The List

Near as I can figure, N95BJ flew about 8 years early.
With the help of a brutal list.

If the schedule had stayed as I first expected, I would be flying the VariEze for the first time right about now. Instead, that simple piece of paper helped get the plane in the air much sooner.

Turning 40 was a wakeup!
On that birthday I realized that “I was 20 yesterday, hit 40 today and will be 60 tomorrow”. Time was flying and I wasn’t. So I got busy looking at projects and options in places like St Louis and such and got the airplane stuff piled in the garage, and dusted off the fifteen year old plans.

At that time, the best I could hope for was to get the airframe as complete as possible while getting the four kids into and out of college. Then maybe a couple of years after that, I would have saved up enough to get an engine.

That would be right about now. So I’m joyfully almost 800 hours ahead. Unusual for me to be ahead on anything.

The VariEze flew early and often because it was extremely simple. There was nothing on it except what was needed to fly, legally and safely.

Actually, three Lists were used during construction:
1. FAR 43D, the FAA’s Annual Inspection guide. The inspector gave me a copy early-on and said it would be his checklist.
2. The List. Things required for flight. Only. A very brutal list.
If it didn’t keep me out of the air, it wasn’t on there.
3. Future niceties. Upholstery, final paint, an alternator, electronic ignition, wheel pants, panel mounted radio, headset, transponder, oxygen, radar….

“The List” was a personalized tracker of what was most important.
Focus. Simplicity.
It soon became a challenge to see how hard I could be on myself.

The List specifically addressed structural detail and operational requirements, like the seven required instruments. The last item checked off before flying was a working canopy / throttle / nose gear warning system and canopy catch.

It was especially helpful when trying to have three or four components going together at one time. Less important items that normally would have absorbed time were moved to the third list. Some eventually fell off the third list. Thank goodness.

When an engine came into the picture early, the list had me well positioned to stumble into that crossroads of opportunity and preparedness.

Ironically, the busier I was at work the better the plane progressed.
That’s not what I would have thought.

I was self-employed, painting homes and businesses six days a week and often more than eight hours a day. Building the plane actually helped me to be more productive at work.
Conversely, when work was slow and I should have had more time, I just didn’t get as much done on the plane- until getting going good at work again. Crazy.

When I hear someone say they don’t have time to build a plane I think of that period of stumbling home and trimming consoles and thigh supports and glassing the other sides while on the way out the door to a soccer game. It probably was a major sacrifice to give up five years of Laverne and Shirley, which I guess would be like The Simpsons today.

A new friend called the other night and said he had just bought a complete dusty materials kit for a song. Just as I did. Then he said because of being in the hunting mode he also found another kit for his hanger mate. I guess they hadn’t heard that you can’t do that any more.

Pushing through the last three months to get to first flight was a marathon. After a fiercely focused day (I had begun using a brutal list at work too), it was off to the hangar till midnight or one AM. I didn’t sit much during those three months while flailing at that list. Sleep was precious. It takes significant focus to get everything done- three times.

To save time, every afternoon after work for the three months I pulled through the same Taco Bell for a burrito and drink, which were usually finished about the time I pulled up to the hangar. I reasoned that the combination of meat and vegetables surely made for a well balanced diet. From then on till midnight I had no time to think about food.

At that time our four kids were between six and sixteen years old. One evening we were all sitting in the living room and my daughter asked if I hadn’t lost quite a bit of weight. I said yes, about twenty pounds. She asked what I had been eating to loose the weight.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at me-
I said…”Burritos”.
There was a moment of silence. Then they sputtered and crumbled into muffled giggles, each in turn laughing and rolling into a pile on the floor. A much more normal situation.

It was a challenging time. A great time.

The list resulted in a light, stout, simple, predictable, dependable airplane. The first flights were pretty uneventful because there was almost nothing to go wrong.
Later flights were flown savoring things mostly outside. Warping up into the sunset wingovers, with the fishbowl view the attitude and the sound of the engine said everything that needed to be said.

Several years flew by without installing an alternator, using a handheld radio and GPS.
Oshkosh, Jackpot, Kanab, Atlanta’s busy PDK Dekalb-Peachtree-
…At the time I flew into PDK it was the busiest general aviation airport in the country, averaging over 600 operations a day. When I called for prior permission to enter without a transponder, I expected resistance. But the tower controller said they usually handled around ten non-transponder aircraft an hour and gave me simple instructions.

Forty hours in four days?
I’m not the only one to figure a 40 hour restricted period should be knocked out in 4 days. Right. Try three months. Fortunately my restricted area southwest of Fort Worth was pretty bountiful so I really enjoyed the time.

Through a beneficial official oversight, my restricted area was not centered at my home airport which is under Class B, but rather with Spinks on the outer edge of the fifty mile radius, with the area mostly outside DFW’s veil. It was a fortunate ignorant hurried entry trying to fit something into the all powerful “blank” on the FAA form. Probably couldn’t pull that off again.

After first flight The List changed a little and the habit of minimalism continued to be of benefit. During the restricted period many items were completed in unison. Like the wheelpants. The short field practice was done without them. The prop was being optimized along the same time so it was interesting and later beneficial to see the rpm changes with and without wheelpants.

Once out of the restricted period, I flew for a year as-is seeing how the real ez guys live. I learned a lot but also noticed many benefits in flying my simple plane. Everyone should have a chance to fly an Eze bareback.

The only change I made was upon returning from Kanab. Folks provided enough “constructive criticism” to get my attention. As soon as I got home, pie-shaped pieces were whacked out per their advice, pulling the cowl in tighter and getting it more streamlined. That’s when the cowls started shivering and shrinking into the corner whenever they saw the grinder come out.

That great year of flying resulted in another notebook of priorities to put on the third list, related to better wheelpants, props, electronic ignition, and such. But flying without those improvements initially was very productive in the long run. It also took less money.

Once on the third list, Klaus’s electronic ignition was one of the best operational additions. After that the 0-235 would generally start within 4 pulls. I also credit it with improved efficiency for the 1400 miles nonstop to Reno on 31 gallons. But the earlier simple days were fine.

After a couple of years I couldn’t go on without downdraft cooling. That and oil temp improvements allowed unlimited operation at full power. The cowl attachment was upgraded. It was fun to demo, and made quick look-sees under the cowl on stopovers a snap.

Before first flight, LongEZ builder Jerry McAdams had done the plane in white primer. Everyone thought it was the final paint because it had some sheen and looked really good.
But it was soon well-worn and worry-free. The second and third set of cowls were hand-rolled in light grey primer, before hand rolling had become common. I just happened to have a roller handy. The plane flew 15 to 20 sunsets a month plus quick family trips and mind-expanding cross-countries. I loved the whole mess.

I think of that period as the robust raunchy Star Wars Hangar Bay days, remembering when Luke Skywalker made it back to their base and climbed out of his battle-worn fighter and walked past all the other rough X-Wings. That is a favorite mental stretch of where the plane was cosmetically and operationally.

I remember hearing my Dad remunerating with his cowpoke coffee buddies about how you could supposedly attribute some special quality to someone by how they coiled their rope or how clean their car mats were. While I now strive to fit into that more worthy group, early on I readily pushed through those distractions, using the list to sooner get on with the experience of my lifetime, flying a safe, rippling, high-performance steed that put me back where my John Eldredge Wild Heart knew it could be.

I have a private notebook that will someday be passed down to a grandchild, listing some exploits where the plane spoke for itself and I didn’t have to say a word.

Like when departing Oshkosh…

It’s hard to carve out the time to build. I lived through that for the whole five years, and even now.
The List didn’t focus on those things- things I couldn’t do, which was plenty.
It pointed to the things I could do…

You know, I would be thrilled if I was approaching first flight right now.

Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze
Everyone should have the chance to fly their EZ bareback.

Official disclaimer: This note is raw rationalization for lost flying time because of adding ridiculous complexity to an already perfect airplane. The content is therefore void of any technical benefit, and should not be used for torque values, tire pressures or marking of aircraft instruments.

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