Corvair Colleges #18 & #19
In the coming months, we have three Corvair events happening. The following three photos are an introduction to these events. We will have a much fuller
discussion of each of the Colleges in our next Web update. For now, I highly encourage people to register in advance for each College as soon as each online registration
link is activated. You can get a
much sharper idea of what these events will be like by reviewing the notes on Previous Colleges. College #18 will be very much
like College #13 and College #19 will be patterned after CC #17.
Corvair College #19, Nov. 12-14, Barnwell, S.C.
On the left, Corvair builder and pilot P.F. Beck is our main man behind CC #19. With him is the Barnwell Airport Manager, Timothy Freer. Barnwell is a
large regional airport with grass and paved runways and excellent facilities. It is an uncontrolled airport that will allow us the freedom for demo flights,
and to have builders get an up close and personal experience with the planes. We will be working inside in an insulatied 100x100' hangar. There are motels
available, but I strongly urge builders to consider camping at the airport. We have a dry, grassy area reserved for us.
Like CC #17, this will be a hard core effort to build and run as many engines as possible. On the technical side, both Dan Weseman and Roy
Szarafinski are planning on attending, as well as many other Corvair luminaries. I anticipate a strong showing of flying aircraft. By tradition, the
November College is where we award our Cherry Grove Trophy for the greatest contribution to Corvair powered flight, and builders and pilots take the time to savor the year's achievements. We will have many,
many more details, but the event is limited to 90 builders and I expect it to fill up quickly. I encourage people to register as soon as the online
registration link is activated. The registration fee covers the catered Friday and Saturday night dinners, and beverages for the weekend. While Colleges
are traditionally free, the modest registration fee allows everyone to pull their own weight and keeps the host from underwriting the event.
Colleges are still a not-for-profit venture. Ask anybody who has attended a College: They are a milestone in any builder's project.
EAA Chapter 1 Open House
John Schmidt on left, sits with a very well known EAA Chapter #1 President Jim Pyle at the Brodhead 2010 Pietenpol Reunion.
EAA Chapter Number One is at Flabob airport in Riverside, Calif. On September 25, 2010,
I will be a guest speaker at their Open House.
This is not a College, just a technical seminar. I am looking forward to meeting a number of Southern Califonia builders there.
The Open house is a major event on the West Coast aviation calendar. We are grateful for Jim Pyle's many invitations to attend and are proud to do so this year.
Corvair College #18
Corvair College #18 will be held the weekend of October 1, 2010, at First Light Aviation Group, Rick Lindstrom's facility in Livermore, Calif., outside the Bay Area.
This is the same host, location and setting as the highly successful CC #13. This time, we're going to make it slightly larger, add a much
greater flying component, and pack even more fun and productivity into the same length event. The technical expertise for this College will come from myself, Roy
Szarafinski, Dan Weseman and Woody Harris. Additionally, there will be a dozen other builders who have attended a previous College and completed an engine.
Rick has an outstanding facility and the ability to do an excellent job of organizing the logistics. We are expanding attendance to 80 builders this year. This excludes staff
technical experts, and Corvair pilots who fly in. This is our fifth West Coast College, and I expect it to fill up rapidly. Rick will be handling the registration for
this event himself via his highly efficient, devoted staff at FLAG. Feel free to call them at (925) 443-9999 or visit their http://web.mac.com/flaglvk/iWeb/FLAG/home.html
Web site. As the date is rapidly approaching, and we will be on the road half the time leading up to the event, I encourage anyone with a question to review Rick's
Web site and call FLAG for local details. It will greatly speed your planning. Additionally, it will familiarize you with Rick's mission in aviation. Since he is
our host, I consider it courteous for builders to invest a bit of time becoming familiar with the FLAG operation.
We have arrived. Above, Travel Bear atop the corner of the Brodhead sign.
Although I have not owned a Piet in nine years, I have actively tried to do positive things for the greater good of Pietenpols and their builders. We have certainly assisted a lot
of builders in geting their powerplants ready for flight, but this year I wanted to work on a project of wider importance. To do this, I brought a set of very accurate electronic scales up
from Florida, and with the help of the above crew, performed a weight and balance on 14 Piets. From left to right above, Ryan Mueller, his lovely wife Jess (whose shirt says "Real men fly
Pietenpols"), Emory Luth and myself.
Gathering the data was a quick process,
taking less than 10 minutes per plane once we had the drill down. We now have a very accurate database on Corvair, Ford and Continental powered planes, all taken from the same scales.
The real goal is to have enough data so a builder will know how long to make his motor mount, how far to set back his axle, and where to set his cabanes before he paints himself into a corner.
Several of the planes we measured had the CG too far aft. Many of them had the axle too far back for a plane with brakes. In the coming year, we are going to examine this data in great detail
in the BPA newsletter, available at the www.Pietenpols.org link.
What we discuss in this BPAN series will allow builders to build their own motor mounts at the appropriate length for their own range of pilot weights, get the
landing gear in the appropriate position, and have airplanes that are rigged to fly the way that Bernie wanted them to.
Jess sits in her Pietenpol while it is on the electronic scales I brought up from Florida.
Although this photo is taken from a flying plane, this is not the best way for the front cabane strut to be done on a Pietenpol. The Piet is a very strong aircraft
with a very strong wing. It would be very difficult to break a well made one in flight. This said, in an off airport landing or accident, the weak link in the airplane
is the connection between the wing and the fuselage. In a sudden stop, the forward diagonal cabanes get a massive compression load, and if they're set up like this, they
will bend like cooked spaghetti, allowing the wing to parallelogram forward, potentially trapping the passenger. The primary reason why people make the cabanes this way
is that they believe the old wives' tale that the wing of the Piet can be moved forward and aft to resolve any CG issue.
Here is the much preferred methodology of cabane attachment on Pietenpols. While it won't make the plane as crashworthy as a Grumman AG-Cat or AD-1 Skyraider, it will vastly
improve the strength of the wing/fuselage connection in a survivable accident. This means that the wing could very likely stay in place in a small event. Keeping the
center section in the correct location is also an important factor in not rupturing the fuel lines from the wing tank. The primary reason why people do not make
their cabane struts this way is that they lack the weight and balance data to be sure of the wing's location before the plane is finished. Now that we have the data,
making a cabane attachment like this can be done with confidence in the final wing location.
Harold Johnson stands by his plane just after we finished its weight and balance. The plane was one of the heavier ones we weighed, but it was an excellent teaching
moment. People could see with their own eyes that the plane was a good climber and smoothly flew at a very good pace through the sky. Many people who have not yet finished a plane
have been indoctrinated to believe that being light is the sole measure of performance in a homebuilt. They were taught this myth by hangar flyers and journalists who had never
finished planes themselves. The real bottom line is more complex. Flying in CG limits is far more important than empty weight. And proper rigging, and attention to drag, even on a slow plane,
is more important than empty weight. Harlold's plane is a good flyer because it is in CG, is fairly clean, is rigged correctly and has available power. These elements add up to a plane that will
comfortably fly to destinations far and wide. Light weight is nice, but understanding aircraft performance and stability is a more complex problem than comparing three digit numbers.
Big Piets make their debut at Brodhead. This is Bruce Laird's bird, flown up 1,000 miles from Georgia. Just like Sun 'N Fun, the planes met with great reviews for both their
operation and their attention to detail.
Harold Johnson's Big Piet. This aircraft won Best Auto Engine Conversion at Sun 'N Fun this year. The Big Piet builders now have five of the planes completed and flown.
Their first visit to our hangar was back in 2003. Through thick and thin they stuck with it. Remember The Golden Rule of Homebuilding: Persistence Pays. No matter how long it takes,
landing your Piet at Brodhead is a day you will remember for the rest of your life.
Randy Bush flew in for the second year in a row in his Piet, above, named Miss Le'Bec (it is a combination of his girls' names coined by his wife).
His aircraft was seven years in the making. A consistent
work of craftsmanship, the plane's creation spanned both easy and hard years in Randy's life. Many people new to homebuilding think that it is something you do if life is treating you great
and you're rolling in dough. Here is reality: The most successful builders I know understand that hours spent in your own shop, creating things with your own hands, is
a vital part of a worthwhile life, and that this reality will be most evident at the hardest of times. Learning to make things is a crucial investment in your own sanity.
Does it surprise anyone that really happy people always have a way of being creative?
Kevin Purtee's Piet flown up from Texas. It now has more than 100 hours on it.
Kevin Purtee 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. Although Kevin was one of our earliest builders, going back more than 10 years, the above photo was taken
at the first moment I ever met him in person. 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.
Travel Bear sits on the dash of Minnesota Corvair builder and teacher John Schmidt's 1962 AMC on a 6 a.m. coffee run into Brodhead.
This Piet is a Chapter project from French Valley, Calif. It was brought in and displayed both at Brodhead and Oshkosh.
Technical Summit at Mark Petz's
Mark Petniunas and Roy Szarafinski make the first run of of our new 3 Liter Series Engine. I brought up the Dyno from Florida specifically for
this run. Between Brodhead and Oshkosh, we had an intense day of technical work, which was the crowning achievement on a year's worth of behind-the-scenes cooperation.
The Three Liter Engines are a joint project between Mark, Roy, myself and Dan Weseman. The engine was brand new, so we were not going to flog it on the dyno.
But after 2 hours of break-in time, we did note that it turned the test prop a slightly higher static rpm than the last 3,100 I built.
The 3 Liter Engine sits on the scales fresh from its break-in run. The engine has 8 pounds of oil inside it, and the stands that are supporting it on the scale
weigh 6 pounds. This engine is complete, including a Weseman 5th bearing. No attempt was made to lighten it. It is simply a standard, bolt together engine with its complete
oil system in place. This engine is lighter than an O-200. There's plenty of advertising brochures for imported engines that claim astronomically light numbers.
But the installed weights are significantly heavier than anything they claim in the brochures. In recent years, builders have really come to understand that it is
reliability that is paramount, not minimum weight. Any design that cannot be run at wide open throttle and high rpm continuously for cooling reasons is a questionable
installation. The Corvair's demonstrated ability to function under the most strenuous of circumstances, in the hottest conditions, has appeal that a slightly lighter
engine cannot match.
Above is a look inside the 3 Liter Engine. It is a big brother to the 2,850. The centerpiece of both
of these engines is a drop forged, CNC machined, made in America, very high quality piston manufactured to our specifications. It has a very specifically designed
pocket, and a flat quench area, for use with the 110 and 95 Corvair cylinder heads. The step that the head gasket sits on can be entirely machined out of the head so that
the quench height of the engine is solely the head gasket thickness. This could be done before, but would result in an alarmingly high compression ratio. The pocket
in the piston takes care of this, keeping the compression ratio reasonable. Other pistons for Corvairs have had little dishes cut in them before. But we had these
pistons specifically forged with thick domes to allow the pocket to be machined as deep as it needed to be without compromising the strength of the piston. In operation,
this engine has extremely high turbulence and very good atomization of the fuel, yet a static compression ratio that will easily run on 93 octane fuel without retarded
timing. These combustion and ignition characteristics have the potential to make this engine more powerful than a 3,100 cc Corvair with its required retarded ignition
timing. There's a number of other reasons we settled on 3 Liters as our new standard large displacement engine, but the primary goal was to produce an uncompromised
large displacement Corvair that will operate in a future where the affordability of 100 low lead may come into question. The 2,850 has the same characteristics, but it
is the largest displacement that can be made without machining the case.
Above, I hold the last word in Corvair exhaust valves. In the past year, Mark Petniunas put a tremendous amount of effort into finding a source for these valves, which
are precision manufactured out of the super alloy Inconel. This material was developed in the 1950s to be used as turbine blades in the hot sections of jet engines. It is
incredibly resistant to corrosion, and at 1600 F is roughly the same strength as high grade steel is at room temperature. Mark makes these valves available as an
exclusive option on the heads he provides. They are a nice option on any naturally aspirated engine. I would consider them a requirement on hardcore turbocharged
If you've long wondered where the quench area is on a cylinder head, it is the cross hatched area shown in the head in the above photo. Its name is derived from the
fact that the air/fuel mixture that comes in contact with this part of the head is slightly cooled compared with the rest of the combustion chamber.
In our previous Hangar Update, we mentioned Mark purchasing a $38,000 dynomometer. It is a very complex set of machinery for which they are
manufacturing its own room. This is a project that will most likely get done by the end of Winter or early Spring. Here, Mark with just the control console from the
unit. In the background is a late model modified race car heavily damaged in an accident last season. The shop that Mark operates with his friend is the home base
for his friend's highly successful race team. Wisconsin is known for a viciously competitive circuit, and their shop won the State Championship a few years ago.
Although I don't have a photo of it, I consider one of the great technical achievements of the year to be Mark Langford flying the AirVenture Cup Race. A guy at
one of my forums asked what was the 5-minute power rating on a Corvair. I pointed out to him that Mark ran his KR powered by a 3,100 with a WW Bearing at 3,400
rpm for more than 3 hours in the race. Nothing like having a measured technical achievement to end speculation. For a longer personal perspective on the race,
check out Mark Langford's N56ML.com Web site.
With all the action at the booth, I goofed up and didn't get a photo of Joe Horton's 3,1000 cc Corvair powered KR on display at our booth the first three days
of the show. It was Joe's fourth trip in the aircraft to Oshkosh. It is an excellent example of the Corvair/KR combination, in Joe's case proven through 500 hours
of flight time. Joe's and Mark Langford's KRs are very popular aircraft and have been seen all over the country. If you'd like to see more photos of either one, take
a look at the previous Hangar Update links at the bottom of this page.
The 2010 Oshkosh Corvair Tent Crew. From left, Mark Petniunas from FalconMachine.net, yours truly from FlyCorvair.com, and Roy Szarafinski from
RoysGarage.com. The three of us teamed up for the entire Corvair technical presentation at Oshkosh 2010, all working out of the same tent. In an industry noted for
salesmen with shallow technical expertise, and pointless claims and counter-claims against other businesses, here is another thing that I pioneered to make the
Corvair movement a refreshing standout in experimental aviation: The three of us, plus Dan Weseman from Fly5thBearing.com, all offer products and services for
Corvair engine builders. Out of mutual respect, we are all friends, and operate cooperatively for the direct benefit of Corvair builders. I've referred to this
as the Corvair All Stars, but Roy frequently calls it the Corvair Consortium. An interesting example of the cooperation is that out of the four of us, we have
developed and flight tested three different fifth bearing designs. Builders new to the All Star concept sometimes ask which one is best. The answer is that they're all
good, they have different features and the only question that needs to be answered is which one matches the builder's particular needs. The depth of our individual
expertise, and our willingness to find the right application for each individual builder, combined with our ability to run joint R&D projects, instruct at
Colleges, and meet builders at air shows provides an unparalleled opportunity for builders who choose the Corvair.
The Corvair Powered Personal Cruiser makes its third appearance at Oshkosh, centerstage in our booth.
Noted old school homebuilder Roger White stops by the tent at Oshkosh. His current project is a very nicely done Corvair installed on a Bowkow Junior.
The theme of Oshkosh this year was "A Salute To Veterans." In last month's update, I mentioned the irony of people promoting Chinese-made
products at the same location. If you look closely at Roger's hat, you'll see a rectangular blue patch with an embroidered musket. In an era where we talk about
saluting veterans, people should be taught to immediately recognize the Combat Infantryman's Badge. This is only awarded to men who served in the U.S. Army who were
directly engaged in combat face-to-face with the enemy. Too few Americans understand that the Korean war was directly fought against Chinese Communist troops. No matter what
position people hold on a conflict, we are all intelligent enough to understand young foot soldiers don't make national policy ... they just pay for it.
Above, a large group of high school students from the Frankfort, Ky., aviation program. They had a large display at Oshkosh for the second year in a row. Their
current project is a Corvair powered Zenith 601. These are some very sharp students learning intense skills like Tig welding under a very organized program.
Unusual for a high school program; they're also schooled in flight training. We support their aviation program and were duly impressed with the caliber of students.
Their chief welder is holding one of our Flight Ops Manuals.
The two Big Piets continued on to Oshkosh after Brodhead. Toward the end of the week, they packed up and started south on the journey home. I spent some time with
Harold and Bruce and fellow Big Piet builder Barry Davis just before they left. Having known them a number of years, I took some pleasure in listening to their
reflections on the six-year journey that brought them to Oshkosh in their own planes. These planes were an excellent reflection of their craftsmanship, which was
celebrated by the many friends they've made through their years of building.
Outside the Corvair tent, Fisher Horizon/Corvair builder Jim Waters, above left, speaks with Dr. Gary Ray, Zenith 601 builder and pilot. Jim's aircraft is complete with the
exception of covering. His ran his 2,700 engine with a Weseman 5th bearing for the first time at CC #16. Dr. Ray's 601 is powered by a 2,700 cc Corvair
with a Roy bearing. His 601 recently got the Zenith wing upgrade. Dr. Ray flew his aircraft to Oshkosh, but was one of the many pilots who were held at an outlying
airport because the muddy conditions at Oshkosh severely limited parking spaces. Dr. Ray had previously displayed his aircraft at Oshkosh 2007.
Just outside our tent, Ron Lendon, on the extreme right, speaks with other builders while using our Zenith 750 installation as a visual aid. Ron is finishing up
his 601. His 2,700 cc Roy bearing engine was assembled and test run at CC #17.
Our tent was a meeting point for builders of all types of airframes powered by Corvairs. During the week, we had our friend Steve Glover from nVaero.com on hand.
Steve is the factory authorized distributor for parts, plans and kits for the KR series of aircraft. Our tent welcomes a broad variety of builders of all ages and
backgrounds. The diversity of characters attracted to the Corvair is what keeps the engine interesting to me even after 20 years. The builder speaking with Steve, at
extreme right above, is a helicopter pilot with the 82nd Airborne freshly home from Afghanistan.
Just outside our tent, we had Scott Vanderveen and his crew of volunteers from Pro Composites on hand to discuss the Corvair Personal Cruiser. At the beginning of
the week, we had Joe Horton's Corvair powered KR-2S on the other side. The large display was possible because we had a double-size booth this year. There were a number of
open booth spaces at Oshkosh. This was caused by absentee LLCs, some of whom last year tried making a big splash in the industry and are now gone. Expect much more of this in this
economy. We are the polar opposite: Stable businesses in experiemental aviation share the same characteristics of technical expertise, slowly building one customer at
a time, and a long track record of getting people flying.
Cleanex builder Terry Bergevin of Idaho shakes hands with Mark from Falcon after just purchasing the 3 Liter Engine we test ran two days before. The engine is
configured as a clone of Dan Weseman's Cleanex installation.
Zenith/Corvair pilots congregate in our tent. In the center above is David Coberly of Arkansas. He recently completed his airframe update and combined it with the
installation of a Weseman bearing. His aircraft is a magnificent display of craftsmanship utilizing all of our Installation Components. It was
first seen at last year's Zenith Open House. Beside him are Phyllis and Shayne McDaniel, who have just completed and test flown their
Zenith 650. It has a 2,700 cc engine that I built for them with a Weseman bearing last year. Look for their aircraft at the Zenith Open House this year.
Corvair College #17 host Arnold Holmes and his son Cody in front of our giant FlyCorvair.com banner.
Steve Williams from French Valley, Calif., was invited by the EAA to put on an indoor display about his Chapter's Corvair powered Pietenpol project all week at Oshkosh. His presentation
was extremely well received. I stood in the back of the last one with the EAA's Director of Homebuilding, Joe Norris. Joe explained that the EAA is well aware that its
roots will always be in homebuilding, and understands the importance of real grassroots efforts like the French Valley project. At the end of his presentation, I gave
Steve a special present: the cast aluminum valve covers that flew on our own Pietenpol 10 years ago. He was moved.
Off Hours At Oshkosh
Here is a look at some of the things that caught my eye at Oshkosh when I took a few hours to look around. 2010 is the 14th time I have been there in 16 years. Almost all
of these times we came before the show and stayed after it was long over. The years and the duration of the stays give me a lot to reflect on. I have been to Oshkosh as a builder,
flying in our own plane, a forum presenter, a guest vendor, a vendor in our own booth, an EAA journalist, and combinations of all of the above, usually being "The Corvair Authority."
The following photos are some of the things I look at and think about when I am just myself, another guy who loves planes and the people devoted to them.
2010 is the 75th anniversary of the DC-3. Our friend Doc Mosher, a DC-3 guy himself, got us in to the exclusive party at Basler Aviation, the DC-3 restoration and
turboprop conversion facility at Oshkosh. Above is a shot of the cockpit of a newly converted DC-3.
This photo is from the upper deck at Basler during the DC-3 party. There are three DC-3s in process on the left side of the photo. They had a detailed world map showing
their conversions at work all over the globe, including Antarctica.
This Mustang II, at least 30 years old, was parked amongst the other homebuilts. Its paint job was long faded and carried countless chips. Get a good look at how
many times it's been to Oshkosh. Whatever else this man has done in life, you certainly know that the aircraft he built with his own hands and has flown all his
adult life has provided him with countless hours aloft. I'm guessing he might have been in his 30s when he finished it. Just think about how the milestone achievement
of building and flying his own airplane paved the way for the other things he's done in his life. Real homebuilding success has the power to provide you with
far more than airworthy transportation. It can absolutely change how you think about yourself, and what you consider possible.
This is a very well known RV-4 noted for its extreme performance, N230A. It is aerodynamically clean, very light, and has a 360 Lycoming reported to put out nearly
250 hp. The builder, Dave Anders, used this plane to capture the CAFE Triviation Challenge. A lot of acclaim in homebuilding is piled on aircraft with fancy professional
paint jobs, glass cockpits, and heavy interiors. Never be dismayed by this. There are plenty of aviation insiders who know what's really important in aircraft. In the
Corvair movement, I've put a lot of effort into keeping people focused on this. As a Corvair builder, you're well on your way to fitting in with the right people.
An aircraft I've always liked, but never saw in person till now: The world's only surviving Hamilton Metal Plane showed up at Oshkosh this year. It was a
magnificent restoration of an 8-seat aircraft powered by a Hornet engine.
A Naval Aircraft Factory N3N. These are most commonly seen in photos operating off a single, centerline float. My father's first flying lessons were operating
these aircraft at the Naval Academy in the late 1940s. They are not common; they made 15 times as many Stearmans. The owner told me that this particular aircraft was
at the Naval Academy from 1945-50, so there's a chance my father flew this very plane.
This is an engine nacelle housing a 3,350 cubic inch turbo-compound Wright radial. It is on a DC-7B and can produce 3,400 hp. Despite being 65 years old, this is a very sophisticated installation.
Notice how the exhaust mark out of the turbine shows the true air flow around the leading edge of the wing. With high octane fuel, this engine can be run at 70" of
Notice above how this DC-7 air intake stands off from the nacelle. If the scoop touched the cowling, it would be high drag, and the air would skip over it. Notice
how similar to a P-51 scoop this is. The aerodynamics have wide applications: An F-16 jet inlet is similar. In spite of how simple this concept is, you can see countless scoops
tacked on the sides or bottoms of cowls in experimental aviation, particularly on liquid cooled auto engine installations. They might work, but they don't work well.
Notice the scoop on the top of the nacelle is also separated.
This is the cockpit of the DC-7B. It's privately owned. It flew up from the Miami area at 250 knots.
Note how much less sophisticated the scoop is on a DC-4. It is
a pre-war design, but notice the bottom of the inlet does not touch the upper surface of the cowl either. Although a DC-4 looks like a DC-6 and 7, the
engines are much smaller, "only" 2,000 cid.
Above is N2538B, a 1947 Consolidated Vultee L-13. This is a good example of aircraft you'll only see at Oshkosh. Sport Aviation recently had an issue on
STOL aircraft, which featured the well known German Storch. I think an L-13 is far more impressive. Although smaller than a Storch, it holds twice as many people,
and stunningly has a 2,000 pound empty weight, but a 6,000 pound gross. The wings rapidly fold along with the tail, and the landing gear turns inside out for easy
storage. You could pack it into a sea-land container in a few minutes.
This is sophisticated American aerodynamics. The fixed slot, flap and aileron configuration all work together. Notice the tiny little inverted leading edge slat on
the underside of the aileron. An L-13 is not the slowest flying aircraft in the world, but it's in the running while maintaining an incredibly high amount of utility.
The Long Way Home
After Oshkosh I took a few days to regroup at Mark's shop. We decided to make a field trip out to see Piet builders Dave and Will Mensink, and make a trip over to Bernie Pietenpol's
home town, Cherry Grove, Minn. We made a couple of stops in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Because our 450 mile loop was intended to go visit things that live in the past, it seemed appropriate
to take Mark's 1963 Corvair van.
H.L. Menken is one of my favorite writers. In the 1920s and '30s, he and George Nathan would take long car trips in rural America without a time or destination,
just a goal of "taking in the national mood." Menken was one of the best know newspapermen of the day, a halfway point between Mark Twain and Walter Cronkite. Today, journalists think that
news comes from NYC, DC or LA. Despite being nationally prominent and a lifelong lover of all things Baltimore, Menken knew that the story was "out there." With this spirit in mind,
Mark and I drove west to visit some places from long ago.
Mark displays his motorhead credentials. The pistons and rods are 350 Chevy. His 1963 Corvair van in the background is affectionately referred to as
The Groovy Cruiser. It looks terrible but runs great.
Mark and I stopped to see this Stratofreighter on static display in the middle of Wisconsin. It had been flown into a tiny airstrip decades ago
Above is the cockpit of the Boeing C-97. It is powered by four 4,360 cid radials. A placard in front of the co-pilot lists the minimum weight, full flap stall speed
as a stunningly low 69 knots. With their reversing propellers, these aircraft can land on short strips.
Third stop for The Groovy Cruiser was to visit the brothers Mensink and their Pietenpol project. Will, seated in the plane, is a worldwide cargo
pilot for UPS. Dave runs a huge and successful family farm about 10 miles from Cherry Grove, Minn.
This is my preferred carb for a Piet. It is a Stromberg NAS-3. Dave purchased this perfectly rebuilt example from our preferred supplier, D&G Fuel Systems in Niles,
Mich. Millions of hours have been flown in light aircraft equipped with Strombergs.
Above, an overhead shot of the Mensink Pietenpol during its weight and balance. Although a Piet is a very basic aircraft, it still is a good match for
All of our Gold Components. Dave's 2,700 cc engine has a Weseman 5th bearing, and was assembled by Mark at Falcon. It will be a potent, smooth
performer on their aircraft.
Will Mensink's hangar used to belong to Andrew Pietenpol, Bernie's grandson. Inside this hangar is an exact full-size replica of Bernie's Cherry Grove shop
(his shop in Cherry Grove was in town, separate from the hangar). This door is the original from Bernie's shop.
Bernie Pietenpol was a multi-faceted guy, and he did a lot of other things besides build airplanes and convert Corvairs. In his shop, he also repaired the most
sophisticated piece of consumer electronics of his day: color televisions. This row of light switches is an exact replica of the ones in his original shop. They're
mounted overhead as you walk into the shop, and could all be thrown with one motion of the hand.
Will and Dave are not new to light aviation. This is Will's RV-8. It was the Bronze Lindy Award winner at Oshkosh when he built it. The large wheelpants and tires
reflect that he homebases the aircraft in Alaska.
Will and Dave gave Mark and I a guided tour of Cherry Grove. I had been there only once before, with Grace eight years ago when Dave took the time out to show us
this tiny hamlet. Years ago, it was very quiet, almost deserted. Today, there are a dozen or so people there. Bernie Pietenpol's old airstrip is about a mile from town.
Out in the fields, it would be impossible to find from the ground if you didn't know where it was. In the above photo, Mark and I with The Groovy Cruiser at one
end of the airstrip. It is private and still owned by the family. It looks a lot bigger in the photo than it is in reality. I would sincerely discourage anyone from
flying there without first contacting the family.
Cherry Grove is the intersection of two streets. There might be two dozen buildings there. The above photo is Bernie Pietenpol's old shop. I consider the location
a very special place, perhaps the most sacred spot in the entire history of homebuilding as a passion for the working man. Being something of a historian and
extremely passionate about this subject, I do consider taking two days out of my life and driving across the upper Midwest in a 46-year-old van as time well spent.
However, I do want to caution people reading this that the shop no longer belongs to the family, and the owners are private people who are somewhat perplexed and
not entertained by the concept that they own something that's seen as a national treasure by others. Drive by if you wish, but don't count on a friendly welcome.
Cherry Grove has been around more than 100 years. Perhaps it's just in a private era right now, and time will likely change this. Keep in mind that the spirit of
Bernie Pietenpol and his ideals live more in the workshops of Piet builders around the world than a small shop in Minnesota. The ideals of George Washington are not
restricted to the things that physically exist at Mount Vernon.
Fans of wooden aircraft will appreciate this detail. When we visited the shop in 2002, I noticed the awning frame out front, which
had no roof on it at that time, was made from a Piper wing spar. You have to appreciate the values of a man who ended up with an apparently straight aluminum Piper spar and thought
that its best use was an awning frame. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the diagonal bolt holes where the lift strut used to be attached.
If you're building a Pietenpol, take out the plans and look at the title block. When you see the name Hoopman, you will be looking at the same identity as noted in
the quiet cemetery of Cherry Grove. If you look closely, you will see a Sky Scout engraved on the marker above. This is about 100 yards from Bernie Pietenpol's shop. Yet
the efforts of both these men do not reside in a shop or in a cemetery. Eighty-one years later, builders around the world enjoy the legacy left by these two men in their
dogged pursuit of flying for every man.
On the way home, I headed eastbound to see my parents in New Jersey. The first leg was to my sister's house on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Here my very
patriotic niece Caroline poses with Travel Bear.
Next stop was an all too brief layover at Roy Szarafinski's bachelor's paradise. This is where the magic happens at RoysGarage.com. Although we've been friends
with Roy for a number of years, this was my first visit to his place. Corvair pilot Joe Horton had laid over there on a cross country flight, and later hinted to me
that the place was a no-compromise temple to machine tools and craftsmanship. Joe was certainly right, and perhaps making an understatement. The fully insulated
60x80 building contains a very impressive array of high quality machinery, and appropriate tooling. Even though it was late at night, Roy gave me the full tour. Over
decades of working, he's acquired the knowledge to efficiently operate all the equipment that resides in his shop. Above is the main CNC mill in Roy's shop.
Above, Roy leans on a very nice Nardini DRO lathe.
After a brief visit with my parents in New Jersey, a thousand mile drive back to Florida. Upon my arrival, I found my wonderful wife and our loyal dog.
25 days on the road, 4,500 miles covered, hundreds and hundreds of builders met and spoken with on an individual basis. Some aspects were very fun, others like the long
hours driving, were very tiring. But in the final measure, it was what I always look for out of any part of homebuilding: It was rewarding. Even now as I write this,
there will be elements of this trip that stay with me for the rest of my days. Certainly there are many things I saw that will send me back to work in my workshop for
another year with renewed vigor. As you read this, I hope that some elements of it will motivate you to seek out your own rewarding and enduring journey in the world of homebuilding.
"Real freedom is the sustained act of being an individual." WW - 2009
Now At The Hangar
June 2011 At The Hangar
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December 2010 At The Hangar
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December 2006 At The Hangar Part 1
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December 2006 At The Hangar Part 3
December 2006 At The Hangar Part 4
November 2006 At The Hangar
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May 2006 At The Hangar
At The Hangar In April 2006
At The Hangar In March 2006
At The Hangar In February 2006
At The Hangar In January 2006
At The Hangar In December 2005
At The Hangar In November 2005
At The Hangar In October 2005
At The Hangar In September 2005
At The Hangar In July 2005
OSH, Illinois and SAA June 13, 2005
At The Hangar June 13, 2005 Part II
At The Hangar In May 2005
At The Hangar In April 2005