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Corvair College #20

Ten years and still holding its own

By Anthony J. Liberatore, EAA 99484, for Experimenter
Photos by Reagan Liberatore

Corvair College

CorvairCollege is fast becoming a household term in the experimental aviation community. First reported in Experimenter in September 2010, two more have taken place since then, bringing the total up to 20 in 11 years. In this article, Anthony J. Liberatore reports on the ongoings at the most recent College that took place at Hillsdale Municipal Airport in Hillsdale, Michigan, on the weekend of June 3 to 5, 2011. He has written several articles that have appeared in multiple issues of EAA’s Experimenter.
 
Like many Experimenter subscribers, for years I’ve kept track of William Wynne and his Corvair engine conversion business on the Web. Over time, not only did I get the chance to meet William, his wife, Grace Ellen, and Roy Szarafinski of Roy’s Garage and Fabrication (and so many others in the Corvair movement), I also got the chance to spend some quality time with them. But as I hit the road that Saturday morning of Corvair College #20 (CC20), held at Hillsdale Municipal Airport in Hillsdale, Michigan, I couldn’t wait to get there, for as with many in attendance, this was my first College.

Being a Michigander, this particular College was a day trip – close to home, so a quick stop at the drive-through for a cup of joe and off I went. Upon arrival and walking toward the open hangar, something was very noticeable that signaled this was a special event: the din of human activity, the same beautiful sound you hear when you walk into a great restaurant that signals people are having a great time. I took a moment to say hello to William, Roy, Mark Langford, and a local EAA Chapter 113 friend in attendance, Mike Scovel.

Corvair College
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Corvair College
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Photo: Christopher Pryce
Corvair College
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Corvair College
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Corvair College
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Corvair College
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Tables

As I started to look around, it was a pretty amazing sight. Eight or more robust wooden work tables each had at least two engines in various stages of assembly. And this doesn’t include folks working on teardowns on the hangar floor and a group of gents lovingly assembling an engine, the crankshaft up, on a multi-axis engine stand off to the side.

Corvair College

Then something else soon caught my attention – the sound of an engine starting. This is the ultimate goal of many in attendance as they came from as far away as Florida, Georgia, and Canada. For months, and in many cases, years, many of the CorvAircrafters have been rebuilding the Corvair core engine and adding the conversion components to get them to run at a Corvair College. The Corvair Colleges give them the opportunity to do so with the support of the experts such as William, Roy, and Mark Petniunas (of Falcon Machine) as they take the time to check over the work that has been done (sometimes involving teardowns) while offering a proper environment for a first-time run, too. 

This environment not only includes access to the now famous engine test stand, but many hands to swap engines in and out of that stand. The test stand includes all the firewall-forward systems needed; i.e. fuel system (including intake manifold and carburetor), gauges, throttle, exhaust system, and prop are used universally and utilized for all engines that are ready to be tested. This reduces swap times as well as reduces the amount of systems a “crafter” would need to bring to the College. More importantly is the procedures learned at the College for that critical first start, preventing damage which could haunt the engine during its life cycle if not done properly.

The CorvAircrafters aren’t only taught to run a specific break in oil, but there’s a pre-oiling procedure that’s quite interesting to watch and hear, too. A Corvair distributor, sans the distributor gear, is fully inserted in its original location where by design it engages the oil pump, as it has done for years. But without this small gear to intermesh with the engine’s rotating assembly, the electric drill mounted on the points end of the assembly spins the oil pump without spinning the engine. This ensures pressurized lubrication to all internal bearing surfaces and the lifters. It is done for 10 minutes, and when you hear the drill spinning, you know an engine is close to testing.

Engine run Engine run
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Photos: Christopher Pryce

With the ultimate goal of getting to the test stand, many of the engines had been assembled with a host of William Wynne’s conversion parts, including his gold anodized oil filter housing. Almost all the engines at CC20 had a fifth bearing (see pages 12 to 24 of CONTACT! Magazine issue 95) with an almost equal number split between Roy’s and Dan Weseman’s designs. The level of detail and passion in the engine rebuilding process exhibited at CC20 was very evident. Case in point, one of the engine’s castings came out of their original molds with a great deal of excess flash at the cylinder heads. Corvair engine converter Pete Klapp removed the excess flash so that his fins are now smooth to the touch, with no chance of snagging the skin on your fingers.

Other personal tweaks included various modifications on the stock intake log for weight reduction and to facilitate intake manifold mounting. Almost all the engines were also adorned with two-tone paint schemes, polished aluminum or chrome accents, and ignition wires and oil lines aligned just right. The level of detail was such that with a different fuel and exhaust system these engines would have looked at home in the most detailed of street rods. In other words, they were pure Otto-cycle eye candy. Given the fact that so many of these engines were once perceived as out of favor, discarded, or came from garages and barns, their current state is a true metamorphosis. As CC20 participant Bob Dewenter noted, the CorvAircrafters’ pride in their mechanical work definitely showed.

Pride in workmanship wasn’t the only positive characteristic exhibited at CC20. Civil camaraderie was alive as well as the sharing of tools commonplace, but it didn’t stop there. Corvair engine builder (and Highlander aircraft builder) Dick Holtz came from Georgia with his core engine and started its disassembly, only to find out that his engine block was unusable. What then transpired was truly inspiring, as Dick noted, “One of the other guys, Steve Rook, said that he had an extra case, stating that he brought two so that he could be sure that he had a good one. He offered one to me and it turned out just fine. A pretty amazing spirit.”

Anthony J. Liberatore, Dick Holtz, and William Wynne
Left to right: Anthony J. Liberatore, Dick Holtz, and William Wynne

But the generosity didn’t end there. As Mike Scovel was in the process of pre-oiling his engine, his stock oil cooler let go. Dick Holtz paid it forward and gave Mike his oil cooler so that he could try to rap his engine up for a potential run. The goodwill continued, as when an engine would complete its initial run, a spontaneous round of applause would erupt from the crowd. In one case the tears flowed unabashedly; Dave Glassmeyer remembered his son who they had lost 6 years ago in a motorcycle accident. Dave noted his son would have loved to have seen this. As a father and son team, they had loved to tinker on a host of mechanical things.

It can’t go unmentioned that during the assembly and engine run in process, William, Mark Petniunas, and Roy were very busy giving advice on how to do something or performing actual hands-on services with the 'crafters. They found time for everyone including this author, who needed an opinion on the condition of a Corvair crank and engine block that he inherited. To watch them perform some very unique task in a short time frame – some with custom tools, jigs, and fixture – was an example to their dedication to the Corvair movement. Some of these fixtures are a blessing to the 'crafters, since some of the assembly procedures are somewhat specialized. For example, the assembling of the connecting rods to the piston and piston pins – to have all these fixtures in one location and the expertise to use them reduces the assembly time as well as potentially reducing assembly errors.

Working
Michigander Mich Scovel torquing his connecting rods at CC20
Working
Roy Szarafinski,(left),  lending a second set of eyes prior to Dave Glassmeyer engine test run.
Working
The Dean of the Corvair College's William Wynne takes a moment away from the various forms of tutelage that occurred at CC20  to hone a Corvair cylinder.
Working
Dave Glassmeyer finishing the process of connecting up his engine in the test stand.

While the aforementioned gents have contributed many technical advances to the Corvair conversion over the years, I got to see a new product that was rather small in size yet very clever. Roy showed me the latest development from his fertile mind, a little computer-numeric-controlled (CNC’d) oil filter block-off plate that has multiple purposes. This aluminum fixture is used to cover up the stock Corvair oil cooler mounting holes, but it also serves two other functions. One, it has a tapped port to install the oil line for oil supply to either Roy’s or Dan Weseman’s “fifth bearing” arrangement, and second, it has a tapped stand-off to support the stock Corvair cooling tin. Roy’s CNC’d plate is a sterling example of form following function and design integration. Very clever indeed.

Many aspects of the entire weekend were also clever. Not having to go off-site for the basics allowed the participants to get as much done as possible within the weekend time frame – a huge advantage. For example, many of the attendees camped on the grounds of Hillsdale Airport at CC20. Also, they didn't have to concern themselves with the logistics of getting a bite to eat since Roy took care of that with local caterers. There was always a cold drink or coffee available, and the Saturday night diner was quite the affair, with prime rib in the hangar. However, even the most dedicated needed a break on that Saturday afternoon, as the instantaneous onset of summer, via oppressive heat and humidity that came to Michigan after two rainy months, slowed folks down a bit. But it didn’t slow the 60 participants down that much, since 12 engines ran on the test stand that weekend.

If you think about that number occurring in two and a half days, that is impressive. As a first-time attendee, I too found the event impressive, well run, and an occasion that mirrors EAA’s “can-do” hands-on spirit, and one I’d like to attend again.

The Pilots

Pilots
Lynn Dingfelder, Corry, Pennsylvania, poses with his 2700cc Corvair powered Zenith, CH 601 XL.
Pilots
Mark Langford, Huntsville, Alabama, with his 3100cc Corvair powered KR-2S, taildragger.
Pilots
Gary Roy flew his polished Corvair powered Zenith CH 601 XL from Pontiac, Michigan.
Pilots
Another Corvair Powered KR-2S built by Joe Horton of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania.

The Concept of a Corvair College was originated by William Wynne as a way to spread the knowledge in a hands-on format as to 'how to do this" for those converting a Corvair engine for flight. Since inception the number of these events  has grown  now to 20. Each with it's own flavor and location but with a couple of common themes. First, they have been held throughout the United States and  second, in the case of CC20, often their is a local host of the event, such as  Roy Szarafinski. This hosting is a time and logistical blessing to William given the effort it takes to set up an event of this nature. Given the geographic diversity of the 'crafters, hosting it allows folks from all over the fruited plain to either have one in their area or close enough even for a long drive to still make the event worthwhile. If you know William he is not the kind of guy  to Copyright or Trademark the title or the concept of a "Corvair College" event, but conceptually it is his creation and in the eyes of many, he will always be the "Dean" of all things Corvair.

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