Thursday, February 21, 2008

The last letter

I don't really like being the butt of a joke. Even less, I don't care for it much when it comes from someone I respect.

But I am and that's life on Planet RV. Deal. Still, I think the conversations we have in the community should be just that. Conversations, and not material to be taken out of context and manipulated in meaning to embarrass us in the interest of making a buck selling an article to a magazine. But that's just me; I think if we as members of a community have earned a basic level of respect, it ought to be extended. Quaint stuff, eh?

The RV community is changing. It, like AirVenture and other aspects of homebuilding, are leaving the common person behind. If you own your own company, or are successful -- and lucky -- enough to be a valuable sort of employee with skills enough in demand that you can work out of a hangar and fly whenever, great. I'm not so imbibed with hubris to judge your life, your choices, and your priorities.

But if you're a working stiff trying to raise a family, and keeping a project moving by devoting a little time here and a little time there, sacrificing the "now" in favor of keeping a dream alive, then homebuilding an airplane -- or at least the homebuilding community -- really isn't for you. This is the instant gratification generation. There's little appreciation for the journey that is airplane homebuilding.

I haven't been able to quite put a finger on it, until today. Homebuilding is a uniquely personal endeavor, enjoyed by a few close friends, usually in proximity. It is incompatible -- at least for long -- with the wider Internet-based community. Internet communities eventually build rules and eventually, an aristocracy. Maybe I'm a socialist at heart, but I don't care for aristocracy.

For the record, here's the offending paragraph:

I recently read an email from a builder who said he’s on a tight budget and needs to spread the spending out over time to aff ord fi nishing the airplane. That same builder mentioned that he’s going to install an expensive digital electrical switching system. Let’s see, thousands of dollars on some fancy screen that turns your fuel pump on automatically, or less than $100 on…um…some switches. Do I even need to comment on that?

Comment? No. But context and accuracy is needed. As I posted on the Yahoogroups:

Dan makes the conclusion that the reason I need to spread the building out over time is because of all the fancy, schmancy stuff I'm putting into the plane.
Nonsense and if anyone had asked -- no one did -- I could have at least prevented a small measure of public ridicule.

Dan's absolutely right about spreading the build time out as part of the budget process. But he's wrong about the reason, which he didn't tell the unsuspecting readers.

In asserting (correctly), that I'm on a tight budget, he didn't tell the readers that *I* have been a pay-as-you-go builder since the day I started. Dan wasn't. Dan got a loan and wrote a check and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Dan also had a plane that he sold to help finance his construction. I didn't. I delivered newspapers
every morning in godawful weather to be able to afford just the tail kit.

Dan and I agree that people should be flying instead of buying unnecessary -- even luxurious -- stuff and what Dan didn't mention is that with *my* method of building -- in which the plane will be paid for when it flies, I'll be flying an airplane and have money for gas while others will have a lot of that money siphoned off to
pay the loans you took out to build the plane. So in the long run, is there really a difference?

The way *I'm* building has nothing to do with spending a bunch of money on a Vertical Power system. I think there's a case to be made for VP and I'll let VP do the cost
comparison but the assertion that the alternative is only a few hundred dollars is incorrect. I'm allowing myself one real luxury in the panel here and that's it. I suspect the cost of my panel will be less than the cost of Dan's. In fact, I know it will.

So the inference that is what has me slowed down (although by *my* pace I think I'm going at the proper pace... for me) is budgeting because of an overreliance on fancy technology is pure horseshit, unless you think an engine is fancy technology. I'm raising the money to pay for THAT, too.

I should also point that I'm using a manual trim cable, manual aileron control... and I've put an Air Gizmo in and intend to fly with a 296 GPS, not a much more expensive 496 with the monthly XM fees to go with it. Why? Budget, baby. Budget. I'm using paint bought off the shelf at Ace Hardware for the interior. You?

I also won't be paying people a lot of money to do a lot of the wiring. I'll do it myself. Would I like to do it the more expensive way? Sure. But I'm a working person and I'm all about reality. And have we mentioned yet that I've been building in the winter months in an unheated garage and not in the dependable climate of southern California, and because I didn't want to spend -- and didn't have -- the money for the fancy hangars or a fully heated garage.

And, finally, I have two kids. Dan doesn't. Two kids costs a hell of a lot more than anything you put in your instrument panel and THAT is part of the budgeting process, too. Even after they move out (sigh).

I'm proud of a lot of things. I've had a great marriage, now in its 26th year. I've raised two outstanding young men. I've done OK for myself in a business that's all about high performance and low pay, and I've been able to keep the dream of building an airplane alive by doing it -- paying as I go -- different than most people. I don't like having to defend any of that. I don't like being portrayed as a way not to build or not to be, and I don't want to be part of a community that finds that acceptable. It's not my intent to change anybody or anything; that's not possible. People are who they are. But I still have the luxury of getting to choose my friends and acquaintances and shutting off the noise makes that easier and infinitely more rewarding.

I'll keep the dream alive, but it's a good time to pull the plug on my involvement with the RV "community." I don't recognize the old neighborhood anymore. I want to visit the old one.

Update 6:15 p.m. Sun 2/24 - Just to clarify. I don't have a problem with the article having an opinion different from my own. I have a problem with the sloppy and uninformed way in which it was written, with no attempt at fact-checking, and a rather unethical method of gathering what little information was used to set up the author's opinion. The qualms are over the ethics involved in the article and that's on Kitplanes to settle.


  1. Hmmm, if this truly is the last Letter from Flyover Country, I must say I am disappointed. My favorite thing about your blog is that you are the most real builder on the net. You make mistakes. You have budget constraints. And you didn't finish your plane in 1203.6 hours.

    Good luck. Post a picture when it flies, I'll keep you in my RSS reader.

  2. I never fit in all that well either. I guess when you look at it, I am not une of the "annointed ones" either. I tried to give a few people advice and was treated badly for it. Nothing but cows come from Nebraska, etc.

    I am still your friend Bob, and support every decision as you make them. Kev

  3. Bob,
    I only caught part of the "dialog" but let me for one suggest that after a little time, re-consider. We all benefit from the various contributions made by you and others. I understand if you feel you were the brunt of something but quite frankly I missed it. And I think so will most people who have benefited from your commentary. So, take a break if you need to, but please consider not leaving "the family".

    James E. Clark

  4. Keep bangin' the rivets Bob...Blue skys.

    I was an avvid reader of Dan's construction blog and also his message posts on the group. However of late, I have come to have a level of distaste for the tone and attitude displayed in those comments.

    Aristocracy is a good word for it.

  5. Bob,

    I just wanted to say that I appreicate your thoughts and very much agree with them. Its quite refreshing to see a respected member of the "community" standing up and calling attention to how silly we as a group of people have become. Isn't it interesting how a chosen few with computer skills and some experience get published as authorities with the power to make fun of the community which "promoted" them? Like you, I wish more people realized that for many builder's its all about the journey and experience and not so much about the plane or the pins.

  6. Has Dan even painted his plane yet, or is that too a frivolous expense?

    Like my Mom always said, "consider the source."

  7. I agree with you, too, Bob. I have also witnessed this change in tone over the past year, and bottom line, in my opinion, Dan is too big for his britches. He really hasn't done squat -- he has built one plane, and is working on another one. He is a software developer -- big deal, so am I, and so are dozens of other builders. There is a guy in our local chapter that has build six planes (all of different construction methods), and is someone that I would actually put some level of legitimacy in what he says.

    I have never posted on the Yahoo list, but I do subscribe to it. Also, I rarely post out on the forums -- just not into the rhetoric and "elitist" attitude.

    I'm sure I don't have to tell you this, but keep your chin up, Bob. You should feel comfort in knowing that others do agree with you, and it is a bunch of BS that this kind of crap got published in magazine in the first place.

  8. We just finally .... er, *Spike* just finally got back to building from a very long break during which real life got a bit more important. Like you, we're taking our time and buying everything in cash as we go. I'm sure it'll be done sometime before we're dead, and that's all that counts. LOL

    Spike and I don't seem to fit into the "new" community either, so rest assured that you have plenty of company. But please remember that there will always be a friendly "hello" for you over at RivetBangers; you've done a lot for the "old" community, and we appreciate your efforts.

    -- patti s.

  9. Many of us realized this long ago. Bob, I thought you were going to become one of "them" when you were doing the RV BBQs. You were well on your way. However, after reading this all I can say is, "welcome back." You're one of us again.

    I'm moving into a different make of aircraft and I think I will be happy to be rid of the RV crowd. Trust me, they are making a not so good name for themselves in other aircraft circles.

  10. It would be a great shame if we lost you from the community Bob. I believe there are a lot more of "us" than "them" so lets not let the B's win!

  11. I'm another in the "Bob" camp...I have made my voice seen *A LOT* on the forums, and I see the change as well. I've never been a fan of Mr. Elite from site (that is out-dated), and one-going-on-two airplanes. Yeah, he's an expert...

    Okay, enough about that...I have paid for some with cash, and borrowed some, and I'm only building as fast as I can pay for what I've borrowed. That means slow, and enjoying it.

    I'll see you at Oshkosh Bob...and I'll bring YOU a beer!!

    A buddy from Illinois...

  12. they are making a not so good name for themselves in other aircraft circles.

    That's true, and I've seen it a number of times. I've changed my flying destinations accordingly, but I can't see moving to a different aircraft type because of it. I look through Barnstormers now and then, and I have yet to find anything else I'd rather own.

  13. I look through Barnstormers now and then, and I have yet to find anything else I'd rather own.

    I thought I would never own another airplane. But from the tube and fabric world I come and back to it I go. :-) I have to admit I really miss low and slow and it's just a whole different crowd that lives in that dimension. I wish I could keep a foot in both worlds but finances just won't allow that.

  14. As a lurker in the RV community for a few months now, I just felt I needed to add my 2 cents' worth.

    First, I hope your comments about leaving the community were left in a moment of emotion, and that you will reconsider your decision after you've had a little time to reflect.

    Secondly, I think perhaps you're taking Dan's article a little too personally. Like it or not, Dan has a good, entertaining writing style, driven by his colloquial and sometimes belittling tone. This makes good reading, and in my opinion helps make Kitplane more interesting/entertaining. To his credit, Dan didn't use any names in his article, and even though the people involved no doubt know who was meant, I would argue it's not even relevant who the originally comments came from. I think Dan was trying to make a point, and slanted "your" words to help illustrate his point. I would think of the comments he used as archetypal comments rather than factual reports of things he observed. I certainly wouldn't construe anything Dan wrote as being a fair unbiased assessment of other builders' decisions.

    At the same time, reading content from his original site, presumably predating his popularity, I noticed that he has a tendency to make abrasive comments. Even early on in his build, you can see his tone in his complaints about aspects of the plans that he didn't like (e.g., "That was partly what I had trouble understanding in the TOTALLY UNCLEAR diagrams."). He has a "I know what's right" approach to writing - and his popularity hasn't done anything to tone this down.

    You have to take the good with the bad: To his credit, Dan has put an immense amount of time and energy into documenting his build and contributing his knowledge to the community. Even if he isn't the biggest expert out there, he's the one that's sharing the knowledge on a large scale, so I'd argue he provides more value to the community as a whole than a more reclusive "true expert" can.

    In the same vein, your writings contribute a lot to the community, regardless of what Dan may or may not agree with you on.

    Please keep your voice out there so that we have an alternative resource - one that comes without Dan's abrasive tone.

  15. There is no debate to be had, in my opinion, on what Dan has given to the RV community. On the other hand, I think the judgmental tone is what is becoming the problem with the RV community and I think someone should say it.

    What really p'd me off is that Dan Checkoway KNOWS the real story about me, but that he intentionall took a post out of context to serve his purpose of making a connection between people complaining about gas prices and then not making realistic decisions.

    I've never complained about gas prices and my project is all about compromises -- one of them is I'll wait longer to fly in order to build a plane that suits me.

    And THAT'S the part that's missing here: an acceptance that in the experimental category, you should build the plane you want, and I'll build the plane I want.

    That we have a difference of opinion is not an issue. It happens. That there was a significant breach of ethics is.

    I have an article in June's Kitplanes that seeks to make this clear.

    And, yes, I've dropped out of all facets of the RV "wider" community.

    I'm going to be a little more careful about who drinks my beer.