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Vans RV ……Which One To Choose?

You’ve been hiring Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee for a while. Hire and fly is inconvenient and expensive, and the hire and fly aircraft is slow and unexciting. A RV looks like just the thing…but which one?

Instead of asking “which airplane” ask “what, exactly, do I want an airplane to do?” There are a lot of factors that come into play here. Personality, stage of life, family, budget….it’s all part of the mission statement. The better the mission is defined, the easier and better the choice of airplane will be. Defining the mission will require making decisions, not avoiding them. It requires (sometimes painful) introspection and honesty. An airplane knows nothing about dreams. It does what it can do.


It’s the builder’s job to make sure that what the airplane can do and what he or she wants done coincide.

So, let’s look at a typical “decision-tree.”

First question: do you need four seats?

Really? Note that the question is “need,” not “want” or “would it be kind of nice.” If you have a family, or often travel with another couple, then the answer may well be yes. If so, there’s only one choice in the RV world – you’ll be looking at an RV-10.


But suppose the honest answer is no. You’ve thought back over the last couple years and realized that it’s very rare to have anybody in the back seats of the Cessna. For the vast majority of your flying, two seats would be sufficient. That means that there would be little point in spending the extra money and time building the RV-10, but opens up several possibilities: the RV-4, RV-7 or 7A, RV-8 or 8A, RV-9 or 9A, RV-12 and RV-14 or 14A.




Do you want side-by-side or tandem seating?

There’s no doubt that sitting on the centreline is a cool, cool thing. You can see out of both sides of the airplane – the seating and the big bubble canopy make it hard for the Focke-Wulfs to sneak up on you. However, the tandem concept does not put both occupants on the same footing. The RV-4 and RV-8 are very much pilot-and-passenger airplanes. The person in back is the passenger. They have rudimentary controls, but they can’t see forward, don’t have access to anything on the instrument panel and sit with their legs straddling the pilot. Total baggage space is much the same as in the side-by-side airplanes, but it’s divided between two smaller compartments, so bigger items, like folding bikes or golf bags, won’t fit.



The side-by-side RV-7, RV-9, RV-12 and RV-14 on the other hand, have large baggage bays spanning the fuselage and both occupants have the same forward view and access to the controls and panel. Consult your “other half.” You may find their views essential to making this decision.



The next question – do you intend to fly aerobatics?

This question often requires a bit of soul-searching, sure we’d all like to fly like Nigel Hopkins or Neville Ferreira, but it’s an important one. Remember that honest answers are imperative. If you are really, truly interested in sport aerobatics and one of the reasons to have an airplane is to rotate freely in three dimensions, the RV-3, RV-4, RV-7, RV-8 and RV-14 will fit the mission.




The RV-9/9A, RV-10 and RV-12 are not aerobatic airplanes

If you are not inclined toward aerobatics, but your mission statement does include economic long distance cross-country flying you can take advantage of the longer, high-aspect ratio wings on the RV-9/9A and RV-10. Although any RV is capable of long distance trips, these airplanes are particularly suited for the role. They are quite fast, even on moderate power. They operate happily at altitudes where true airspeeds are high and fuel consumption is low. The more “relaxed” handling qualities mean that even long legs can be hand flown without fatigue.


Perhaps you’re more interested in local fair-weather weekend flying and an occasional longer trip.

Any RV can be flown this way, but the RV-12 would make the most sense. The Rotax engine uses 18 litters or less an hour and prefers mogas to avgas. The wings can be removed easily, so the airplane can be stored in a suburban garage if needed (hopefully it will never be stored). The RV-12 is also the only RV that can be flown by a Light Sport Pilot with a National Pilots Licence.


Once the best airplane for your personal mission has become apparent, you can use the same technique to choose between configurations (most two-seat designs can be built in tailwheel or nose wheel versions) and equipment (you may not need the most expensive propeller). The goal is always the same: an airplane that does the job you want done.

Although RVs can do many things, they won’t do everything. If you want to hurtle through the upper atmosphere at jet-like speeds, compete in advanced aerobatics or haul large dead animals out of remote places, you will need something else.

But during the last forty years and for thousands of pilots, one RV or another has proved the best answer to the question

“What do I want an airplane to do?”


RV kits include all the parts needed to build a complete airframe. The builder must provide the engine, propeller, instruments, avionics and upholstery. All RV kits have been reviewed by the FAA and have been found eligible for licensing in the Non Type Registered Category (Home Built) . This means that the fabrication work we do on the kit parts is less than 50% of the total required to complete the aircraft, and that at least 51% of the work remains for the kit builder.

Two kinds of kits are available: the Standard and the QuickBuild

All RVs, whether built from a Standard or a QuickBuild Kit, are built from the same parts. The difference is the degree to which these parts have been pre-assembled when the builder receives them. The Standard Kit is perfect for the builder who enjoys the process and is working on a limited budget. Using some combination of the several time saving options available, he or she can balance the time/money equation to suit their circumstance. If the builder has a little more to spend, and wants to fly even sooner, then the QuickBuild Kit is an excellent value.

Standard Kits

The Standard kit is far more than just a "materials package." When the kit is shipped, any work requiring mechanical equipment not readily available to the homebuilder is already done. If a part needs to be sheared, bent, rolled, pressed, hydro-formed, heat treated or welded to be ready to use, it has been done at the factory. The builder’s job is to assemble the parts, not make them.

Vans do not do the small trimming and adjusting jobs which the average homebuilder in the average shop can do as well as they can. This helps keep their labour to a minimum and the cost of the kits at a reasonable level. Because of the volume of material Vans buy and the efficient way we run their shop, the price of the kits is not substantially higher than an individual would pay for the raw material. The builder is spared not only the necessity of buying expensive tools and making form blocks that would be used only once, but also the tedious and often frustrating job of shopping piecemeal for materials and parts and the waste of having to purchase larger quantities than actually required.

Although RV kits are very complete and very successful, this does not mean that we are not continually improving them. For example, over the years pre-drilled spars for the RV-4 and RV-6 have become standard (and completely assembled spars an option), bellcranks, empennage hinges and many other small parts that the builder originally fabricated are now supplied ready to install. Wing and floor ribs come with all the lightening holes complete. Many of the steel components are now powder-coated at the factory, sparing the builder the tedious task of preparing, priming and painting them.

But the biggest improvement – some might call it revolutionary – in Standard Kits is the introduction of "matched-hole" components. Made possible by advances in tools and techniques, components are now supplied with all the fastener holes punched …and punched so accurately that the need for assembly jigs is eliminated. When the holes line up, the component must be straight!

RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A Standard Kits are completely matched-hole. Since it is not possible to "back-in" the matched hole concept to kits that were designed before the tools were acquired and the techniques learned, the RV-3 and RV-4 must be content with pre-punched wing skins, which are used as templates to drill the underlying ribs and spars.


RV aircraft are marketed in four sub-kits: Empennage, Wing, Fuselage, and Finishing. There is no price penalty for buying incrementally; and sub-kits may be ordered in any combination. Almost all the kits sold in the ordered incrementally (South African buyers may find it advantageous to order the whole kit at once to save on shipping and importing costs and the fluctuating Rand) . The advantages of spending money in smaller chunks and not having to find storage space usually outweigh the disadvantages of having to plan ahead.

The sub-kits are intended to be built in the order listed. The sequence may be varied slightly, but, because of the way the parts interface, the wings must be built before the fuselage. All individual parts of each kit are also available separately.

Empennage Kit

All skins pre-cut, bent and rolled.RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A skins are pre-punched for all rivet holes.

All spars formed, essentially ready to install. All the rivet holes for the skins and ribs of the RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A kits are can cleco entire assemblies together without picking up a drill!

All ribs press-formed. RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A are matched punched to the skins and spars.

Spar re-enforcement strips milled to correct size and taper. RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A strips are pre-punched to match the spars.

Hinge brackets, control horns and other steel parts are supplied ready to install.

Premolded fiberglass tips for all surfaces are included.

All necessary nuts, bolts, rivets, washers, bearings, etc., are included.

Wing Kit

Complete, gold anodized main spars are standard on the RV-3, RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A. A gold anodized fuselage centre section bulkhead, precision matched to the main spars, is standard on those kits as well. RV-4 and RV-6 spars are a pre-drilled kit and require assembly, but complete anodized spars are available as an option.

All the wing and control surface ribs are hydroformed to shape and include lightening holes (except the RV-3). On RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and

RV-9A kits the ribs are pre-punched to match holes in the skins and spars.

Wing skins sheared to size. Leading edge and fuel tank skins pre-bent. Except for the RV-3, all kits include pre-punched wing skins.

Aluminum tube, steel tube and aircraft hardware provided for control pushrods, pitot tube, and fuel lines.

The aileron bellcranks, fuel tank access covers and other similar parts are stamped to shape and ready to install with only minor clean-up (except RV-3).

Aileron mounting brackets of aluminum and steel, pre-formed and riveted; ready to install.

All nuts, platenuts, washers, bolts, screws, rivets, pop-rivets & tube fittings.

Molded fiberglass wingtips.

Fuselage Kit

All skins accurately sheared and formed. All the RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-9A fuselage skins are pre-punched.

All fuselage bulkheads and ribs press-formed.

Extruded angle for longerons and stiffeners. Formed aluminum angle for skin stiffeners.

All the pre-cut and bent aluminum panels and channels used in the cockpit and baggage area.

Ready-to-install rudder cables with stainless steel fittings.

All steel parts such as longeron brackets, control sticks, rudder pedals, flap controls, tail wheel fork, are welded and in most cases, powder-coated as well.

Main gear legs on the RV-6A, RV-7A, RV-8A and RV-9A.

Brake master cylinders, lines, and fittings.

All nuts, platenuts, washer, bolts, screws, rivets, pop-rivets, tube fittings needed.

Finishing Kit

Plexi-glass canopy, light gray tint is standard; clear available on special order.

Welded canopy frame.

Fiberglass cowl and mounting materials.

Engine mount.

Main gear legs (RV-3, RV-4, RV-6, RV-7). Includes axles, wheel nuts, spacers and installation hardware.

Fiberglass spinner with aluminum mounting plates.

Fiberglass landing gear and wheel fairings.

New 5:00 x 5 wheels and brakes with hardware.

All brake lines and hardware.

New 5:00 x 5 tires and tubes.

Wing root and empennage/fuselage fairings.

Nosegear leg, fork, and wheel assembly on RV-6A, RV-7A, RV-8A and RV-9A.

RV aircraft are designed to use Lycoming aircraft engines the only exception being the RV-12

The RV-4 and RV-6/6A use 150/160 hp 0-320 or 180 hp 0-360 engines.

The RV-7/7A and RV-8/8A can accommodate O-320, O-360 or angle valveIO-360 (200 hp) engines.

The RV-9/9A is suitable for Lycoming engines in the 118 hp to 160 hp range.

The engine used in the 4-place RV-10 is the Lycoming IO-540D4A5 rated at 260 hp. Van's recommendation for the 4 place includes any of the parallel valve 540's which are available from 235hp on up to the 260hp version.

These engines are the most readily available, affordable, and reliable of the possible choices. Other aircraft engines of similar configuration, weight and power might possibly be used, but only the Lycoming will fit the mounts and cowls supplied the kits.

A quote from a leading aircraft builder sums up using another “cheaper” converted motor very well

"The best conversion I know is to take R100000 and convert it into a good used Lycoming." This may sound a bit narrow-minded, but it reflects the basic truth: no non-aircraft engine has yet proven to be as reliable, available, and inexpensive (everything considered) as a traditional aircraft engine.

In South Africa we are blessed with some amazing aircraft builders that will do the build for you, at the highest quality, so when you ready to build your own RV and can’t see yourself putting all the painstaking hours call one of the builders I’m sure you won’t be sorry.


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