects everything that consumer society tells him he must do.

Hayden’s commentary on the last subject is well worth considering in great detail. His lifelong love was sailing, not flying, but his words ring true for any airplane builder. Hayden made and spent several fortunes, but never found himself short of great friends. They were all attracted to his personal code of living life as an adventure, on his own terms.

Above, Sterling Hayden in his Arena, circa 1950.

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea … ‘cruising’ it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about. ‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.’ What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of ‘security.’ And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.The years thunder by, the dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”

The walls inside our home are lined with bookshelves. They contain many volumes that I found personally moving. But the very first time I read Hayden’s quote above, it hit me like a lightning bolt, directly reaching my strongest, but unspoken, dreams and fears. There are things I feel I must do in life, planes I wish to build and places to fly them to. Hayden plainly states that dreams and adventure are the core of a life worth leading, and he identifies consumer society as the mortal enemy of any man’s dreams of adventure. The fact that the man wrote “But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade” in 1962 gives you a good idea of how far ahead of the power curve he was. It also makes you realize that if he was alive today he would have an aneurism thinking about how little people heeded his warning, and how little most people are willing to get out of life.

Read the words about cruising vs. voyaging: We have all seen some super wealthy guy dump a ton of money into a plane, and fly the plane to Oshkosh in search of recognition in the form of a trophy. This is the predictable cruise that Hayden speaks of. An expenditure without passion and a predictable result without meaning. Now picture a guy who feels like he must build a plane, but doesn’t know if he can find the money to complete it, yet he starts anyway because he is unwilling to abandon his dreams. The budget forces him to learn and to be resourceful. He must make things with his hands. He may not know how to fly when he starts building, but he is committed to the belief that he will meet this challenge. This is the voyage that Hayden is speaking of. Replace the word Seaman with Aviator, and it fits right into place.

By choosing to build your own plane, accepting and managing the risk, you are making a giant course correction from a life consigned to “the cancerous discipline of security.”  The next time you tell someone that you are building your own aircraft, and the first thing out of their mouth is something about how they would never build one nor fly with you, just think of Hayden writing: “In the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.” That is what is going to happen to all the people with a long personal list of things they would never do. If you are persistent in pursuit of your dreams, your place isn’t going to be among those who expended their lives relentlessly looking for security. If the goal of the captain was to preserve the ship, he would never leave port. Most people never do. The goal of the captain is to seek adventure, to meet all the challenges and still achieve the goals, to be In The Arena, not rusting at the pier in the safe harbor. Make your choice. If it sounds scary, it’s because consumer society has had decades to teach you to doubt yourself,  your potential,  your dreams and abilities. Building a plane and learning to master it is the rejection of these messages, and the replacement of them with the knowledge that you are the master of your own adventure.

Thank you.


Above Sterling Hayden plays “General Jack Ripper,” the mad SAC wing commander in 1964’s  Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear war. The character was patterned after General Curtis LeMay. Beside him is Peter Sellers playing Group Captain Mandrake.  Sellers also played president Merkin and Dr. Strangelove.  The film is a masterpiece; I have seen it about 20 times.

If you wish to see Hayden in an interview, look at this YouTube selection:


In it, Hayden is being interviewed in NYC in 1980. He has just returned from attending Marshal Joseph Tito’s funeral in Yugoslavia. He is 64 years old in the interview, yet he is full of life. Johnny Depp said that he made up the whole pirate Jack Sparrow character based on watching films of Keith Richards. Looking at the interview, it is easy to imagine Richards styling his personal image after Sterling Hayden. You don’t have to develop the look of a pirate to emulate their quest for adventure.