Corvair Crew Makes It Through Mexico
Without Incident May 20-21, 2006
Learning is Fun at Corvair Day at the Zenith Factory
Saturday, May 20, 2006, marked the first Corvair Day Open House at the Zenith Factory in
Mexico, Missouri. Despite extremely short notice, the event drew more than 50 serious builders. They came
from places far and wide, including Colorado Springs, Colo., San Diego, Calif., and Seattle, Wash.
The Zenith crew opened their hangar early, and put on a giant vat of coffee. The builders streamed in
early in the morning, and by 9:45 a.m., I started the day with a general briefing and a short question
and answer session.
The theme of the talk was people and Corvairs. Many times, newcomers will ask "What makes the Corvair
any different? And why do we frequently refer to Corvair building as a movement?" The answer is easy to
understand even if you attend a small event like a Night School or even
a mid-size event, like this Corvair Day. Corvair engines themselves are made out of steel and aluminum,
just like any other airplane engine. However, most other engines are simply a manufactured product sent out to
consumers who never meet each other, and whose engine acquisition experience is largely limited to unpacking
the box and installing it at home. Conversely, Corvair building is correctly called a movement because
builders are engaged as people getting to know each other as fellow builders and flyers.
This unique aspect of the world of Corvairs was intentionally integrated into the
program by me from Day One. Years ago, while I was still a student at Embry Riddle, I made a point to go
to Sun 'N Fun and Oshkosh every year. Although I was initially dazzled by the size and variety of everything
going on, I quickly came to see that I often did not know a single other person in crowds of 200,000-500,000
other aviators who were theoretically my peers. This highlighted to me the missing element of
the people side of my aviation world at the time.
Although I knew many good guys in my local EAA Chapter, not all of them were homebuilders, and few had a
response to match my newcomer's enthusiasm and long range ideas. In a small geographic group, it was unfair
to expect a lot of people to feel the same way I did. But I had a gut reaction that there were an awful lot
of people in the country who, given the right focal point, felt the same way I did and would look forward to
participating in events that would have looked like the EAA events at Rockford in the pre-Oshkosh era.
Today, looking back on 10 Corvair Colleges, dozens of
airshows, and a decade of experiences that combined the best of people and their craftsmenship applied
to Corvair engines, it's easy to see my hunch was right. From this perspective, the Mexico Event fits
right into The Big Picture.
The builders were a mixture of old and new friends. Pietenpol builder Dan Wilson of Minnesota on the far right in back, above, and
601XL builder Harlan Nelson of Minnesota, left of Dan in the back, are both veterans of Corvair College #9.
Dan also attended our Midwest Night School in Iowa. New friends Paul Beaulieu and
John Fravel are directly to my right, along with two other new friends. In the foreground on the right is
Vernon Lehman, to whom we delivered a pair of Dragonfly wings which he'll be mating to a Q-200. His first project
was a Cozy, so he's up for the task.
In the center is Dr. Steve Mineart's engine, which we're taking back to Florida
to upgrade with a nitrided crank. If you follow our travels, you'll
remember we delivered Dr. Mineart's engine during Our Midwest Night School Tour.
He wisely took my counsel and chose to have us upgrade his engine. We'll complete this and deliver his
engine before Oshkosh. Before the January Crank Update, about 55 engines had been
built and test run at our Edgewater hangar. The majority of these involved us assisting customers with the
assembly of components they had gathered and the test run of their engines. This labor was free at
Corvair Colleges, or available at very modest cost outside the Colleges. All of these builders left not
only with a running engine, but with a sound understanding of how it was assembled and how to work on it.
When our testing revealed that nitriding cranks was necessary, I felt comfortable with almost all of these
builders taking care of the replacement at home. After all, the engine's intended to be built at home, and
these people had received direct training from us, supported by text in the Conversion
Manual, and visual aids in the Assembly Videos. A good example of a builder
from this group is 601 builder Craig Payne of Utah. After talking on the phone, Craig
told me he felt comfortable changing the crank at home, then followed the
instructions on our FlyCorvair.com Web site and sent his crank off to Nitron himself.
On the other side of the coin, there were about a dozen people who'd purchased a
Complete Engine built by Kevin and I. These engines sold for in excess of $6,000, and went to builders
who generally had not received any direct training from us. These people
had not been counting on working on the inside of their engines, and certainly had spent a significant
sum with us. We contacted them all individually, either offering a nitrided crank or replacing the
crank for them for a very modest charge. They all agreed we'd made them a more than fair offer to keep
their projects moving forward without undue cost or stress. As a rule, these guys had a lot of experience
in general aviation and understood that no other engine manufacturer, certified or experimental, went to
these lengths to make available an important update that was unknown at the time of the sale.
Builders like Vance Wiley opted to accept a nitrided crank from us at
Sun 'N Fun 2006, and the return of Dr. Mineart's engine to him will close the chapter on
nitriding cranks on engines we've built and sold for full price.
While the vast majority of builders respected and understood our position on crankshafts and assistance
we were willing and able to give, more than one builder told me they felt somehow neglected or not
prioritized. Keep in mind that we have literally more than 1,000 active builders. We went out of our way
to find solutions that were possible for everyone, spent an enormous amount of time offering technical
assistance, and we're glad to help builders - from people who purchased a Manual
from us simply looking for information, to the opposite end of the spectrum. The guiding principal was what
is fair and equitable. It's no secret that a lot of priority went to people currently flying aircraft who
were willing to share costs with us and be part of setting the precedent and ethic that nitriding was easy,
reasonably inexpensive and an integral part of a good engine.
To the few who feel slighted, let me offer my
apologies and merely ask everyone to consider what the limits of generosity and responsibility are, from
myself, a person who has championed the least expensive motor on the market and consistently shared our time
and knowledge freely at events like the Colleges. If my product had financially matched
the expensive imports, and we'd never given away any time, or shared any of the fun events for free, then we
certainly would have had a giant war chest of money to buy everyone a new crank (keep in mind expensive
engine companies, although they have the resources, don't do this either). With the imports, they would not
work with anyone who did not have the $15 grand up front to buy their product. They're
not bad people, but that's reality. Conversely, we are willing to work with anyone with a budget big enough
to buy a $59 Conversion Manual.
If there are complaints, it's fair to ask if perhaps they only purchased a
Conversion Manual or perhaps additionally a core motor from us years ago. It saddens
me that we may lose one or two customers over expectations about what we can do for everyone, but looking
at the big picture, it's simply not reality.
Mark Langford, above in the yellow MY EX WANTED ME TO QUIT FLYING shirt, with
a crowd admiring his Corvair installation. Mark told Grace he was sorry he missed the first
half of my speech, but since he's flying now, he's really more interested in the flyng, travel and people aspect of the
movement rather than the technical side. Grace told him he didn't really miss it because that's what
the first half of my speech was about.
Corvair/KR builder/pilot Mark Langford, above right, departed first thing in the morning from the Huntsville, Ala., area, to fly the 425
miles to Mexico. He made a brief stop in southern Illinois to pick up O-200 powered KR-2 pilot Larry Flesner of Carterville, Ill., as
a wingman. Together they flew into Mexico. Mark reported the time en route was 2 hours 20 minutes from Alabama.
Larry, at left above with his KR, is the host of the KR Gathering which will be in Mount Vernon, Ill., again this Fall. In acknowledgement
of the popularity of the Corvair/KR combination, Larry graciously invited us to speak at the event. We'd
never seen Larry's KR in person, only read his Web site. He has a very interesting and unique bird himself.
At left above, the lovely Grace Ellen presents
Mark Langford with one of our ever popular MY EX WANTED ME TO QUIT FLYING T-shirts.
Fortuitously, Mark's gracious wife Jeanie has a very good sense of humor about this, because Mark can't seem
to get enough of these shirts.
From right above, Nick and Sebastien Heintz, and their shop tech Caleb are very happy to see another
701 leave the Zenith factory. We're bringing this one back to Merrill, a.k.a. Skymanta. However, we're
considering leaving it at an undisclosed location in Georgia until Merrill gets one or three more new
DVDs done to our liking. All we need to begin working on the installation package is the firewall.
Hope you're reading this Skymanata.