The Continuity of Flight; the Martin Mars

Builders,

Part of the reason why I am attracted to the classic parts of aviation instead of the Popular Science New and exciting and will never happen! BS stories is because much of modern consumer aviation has no soul, it is just junk that has no connection to the timeless traditions and values of flight. Here is a good example of how something classic in flight can thread its way through time.

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Above: Martin Mars, flying down the runway at Oshkosh 2016. This photo was actually taken by Grace with her cell phone. If you were there, you will understand the use of adjectives like Spellbinding and Majestic. I have been to Oshkosh 25 times, and I can’t remember anything that compared with this.  I don’t know what specific thought the flight brought to mind in the other people watching, but for me, it brought thoughts of one old photo from the family album….

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Above, Martin Mars, August 1st 1945, moored at the US Naval Academy. The two people on the right are my Grandparents, they were there to visit my Father. Dad had enlisted in the Navy at 17 in 1943, but they opened the entrance exams for the class of ’49 to any enlisted man in the fleet. He entered Annapolis late in the spring of ’45, when the war was still raging in the Pacific. Look at my Grandfather’s face, as this was likely the happiest day of his life. As a veteran of savage trench fighting in WWI, his real wish in life was that his only son, my father, would not have the same experience. To him, dad getting into the Naval Academy mean he would survive the war, and my grandfather was quietly happy with this. If you were to read a single story I have written, make it this one: A clarification and a century old story. It explains the bond between my father and grandfather, and why I am not judgmental about the motivations of others. My grandfathers quiet joy didn’t last, as my father went to both Korea and Vietnam.  My Grandfather was a hard man, who feared very little in life, but if you would like to understand the full measure of human toughness, you can read this story about my Grandmother: Italo Balbo in 1933, an 83 year old family story.

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Martin only made seven Mars flying boats. They were named after island groups. The plane at Oshkosh was originally the “Hawaii Mars” in Navy service. I originally thought there was a 1 in 7 chance it was the same one in the picture with my Grandparents, but it isn’t. The one in the 1945 picture was the original “Hawaii Mars”, but it was actually destroyed in a crash just 5 days after the photo. It was replaced with the “Hawaii Mars II” which was the plane at Oshkosh.

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In 1953 my father returned from his second deployment to Korea by flying across the pacific on a Mars. They made several stops on the long trip, including one in the middle of the night at Wake Island. Some of the passengers wanted the O club to open while the plane was being refueled. One of them decided to cool off by diving into the pool. He didn’t see that it was empty. This is referenced in the second paragraph of my father’s story Patriotism has no Party.

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-ww.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Made in USA : .45-70 at 143 years old

Builders,

Today was a working day here in the cradle of Corvairs. Vern and I were working in my hangar, Corvair/Panther builder Paul Salter was tuning up his Panther for the next flight, Dan Weseman met some builders in town at the SPA/Panther factory, and Brent Mayo’s Flying 3,000 cc Panther flew in to our airport, as he now has about 60 hours on the plane.

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In the late afternoon, we took a short break to do a little shooting in my back yard. My neighbor Wes stopped by with a brand new classic, chambered in one of the worlds oldest cartridges,  .45-70 . As a continuation of my appreciation of great American made mechanical devices and tools, let’s have a quick look.

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Above, a .22LR next to a .45-70, with a standard business card for sizing.  The cartridge is beyond a classic, it is something of a legend. It was first made in 1873, when Ulysses S. Grant was President. 143 years later, it is still in production.  Just like your 50 year old Corvair engine, the modern .45-70  which is dimensionally and functionally the same round that Custer’s men used at the Battle of Little Big Horn, has been the subject of carefully engineered improvements on the original design.

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Many people only care about “new and exciting!” but it has been my long observation that far more people are served in aviation by old and proven designs, particularly ones they can learn about and fully understand. It has been my experience that people operating aircraft they don’t understand doesn’t always end well.

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Above, a 6 second video of my neighbor Richard showing what 2,400 ft/lbs. of energy into a gallon jug of water looks like.

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Above, Corvair/Panther builder Paul Salter (Read about the first flight of his Panther here: http://flywithspa.com/there-were-10/) Demonstrates what a master’s degree in Aerodynamics and physics, combined with incredibly good eyesight, results in: a first shot bulls eye. It was just 25 yards, but he had never picked up the rifle before, he shot it off hand, and he lined up the iron sights for about 1 second. The rifle is a 16″ barrel guide gun, and this may be very close to the limits of accuracy for the combination.

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Above, a beautiful made in USA Marlin lever action, brand new, a 2016 model, but essentially unchanged from their 1895 design.  For scale, on the left is a Corvair hydraulic lifter, beside it is a .45-70 case, next over is a S&W 500 Magnum….the dinky brass all the way on the left is a 9mm. The Niagara oil cooler pictured is arguably the best oil cooler on the market, and it is made 15 miles from where your Corvair engine was made in Tonawanda NY.

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In the consumer era, people’s attention is directed to a continuously changing series of “high tech” and “what’s new!” appliances, that here big news today, and gone tomorrow, making up new strata in landfills, their “no user serviceable parts inside” stickers never to see daylight again, keeping used diapers and copies of people magazine featuring stories of the Kardashians company for the next century or so.

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You can spend your hours on that hamster wheel, blindly expecting something good to come around, or you can make the willful choice to steer your life toward real machines, tools engines,  things with real and lasting value which provide actual quality to the hours spent with them. I have found much greater happiness by choosing to spend my creative hours working with such machines. The work of my life, developing and sharing the Corvair flight engine, has all been done with my life long appreciation for the great designers, craftsmen, and machines that all bore the title, American. 

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Ironically, none of my friends from abroad have had an issue with my focus, because they understand I fully expect them to be champions of the works of their own homelands, but I have been called everything from a troglodyte to a xenophobe by fellow countrymen who have somehow come to the conclusion that pride in the products and creative people of the United States is an embarrassing social blunder. I do not mean to offend such people, but I am not going to stop expressing my gratitude for the country I live in, which was provided by the lifetime work of millions of good people. The only thanks I can offer them is to offer a grateful remembrance of their efforts and to emulate their simple decency they brought to everyday life.

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-ww..

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Made in USA – When size and quality matter.

Builders,

When you have a shooting range right in your back yard, you never know what friends and neighbors will show up with. At our home, almost all designs put to work are products of American minds and hands. I am sure our international friends are just as proud of the craftsmanship of their own countrymen, as they should be,  but our small range tends to highlight America’s outstanding work in the field.

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We rarely shoot after sunset, but Daylight Saving and weeknights, leads to turning on the lights. Some of the larger hardware produces spectacular muzzle flash, which adds to the artistry of a night event. Tonight was such an evening. If your only exposure to firearms is TV, accept an invitation from a sportsman in 2017 to expand your understanding and experience without the media deciding what opinion you will have.  I never pick up a firearm without considering my gratitude that I live in a country where rights and responsibilities are considered as they apply to the individual. The fact this is ingrained in our culture is also why we have the right to fly planes which serve no purpose for society, just for satisfaction of the creative individual.

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Understand the Quality of “Made in USA”: In my hands I am holding a Winchester model 1906. This specific one was made in 1912. Although it is 104 years old, it works perfectly, and I put about 20 rounds through it. This was the design that Teddy Roosevelt used to teach his children to shoot. In an era where disposable appliances like I-pads are worshipped, it is a simple human pleasure to use a machine that was built to last more than a century.

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If you know firearms, it is easy to see the family resemblance to an 1897 Winchester pump shotgun. There is a reason for this, they were both designed by the greatest firearms designer who ever lived, John Browning (1855-1926). His designs of the Colt 1911 and the M-2 are still in mass production at 105 and 97 years of age. No rational person would argue the man’s genius.  He was, and remains, without compare. Yet on any discussion of “Made in USA” there will always be 20% of Americans who compulsively chime in to say the best of everything, the best designers, the highest quality are always imported. If you bring up John Browning, they must mention Paul Mauser; mention Charles Kettering  and they will pathologically bring up Robert Bosch. I am an aircraft mechanic, not a psychiatrist, but I will guess that something happened in these peoples youth to make them compulsively identify with foreign products and people rather than their fellow countrymen and their work. Factor that in the next time someone is telling you Mercedes are the best cars ever built.  A Rotax 912 is certainly a good engine, but watch how some of its fans compulsively dismiss O-200s because they emotionally believe that anything imported is better.

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Size matters: Smith and Wesson 500 Magnum.  On the topic of impressive muzzle flash, this may be the last word. Get a look at the Corvair Gold Oil Filter housing for size comparison. The rounds pictured are L-R a 510 grain S&W 500 Mag, a .22LR and a .38 Super. Look closely, right above the trigger it says “Made in USA”. This has some sharp recoil. In between rounds we were shooting full power .357 Mag. rounds out of a 1960 Colt Python, and by comparison the .357 suddenly felt mild, if not down right soft.  I am typing this six hours later, and my elbow joint still smarts.

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I happen to like all kinds of mechanical devices, planes and firearms are just two of them, but they are both things that the United States has an outstanding record of creativity, manufacturing, and lasting quality on. The history of the designers and craftsmen, and the places where the products are/were manufactured is a great part of our country, something to be proud of. Your Corvair engine, both as an original General Motors product and as a product of your own workshop, is a perfect part of this pantheon of machines that we celebrate, both for their design and creation, but also our right to use them responsibly in a way that enhances and expresses our individuality.

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-ww.

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Food for thought on Fuels

Builders,

Below are four observations on fuels, a subject that rarely sees opinions based on numbers and reason. The topic of fuels draws out emotional responses ranging from compulsive cheapness to conspiracy theories, neither of which serve the serious builder. Feel free to use the comments section, keeping in mind I reserve the right to delete any comment which doesn’t have a human name attached to it.

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(1) Yes, high octane unleaded fuel exists. Above is a can of 110 Octane unleaded fuel in my hangar. We use it for dyno tests and other research. The detonation resistance of this fuel meets or exceeds 100LL.  I buy it in our little town, off the shelf, it is about $8 a gallon, a price which includes a healthy profit and the container. It is sold at a little golf cart repair shop near our town’s drag strip. If ordered in a 55 gallon drum, it is substantially less than $5/gallon. Every year I hear “Experts” at Oshkosh talk about how having unleaded fuel with an octane higher than 94 would require a scientific breakthrough.  Reality: it already exists, no one need ask for a federal grant to re-invent it. I strongly suspect that if it were manufactured in the volume of 100LL, it might even be cheaper. Even if it wasn’t, aircraft engines would live a lot longer without lead in them. Extending the life of a motor 20% would offset a substantial price differential. Think it over.

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(2) Fuel cost is a much smaller cost of aircraft ownership than people think. When the price of fuel goes up by a dollar, several people in every EAA chapter will pontificate that “flying just became unaffordable.” Try this at your next meeting: Poll ten people who have a hangar at the airport on how much their hangar rent was last month, and then ask them how many dollars they spent on fuel the same month. 9 of 10 will have bought less fuel than rent, yet they don’t complain with the same venom. Picture this: A lower cost homebuilt which took $25,000 to build, not to mention years of labor, which costs $1,000 a year to insure and $250 a month to store. The builder has an AARP card and may have only 10 or 15 good flying seasons left. If he flies 100 hours a year at 5 gallons an hour, he will spend $1,500 on $3/gallon fuel or $2,000 on $4/gallon fuel.  Only a fool would choose to fly a lot less because his annual operating cost went from $5,500 to $6,000/year. Reality says the sand is running out of the hour glass and you built the plane to fly it, not to protest the price of hydrocarbons.

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(3) Aviation Gasoline is not expensive and apparently here to stay.  Above Is a photo I took at the Palatka Florida airport the day Paul Salters Panther flew. Notice the $3.29 100LL price. This isn’t accurate today, as the price has come down 9 cents in the last 2 weeks. I have worked in aviation basically every day since 1989. In that time I have heard several dozen experts and magazine editors citing “new laws” , “Federal standards”, “lead being outlawed” all predict that 100LL would disappear in 1990. 1992. 1996, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Lord knows, there will be people saying it is being outlawed in 2017, and people will believe them, in spite of the fact they have never been right. On the price of 100LL, people like to quote the price at the signature FBO at Miami International Airport, because it justifies their statement “I would fly all the time, but no one can afford to anymore.”  The actual local price of 100LL is a small fraction of this distorted number..

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(4) There is a very ‘popular’ internet forward that states “Gas was $1.89 the day President Obama took office, and it is a record high today at $3.69” People like this, it gets passed around in aviation circles all the time, it just doesn’t happen to be true. The record peak gas price in the US was August 2008, when  George Bush was president, and it was $4.11/gallon. The change to $1.89 in 5 months reflects the economic collapse in the fall, and it says nothing about either president.  The $3.69 was July 2014, the actual national average today is $2.13 a gallon. essentially unchanged in eight years. There are a lot of people who think the price of gas is set in the oval office, and there are even more who decide if they can enjoy their life based solely on which party is occupying the public housing at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue. My personal love of airplanes goes so far back in my life, it certainly predates my awareness of politics. Given an chance to go flying or argue partisan debates with misleading data, I confess to being in the minority, the people who would rather build and fly.

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Corvair Performance from 1980-2016

Builders

Yesterday was Dan and Rachel Weseman’s “Black Friday” party, which is a day long celebration of freedom at our airpark. Our side kick and neighbor Vern Stevenson took the occasion to give his Corvair powered sand dragster, which he hand crafted in 1980, to Dan and Rachel’s sons. They plan on putting in back in action at our town’s 1/8 mile community drag strip. It should prove to be a great learning tool for them, and an  important example of the generosity of spirt that some people make the centerpiece of their lives.

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Above, Vern’s hands hold a photo of him launching in 1980. Sand drags are only 100 yards, a mere 300′, but with an exceptional power to weight ratio and paddle tires, this can be covered in 2.3 seconds with a terminal velocity in the 85 mph range. Yes, that is launching on loose sand. In the photo, Vern is 28, today he is 64.  Stop and look at your own craftsmanship on your plane and ask yourself if you can imaging giving it to a young person 36 years from now. Things that you make with your own hands are far more important to the quality of your own life than anything someone could buy.

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The dragster, dusty from 25 years of storage, was moved across the runway to take up residence with another Corvair Powered vehicle, Dan’s Panther Prototype, now powered with a 3.3 liter engine and propped to hit 180mph turning 3,500 rpm.  The dragster has a 2,700cc Corvair fed by 2 two barrel Del’ortos, set to turn 7,000 rpm. It has a reversed VW transaxle with live 3″ axle through the differential case. it only uses 2 gears. The narrow tires are just for transport. Every bit of this was made from raw materials, to his own design by Vern. It was highly successful and very competitive. It had only one issue: In the early 1980s a friend showed Vern what a Weed Hopper ultralight was, and started his long addiction to ultralights and experimentals, and all of Vern’s ground based adventures kind of fell by the wayside.

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American made tools, built to last.

Builders,

Today I was running errands in support of our second Corvair finishing school this weekend.  Steve Glover, Local host of Corvair College #37 ( Corvair College #37, more photos.) ,  flew in yesterday. We spent the day moving parts and equipment between the Airport and the SPA/Panther factory, where the finishing school will be held. During one of the trips, we stopped by the hangar of my side kick Vern Stevenson.

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Vern was down at his hangar complex, welding up a heavy I beam to act as a cantilever roof support in his ultralight hangar. The welder he was doing this with was a classic, made in America, Lincoln 225 “Buzz Box” AC stick welder. 

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Above, Vern and his Lincoln welder. The top of the 20 foot I beam is in the foreground of the picture.

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In previous stories like: Why “Made in America” matters to me.  and  Made in America – data plates – obituaries to US manufacturing jobs, I speak strongly as an advocate of American tools and products, produced by American workers. Here is the perfect example of my point, the same one I argued in this story: Machines vs Appliances Part #2.

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READ THIS SLOWLY: Vern is 64 years old. The same welder he used to weld many feet of high strength beads, has also welded countless other project for him. It is one of his most used tools. He bought this welder brand new, when he was 15 years old , 49 years ago.  He has used it to weld miles of beads, and it has never failed to work, nor has it ever had a single day in the shop. It just works period, because it was built by Americans, when we expected both our tools and society to simply work, reliably.

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Want to improve the quality of your life? Make things with your own hands, and use quality tools when doing so. This will add a richness to the hours of your life that a person fooling with consumer electronics in search of entertainment will never have.  Vern may have owned a TV set at some point in his life, but it didn’t last 49 years, and it never gave him the opportunity at the end of an hour to step back, survey the results of the time spent and say “I made that.”

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-ww.

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Thought for the day: The lesser of two evils

Alert: This post contains no technical information. It is provided as a stimulus for thinking only.  The reader decides if they wish to participate. No answers provided, just concepts to ponder. This particular story is the first in a short chain or related questions to consider or ignore.

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Builders:

During the Soviet purges and mass executions of the 1930s, Winston Churchill was a harsh critic of the Soviet Union, and this continued when they joined the Germans invading Poland in  September of 1939, igniting WWII.  21 months later, the Germans turned their fury on the Soviets, who now found themselves on the allied side of the war.

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Churchill, by then Prime Minister, was put in a difficult positon of now supporting the Soviets as an ally. His political opponents called him a hypocrite. After short consideration, he decided that on very rare occasions one must decide between the lesser of two evils, and defended his choice with the famous quote:

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“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

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Above, Churchill holding an American M1928 Thompson submachine gun.

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This week in America, about 100 million voters are facing their own Winston Churchill moment.  I have no advice to offer, save this: 25 years ago I decided that I would only vote for people or ideas not against them. There is a lot less heartburn simply voting one’s conscious and ignoring all the media, polls and amateur strategy. In a normal year, such action might anger 40 or 45% of your friends, but this year affords the opportunity to anger up to 98% of them, and in doing so you can give them something they will have in common.

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In the last 25 years I have heard countless times “A vote for X is really a vote for Y”  or  “You will be throwing your vote away”.  I will politely listen, but what if a vote for X is really just a vote for X?  Perhaps you are never throwing anything away when you are acting with your conscious. In the long run, the best way to stop being served choices between two evils is to demand a choice which isn’t evil.

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Your Aviation Connection:

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Countless times in a single flying season, you will hear pilots, mechanics and builders, all frame questions in aviation as a required choice between two evils, when a clear minded  person listening will reject it as a false choice;

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You will hear pilots say: “we have to either fly VFR on top or scud run below the clouds.”  The pilot making the statement is framing it as a required choice between two evils, when it isn’t. One simply has to decide that it isn’t flying weather they are ready for.

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When you are at the airport, be alert to any proposed action which is presented as a choice between two evils, as almost invariably, there are better options, even if taking one of them hurts someone’s feelings. Keep in mind that it is your well being and life, and you don’t want to ‘throw it away’.

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-ww.

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