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The Birth of an RV3 - ZU-ITY

Neil Murray

Photos by Andre Venter

Having restored a Supercub, built an RV 8 and a Glasair Sportsman I thought I’d have a go at an RV 3. I bought the kit in 2013 and very quickly built the fuselage jig and started with the build setting up the firewall and all the bulkheads and stringers etc. I had the jig bolted to my garage floor after levelling everything and this is where it sat for the ensuing 6 years, while I tackled a few car projects.

In September 2019 I restarted with a vengeance and got all the fuselage skins positioned drilled and riveted on. The RV 3 proved to be quite a challenging build as the instructions are sometimes very vague and don’t always match up to the drawings. There are no pre-punched holes like most of the later RV kits so all measurements need to be carefully laid out and all rivet holes drilled and then dimpled etc. before riveting.

One of the most challenging aspects of the riveting was the turtle deck. Fortunately, I was able to lay down in the tiny fuselage to buck the rivets all the way to the back with a mate doing the riveting from the outside.

I opted to fabricate the cowl cheeks myself out of fibreglass rather than use the “almost impossible to shape” Alclad that Vans supplies. I did the same with the tip over canopy skirt manufacturing a one-piece skirting instead.

Next was trial mounting the IO 320 Lycoming which was sourced from my good friend and AP Peter Lastrucci. The prop I’ve chosen is the Whirlwind 151H three-bladed constant speed prop primarily for its ultra-lightweight. Only 31 lbs (but more expensive)compared to a Hartzell at 59 lbs.

Then came the lock-down and I got stuck into the empennage which I managed to complete with the trial assembly, rigging and final skinning of the quick-build wings. I chose this option as a time saver as Vans now supplies the “B” wing with the redesigned beefed-up main spar which is rated for +6/-3g loading.

The wings were then fitted to the fuselage for final control surface rigging etc and then removed for painting. All the spraying was then done in my home-built spray booth and then I started reassembling, mounting the engine making fuel and oil hoses and trying to figure out where to put everything on the very small firewall. There’s not enough space for the prop governor so I had to hack a huge square hole in the firewall and fit a recess that can be purchased from Vans. The next challenge was all the wiring and fitting all the interior components, instruments and seats etc.

The Lycoming IO 320 was finally reattached to the airframe and most of the accessories were fitted. Cables routed and re-routed due to the very small and inaccessible space between the firewall and rear of the power plant. All oil hoses and fuel hoses made and fitted.

Everything was then carted to my hangar at Panorama where the final assembly was about to begin at the beginning of October. Wings and empennage were reunited and all rigging done, control surfaces attached with control rods finally rigged.

I opted to fabricate an electric elevator trim mechanism that is housed under the vertical stabiliser as there is no space in the elevator as in all the other RV models. All internal fitment of stuff followed, more final wiring done, all electrics checked and radio checked for proper operation. The canopy was fitted and I opted to use a lift strut to keep the canopy open as opposed to the lanyard suggestion in the build manual.

Next came setting the timing on the two P-Mag-E Mags, filling the engine with straight aeroshell oil and getting ready to start the motor. I disconnected the main fuel line and filled it up with avgas to enable easier priming and to make sure the electric pump was working. Then cranked the motor with plugs out and ignition off to get the oil pressure up. Once this was done refitted plugs, primed and cranked her over. The motor started on about three turns and ran like a dream.

The little RV was now ready for the final inspection and test flight. All my paperwork has been submitted to CAA for the proving flight authority. Once this was received it was time for the test flight, I approached Trevor Warner to take the 3 on her maiden flight and he was only too happy to oblige.


Trevor Warner

I have known Neil Murray for a long time and have had the privilege of watching him build and restore many aeroplanes over the years. Some months back when Neil called me and asked if I would be prepared to test fly his RV 3, I knew I was in for a treat.

The day arrived and I was not disappointed. Neil and I spent some time going over the aircraft and some of its unique peculiarities with regards to magnetos and propeller limitations.

Carefully climbing into the tiny cockpit I was very aware of just how small the RV 3 is. “Snug” comes to mind. However, I found the seating and general cockpit layout to be very comfortable.

Start and taxi were straight forward but what did become apparent immediately was how light and sensitive the tail-wheel steering was on the ground. I cautioned myself against over-activity in that department during take-off and landing.

The conditions at Panorama Park on the Saturday morning were cool and overcast with about a 1500’ ceiling and a 5kt northerly breeze. I taxied and entered to backtrack runway 02. Avoiding a lengthy run-up on a brand-new engine, with all systems operating perfectly, I lined up and slowly opened the throttle. With the 160hp 0-320 and the whirlwind 3 bladed prop at 2650rpm, the little aerie is no sloth. Tail up with no surprises and seconds later airborne, what became apparent immediately was how hard I was pulling to hold the climb attitude. A little more aft trim and the RV 3 crossed the upwind threshold at about 500’ and indicating 100mph.

An interesting characteristic of the RV 3 is that the elevator does not have horn balances as do all the other RV variants and as a result, she is surprisingly heavy in pitch. It soon became apparent that the roll rate is not disappointing and I would guess a little more sprightly in roll than any of the other RV’s that I have flown.

Of course, being a brand-new engine, the best treatment is to run it as hard as possible for as long as possible to start the process of bedding in rings etc. with the mineral oil that is used for the job. I settled into a wide orbit around Panorama a little below the cloud base and was soon impressed by the speed of the little plane with the IAS settling at about 175mph. That was without wheel spats and gear-leg fairings fitted. I am pretty sure that some RV 8 pilots and are going to be hard-pressed to keep up.

With all engine parameters exactly where one would like them, a rainstorm began approaching from the west and it was decision time. Either land after only 15 minutes airborne, (not ideal for the run-in process of a new engine) or move over to Tedderfield which was in the clear. I did the latter and spent the next 15 minutes flying a similar pattern over the Tedderfield circuit.

With the weather moving on, I proceeded back to Panorama and soon after was joined by Derek Hopkins and Andre Venter with his camera in the Hopkins RV 8. Neil Murray in his RV 8 also joined us, to take a closer look at his new creation.

Once we broke the formation and with 45 minutes of full-throttle time on the new RV 3 it was time to start gently taking the power off. Next was to visit the stall characteristics prior to approach and landing.

In true Van’s style, the stalls bore no surprises at all. Clean stall at 63mph and a landing config stall at 58mph (for those who know me, I must just add that this was accomplished at exactly 1g) Neither of these resulted in any real wing drop. That meant that the approach was to be flown at 75mph.

The approach, landing (tail low wheeler) and roll-out revealed no surprises. I have heard it said that the most delightful Van’s aeroplane is the RV 3 and now having had the privilege of flying one I am inclined to agree.

Well done to Neil on a magnificent build and I wish you many happy years of flying.



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