Sun 'N Fun 2011
My 23rd Consecutive Year
In The Company Of
Builders and Friends
Above, Roy Szarafinski behind the 3 liter (3,000cc/ 184cid) Corvair that we assembled and test ran the weekend before Sun ’N Fun, March
29 to April 3 in Lakeland, Fla. This engine
features a Roy 5th bearing, Falcon heads with Inconel valves, and all of our Gold System Parts.
The engine is a very potent power
plant, equally comfortable running on 100 LL or auto fuel. We built the engine as a joint project to display all week at Sun ’N Fun.
It is now for sale, ready for immediate shipment or pick up at Roy’s Garage in Michigan. For more information,
e-mail me at WilliamTCA@aol.com or call the shop
line at (904) 529-0006.
As I drove to Sun 'N Fun 2011 last week, I commented to Roy that this was going to be my 23rd consecutive year there, and they tended
to all blend together in my memory to form one pleasant thought. On the drive home I thought about what a standout year this will
be for a lot of reasons. People who did not make it to the show all got to watch the effects of the tornado that touched down in the
middle of the day Thursday. As devastating as it was, the show was back up and running for the last three days, the weather was great,
and a lot of people came out. Those that had been there all week pulled themselves together on Friday morning and made the best of it.
Our damage was limited to our three-day-old tent getting destroyed and Roy’s laptop going for a swim, and a lot of printed material
getting dispersed in central Florida, not much under the circumstances. News reports varied, but I saw more than 40 planes that were
destroyed or heavily damaged. By Friday afternoon, almost all of the damaged things had been removed. Many people who came the last two
days had no idea how extensive the destruction had been. The cleanup effort made the rest of the show possible, but it did make you
stop and think about the people who had lost planes. On Saturday, the management had understandably tried to make everything look
like business as usual. For the people who lost planes this must have seemed very odd to have the place go back to the way it looked
on Wednesday, everything the same with the exception of their plane now being gone. No one I spoke with took a fellow aviator's loss
lightly, as they all realized it could just as well have been them. This said, the mood the last few days was decidedly upbeat,
especially when it was confirmed that only one person had had serious injuries and no one was killed.
Mark, Roy and I set up our brand new tent in the rain on Monday night. To me, this was very cold, being soaked to the bone in
60 degree weather. To Mr. Wisconsin (Mark) and Mr. Michigan (Roy), this was pleasant weather, and each of them commented that any
precipitation that you couldn't shovel doesn't make real men cold.
It rained on and off the first two days, but this proved to be fortunate, as we had a lot of stuff safely in the trailer behind
the tent, and we had very strong waterproof bags at the ready for the display engine and the bottom end on a stand.
The day before the storm, the management had sent out a number of dire warnings that did not turn into anything. In retrospect,
they really needed a 1MC "Now Hear This!" type of loud speaker system. The messages were sent out the previous day by people driving
around in golf carts handing out printed info. The time interval between the sky looking very bad and our tent breaking up was about
120-180 seconds. There were tens of thousands of people who know something about weather at the show, almost all with smart phones,
and it still caught most people without warring .Roy and I had just enough time to drop our big banner sign while Mark bagged the
engines. As the first blast hit, a guy actually walked past our booth, head down, staring at his iPhone, tapping a text message,
a modern icon of situational awareness.
It took 60 seconds to drop our tent at the FlyCorvair.com Booth. There was a very large commercial tent housing the Aero Graphics people next to us. It was a
full on commercial tent with 3-foot steel anchors. It was torn loose and flipped over on ours, crushing everything inside our tent
to the table top level. Although we were thrown to the ground, fortunately none of us were clobbered by a pole. Under the wreckage
it was pitch black with two tents on top of us. The rain and wind were so loud you had to yell in the ear of the man next to you.
The water got to be 6 inches deep in a minute or two,
and crawling under the tables gave the feeling of being in the belly of a sinking ship. We found a way out the back and emerged by
the side door of the trailer. We weathered the next 10 minutes in comparative security. The wind and rain let up and we came out
and were stunned at the carnage. None of the pictures online really give the full impression of the level of damage. A cup of
coffee I had before the storm was still sitting upright on a table; the booth next
to us literally had every single thing in it broken.
People reacted very differently. An embroidered polo shirt guy selling folding chairs and sunglasses behind us had no damage
except for a 2-inch scratch in his van, caused by a tent pole. He wanted to know who was going to pay for it. On the other side,
the Aero Graphics guy who visually is a tee shirt clad good old boy from Ocala, Florida, had his entire livelihood destroyed. After
making sure everyone was OK in our area, he found a cold beer in a buried cooler and sipped it slowly while he walked around and
looked at the damage.
When you saw it in person, it is very hard to believe no one was killed.
Above, two of the most technical writers in aviation journalism. In the white hat, Tim Kern, the black hat, Pat Panzera.
Since the first of the year, articles that both of these men have written have highlighted our work and brought many new builders
to the Corvair movement. Most aviation writers are good people, and many of them know flying fairly well. However, far fewer of
them understand the nuts and bolts of how aircraft and engines really work. These two both know engines and systems very well.
This fact, combined with their consistent attendance at air shows coast-to-coast for decades, made their articles on the Corvair
movement real standouts.
Frank Metcalfe is one of the big Piet builders from Carrollton, Georgia. I took this photo on one of the first days of the show.
This plane and her sister ships exhibit extraordinarily high craftsmanship. As many fans know, this aircraft was extensively
damaged by the tornado on Thursday. While national news outlets and YouTube have photos and film of the aftermath, I decline to
look at it. Instead I much prefer to spend a few minutes studying Frank's craftsmanship in its pristine condition. Although the
plane needs most of its components rebuilt, I have very high hopes of seeing it flying again.
Bruce Laird is also one of the big Piet builders from Carrollton. If you look closely you can see Frank's airplane in the
background. Like Frank's, Bruce's aircraft was extensively damaged. If they were factory built aircraft, they would be considered
totaled. But these aircraft are different. They represent years of handwork and care. They will not be written off as the majority
of damaged aircraft at Lakeland will be. The same hands that created these aircraft will go back to work, and make them right again.
Most people with general aviation aircraft spoke of whether or not their insurance would buy them a similar aircraft. The fate of a
damaged homebuilt does not lie with an insurance adjuster. It belongs to the hands of the person who created it, the person who
possesses the capability of re-creating it personally.
Above is Gardiner Mason’s Pietenpol. The last time I’d seen this aircraft prior to Sun ’N Fun was at
Corvair College #19 in
Barnwell, S.C. After the tornado, the three Pietenpols ended up in a pile with Gardiner's aircraft on the bottom. While there was
initially some hope that it would be repairable, it is very likely a complete loss. Gardiner had worked very hard to get the
aircraft up and running well. Debugging his aircraft was the subject of an 18 page set of notes on cooling systems that we wrote
last year. After working with us, the plane flew beautifully. When it arrived at Sun ’N Fun it had about 70 hours on it.
I spent some time with Gardiner at the show, and he was stoic about it. Everyone wanted to say they were sorry when they
spoke with him and buy him a beer. It made me think about A.E.Houseman saying, "Ale does more that Milton can to justify
God's ways with man."
Gardiner is a Marine aviator, an AD-1 attack pilot, a Delta Airlines guy, a GA pilot, and a homebuilder. He has done a lot in
50 years of flying. I am certain that he would not want anyone to feel sorry for him, and I am pretty sure that he would tell you
that the only people we need to be sorry for are the ones who don't go out and write their own story in building and flying.
Above is what our tent looked like 10 minutes after the tornado passed. This is actually our neighbor’s tent turned upside down
on top of ours. Mark is checking the waterproof bag that was over Scott Blankenship’s 3 liter case assembly we had on display. This
is going to be installed in Scott’s completed Just Highlander. Although it was dry, Roy carefully disassembled it, re-cleaned it,
and reassembled it at our hangar after the show. Many people would have left it alone, and brushed it off while saying “It will be
alright.” This attitude has no place in aviation, and is completely unacceptable when working on things that will fly in other
people’s planes. We are in the business of teaching people about Corvair engines, but our work goes far beyond this, to effectively
demonstrating that no professional ever assumes anything to be OK; he checks it, even if it requires a number of hours in the shop
to do so. Mark and Roy dropped the case off on their ride home. Look for this engine to be completed and run at Corvair College #20.
Things were much sunnier on Friday at Sun ’N Fun. This gentleman is well known on the Zenith discussion groups. He is
Vice Admiral Chumphol Sirinavin from Thailand. It was a personal pleasure to meet him, as I had a very happy childhood
growing up in Thailand. He is an experienced builder and pilot and impressively fluent in English even on the most technical
subjects, and the finest details. Thailand is widely known throughout Asia as the home of extremely friendly and relaxed people.
It stands in complete contrast to the ritualized formality of northern Asian cultures like China, Korea and Japan.
Corvair/601 builder and pilot Zersis Mehta and family stop by our booth, above. We have known Zersis and his lovely wife for
the past few years. We met them as boyfriend and girlfriend in the Zenith booth at Sun ’N Fun 2007. On that day I had about 20
cups of coffee and really put the pressure on Zersis to make his move in aviation, order a kit and get started. The final part
of my argument was that women are attracted to decisive men. Although Sebastien Heintz laughed and thought this was all over the
top, time has vindicated me. Zersis has since completed his aircraft, built his Corvair, gotten engaged, flown the plane, gotten
married, done the wing upgrade, and become a father. Either I'm the world's greatest motivational speaker, or more likely I picked
the right guy to give the speech to.
Keep in mind that Zersis had never built a plane before and has a full-time engineering career. Occasionally a guy will pop
up on the Internet and try to explain his slow progress on his project by making a claim that building a plane is an impossibly
large set of tasks. Often these people spend countless hours on the Net. Meanwhile, we have an armada of quiet builders like
Zersis, who in spite of full lives, still keep a slow and steady pace to the finish line. For a look at a previous Mehta family
photo and story, click on this link to Sun 'N Fun 2010 and scroll down.
On the grounds of Sun ’N Fun, the State of Florida has built a first class aviation high school. This is a very impressive
three-story facility that looks more like a university than a public school. This was my 16th year of giving forums on the Corvair
at Sun ’N Fun. The building was filled with other forum presenters on every subject in aviation. We had previously given these
forums in tents outside, where the climate or noise was a continuous interruption. That is all a distant memory now. From left to
right, Spencer Gould, Embry Riddle graduate, former Hangar Gang member, currently employed by Pratt Whitney. He did the CAD
drawing work on many of our Gold Parts and my Fifth Bearing design. Next is Corvair/KR builder Gary Coppen, myself, and one of
the many builders who attended my forums. This photo was taken in the hallway of the new building.
Roy and I continued to meet Corvair engine builders on Friday and Saturday. We did this without the benefit of the tent. It
was very sunny and frying hot. In spite of the storm damage, and difficulty finding parking, a lot of people showed up for
these two days. We covered a lot of technical ground with builders and spoke continuously. It was only at the end of the day
we noticed how sunburned we got without the tent. In the above photo we are speaking to a builder from the Miami area. The man
had extensive background in serious road racing. I always take it as a compliment when a person with serious mechanical
credentials picks out the Corvair as their aircraft engine of choice. These people are never swayed by marketing nor
testimonials, or even a positive word from a friend who already knows us. They make their choice based on our ability
to provide them with solid data on every question that they ask. Most of the imported engines at airshows are marketed by
people who are hardly qualified to change the sparkplugs in their product. This should come as little surprise; the last
person you bought a car from probably couldn't tune one up to save his life. But the Corvair All Stars are different: Here we
are glad to teach you anything you need or want to know about the engine. If you got into experimental aircraft because you
wanted to learn things and be the master of your aircraft and not just its owner, then you're a good candidate to be a Corvair builder.
The Blue Angels performed three days of the show. In this photo the two F-18s look like they're touching, but it's an optical
illusion. They're actually about 2 feet apart. The first time I saw them perform I was about 8 years old and they were flying
F-4 Phantoms. It still sticks in my mind. Everything else that I thought was fascinating at the time has now become a part of
daily life that we all take for granted. But the Blue Angels remain constant: They still have the same power to captivate your
eye. (Photo by Corvair/Buttercup builder Dan Kelley.)
Above, an F-22 performs at the Sun ’N Fun 2011 air show. The tattered ends of the flag were caused by the storm on Thursday.
Twice during the air show this plane performed a very slow and controlled flat spin. It’s a maneuver I have never seen performed
in a fighter. (Photo by Corvair/Buttercup builder Dan Kelley.)
We saw this aircraft fly overhead on arrival, but no one could identify it in the air. Very sharp eyes will notice that it is
a highly modified T-6 Texan. The original 600 horse radial appears to have been replaced with a complete engine and nacelle from
a DC-4. It is not often you see a custom aircraft built in this weight category.
Corvair/601 builder and Corvair College #14 veteran Louis Leung, on the left, hangs out with two members of Mike Mould’s
crew from England at the second annual “Impromptu Corvair Barbecue” Friday, April 1st, at Sun ’N Fun. Roy put the whole event together by picking a
time and place, telling people to show up, and then handling everything else himself. He likes to run it fast and loose: No rules,
no format, no problem. The event drew about 30 people, most of whom had never met each other before. It was a really diverse mix
of people that sparked a lot of different conversations which lasted late into the night. (Photo by Corvair/Buttercup builder Dan Kelley.)
Another photo from the Corvair barbecue, in which Brother Roy breaks out a guitar and teams up with North Florida aviation
guru Wayne White on banjo. Having lived in the south the past 25 years, the banjo is a familiar sound in an outdoor setting.
At a gathering that drew people from far away, I pondered for a moment what connotations the sounds evoke from distant travelers.
Perhaps this is the same thought that Wayne had when he broke into a spirited version of “Dueling Banjos,” the soundtrack song
to the 1970s film Deliverance.
Last week was a lot of work, but Sun ’N Fun 2011 is history now. Our update is posted, and everyone can get a glimpse of
what happened there. But no one can go be there again. The future, and everything we will or won’t do with it, all lie in front
of us. I treasure memories and good times, but I am always much more focused on what is coming next, the story that is yet to be
written or lived. Sun ’N Fun starts the year in experimental aviation. If you missed it, there is still much to do this year.
College #20 is the next main event, and I highly encourage everyone to show up for it.
Sun 'N Fun 2012 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2010 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2009 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2008 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2007 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2006 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2005 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2004 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2003 With FlyCorvair.com
Sun 'N Fun 2002 With FlyCorvair.com