A builder—I’ll call him D. Thomas—told me A Guy told him he needed to modify his fuel system or it wouldn’t work. The basic gravity-fed fuel system in question was successfully employed on a homebuilt on December 17, 1903. The specific system in question was designed in 1998 to integrate the engine, carburetor and airframe D. Thomas had. It was detailed in the plans and manual D. Thomas was provided. Had the documentation been wrong, it would have been revised around the time the Euro became a currency. Though his installation matched the instructions, A Guy planted doubt in D. Thomas’ mind.
Another builder asked, “There are differing opinions among owners as to the value of the add-on widget in your service bulletin. What’s your position?” The widget was deemed a requirement by the designer. A service bulletin was issued for the part to be added to all existing installations, and the widget was made a standard kit part. This builder was cast into doubt by Guys with nothing more than opinions and user names and passwords to express them. Thankfully, both builders had the wisdom to question the wisdom of A Guy’s advice. While I worry about builders who act on A Guy’s advice without question, a (successful) designer shouldn’t have to defend their products against A Guy’s doubts.
Who is A Guy?
Builders often reference advice they’ve received from A Guy. Curious as to who he is, I looked him up:
A Guy (noun)
- A person you do not know.
- A Guy in a parking lot tried to sell me meat.
- A person whose credentials are unknown to you, but the setting in which they impart their advice infers a level of knowledge.
- A Guy at the gas station told me to underinflate my tires when it’s hot.
- A person who possesses knowledge related to your pursuit but not specific to your application.
- A Guy at Lycoming told me to time my Rotax to 8° BTDC.
- A person who offers advice that leaves you questioning your well-reasoned efforts and/or the advice of a person or entity whose credentials are known to you.
- The prop manufacturer says to torque the bolts to 132 inch-pounds, but A Guy told me that’s not enough.
- A person you do not know.
This Guy, That Guy, Some Guy, The Guy, Hangar Buddy, Username: TopGunPilot (4898 Posts)
The definition cleared things up, but I’ll add two cautions. First, there is a chasm of difference between the statement, “A Guy at the airport told me…” and “A Guy at SparrowWorks tech support told me….” Second, during a seminar at AirVenture a guy told me he was the guy that “…put the B-29 on the moon.” Beware of A Guy disguised as The Guy.
The Rise of A Guy
Kit marketing has made building incidental to flight by suggesting that flight is only a few hundred easy assembly hours away. This attracts a more casual builder than when plans-building dominated homebuilding. Kits still require most of the same skills used in plans-building (drilling, sanding, bending, deburring, fastening, priming, wiring, rigging, thinking, etc.). Plans-builders anticipate these tasks. Kitbuilders often do not. More than once, I’ve been asked, “Will I need to drill holes?” At the same time, experienced old-timers are leaving the hobby or don’t participate in the online forums (gone are the carefully curated type-specific newsletters of yore), denying newcomers their knowledge. These trends have cleared room for A Guy. The online communities, in particular, are the ideal habitat for A Guy and often the first stop for builders looking for help. (Though I’m sure even the Wright brothers knew A Guy: “Wilbur, A Guy stopped by insisting we use whale oil for fuel and said we should have used oak for the ribs.”)
A Guy can be an asset (though seldom on every topic) but more often impedes builders who rank themselves low on skill, knowledge or confidence. A Guy often has little but his opinion to add to most conversations. There comes a point in a design’s maturity where there is little to be discussed. Best practices for hardware usage, wiring and gluing wood joints are well established. Gravity-fed fuel systems still use gravity. Stits covering still includes instructions. If a Fly Baby could be built in 1970 or a Sonex in 1998 or a Little Toot in 1960, one can be built today with no more knowledge, tools or materials than existed then.
Vetting A Guy
A Guy approached me in a store’s parking lot. It was 95° out. He was wearing a jacket. He pulled a $38 steak from under his jacket (no bag, no receipt) and offered it to me for $20. He said he purchased it before remembering his car was out of gas and his wallet was out of money. Seemed suspicious. All that to say, you can’t always avoid A Guy, but you can limit his impact.
First, reduce your exposure to those whose credentials you can’t confirm despite the enthusiasm with which they opine (or try to sell you meat). Second, employ critical thinking. If A Guy’s advice runs counter to the manufacturer’s instructions or accepted practices, question it. Balance A Guy’s advice against the manufacturer’s instructions, knowledge and, yes, financial motivation to see their builders succeed. Ask yourself:
- Does the advice spring from first-hand experience or knowledge?
- Does what I have conform to the designer’s plans and instructions?
- Does what I have conform to accepted aircraft building techniques?
- Has what I’ve done been proven to work on identical or similar installations?
How A Guy offers his advice matters. When he says, “You have to…” he is effectively giving you a command, thereby planting doubt in your mind. When he asks, “Are you sure…,” he is questioning his knowledge as much as yours. The latter remark, often well-intended, may spring from experience that doesn’t apply to your project. For instance, similar-but-different processes may require similar-but-different materials. A Guy who built a fiberglass fuel tank needed to use fuel-proof epoxy. That requirement doesn’t translate to making position-light fairings for a Sonex; a task suited to common fiberglass kits.
Be Your Own Guy
Why is A Guy’s advice so powerful? In two words: human nature. You don’t need to be new to homebuilding to get derailed by A Guy. Anytime you approach something unfamiliar, you run the risk of A Guy introducing doubt. Surprisingly, A Guy can even appear in the condensation on your bathroom mirror, whispering through the fog, “But that’s not how you did it on the Zenith you built.” And that may be true, but a Onex, RANS S-10 or RV-8 is not a Zenith. Though best practices for aircraft construction methods are well-established, the details of each design can and do vary.
I see cautious, even timid, builders enter this hobby—people who tell me they don’t trust themselves as builders—who assume everyone is more skilled and knowledgeable than they are. To me, that’s a sign of someone with the capacity to take their time to learn and perform each skill well. (Proof? The aircraft and workmanship of first-time builders are routinely recognized with awards at AirVenture.) Let your caution lead you to proven knowledge bases, not the frequent dissertations of A Guy you don’t know.
There is no one you should trust more than yourself when building a vehicle in which you will mount the sky. Take it from this guy, anyone who sets their mind to it can build an airplane without input or interference from A Guy. Homebuilding isn’t always easy, but A Guy sure can make it harder.
Excellent article. I can think of a few times in my younger day when I was A Guy on-line. And a few notable things I’ve heard from A Guy. The most dangerous one is the Guy with lots of experience. For example the old mechanic who told me new electronic ignition wasn’t reliable, stick with magnetos (he’d never even seen an electronic ignition system). The experienced Cub rebuilder who told me I should cover my Bearhawk wings with fabric instead of aluminum because it’s easier to repair. The Guys who’ve told me to run my Rotax 503 as lean a possible, based on their experience with snowmachines and/or Lycomings. The experienced pilot who told me to avoid experimentals because they’re squirrely and don’t fly like normal aircraft and are dangerous, based on his observations of a KR. Etc Etc Thanks again.
Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I’ve encountered so many builders who have acted on bad advice from A Guy. It’s curious how the advice or opinion of A Guy seems to carry more weight than a designer’s documention.
If you believe that Americans can learn epistemology (i.e. to distinguish a reliable source from an unreliable one, to appreciate the value of expertise that comes from decades of professional experience, to ask “How do you know?” and to discern a good answer from BS) then I’ve got a bridge to sell you (or, if you prefer; a steak in a parking lot).
The most serious problems in American society right now would evaporate – as they are caused by the power of BS promoters – if more Americans realized that it might be worth improving their ability to determine what a reliable source is and so on.
The internet has millions of A guy’s , I am in the motorcycle industry with a strong motorsport background and aviation is a hobby , the A guy however is everywhere . On one particular forum I have stopped giving advice because A guy always knows more than I do , and in that particular case A guy is usually a keyboard jockey with little or no experience , recipe for disaster .
I do however know numerous people who are knowledgeable specialists in a particular field and there is nothing more enjoyable than having a technical discussion with such people .
You nailed one of the biggest dangers A Guy poses; they drive away the people with genuine knowledge, leaving a void and in so doing their erroneous message isn’t countered.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
Superb! Funny . . . because it’s so accurate. If I could, I would nominate this article for a Pulitzer.
I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’m oddly sorry you found it spot on. That underscores how prevalent A Guy is.
Thank you for reading and commenting. If that Pulitzer comes through I’ll invite you to the celebration.
This article would make a good preface to the Builders Manual for any kit. Who knows, it might just save someone who applies the lesson therein from being led down the proverbial “rabbit hole”, or worse.
It’s a statement to A Guy’s prevalence and reach that you feel this should be a preface to a builder’s manual. It is a warning drum I’ve beat nearly every day for many years now in the Sonex community. It brings me no joy to find A Guy has become a universally invasive species.
Brilliant. This is useful in the context of homebuilding airplanes but could be applied to any discipline. One of our greatest enemies is the cult of the amateur.
I ran into a lot of this myself when I started working on my Long EZ in the early ’90s. Now, whenever I give tech advice I always reference my own personal experience: how long I’ve been flying with that mod, whether or not I’d do it that way again, and sign my forum entries with my aircraft type and hours.
0-320 Long EZ 1780 hrs.
100% agree with this. I’ve even asked in forums for folks to please reply if you have specific factual data behind your response vs your general opinion. Everyone jumped on me for that, then proceeded to still give their opinion.
I’m amazed that the vast majority of respondents don’t preface anything with their experience(i.e. I am a one time builder, still not done, but my opinion is abc or I have built 7 RVs, they are all still flying and they were all checked out by Vic etc etc etc).
I’ve always told my friends and family, my plane would be done 10x faster if I had a kit building expert living in my shop. That need for technical validation of your next step drives the wanting to find an answer on those forums. I’ve learned that I needed to start to just get comfortable with my own decisions instead of relying on someone else online to tell me it’s okay or not.
Great point of view, the old builders are usually on to this and tell, them to push off (I know I do)
For the new builders read the article 4 times and make it sink in, they walk amongst us and if not handled correctly can end up costing you heaps.
greta article one of the better ones for sure.