Today was everything I expected and more.
Tears... laughter.... love and friendship.
Brenda and I attended the Celebration of Life for Captain Barry Morris, my mentor.
I've been dreading this afternoon for weeks. I'm the type of person that wears his heart on his sleeve and never have gotten through funerals, deaths or other emotionally charged life events without shedding tears at the drop of a hat. Today was no different in that regard.
What was different however was the realization that as well as I thought I knew Barry, I only knew a very small part of his life. From every one of the people who spoke at his Celebration today, we all probably learned something new we didn't know about him before. Some of it familiar, some of it surprising, most of it smile invoking. For that I am extremely thankful.
One thing that was obvious is that he lived an incredibly diverse life. His flying career took him all over the globe where he rubbed shoulders and broke bread with heads of state, celebrities and industry leaders. He was a bush pilot, test pilot and salesman to name a few. He shared his enthusiasm for life and all it has to offer with anyone he met. Carpe diem in every sense of the word.
If I tried to relay even some of the stories he shared with me over breakfast or lunches at the airport, I wouldn't do them justice. I could never hope to capture the essence in the same way he could tell it, so I won't attempt to try.
In the last couple of years he was working on a trilogy of his memoirs that sadly he will never get a chance to complete. His wonderful wife Linda has taken up the charge to complete them with the help of some of his former co-workers and friends. I hope one day to read them. There is so much more I want to learn from this man.
When we worked together on the airport committee there were many times I got discouraged. He had a way of seeing the "runway through the fog" and always insisted I run with my ideas "full throttle".
I promise to do just that Barry. You are cleared direct my friend.
So I called up "Mr. L" and drove out to his property to have a second look at the Corvair he had there. If it's the engine I'm looking for, I plan on bringing it home.
I wasn't able to glean much info last time, either from him or from the casting number on the transmission housing.
This time, I brought some tools and some printouts from my research on the internet.
Here is the engine as it sits in his "boneyard":
As you can see, it was at some point cut right out of the car it came from, so it still has the transmission, generator, cooling shroud, belts, pulleys, oil cooler and of course the ever present dirt, grime and mouse hoardings. This is typical of these types of engines, or any for that matter in boneyards across North America, a real shame. The secret is find that one that isn't completely roached.
I managed to get a 3/4" socket on the harmonic balancer nut and the engine turns over surprisingly easy. There doesn't appear to be anything more than surface corrosion and the drive belts are tight enough that it turns the cooling fan and generator as I crank it over with the ratchet. I pulled the oil dipstick and the oil seems relatively clean, not burnt and no water in it.
There are two prime production number stamps (cast into the motor parts by the factory) that I need to locate. One on the block, and one each on the heads.
Unfortunately, the location of the engine block stamping which will confirm the engine year and horsepower is buried under the generator and pulleys at the front of the engine. It is located on the block, right behind the oil filter mounting boss and fill tube, like the picture below (kind of hard to see in this example picture):
I was reluctant to start pulling off all the accesorries just to see this number, when it might be easier to find the head casting numbers. These are on the end of the heads (like the example below):
I used some advice on one of the Corvair engine forums and used some brake cleaner fluid and a rag to remove the accumulated grime from the engine and managed to find matching cast numbers on each head (which means the heads came together from the factory this way and have not been swapped out individually). My subject engine heads had this casting number on them:
So according to the printout I took with me I can deduce the following....
Knowing this, I no longer really need to see the engine block stamping. My plans require a later model block with 164 cubic inch displacement and heads that match, ideally 110 HP, no smog heads. These weren't introduced until 1964, so this motor will not work for my conversion.
I thanked "Mr. L" for letting me have a look and promised to stay in touch regarding my adventure. I'm disappointed as it would have been good finding an engine this close to home, but it's not to be this time.
I did learn some things on where to find casting numbers, what else to look for. I also met Mr. L, a real gentleman. I hope my journey leads to more people like him.
(or "finding an engine")
I've decided a Corvair conversion will power my airplane. It truly fits the definition of low cost, reliable and easy to operate and maintain. It is air cooled, comparable in weight to similar engines for it's range of horsepower and has a long track record of reliable service in homebuilding. Even better, the conversion process is a perfect way for me to learn some new skills.
Chevrolet made 1.7 million Corvairs during the 1960s. Although it can be argued that the Corvair automobile in all it's variations were a commercial failure or success, the fact remains that Chevrolet poured millions of dollars into the development of the engine, giving it a very strong block, simple valve-train and phenomenal cooling capacity (it was a rear engine air cooled car after all).
From my research, a decent core suitable for conversion should be about $100 to $150 dollars, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done to clean it up. The majority of the fittings, fan shroud and accessories like the alternator, pulleys, carbs etc. won't be used in the conversion, so those are "worthless" to me, but could be sold if in serviceable condition. The conversion requires a complete rebuild of the block, cam, crank, pistons and heads so it doesn't need to be in running condition.
A few weeks ago, I placed an ad on an internet classified site seeking to purchase a used Corvair motor.
I've already had three people contact me! I didn't think is was going to be too hard to find one, but I didn't think it was going to be this easy either.
Now, one thing about the internet is that in most cases responses to ads come from all over the place. Two of the three are in southern Ontario, about 3 to 4 hours from me, so dropping over on whim to look at something is problematic.
I've made contact with both of them and I know for certain that one of them is exactly the model year of block and heads I'm looking for. The owner even asked if he could guess (correctly) that I'm an aviation guy. He wants $400 dollars, but I know that the engine is already apart and clean. I also suspect he knows this a desirable motor for aviation conversions and is trying to maximize his profit.
The other contact of the two seems very reluctant to tell me much, so I'm not as comfortable driving all that way to see something that may or may not fit, but it might be an option if he can confirm what year car the engine came from. It is still in a car though, obtaining it easily may be a problem.
Probably the most interesting contact so far has been a random e-mail I got from a guy who saw my ad. He gave me the phone number of his father who lives 20 minutes or so from my place (in fact 5 mins from the stable where my daughters horseback ride).
I called the father and he tells me he isn't sure of the model year, but I'm welcome to come have a look. So today when I dropped of the girls at their riding lessons, I drove over to this guys place to have a look.
"Mr. L" as I'll call him is one of those guys who collects "things". His large property is literally a storehouse of old machinery, cars, snow machines and small equipment. But like a lot of people who collect things, he admits to never really getting around to doing anything with them. Unfortunately in most of these cases the collection of "things" usually ends up as junk rotting away.
He walked me back to a corner on his property, and there among some trees, old wheel rims and headlight bezels was a Corvair engine still mated to it's automatic transmission. The motor had obviously been taken right out of the car as the mounts had been cut by torch from the frame.
Now, I should have been smart and taken the information I have on where to find the engine block number stamp and head stamps, but I didn't. Good or bad though, the engine still has all the cooling baffle steel surrounding the cylinders and heads, making it hard to see any stampings. This might be good though as I think this would have protected the block and heads from the elements. I did manage to take a picture of the casting number on the transmission bell housing, maybe I can obtain something about the year from that.
We didn't discuss price because he agreed that not knowing the year prevents me from making an offer. He did agree to let me come back again with some tools, remove a minimum number of shrouds I need to to get at the casting numbers before making a decision. Maybe I'll take a chance and offer him $50 dollars and see if he'll let me take it off his hands as it sits. At minimum, if it isn't the engine suitable for conversion, I can salvage parts and sell them, or maybe sell it for scrap.
Let's go to Google and see if I can find anything from the casting numbers.
For my mission, I'll be looking at engines in the 90 to 110 horsepower range. That gives me enough horsepower to carry two people and eventually be on floats. This will be one of the biggest and arguably important pieces of the build.
In realm of suitable aircraft engines, the choices are many. My main focus will be on cost, reliability, ease/costs of repair and overhaul.
Although Rotax makes excellent motors that have powered countless aircraft over many decades, I'm concerned about the short time between overhauls, having to run an oil mix fuel (in the case of 2 stroke engines). The Rotax 912 series is four stroke but even a decent second hand 80HP model is worth more than my airplane will be complete. Seems a bit steep for my plans. And overhauls and parts are either very expensive or in the case of 503 to 582 models more and more difficult to obtain.
Another thing I am looking for is an engine that is air cooled. I live in northern Ontario and I've known guys who have had countless issues with their liquid cooled engines freezing up solid or springing leaks. I want something simple and the addition of a liquid cooling system adds a level of complexity that I'm not comfortable with. I'd rather be flying than worrying about springing a leak in the air that could lead to engine failure. I'd also rather be flying than fussing around trying to make a liquid cooled engine installation work.
Certified engines (Continental and Lycoming) are good, robust and aircooled with decades powering small airplanes. However, even when out of certification and being used by homebuilders, they are hard to get parts for, those parts are expensive, made in China and extremely hard to work on (specialized tools).
For many years, groups of builders have been trying to adapt automotive engines to airplanes, with varying levels of success. The thought of a modern car engine with all the advantages of fuel injection, variable valve timing and easy to obtain parts is appealing. Unfortunately those ones that have been "successful" in the market have now placed themselves out of the reach of my project. Most are overly complicated, liquid cooled and weigh a lot (my goal is to remain as light as possible).
Another disadvantage typical automotive conversions have is the same as the Rotax series. These motors develop their best torque (a measure of force around a point, in this case a propeller creating thrust) at high RPMs (as they were designed for cars). This high RPM is not acceptable for driving a propeller, so these installations require a reduction drive which adds further weight, complexity and maintenance.
So where does that leave us?
For a couple of years now, I've been following the automotive conversions being completed by builders using Chevrolet Corvair engines.
But wait a minute, didn't I just say that automotive conversions were heavy, complicated and very high RPMs?
I did. But what makes Corvair engines unique is that:
As one of the guiding principals of this project is to learn new skills, rebuilding a Corvair would be very interesting without blowing my entire build budget.
So a Corvair fits nicely in my plan. Next step, start looking for one.
In order for this project to come together, I'm planning on building in sections in order to keep things economical. Overall I'll be spending a fair amount of money, but by doing things in stages, it will keep me from being overloaded by debt.
I figure if I'm going to build and learn as I go, might as well spread the dollars over time as well.
To that end, I've broken the project into several "sections" and within those there will inevitably be sub-sections.
I've decided on the type of airframe I want (high wing, side by side). It will most likely be buying something that is a complete fuselage, tail section and wings. Whether that will be fabric or metal or fiberglass or a combination of 2 or 3 is yet to be determined. Tail dragger (conventional) or tricycle gear is also a consideration.
This will be largely dependent on the airframe, however the key here will be lightweight materials with a eye towards function and comfort.
The key here will be simplicity. For the type of flying I plan on doing, I really don't need much more than what is required for basic visual flight rules.
Now, I'm the first to admit that I am a gadget geek, easily distracted by the latest and greatest electronic systems and gizmos. Unfortunately, there is a big correlation between fancy and expensive. Surely some electronics add to simplicity and by combining several items into one do-all display there might be some money savings, but I'm not sure putting all my money into a single system makes sense. If that single system fails, it will be costly to repair or replace, where an individual component is easier to diagnose and replace where necessary without upsetting the entire apple cart. Perhaps once I'm up flying I can take a look at upgrades, but for now I'll stick with tried and true simple analogue stuff. (Unless I get a deal I can't refuse!)
In my next post, I'll talk about engines, a really big topic.
As I mention in my previous post, I had firm plans to visit a guy who was selling a project ultralight today. I had a great discussion about my plans with him and he seemed keen on seeing the project go to someone like me looking to get flying and share that with others, especially youth.
Several times I told him that I was interested but wouldn't be able to get down until this weekend. He led me to believe this wouldn't be a problem and to call him later in the week. I thought we had an agreement pending a visit.
I should have realized things weren't going in my favour when he was refusing to return phone calls and e-mails about a meet time once we got to southern Ontario. I never did hear from him even by text message. I did call another number (I assume a home number) that I had for him and was told by a female that he was out of town. When I asked her about coming to see the plane, I was told that the plane was already sold.
Now before anyone says anything, I own some of the responsibility for not placing a deposit or arranging some sort of "hold", but I guess I also made the mistake of taking his word for it.
Several more calls and e-mails have gone unanswered as of this writing. Knowing my interest I would have thought it reasonable to contact me and let me offer a competing bid, or at very least tell me it had been sold so I didn't waste my time coming down to see it.
On the way back north, I stopped to look at another airplane for sale. It is similar to the one I had wanted, and is according to the owner very close to being airworthy.
Accordingly, he has priced it fairly high. Just a cursory look at the airplane (the seller wasn't there) tells me a story of someone who just keeps throwing good money after bad. This leads me to believe that it's overpriced as it sits, and I think he knows it. I'm going to do some research on this particular model and see if I can get it for a much better price.
In the meantime, I'll be over here licking my wounds from the first one - while I continue to look online for something else.
As I stated in a previous post, I've spent many hours surfing the internet for something to acquire. Lately my focus has been sharpened a bit, and I've been narrowing down to something that gets me started in this game of learning AND doesn't put us in the poorhouse.
I've got solid lead on an ultralight project for sale a few hours south of me that I plan on seeing in person tomorrow. I spoke to the current owner who is changing directions and getting into aerobatics so his plans to continue the rebuild of his ultralight have changed to funding his new airplane. This sounds like a good deal and I've seen a couple of pictures, but I'm not committing anything until I see it in person.
In today's world of recreational flying there are almost too many choices available to the new airplane owner.
You can pretty much buy or build anything you want, from powered parachutes (insane by my standards) to gliders, to personal helicopters to 4 seat speed machines to flying boats, even personal jets (yes, people have built their own jets, from scratch, it has been done) and everything in between. I saw evidence of this at Oshkosh.
Capabilities such as different ranges, speed, load carrying capacity and materials used all mix together to offer anything an owner could want or need.
Layer on top of this endless paint and colour schemes, avionics and powerplant choices.
The sky is the limit if you can excuse the horrible pun. I'm not interested in just buying my way back into the air. I want to create something and be the master of my aircraft.
Everything one decides they want in an aircraft is a compromise of choices. The goal is to get the best balance of options which gets you closest to the mission your aircraft is designed for.
So what is the mission? That's is what needs to be defined within the scope of what one wishes to invest (and let's be honest it most times comes down to $$$).
The best thing is to make a list of priorities of what I want the aircraft to do, use those priorities to guide the choices that get me there. It's a lot to think about and anyone has to be realistic in expectations.
For my example, I'm going to work this logic somewhat backwards and talk about my "mission" first, then try to mesh priorities and choices together.
As you can see from my previous posts, my overriding mission is to get flying again. It's where my heart is.
Okay so I need a licence (check, already got that) and an airplane. Next in my definition of the mission: What do I plan on doing with an airplane?
The airplane will be for recreational use with the possibility of eventually instructing in it. So it logically follows it must have 2 or more seats.
I hate government red tape. I need to find a way that has the least government involvement as possible.
I want the ability to take someone with me - I get great joy sharing flight with anyone.
I don't need to go fast or do a thousand mile leg all at once, but I would like something with decent speed and range for those occasional longer trips.
Eventually I'd like to put it on floats. I don't need to haul 500 pounds of gear, but it sure would be nice to pack an overnight bag or fishing gear or both.
I have a night rating, would sure be nice to use it.
I need this to be economical. Nobody can expect any hobby to cost nothing, but I don't have access to an endless pool of cash either. Fixing mechanical issues myself (within the scope of my abilities) is appealing for this reason. So is being able to use normal automotive fuel vs 100LL aviation fuel. The price spread between the two is worth investigating. Government red tape usually is a big drain on economics as well.
So my mission is fairly well defined. Now to prioritize, in order of importance. Here is where compromise is considered:
Fortunately, my priorities fall reasonably well into what the average person would call a standard light airplane. Still the options are many, but there are a number of ultralights available in today's marketplace that meet at the intersection of personal priorities and mission.
Now to stop window shopping and start looking for just that match.
This is a continuation of part 3 (below)
I'll never forget getting the phone call I did on the morning of Sept 3rd, 2015.
My Dad called with the sad news that my mentor Capt. Barry Morris had passed away.
(click here to read the memorial page)
I was dumbstruck and left feeling completely empty. I had just seen him the same weekend of UPAC at his new home with his wife Linda. He looked great and we talked for close to 45 minutes about aviation, his retirement plans to finally write his memoirs. We talked about my plans to get airborne soon (although honestly, this was something I talked about all the time with him and yet never did get flying).
But Barry's passing did do something infinitely positive for me too.
It solidified that I've been wasting precious time. Time that I'll never get back.
There is an experimental engine builder in Florida by the name William Wynne. He specializes in Corvair automobile engine conversions for experimental and ultralight aircraft.
I was reading his blog on flycorvair.net as part of my research towards a build plan (his conversion plans are an amazing read). Ironically enough, one of his blog posts from November 2014 came across my screen that very same evening I found out about Barry. It talks about Time being the enemy. It really struck home with me. Give it a read here.
From this point onward, I refuse to be just a spectator in the arena of aviation. I paid dearly for my licence both financially and otherwise. I can get back in the air - I have the knowledge and the desire to learn skills I don't have yet.
This blog will be my journal. I hope to capture my process, successes and failures (that's how we all learn)..... an adventure in learning - long overdue.
This is a continuation of part 2 (below)
While at the UPAC fly-in, we checked out several other aircraft.
Some were very expensive, some were not unreasonable. We checked out a real nice Kitfox IV. High wing, great visibility and comfort. Could be put on floats easily. Cost might be an issue.
Some of them were obvious non-starters for what I want.
I flew Piper Cherokees while I worked on my night rating and learned to appreciate the view from high wing Cessnas even more. Low wings have their place, but are rarely put on floats (one of my future goals).
I had sat in a Challenger II at Oshkosh and was disappointed on the level of comfort for two reasons. I don't like the ergonomics - you sit with your legs fairly straight in front of you, which I imagine would get uncomfortable over a long flight. As I mentioned earlier, I want an airplane where passengers sit side by side. In a Challenger, the rear passenger sits with their legs beside the pilot in the front seat. I want to see the joy on my daughters' faces when I take them flying.
I have no interest in owning a gyrocopter or powered parachute. Don't get me wrong, their owners get lots of respect from me for what they do, but it isn't for me.
Long story short (right......) we both came away from the UPAC weekend with lots of good information and a better feel for what is available.
A few weeks went by and I continued to bounce ideas off Brenda of what might be a good way to get back into flying.
I've pondered for some time whether I want to spend a bunch of money on a complete airframe and just get flying. Unfortunately, I'm not a rich man and the thought of taking out a huge loan to pay for an airplane won't allow me to sleep at night.
I have come to the conclusion that the easiest and most economical route to get back in the air is ultralights, and that maybe the best path is to purchase a used aircraft that needs work and re-build it. I don't have a bunch of experience doing this type of work, but I feel these are skills that can be learned as I go (Google and YouTube are your friend, young Jedi). Even better, if this gets me moving in the right direction (towards flying) it provides the incentive and allows me the luxury of budgeting sections over time. This solves or at least takes some of the financial pain out of the equation. An added bonus? I can make the airplane into what I want, not just be satisfied with someone else's discarded dream....
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Husband, father and 911 dispatcher. Long time pilot with a licence that burns a hole in my pocket where my student loan money used to be. First time aircraft builder. Looking to fly my own airplane.