In Your Shop: Studio or Cell?

Builders;

Over the last quarter century, I’ve taught perhaps a thousand people how to build an aircraft engine from a Corvair motor. Some of these builders chose to also consider what else I might have to share on the greater topic of aviation, such as these bitter lessons: Risk Management reference page. The words below are addressed to a still smaller subgroup, the builders concerned with how the hours in the shop might protect ones sanity and provide some clarity and peace in a society which values neither. 

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I wrote the words below in 2013. They address what you might find if you treat the hours in your shop as time spent in a creative studio, where you are investing in yourself. Far too many people approach experimental aviation as a consumer experience, and the look at every hour of building as a trade of time for saving the cost of buying a factory plane. These people are sentencing themselves to time in a prison cell.

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As the months pass, the builder who is working in a studio will develop new skills and find the peaceful time to cleanse what modern life soils. He looks forward to the hours of self investment. The customer who’s only goal was to own the appliance will soon discover he is in a prison cell of his own choosing. He will stay only until a frustrating day arrives and he ‘self-paroles’ by quitting the project, unaware that homebuilding had much more to offer than having an airplane. -ww.

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

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

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This did not come into focus until 1999, the worst year of my life. (The plane crash and burns were 2001, a picnic compared to 1999.)  Feeling dangerously low, I sought the council of a guy I knew. He had come back from such a year. He is an artist, working as an incredibly detailed wood carver. He told me to forget everyone and everything else, go back to my shop and tools and work with my hands. Give up your apartment, but never your studio. Explore all the things you can’t forget, have stolen, give away or loose. At the moment, I was having a hard time picturing surviving another week, and I asked him how long it took him to recover his sanity.  He thought with great care a slowly said “two, no really three..” I was jolted and blurted out “Three months?” he looked me in the eye and said “No. Years. It’s probably your only way out.” It turned out to be a painfully accurate prediction.

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In the years since I have read letters or posts from many people in a tough spot, who are selling their project or tools. I often think their ship is sinking and they have just traded their life jacket for five more minutes on the deck. They are blindly committing a very self destructive error.  I have also met a number of successful builders who have said that when everything else in there lives was broken, they had a place of refuge in work and creation. Of the thousands of people I have met in aviation, these people are truely brothers, for we share the same salvation.”

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Above, a very rare night run of a Corvair engine at Corvair College #22 in Texas. The engine belonged to John Franklin. It ran after dinner on Saturday night, and he had many fellow builders to cheer on his achievement. It was a great moment among builders with similar perspectives.  These hours are a rarity in homebuilding. The vast majority of the time is spent alone.  The quality of these hours is solely determined by the builders attitude, which will determine if he is working in a studio or a prison cell.

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The Next Event on the Schedule:

FlyCorvair/SPA – Joint Workshop/Open house, May 18,19,20

Read the link now and make a plan today.

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WEWjr

Pietenpol Project – Terry Hand

If you like any story here, please feel free to share it with friends. Every story published here also appears on the Corvair College FB page. That makes it easy to share as a link to other friends on FB. I write with the goal of reaching many aviators. I appreciate anyone who shares the stories. -ww

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Builders,

Below is a picture of Terry Hand’s steel tube aluminum spared Pietenpol project. It is in his hangar outside Atlanta. It is an outstanding example of a well thought out, one of a kind, experimental aircraft . For a look at the engine that will power it, read this: Terry Hand’s 2700 cc Pietenpol engine – w/Weseman 5th bearing

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Above, Terry’s bird set up for a final rigging before building the lift struts.  If you like the gear and want to see what first class welding looks like, read: Steel tube Pietenpol fuselage with landing gear and 12 x 4.8″ tires.. The mount on Terry’s plane is a little different because it has a steel tube fuselage, not wood, but it has the same dimensions as out production Pietenpol Motor Mounts, P/N 4201(C).

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Something ironic and retarded about internet comments: Last month, a guy on the web told Terry that the combination of wooden ribs and aluminum spars doesn’t work and the wing would have no rigidity. As a factual source, he citied a guy with no name, in a place he couldn’t remember, some year in the 1970s. I told Terry that I had personally seen a 4 Place, 2,200 pound gross Wag Aero sportsman with the same rib/spar arrangement, fly with my friend Gus Warren at the controls…oh and it was powered by a very angry 200hp angle valve 360 Lycoming. But you have to weigh that fact against a story a guy heard about a unicorn…..

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Are you a fan of Pietenpol’s? So am I, over the years I have spent a lot of time writing factual stories about them. Get a look at this link to see about 30 of them: Corvair – Pietenpol Reference page

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Terry Hand is a very good guy. He runs our Pietvair discussion group: “Zen-vair” and “Piet-vair” Discussion Groups, your resource.. He is also a highly experienced Aviator, with ratings than run from CFI, to ATP, Helicopters, and 767s. Terry is usually pretty humble. I have actually seen him patiently endure a lecture from an inactive private pilot that started with the phrase “when you know more about flying….” You can read some of Terry’s thoughts here: Guest Editorial, Pietenpol builder Terry Hand.

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The Next Event on the Schedule:

FlyCorvair/SPA – Joint Workshop/Open house, May 18,19,20

Read the link now and make a plan today.

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WEWjr

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Steve Wittman – “Like Mars at Perihelion”

Builders:

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There are many greats in aviation, and homebuilding has it’s share, but there was only one life that stands out “like mars at perihelion.”  This is Steve Wittman, greatest air racer who ever lived, builder and designer, pilot of incredible talent. He relentlessly evolved for 70 years in aviation.

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When I was 31 years old, he took me flying in the Olds-Tailwind, N37SW. He wrung the plane out for 25 minutes in a display of skill that I was hard pressed just to fathom. Wittman was 91 years old. Afterward, he took me in the hangar and showed me some new ideas he was incorporating into a brand new set of Tailwind wings he was in the process of building.

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Above, Steve Wittman in his “Buttercup”. He built the plane in 1937. Through out his life he changed many things on the plane, the gear, the engine, the span, the wing tips, adding leading edge devices, making the tail cantilever, etc. Although he was a brilliant designer, and won 375 air races in planes he designed and built, he never rested on his laurels. He was deaf to praise and past glory when there was anything new to try or learn.

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From my 2014 story: Thought for the day: Challenge of an open mind

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The term “Like Mars at Perihelion” is from the essay  Message to Garcia written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899, Describing a hero of the Spanish-American war, Lt. Andrew Rowan.

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WEWjr.

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Corvair / Buttercup – Dan Palmer

Builders,

This is a 2014 photo sent to me by Dan Palmer, the first person to build and fly a Corvair Powered Wittman/Luce Buttercup.  This airframe is one of the all-time great homebuilt designs, from the mind of one of the greatest aviators of all time Steve Wittman.

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Two lessons here:

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If you think that you are too old to build a plane because AARP sends you junk mail, know this: Dan Plamer’s EAA membership number is 3065. Thats right, only four digits. I joined 29 years ago and my number is 331,351.  This guy is serious ‘old school’, he could have voted for Harry Truman. If your first election was after that, time for you to head out to the shop and get building.

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Second, I included his original engine parts order in the picture. Note that it was placed and filled in 2004. Twelve more years elapsed before Dan’s engine went flying. Many planes are a personal lifetime goal, and the builders are not competing with anyone. They may be on a budget, have family obligations, or just approaching each task with a goal of mastery. 2004 was my 15th year in the engine business. Nearly every single engine company from that period is gone. Engine companies that have short life spans don’t serve traditional old school builders. Working with Corvairs since 1989, I am here for the long run. Read: What defines ‘reputable’ in our industry?

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Above, Dan’s creation in New Mexico. The Corvair and the Buttercup are a natural match. Wittman’s original was powered with a number of different engines, but he intentionally stuck with a high reving C-85 installation.

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Today, I find it ironic for anyone to claim to admire Wittman’s designs, but not like auto engines. He was one of the greatest advocates of alternative engines and high rpm direct drive props ever.  I know what I’m speaking of, read this: From The Past: With Steve Wittman 20 years ago today. Wittman’s Oldsmobile V-8 powered Tailwind flew us on a 62″ metal prop turning 3,600 rpm at 195mph. It was no slouch.  His VW powered V-Witt design was the perennial Formula-V national champion.

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It is not a myth that Wittman flew his planes at wide open throttle as a cruise setting, and he liked 500AGL as a cross country altitude. With the props he liked, this meant the original C-85 Buttercup going 145mph with the engine at 3,400 rpm. That is 825 rpm above the C-85s published redline. At 3,400 the C-85 probably made 110-115hp.

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Wittman derided anyone who put a 150-160hp Lycoming in his designs and then throttled back to 115hp for cruise. He may look grandfatherly in pictures, but in person he had a sharp tonge for people who believed old wives tales about slow turning props.  Wittman understood that with the right prop, the 3,400rpm Continental was virtually as efficient and powerful as a throttled back Lycoming, but it was 100 pounds lighter and  less expensive. Everything I have said about the efficiency of Corvair engines with reduced diameter props is taken straight from the Steve Wittman playbook. When you encounter someone making a statement about smaller props not being efficient, recognize they are calling Steve Wittman, the greatest air racer that ever lived, an idiot or a liar.

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WEWjr.

Engine Cores and Parts at SPA

Builders,

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Every airshow has builders who ask about the availability of core engines and rebuildable parts to work with. Below are two pictures I took in the storage building at the SPA/Panther factory.  The images should demonstrate the availability of Corvair core engines, and also point out that we have complete core engines available for builders working with SPA and ourselves.

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Above, one of two pallets of GM 8409 forged cranks to be fully reworked and matched to Gen II 5th bearings. These cranks are destined for base level builds. about 50% of 3.0L Corvairs and 100% of 3.3L Corvairs use SPA’s brand new made in the USA Billet cranks. Read more here: SPA Billet Corvair Cranks. For a look at the three crank options, look at this story: Update notes to 2014 manual, 1000 – Crankshaft group.

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Above, piles of heads, cases, and the end of a row of core motors.  SPA keeps a very large collection of head cores to support their high end Corvair flight head program. They have now made more sets of Corvair Flight heads than any other company, ever. From the start, Dan’s goal was to have them available on the shelf which they now are. In years previous, our former supplier Falcon got to the point of being a year behind. This had not been an issue in the years since Dan started offering heads.

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The cases pictured are mostly from my collection, featured in this story: Corvair Case sale, 36 available, $100 each.. The picture illustrates the availability of parts, and our willingness to invest in them to support builders in a timely fashion.

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Above, a pickup load of complete Core engines I brought to SPA in January. These and others are available for sale now. If you are a builder yet to find a core, but planning on attending the open house next month, it would be a good idea to contact SPA in the next few days to purchase one of the cores we have on hand. All progress on planes starts with the decision that you will take action when opportunity appears.

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SPA=904-626-7777.

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The Next Event on the Schedule:

FlyCorvair/SPA – Joint Workshop/Open house, May 18,19,20

Read the link now and make a plan today.

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WEWjr

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Corvairs? Don’t they leak oil?

Builders;

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Below is a prime example of how Corvair cars were ‘assisted’ by morons who fancied themselves as great mechanics, in gaining an undeserved reputation as a difficult vehicle to maintain.

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Above, on the left a 1960-63 sand cast rear oil case that came in as a core for one of our HV-2000 Rear Oil Cases. The model on the right is a 1964-69 die cast case, the one we use on planes – it is almost 2 pounds lighter. (If you are getting an HV-2000 from us, note that we need a late model 64-69 core)

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Look closely and see the mark of a ‘great’ mechanic, silver spray paint on the left sand cast case. It was applied with great care, right over and inside the rear oil seal. Now the best part: look close, the seal is in backwards. Yes, some guy, who likely fancied himself a great mechanic, drove the seal in from the inside of the part. Now think about how that leaked on the spinning rear balancer, which flung the oil on the fan belt, which carried it up to the fan, when it was sucked in and spread on the hot engine, and the resulting smoke was fed into the heating system.

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Did the ‘mechanic’ go back in find his error? No, he left it, I’m sure he wrote off the results as evidence that Corvairs were no good, instead of admitting that he was an idiot. In nearly 30 years of taking apart core engines, I have seen countless mistakes like this and far worse. When you encounter a person who once owned a Corvair car and needs to tell you what a problem it was, think of this: he probably had a mechanic like this guy working on his car. The only thing dumber than that mechanic, was the guy paying him to mess up the car while he blamed it on General Motors.

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Above, the sand cast case is still on the left. you can see the rusty steel flange of the seal beaten into place from the inside The seal on the table, and in the top phot is in the correct orientation in each picture.

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How does this relate to my Experimental Airplane?

The fundamental goal of our engine program is to make you a skilled and knowledgeable owner-operator of your own engine. You will be a far better mechanic that the idiot who put the seal in backward with a hammer. You will be able to determine the quality of your engine, not be the person who writes a check to a self proclaimed mechanic and blindly believes they need no further concern for their engine’s airworthiness.

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The Next Event on the Schedule:

FlyCorvair/SPA – Joint Workshop/Open house, May 18,19,20

Read the link now and make a plan today.

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WEWjr

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Sun ‘n Fun 2018 – postscript.

Builders.

The week of Sun n Fun 2018 is now over, by most accounts it was a good year. I was down there on Friday to meet builders, give a forum and attend the traditional SPA/Panther cookout hosted by Dan and Rachel and the crew from their factory. I spoke with many builders and discussed Corvair details using Paul Salters Corvair/Panther as a model, which he stationed in the engine run up area.

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One of the builders I met at the forum said to me “I’ve been here all week,I’m glad you are here, I want one of your manuals” I politely asked if he had been to the SPA/Panther booth, and he said yes, and I asked if he read my website or this blog, and he said “All the time, every story”

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I pointed out that we are now in the third year of SPA being the sales point for 100% of my product line. I have written a lot of stories about this, it is on my products page, heck, its even printed on my business cards.  I reminded him that anytime you see the SPA/Panther team, you are looking at my products being represented, and they always have manuals on hand for sale. 

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Above, a view of the relaxed atmosphere at the traditional SPA/Panther cookout. How many of the nine Corvair builders in this picture do you recognize?

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Above, Dan Weseman and myself in the SPA/Panther booth, right on the main avenue at Sun n Fun. Although I have had short hair and a beard before, many people who have known me for years took a moment to recognize me, even with a name tag on. Evidently my traditional appearance as a long haired unapologetic nationalist grease monkey from rural Florida makes a more lasting impression than my current guise. Don’t worry, I’m still the Neanderthal who wrote Lifestyles of Troglodytes, and The Politics of Pouring Gasoline and Unicorns vs Ponies.

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The Next Event on the Schedule:

FlyCorvair/SPA – Joint Workshop/Open house, May 18,19,20

Read the link now and make a plan today.

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Wewjr

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