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EAA Experimenter

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Cheap Learning Is Just That: Cheap



By John Schmidt, EAA Lifetime 250021, for Experimenter

Low-effort learning
Zodiac builder Patrick Hoyt pauses to reflect on his work.

As a teacher, I see K-12 students (and adults) involved in various learning settings and processes such as school, tutoring, online courses, graduate school, community ed, etc. I've seen three-hour courses and workshops offered, along with the "compressed" version of the same class. They generally charge less for the shortened version of a given class.

It bothers me when I see people choosing a course, let's say, for a mandatory retraining or recertification, and immediately dive for the path of least resistance, the shortest way, just to get through it or get it over with. In our time-crazed, multitasking society, I'm amazed at how many folks will always go for the shorter version of the class, attempting to take the "quick way" to learning.

Cheap, low-effort learning is just that: cheap. It has no true value.

Physician, Heal Thyself
My friend, fellow EAA lifetime (373507) member Patrick Hoyt, Zenith 601 builder, constructed a nice-running, ready-for-flight Corvair engine conversion. He works in his two-car attached garage almost every night, listening to the radio with his dog underfoot, plugging away only a moment's walk from any household issue that may arise. He's built his engine in a manner that some might consider the hard way, bit by bit, following a manual, reading messages on type-specific Internet groups, applying each little thing that he's learned along the way. And now he stands back to behold his project, on the brink of flying, hopefully, this year.

Low-effort learning

He's done everything on the engine with his own two hands. He has test-run, and will fly it with confidence that comes from being intimately familiar with each and every part. Prior to this, he hadn't so much as rebuilt a lawnmower engine.

Low-effort learning   Low-effort learning
Corvair engine brought home. Patrick's wife, Mary, is thrilled she didn't get dirty in the process.   Patrick in the process of stripping the vintage core engine down to its bare crankshaft.
Low-effort learning   Low-effort learning
In the process of removing a bad head stud from a Corvair engine case.   The work nearing completion. A 2 a.m. epiphany required some follow-up.

Last year, Patrick's turbo blew on his diesel-powered Volkswagen car. He said that prior to the Corvair build, he wouldn't have attempted a fix. Instead, he would have had it towed to the dealer and paid the big bucks. But now, with the experience, knowledge, and confidence that he's gained from building his own aircraft engine, he tore into the car, put on a new turbo (larger, of course; we're talking about a pilot here!), and sure enough, it fires up and goes more zippy-scoot than before; he's now a happy driver grasping the steering wheel. A mechanical triumph of man and wrench.

I have my Wagabond project in my hangar, a 40-minute-drive away. Between myriad responsibilities and interests, I get to work on it maybe once every two weeks. I started on my Corvair engine, stripping it down to the bare crank and getting crankshaft and cylinders zero-timed. Then I ran across a completed Corvair engine of a fellow builder whose family circumstances necessitated a sale. It was built by a reputable builder in the homebuilt aircraft community, and the included paperwork shows the trail of the right machine shops and processes. So I feel that it's legitimate enough to trust, although I still have to do some work on it. I bought it, but the engine sits in my heated basement, a monument to the folly of the shortcut; I didn't install the piston rings, I didn't torque bolts on the case halves, I didn't adjust the lifters, and I didn't roll the pushrods on a sheet of glass to verify straightness. When I wrote that check, I didn't get the rich, learning experience and the satisfaction that comes from having built something with my own two hands. Thus I am not as mechanically educated as my friend Patrick. He did the work. He put in the time. He's in the arena, not on the sidelines as I am.

Low-effort learning   Low-effort learning
Mary and Patrick Hoyt having fun at the Zenith Rudder Workshop.   Starting on the tail section.
Low-effort learning   Low-effort learning
Patrick "just having fun." It gets cold in his Minnesota workshop.   Ground testing during a clear Minnesota winter morning.

Video of Engine Test. In this video, Patrick's wife (acting as the safety officer) is visible walking on the street with a handheld radio. Safety precautions are taken during the ground tests, some of which were not in view of the camera (like blocking the driveway with cars and having three other people on hand and assisting as needed).

Buying means one does not learn as richly as my harder-working compatriot Pat. I might have an engine, but there is no shortcut to quality or the experience of educating oneself, be it the visible quality of aircraft building or invisible quality of learning.

Low-effort learning

John Schmidt, St. Paul, Minnesota, still working on Wagabond/Corvair N4622T.


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