Dave Morss - Sport Aviation’s Go Anywhere, Fly Anything Test Pilot
    (Reprinted from EAA’s Sport Aviation April, 1998) By Jack Cox

    TV once had its Paladin whose calling card read, "Have gun, will travel".

    Today, the sport aviation world has Dave Morss, a kinder and gentler champion who will travel, but
    his gun is a remarkably high level of piloting skill, good judgment and a range of experience that is
    unusually wide in scope. Dave is a free lance professional test pilot who had made the first flight of
    18 new aircraft (as of March 1, 1998). The list is particularly impressive for the variety of aircraft

    Mystery Racer
    Hollmann Condor (powered sailplane)
    Hollmann Nova (three surface pusher)
    Discovery (three surface pusher)
    Free Spirit I
    Free Spirit II
    Fast Lane Exit (F-1 racer)
    Turboprop Cirrus
    V-8 Cirrus
    Lancair IV
    KIS TD
    Lancair ES
    Starcraft (push/pull twin)
    Hollamann Stallion
    Thunder Mustang
    55% P38

    Dave is already scheduled to make the first flights of Wayne Handley’s new turbo-prop powered
    airshow airplane and the full scale reproduction of Roscoe Turner’s Pesco Special being built by Bill
    Turner’s Repeat Aviation, so the list will be even more impressive by Oshkosh time this summer.

    First flights are certainly dramatic and newsworthy, but Dave’s work does not end there. He
    continues with many of the test flight programs to a level as comprehensive as the factories must
    undergo when certifying a new design . . . and in the case of aircraft like the Thunder Mustang,  has
    also served as a demonstration pilot at major fly-ins and even as a competition pilot in events such
    as the AeroShell 3D Speed Dash. He has set a number of speed records in the Lancair IV prototype
    and won the Aircraft Spruce Great Cross Country Flying Race and the Sun 100 in the airplane.

                                                                   Obviously, test flying is a very serious business. It is
                                                                   certainly serious to the pilot who puts his soft, pink bod on
                                                                   the line every time he pushes a throttle forward to
                                                                   determine if someone’s new aircraft is capable of controlled
                                                                   flight, but it is also serious to a company that has its future
                                                                   and all it present resources in the hands of a test pilot.
                                                                   How does one attain the skill, knowledge, experience and
                                                                   trustworthiness to have such responsibility thrust upon him?
                                                                   To fathom Dave Morss’ long and rather convoluted trail to
                                                                   that enviable status, we must start at the beginning.

    Dave finished high school at 16 and spent the next year working at the San Carlos Airport. His
    parents finally convinced him he should go to college so he initially signed up for an aviation
    program at nearby College of San Mateo. The course started at a very basic level, however, and
    with a Commercial license just around the corner, Dave was far in advance of the course material.
    Frustrated with the courses, he eventually decided to transfer to Brigham Young University in Provo,
    Utah to do some skiing and go to college. His college career was short lived, however. As soon as he
    reached 18 and obtained his Commercial license, he dropped out of school and pursued what he
    considered at the time to be an ideal lifestyle.

    "I was a kind of a ski bum for a time. I was working at Thompson Aviation at the Salt Lake Airport,
    pumping gas from midnight ‘til six in the morning, then towing gliders three days a week. I skied the
    other four. For me it was, ‘Wow! Someone’s paying me to fly!’

    During the same period, Dave also got a two-day a week job flying a cable inspection route east of
    Salt Lake City in a Cessna 172. Though sleep was not high on his priority list at the time, he
    somehow managed for a time to juggle his ‘round the clock schedule of work and fun on the ski
    slopes without seriously damaging his health. Finally, however, in August of 1976 he left the Salt
    Lake City area and took his first full time job with Vacaville Soaring, Inc. at Vacaville, CA. He began
    as a glider tow plane pilot, but in short order began to revert to his by-now well established modus
    operandi of taking on every flying job he could manage to cram into a 24 hour day. Over the next few
    years he would find himself towing gliders, heading the tow plane pilot department, instructing in
    gliders, teaching aerobatics in a Great Lakes, giving rides in a Wright-powered Travel Air Speed
    Wing, sky diving, flying jumpers in a Twin Beech, serving as a jump master and flying night mail four
    times a week in a Twin Comanche! In the late 1970s, he was averaging some 1,500 hours per year
    at the stick or wheel of one kind of flying machine or another.

    Somehow during his four years at Vacaville, Dave
    also found time to purchase his first airplane, a
    totally clapped-out, abandoned Stits Playboy, with
    the fabric literally hanging off of it He had not yet
    obtained an A&P rating, so Dave was thrilled to learn
    that since it was a homebuilt, he could restore it
    himself - which he proceeded to do in his spare time.
    This was his introduction to EAA (he is EAA 133735)
    and has been an active member ever since.

    One day in early 1980 the four or five jobs at one time routine finally caught up with him. A pilot
    showed up at Vacaville with a Bucker Jungmann and asked Dave if he would like to fly it

    I remember thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, I really should, but I am just tired of flying today.’ That really
    scared me. I realized that something was wrong here. Flying was the most important thing in my life,
    and here I was too tired to fly. It was really a wake-up call. I started looking at my logbook and said I’
    m flying ‘way too much. I quit my job at the glider port, quit the night freight job, quit flying jumpers,
    went back to San Carlos and got a job instructing just five or six days a week in a single airplane.

    It didn’t last, however. In April of 1980 Dave had the opportunity to sign on with TBM, Inc. of Fresno,
    CA serving as a co-pilot and flight engineer on DC-7 fire bombers. That contract lasted about nine
    months and was the start of a gypsy life that included a February to June 1981 stint with Air Crane
    West of Santa Cruz, CA flying a Huntington Pembroke and an AT-11l a July 1981 to January 1982
    adventure with Pacific Star Seafood flying a Lockheed 10 out of Anchorage, Alaska and serving as a
    co-pilot on a C-46 and an R4D; a January 1982 to March 1983 job with Donahue & Associates of
    San Jose, CA delivering everything from J-3 Cubs to Hansa Jets; and finally settling down a bit by
    signing on with Air Ambulance International, which was based at the San Carlos Airport.

    The job required you be on a pager 21 days a month, with a 15 minute response during the day and
    30 minutes at night. That was time to take-off, so you couldn’t drink. I don’t drink so it seemed like a
    perfect job for me. After a year I ended up being their chief pilot and we had about 20 airplanes and
    pilots in three or four different domiciles I supervised. In San Carlos we had four MU-2s, two King Airs
    and two Lears. I got to be a check airman on all those airplanes, doing 135 check rides and stuff.
    The FAA liked my work and that ultimately led to my becoming a designated pilot examiner. It was a
    good job, but after two or three years, being constantly on pager began to get old. Every time you
    went to a movie with your wife, you had to take two cars just in case a call came in. It always seemed
    that the chance of getting a call was directly proportional to the importance of the event you were
    attending - like right in the middle of a wedding or something like that.

    I finally left Air Ambulance in January of 1986 and took a job flying freight with D.H.L. Airways out of
    San Francisco. That was the best job in the world. I was flying a Twin Cessna from San Francisco to
    Reno, laying over for nine hours, then flying back. You did this five days a week. You flew 10 days a
    month because you were on one week and off the next. I kept a car at Reno and during my layover, I
    would drive down to Minden and teach soaring at the glider operation there. Then I would drive back
    to Reno and fly home. It was great; I was home every night.  

    Unfortunately, however, the company lost its run to Reno to a competitor flying Cessna Caravans
    and I was suddenly faced with moving to Florida to fly Lears or becoming a flight engineer on 727s
    flying out of San Francisco. Not wanting to leave California, I got my flight engineers ratings and flew
    on the 727s for about six months. Then the company wanted to relocate all its flight crewmembers to
    Cincinnati and that’s when I decided to seek employment elsewhere. I got a corporate job flying a
    Cessna Conquest, but that ended when I was hired by United. I started out as a flight engineer on
    the 747, but I quickly found that I really did not like working for an airline. I guess I had been a free
    spirit for so long that I just hated what for me was too much regimentation. It was during my
    employment with United that I broke my back while test flying the three-surface Discovery homebuilt...
    and during my recovery I decided to start my own company, Myriad Research, and try to make a
    living doing what I really loved: test flight engineering and consulting.

    At this point, we have to reverse course, and return to 1980 and pick up a parallel stream of activity
    Dave embarked upon at that time. It all began with his rescue of another derelict homebuilt, this one
    a bedraggled racing biplane tied down at San Jose Airport. A little research revealed that it was none
    other than Dallas Christian’s old highly modified Mong, the Number 99 Mongster, in which he had
    won the Biplane championships at Reno in 1968 and 1969. Reno had eliminated the Biplane Class
    after the 1976 races, the racer had been sold and it had ended up wasting away on a tiedown ramp
    at San Jose.

    I bought the airplane and being young and stupid, decided I would ferry it the ten miles or so from
    San Jose to San Carlos where I had a hangar. I should have taken it apart and trucked it home. I
    duct-taped the torn fabric, got the engine running and prepared to fly the thing. It had two fuel tanks,
    one ahead of the cockpit and another behind it. The fuel selector wasn’t marked, so I put in about
    eight gallons in both, put the selector in one of the on positions, verified that I had a good fuel flow
    and decided to go. I didn’t know which tank was feeding, but I knew eight gallons was more than
    enough to fly 10 miles, so I took off and headed home. After I leveled off and the airspeed went
    through about 160 mph, the airplane started to slowly porpoise. It got progressively worse, so I
    slowed back down to 150 and it was flyable again. I slowed it all the way to about 90 and felt
    comfortable there, so I decided I would just fly it on the ground at that speed. Afterwards I got in
    touch with Dallas Christian and asked him a number of questions about the airplane. When I got to
    the fuel system, he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t put any fuel in the rear tank. The Biplane class
    rules specified a minimum fuel capacity, and the rear tank was put in just to meet that requirement,
    but it was never used. The airplane is already so tail heavy, that if you put fuel in it, you won’t be
    able to control the thing.’  

    Gulp! When I told him I’d flown it with eight gallons in the rear tank, he said, ‘Then you must be pretty
    good.’ I said, ‘No, I’m pretty lucky.’

    One day while he was flying DC-7 fire bombers out of Redmond, OR, Dave got a call from his friend
    and noted Biplane Class racer, Dave Forbes, who had a deal he couldn’t refuse. Reno was
    reinstating the Biplane Class in 1980, Dave (Forbes) revealed, and he was trying to help get a field
    together to race. The Mongster was a historically significant racer, was still potentially fast - and if
    Dave (Morss) was willing to pay for the parts and materials, he would rebuild the airplane and they
    could split whatever prize money they would win. Go for it! Dave rejoined, and, indeed, the Mongster
    was on the line that September at Reno. Dave (Morss) was tied up with his fire bomber job and had
    to turn the piloting chores over to Paul Grieshaber, but the rebuilt did have a successful debut,
    finishing in the middle of the pack in its racing heats. Later that fall, Dave flew his first race at Apple
    Valley, CA and was instantly hooked on the sport. He has not missed Reno or many of the smaller
    races since. He competed in Reno in the Mong in 1982 and 1983 but later switched to Formula
    Ones. Over the years he has flown a number of different racers, including his own design, Fast Lane
    Exit, which was a unique concept with its two required main gear wheels in tandem and outriggers on
    the high aspect ratio wings. Dave’s current Formula One racer is the Cassutt #99 Cool Runnings. He
    won Heat 2C in the airplane at Reno ’97 and was second to Ray Cote in the Silver Championship
    race. In recent years, Dave has served as the check pilot for Formula One race pilots, a process all
    new pilots must go through before they are allowed to race.

                                                                   Dave’s test flying career has produced even more perilous
                                                                   moments. It all began rather informally, initially just a
                                                                   matter of the word getting around that he had flown a great
                                                                   variety of aircraft and was eager to fly more. That resulted
                                                                   in local homebuilders asking him to make the first flights of
                                                                   their aircraft, or flying them to determine how to best rig
                                                                   them, etc. His first professional test work was for Martin
                                                                   Hollmann, making the first flights of his condor powered
                                                                   sailplane and Nova three-surface design. Next came the
    Progress Aero Discovery, a three-surface pusher developed in the Monterey Bay area. The airplane
    was flown to Oshkosh in 1991 but later, Dave was hired to determine how much to limit elevator
    authority in order to avoid the possibility of stalling the main wing. The airplane had two booms, a
    high horizontal tail and a pusher propeller, which made it virtually impossible to safely get out of in
    case of an emergency. For that reason it had been equipped with a ballistic parachute.

    This was another case of learning the hard way. Because of
    the ballistic chute installation, I did not wear my own parachute
    for the tests. I came to regret that decision when the airplane
    went into a non-recoverable flat spin and I had to deploy the
    ballistic chute. To my horror, I discovered the canopy was no
    larger than that of my personal parachute. During the flat spin,
    the airplane had been descending at around 800 to 900 feet
    per minute, but with the chute, it was descending at 1,800 feet per minute. I had no choice but to ride
    the thing to the ground, and I got my back broken inn a couple of places. In my attempts to get the
    airplane out of the flat spin, I got it on its back in an inverted flat spin once. With my own parachute
    on, I could have made it out of the airplane at that point. Needless to say, I wear one today when I
    test anything.

    He was born in San Carlos, California on October 20, 1954 and grew up there . . . which leads to
    some fanciful speculation about the possible connection between the risky nature of life in the area
    and Dave’s ultimate choice of an occupation. San Carlos is one of the communities that extend like
    beads on a string along the west shore of San Francisco Bay, between downtown San Francisco and
    Sane Jose . . . and is just across a ridge from the infamous San Andreas fault line. Perhaps life on
    the ragged edge just comes naturally to folks who live there. In any event, Dave has briefly lived in a
    number of other areas of the country, but has always returned to San Carlos. He and his wife, Karen,
    live in neighboring Redwood City, today.

    Aviation first came to Dave’s attention when his older (by 12 years) brother learned to fly. Seeing
    how focused he was when he was plotting the course for his first solo cross-country flight, I thought
    flying must be something really cool. From that time on, it was just a foregone conclusion that
    someday I would fly.

    When he was about 14, Dave began riding his bike to the nearby San Carlos Airport and quickly
    became the quintessential airport kid . . . ready to do any menial task to get an airplane ride. Early
    on he was befriended by the owner of the sole remaining Luscombe 90 (or Model 4) and began
    getting informal flight instruction for keeping it spotlessly clean. He was given a key to the airplane
    and, according to Dave, Every weekend it got detailed to the max. Dave quickly mastered basic
    aircraft handling and was soon flying the Luscombe down to short final, but the owner, who was not
    an instructor, could never bring himself to allowing his under-16 protégé to attempt a landing.

    Dave’s wife Karen, is also in the aviation business. A native
    of Philadelphia, she spent 23 years in the computer arena,
    including a decade operating her own very successful software
    business. In the process of realizing a long-held desire to learn
    to fly,  she noted that general aviation and flight instruction in
    particular was stuck in the 1970s and decided to do something
    about it. Her first move was to find a modern, more economical
    to operate trainer, which in her mind turned out to be the
    Diamond Katana. She bought two of them initially, became the
    Diamond representative for Northern California and has subsequently sold 15 of them. She also
    bought the flight school where she was learning to fly, married the pilot examiner who administered
    her Private check ride a fellow named Dave Morss and now operates Diamond Aviation. She
    currently has six Katanas, which are used for instruction, plus an additional 12 planes used for
    training and rental. Not to be totally outdone by hubby Dave and his eight world records, she
    recently set her own city-to-city speed record (San Carlos to Santa Barbara, CA) in one of her

    Karen can be reached at KarenMorss@cs.com.
Three time Sport Class Gold winner
Two time Sport Class Silver winner
Sport Aviation