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Flying Chevrolet Corvairs: It Really is an Aircraft Engine in a Car

Updated on May 7, 2009
Inside the aircraft
Inside the aircraft

Since the Chevrolet Corviar debuted, inventive persons have been using standard and slightly modified Corvair engines to power their small, light aircraft.  Chevrolet really did use the aircraft engine as a model for their Corvair car.

Corvair engines have been powering experimental aircraft since 1960. Flying hundreds of hours, EAA members Bernie Pietenpol and Waldo Waterman demonstrated that the Corvair engine made an excellent aircraft power plant.

The Corvair engine is a 164 cubic inch (2,700cc), horizontally-opposed, six-cylinder, air-cooled power plant. General Motors produced 1.7 million Corvairs between 1960 and 1969. All of these high quality engines have hydraulic lifters, torsional vibration dampeners, full flow oil systems, spin on oil filters, and aluminum cases and cylinder heads. The Corvair engine is an easy engine to adapt. When the engine is modified, 75% of the power is generated at less than 3000 RPM. In the car, the engine redlines at 5500 RPM. For only $2600, one can convert the car engine into an aircraft engine. Of all conversions, the hardest thing is the Prop Hub, where the propeller attaches.

The best airframes for the corvair engine are:

  1. KR-1 & 2, Pietenpol, Sonerai, Tailwind, FlyBaby VP-2, Zenair 601, Buttercup, Vision, Dragonfly, Q2, Boredom Fighter, Fisher, Hatz biplane, Christavia, Pober Junior Ace, Skycoupe

The first person to use the engine in airplanes was Bernie Pietenpol, who has built over 20 of them. The most popular carbs used in the conversion are the MA3 and Stromberg NAS-3. The Corvair engine is able to turn at 3000 RPMs at 60 mph and can operate for hours going a 4500 RPM. So with modifications, it can easily be done. Some of the specs after conversion are:

120 Hp @ 3200 rpm, 200 ft.\lbs@2800 (torque), 93 Octane gas, 


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      Rattrap 8 years ago

      I read an article that said the engineer who designed and delveloped the corvair engine "Edward N.Cole" Had some affiliation with a division of GM known as Eastern Aircraft and that the orginal concept for the engine was based on his experence from working with aircraft engines, and could have been a design proposed for light helicopters during the Korean war during the 50's. Can you tell me if this is true?