Tom Cummings' tale of the Inaugural
Corvair College of Aviation Knowledge
The first session of Corvair College began approximately 8:00AM on
Friday, May 26, 2000, with the first arrivals being Doc Mosher, Jacob Jaks
Numerous visitors came by during the week including Mark Langford.
We discussed our airframes our engines would power. Doc's is a Pietenpol,
Jacob's is a Pober Junior Ace, Mark has a KR2S, and I am building a Tailwind.
The education was of a basic nature, as we had not built engines before.
This was why the college was so valuable to us and was fortunate to have.
So, if some of you experienced builders find this post very basic, please
bear with me in knowing that the basics are one of the purposes of the
We made our introductions, met William, Kelvin and Grace. If it were not
for Grace, we would have perished of thirst for sure as she made countless
errands seeing that we had enough Cokes and ice.
Then we got set up in William's hangar, each of us on a bench, table or
workstand. Parts were unloaded as needed or stored underneath the workspace.
All of us were at different stages of progress on preparing our engines
for assembly. That is, the amount of prep work already performed at home.
One of my objectives was to assemble my case halves under the supervision of
William and Kelvin and, at least, have the crank and cam in and test for
rotation. (And I had other objectives under my sleeve, which I will describe
later.) I had lots of prep work remaining to be done. I cleaned the rust from
the heads studs the first morning.
One task was to have our cases thoroughly examined to ensure they were
usable. This included verifying sealing surfaces, lifter bores, no cracks,
smooth bearing and cylinder seating surfaces, studs, threads, etc. and
looking for any defects that would eliminate using a case. Later, William
demonstrated installing a head stud in some of the cases. We all thoroughly
cleaned the bearing surfaces and oil passages and double-checked everything.
All this took a lot of time.
Crankshafts and camshafts were examined. I was interested in what I refer
to as "hard assembly" items, which for a novice can mean operations such as
pressing cam gears and wrist pins. (Items that require special tools, jigs,
fixtures or techniques to assemble.) Familiarizing myself with how assemblies
are supposed to feel or not supposed to feel like when properly or improperly
performed was important, also. Yes, I was looking to gain experience.
Installing the cam gear on the camshaft was my next operation.
And, over in another corner, was another neophyte - sandblasting some
pushrod tubes in prepping them for painting - which we all did. And at
another table, William and Kelvin demonstrating the all important operation
of Plastigauging a crankshaft. No shortcuts were taken here. No defects were
to be accepted, as William showed when we rechecked a crank that we
"students" thought might be okay or didn't know the difference. We learned
it doesn't hurt to have to do something over, like break a case back down,
to ensure a quality assembly - very conscientious, I noticed - not to accept
something that is unacceptable. This is good "building philosophy" being
exhibited, which William mentioned in his manual.
And another procedure observed was how clean all components needed to be
before assembly. We went through a lot of cans of Jet Spray to ensure clean
cranks, cases, cams, everything. Jet Spray works well as a final clean rinse
solvent with just enough spray pressure. Once applied, the components were
Other activities included welding the four extension tabs around the oil pan
where the engine mount bolts protrude through the exterior lip on the
pan. And for those of us who could not weld, others would help. And we in
turn rendered assistance in areas they needed. Good camaraderie was exhibited
throughout the entire week in this manner. Other items we made were
modifying the oil filler tubes, making the top covers, modifying the oil
filter accessory piece, and trying to fabricate all the "odds and ends"
needed to complete a conversion. William and Kelvin even replaced a
defective exhaust stub on one head. Outstanding.
Each day there would be time out for lunch - how the time can fly when
you're having fun. We'd go up the highway to one of the many good restaurants
in the area - every day. We did not go hungry. And we didn't lose any weight,
either. At the end of the evening, dinner was not hard to find. This was a
good location to have such an event. Then it might be back to the shop,
retire for the evening, or go relaxing out. We stayed at a Holiday Inn with
good rates and location.
Next day, back to something else that needed attention. Jacob's engine
was now growing more parts! His rod journals were also "Plastigauged," and
he started checking the ring end gaps and ring side clearances. Kelvin
demonstrated this and how to install the rings on the pistons, and then
install the pistons into the cylinders.
As Jacob's engine was progressing, I started cleaning some old heads I
had brought so I could get William to determine if they were worth
rebuilding. I knew I wasn't going to get them rebuilt at college, but at
least I could get them checked out. And I had William look at my original
crank to see if it was worth turning to .010 someday - but one engine at a
And Doc, he was using the air compressor, grinding some nice smooth edges
on his end cover he was making. And before you knew it, you'd see more
cylinders protruding from Jacob's engine case. Jacob's project was going
good. You'd notice how his parts boxes were getting more empty and the
engine was getting more heavy!
Time out during each day, we were invited over to some hangars of the
Spruce Creek airpark residents. There was American Affordable Aircraft
building a Vision - cool. And across the taxiway was a Lancair equipped with
a Chevy V8 and redrive - very hitech and complicated looking - but it flies!
It flies! The gentleman there also builds exotic instrument panels - works of
Another hangar, Mr. Phillips', had a Great Lakes Special - beautiful. And
I think an RV or a Glastar - I forget (editor's note: actually a Swearingen SX-300,
but you never know what you'll find in Mr. Phillip's hangar). And we saw a Pitts on the
And on another visit, I saw a fuselage of a Wittman Tailwind being
restored - looks just like the right size for a Corvair engine and it got my
blood going. Lots of representative homebuilt aircraft are located at Spruce
Then back to the shop and check on them heads. With some more cleaning
they would be ready to disassemble. Lots of corrosion. And William showed
us his machine for determining a distributor's advance curve. I believe he
checked Jacob's distributor out if I am not mistaken. I was busy painting my
new .030 over cylinder fins by then. Used a 50/50 mix of flat black oil
based enamel paint and gasoline - supposed to offer rust protection and
allow the fins to cool and the paint not flake off - well we will see. That
took a long time with a paintbrush. The paint is from Wal-Mart, both
Plasticote and Rustoleum are available. I used Plasticote because it is
And the hybrid studs had arrived as Mark Langford already photo'd and I
now have mine for when I install my hub. Countless small parts which all add
up to an engine were addressed, and we saw an example of the copper washers
used to improve the sealing of sparkplugs, and also the large hex nut that
installs on the safety bolt. Isn't it aggravating when one small part halts
the process? Like in the poem that says: "For want of a nail a horse was
The day Mark Langford visited, he caught me on camera at the hydraulic
press, installing my wrist pins. That was an uncomfortable operation for me
due to my lack of experience. But William was there and coached me through
it and now I have that item accomplished. More experience more training! I
would not have attempted it by myself.
That operation out of the way, I stored the piston/rod assemblies back
into their boxes until I installed the rings. Next, I disassembled those
heads I wanted to check out. Got all the valve stem keepers off without them,
the retainers, or the springs ricocheting across the shop. Then I labeled
everything and put them into small organized containers for reference. The
guides turned out okay with very little if any side play. And the seats were
not very bad. So it looks like I have an extra set of rebuildable heads.
These will get a valve job and new valves someday.
And back at Jacob's project, there was a head going on the cylinders!
There was going to be an engine built for sure at this Corvair College. And
at this point we were shown how to install the lifters and the nicely
painted pushrod tubes and "O" ring seals. Heads were torqued according to
Finch's book - not the Chevy shop manual. Brand new pushrods and rocker arms
We also got introduced to the different sealants used and how and where
to apply them. We used the manuals and other reference materials. Some of us
were shown how to use a micrometer, a torque wrench, and the welding torch.
I got my camshaft in the case, verified the endplay, then in went the
crank - yahoo! And I finally got to torque the case shut. It was great,
kinda like an exciting countdown: 15, 25, 35, 45 lbs. Except counting
upwards! And when I was done, the crank and cam would still rotate just
fine - yahoo again. I felt like stopping and celebrating then but I just
kept on working on something else. It was the time and the place to get a
lot of things done that I had not had time for before.
Doc had gotten his head studs painted and completed his pan modification.
He also had finished the modification for the rear cover for the use of a
rear starter. He had so many beautifully clean parts on his bench that it
looked like you could serve dinner on them. Dinner? Oh yeah, dinner, we had
worked so late we had forgotten about dinner. Excitement, I guess. So,
yeah, well, we all went to dinner - late.
Didn't matter; because the next morning, it was back to the shop again.
(It was great to have a well-equipped shop to go to every morning.) And that
was the day when Jacob's engine finally came together. And all his parts
boxes were empty - all of them. He had the cleanest engine I have ever
seen, too. He had used the stock top cover with its top surface removed and
filled it with a nice piece of aluminum welded in. It takes the flat-top
look out of the top of the engine. Wait till you see his pictures. And the
front and rear covers were finally on, too. And we were all just as proud of
his engine as he was because we were there and learned from it and had
participated in a successful assembly.
Visitors continued to come by - even on the last day. The first question
they'd ask was: "Why did you select a Corvair?" So we would tell them. It
was interesting to know that some of them came back several times to see how
the prep work and engines were coming along. They were getting interested in
the Corvair, too.
We all got a tremendous amount of work accomplished and learned
techniques best assimilated by observing and performing oneself. Such is
another purpose of Corvair College.
Corvair College is where one can learn the basics of Corvair assembly
and receive assistance in each area of the conversion. And the experienced
builders can benefit attending as well by the contributions they can make
working with others, conveying their experience, contributing to the overall
success of the Corvair engine as a reliable power plant in the homebuilt
arena, and meeting other builders.
A heartfelt thanks goes out from the first attendees of Corvair College
to William, Kelvin and Grace for their efforts and hospitality which made
the event a successful one.
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