Corvair Crew Action Update April 30, 2006
Report From The First International Corvair College
We were invited by Can-Zac, Zenith Aircraft's Canadian distributor, to speak to Canadian homebuilders
on the subject of Corvair engines. We readily accepted since we've always had a strong business from
Canadian homebuilders. Behind the scenes were two other purposes to the trip: We had two complete engines
to deliver in the Detroit area, and since the Can-Zac guys had chosen to build a Corvair engine for their own
demonstrator aircraft still under construction, an in person visit would give me a chance to jumpstart
their engine project.
The 12 days after Sun 'N Fun were extremely busy for us. We had numerous visitors to the shop, we built
and shipped a lot of parts, we prepped Phil Maxson's 601 for its delivery flight to New Jersey, and
finished the two engines for the trip north. We were due in Canada April 24th, a Monday night. We worked a
long day, caught a few hours sleep, and left for Canada 6 a.m. Sunday.
Thirteen hundred miles later, we saw the sign above. As most Corvair engine builders know, all the engines
were built in Tonawanda, N.Y., a town between Niagara Falls and Buffalo. The GM factory produced an average
of 1,200 Corvair engines every day in 1964. The same factory still operates today and was clearly visible
from the highway.
Above, Grace and I having fun on the American side of the Falls. We'd never been there, and found it
truly something to behold. We had a good time viewing them for about an hour, then got in the car to
cross the border and drive the last 120 miles to our evening Canadian College. Below is a broader view of
the Falls. In the foreground is the U.S. and the Canadian side is in the background. The Maid of the Mist
is motoring where the Falls drop about 200 feet below.
Trouble At The Border
When Grace and I tried to cross the border at Niagara Falls, we received the usual questions from Canadian
security. When they asked us where we were going, we honestly replied "To an aviation meeting at Waterloo." Following this, the guard asked me why an American would feel
welcome at this event. When I told him we were personally invited to speak there, we were flagged to the side
and our vehicle stopped at a special inspection point. We were taken inside, and interviewed by both Immigration
and Customs. After showing our Passports and I.D., we were cleared by Immigration without too much delay.
However, Customs was a different story. They failed to believe that I was not being paid as a speaker. After a
wait, we were told that all businessmen were required to enter Canada through the commercial entry point.
In our case, the nearest was Lewiston, about 20 miles away. I
had told them honestly we had the two engines with us, but that they belonged to U.S. owners and we had
paperwork with us to prove this. They still refused to allow us to enter the country.
We called Mark Townsend from Can-Zac, but the border delays had made it impossible for us to get there even empty
handed. Our last step was to attempt to rent a car and bring nothing but ourselves over the border. However,
at 5:10 p.m. Enterprise Rental Car had nothing ready. Officials on the U.S. side of the border forewarned
us that being refused twice in one day and then showing up in a rental car wouldn't assure us getting in either.
Mark spoke to us on the phone about flying down to pick us up, but the weather was terrrible and we decided
to reschedule the event. Mark had the undesirable task of telling 100+ people that we were not allowed to
enter the country. Some of these people had come from Ohio, Pennsylvania and as far away as Chicago, in addition
to the Canadians who'd traveled long distances to be there.
As word got out, we received a number of calls on our cell phone. Most people wanted to offer some consolation
for the frustration we were experiencing. Grace and I both told everyone who called the same thing: We respect
Canadian sovereignty, and it is their choice to deny entry to any guest for any reason. Nobody was more
disappointed that we were denied entry than we were. We felt bad for all the people who'd traveled to get there,
but we had traveled a long way ourselves. In the past 10 years, if you count all the Colleges, forums, EAA
Chapter meetings, air shows and Night Schools, I've spoken on Corvair engines more than 400 times and this was
the very first time I didn't show up when I said I would. No one was more disappointed than Grace. As some
of you know, she spent much of her happiest childhood summers in Canada and is named after a native Canadian
woman who was very close to her family, Grandma Grace. Although we were turned away for policy reasons, it
still stung Grace to be excluded from a place of so many happy memories and thusly to let so many people down. With
all our other options expended, we began the long drive all the way around the bottom of Lake Erie to Pontiac,
Mich., where we delivered the two engines.
Above is Dr. Gary Ray and his 601. He's just moved this aircraft into one of the brand new hangars at Pontiac
Airport. The airplane is a sight to behold and may very well be the nicest 601 I've ever seen. It is truly
very close to flying. Every bit of the interior, wiring, engine subassemblies and detail work is done. The
aircraft has a sophisticated panel based on a Dynon D-10 installation. The workmanship is excellent and
technically savvy. Gus flew an hour last summer with Dr. Ray in our
plane, and said Dr. Ray's considerable previous experience with Grumman aircraft made him an outstanding
pilot in the 601. Dr. Ray cited the flight as the impetus giving him the momentum to see the project all the
We had Dr. Ray's engine in our shop to exchange the crank for a nitrided one. Dr. Ray also opted
for a set of Falcon cylinder heads while we had the engine torn down. There's about 90 days to Oshkosh, and
Grace and I wanted to get the engine back to Dr. Ray ASAP. Look for his airplane on display at AirVenture
2006. The other engine we brought with us belongs to Robert Schaum, also of the Detroit area. Robert's
engine was assembled in our shop with a nitrided crank and a set of modified stock cylinder heads.
After dropping off the engines and the passage of the scheduled event in Canada, we were free to enter the
country as regular guests. We drove across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Windsor, and spent the
night in Leamington. The next morning, Grace took my photo in front of the taxi above. As evidence that we
weren't in the U.S. anymore, the driver had no idea who Ralph Nader is. Oh, to live in a place where they've
never heard of the man who perfected the art of the product liability lawsuit.
A day later, we arrived at the Waterloo Wellington Airport for the rescheduled Canadian College. Among the
first guests to arrive was Clare Snyder. Clare is an extremely skilled automotive mechanic and something of
a fixture on Internet discussion groups involving aircraft engines. We'd last seen him at
Sun 'N Fun 2004. To Canadian Corvair College he brought his running engine on his display stand. The
engine was impressively smooth and very quiet. Clare's stand is also rigged as a torque sensitive dynomometer.
He reports his engine generates a solid 90hp at 3,000 rpm. It sported a very impressive set of stainless
180 degree headers.
Although the returning crowd was about half at 40 people, they were a very attentive audience and asked a
lot of questions. On the table behind me are all the parts going into the Can-Zac engine. Having every piece
of an engine there provided us great visual aids to discuss all the details of all the parts with every question.
The discussion went on for several hours. Afterward, builders got the chance to look at the parts up close,
ask more detailed questions, and socialize. During this time, we got to spend some time with oil analysis
expert Wayne Burtney. Although we'd had many e-mail and phone conversations over the years, we'd never actually
met in person. Among Corvair engine builders, Wayne has always impressed me with his ability to have a sharp,
fresh, analytical look at installation issues. He has a completed engine and plans to install it on a
A special guest at the meeting was the president of the Canadian RAA, Gary Wolf. To put it in American terms,
he has the same job as EAA President Tom Poberezny. When he heard we were coming to Canada, he contacted us
by e-mail to extend his welcome. In light of our border difficulties, he felt it was very important for us
to accurately convey that there is a procedure by which American businessmen can bring commercial products
into Canada fairly easily. He said he's personally conducted trade shows on both sides of the border. Simple
paperwork, prior notification, and in some cases brokers, must be involved. He's very willing to help, and
did not want our experience to discourage other Americans from attending RAA events.
Several people told us that a guy had driven all the way from Chicago, 500 miles away, to attend the
first night, which we missed. In the intervening days, I thought to myself numerous times, "That guy from
Chicago's got to be mighty torqued." I was a little worried when somebody who was at both events told me
"The guy from Chicago's back." What I was not expecting was the incredibly friendly Mario Mendoza, above. His
two trips totaled more than 2,000 miles. He said that both trips were inspired by his excitement about
building a 601, and he really likes being part of the Corvair building community and the philosophy we bring
The meeting broke up late at night, and we drove half an hour north to Mark Townsend's little town of
Elma. We stayed the night, and in the morning Mark treated us to breakfast at the local Amish bakery/restaurant,
where Grace and I both ate things we'd never heard nor seen before. After breakfast, we went to work at Mark's
shop, which is attached to his house. Mark and I worked most of the afternoon assembling his shortblock with
all the visual aids from the presentation the night before. His engine has a crankshaft which he had nitrided
in Canada. Mark had his rods redone and cylinders bored locally. In spite of the fact that his components looked
like they were fairly well done, I always encourage people to go to our recommended suppliers for these items.
In the past year, we've seen an awful lot of unacceptable work done by local machine shops. Mark's cylinder
heads are from Falcon Automotive. They're an absolutely first class pair. All of the other engine installation
pieces, the Stainless Exhaust and Intake, Motor Mount, Nosebowl,
Baffling Kit, and Oil System, Mark has from us. His 601 project has been built
from plans. It looked like a fairly good job, nearing completion. With his engine mostly assembled, and all
the installation parts on hand, it won't be too long before this Canadian ZenVair gets airborne.
Later in the afternoon, Mark's partner David arrived. This gave us a chance to discuss the rest of the
engine installation on Mark's airframe. In the wake of the postponed event, these guy faced some unfair
criticism about hosting and the trouble we had at the border. They were just as surprised as we were that
special paperwork to enter Canada was necessary. Our surprise stems from the fact that numerous Canadian
businessmen show their quality products at every major American airshow. Mark and David formed Can-Zac only
in the past year, but represented their company in the Zenith booth at Oshkosh 2005 and Sun 'N Fun 2006.
Other than answering some questions for U.S. Customs, they had no difficulty entering the U.S. This led us
all to believe that there would be no difficulty in reverse. The initiative these guys showed in having the
event in the first place and doing the background work to support it is commendable. Everyone reading this
should understand that everyone in attendance felt the event was a success and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
The work session broke up at 8 p.m. when we completed the shortblock, above. Grace and I got in the car
for the long drive home. We stopped for dinner on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, which was beautifully
lit. We ate breakfast in Pittsburgh with friends at my childhood home, and drove straight through to dinner
at Asheville, N.C., where we spent the night. We drove home Sunday. Another 3,550 miles traveled in direct
support of the builders of Corvair powered aviation. Goodbye/Adieu Canada.
Corvair College #24
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Corvair College #14 Part 2
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Corvair College #9 Part V
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