On FlyAroundTheSun.com, I intend to document the building process of an RV-9A homebuilt airplane. The RV-9A is one of eight models of aircraft kits manufactured by Van’s Aircraft, which was founded by Richard VanGrunsven, a mechanical engineer who has over 10 000 hours flight time including 6 500 in homebuilt airplanes. Richard’s first airplane was a Stits Playboy with a 65 hp engine. After flying that for a year, Richard purchased another Playboy and rebuilt it with a 125 hp Lycoming engine, bubble canopy and Hoerner-style wingtips. Not overly impressed with the performance of that airplane, Richard modified the Playboy with aluminum cantilevered wings and flaps to improve short field landing capability. He called it the RV-1. This was the first RV.
Richard VanGrunsven logged 550 hours on the RV-1 from 1965 to 1968 and then designed and built an entirely aluminum airplane, the RV-3 which first flew in 1971. It performed so well that people wanted one of their own. So, Richard began to make kits and Van’s Aircraft was born. By 1979, the single seat RV-3 was hugely popular but there was an increasing demand for a 2-seat configuration. In response to that, the larger, tandem seat RV-4 was unveiled. Only slightly slower than the RV-3, the RV-4 proved to be just as much of an exciting airplane as the RV-3. With the high demand for kits of these two aircraft, VanGrunsven moved his business from his home to a shop at an airstrip in North Plains, Oregon which became Van’s Aircraft’s first corporate building.
While Richard was efficiently growing his business, a demand for side-by-side (SBS) seating was growing as well. So, in 1985 Van’s Aircraft began designing the RV-6 and with a cockpit width of 43 inches, it could easily accommodate two adults. Up till now, all of the RVs were tail-wheeled airplanes, or tail-draggers. Realizing that fewer and fewer pilots would have experience flying tail-draggers, a nose-wheeled RV, or tricycle gear, was introduced, the RV-6A, in 1988. By 1994, there was 15 years of history behind the RV-4 and using the knowledge acquired during that time, VanGrunsven decided to design a new tandem airplane, the RV-8, as a vast improvement over the RV-4. The tail-dragging RV-8 first flew in July 1995 with a kit available in 1997. The tricycle gear RV-8A was available in 1998.
While the RV-3, -4, -6/6A and -8/8A airplanes were built for high speed and aerobatics, there were many pilots who simply wanted an easy-to-fly, yet fun airplane. They had no interest in aerobatics. In response to this, Van’s Aircraft designed the RV-9A in 2000. This SBS seated airplane’s focus was low landing speeds, easy handling and efficient cruise which are ideal for new or low-time pilots who want a weekend airplane or go on an occasional cross-country trip. Also in 2000, Van’s Aircraft began designing the RV-10, a 4-seat airplane with a large enough cabin to carry four 6’4″ adults. The first orders for the RV-10 were taken in August 2003. In 2002, VanGrunsven decided to look at the RV-6 for any areas of improvement. What resulted was the RV-7 and RV-7A. This airplane had more space in the cockpit and with a 200 hp Lycoming engine, it had better performance. Because of this, Van’s Aircraft discontinued the RV-6/6A.
Van’s Aircraft’s latest airplane, the RV-12, meets the LSA specifications provided by the FAA and can be licensed as an E-LSA, or Experimental Light Sport Aircraft. This kit was available in 2008 and comes with a Rotax which can use unleaded auto gas or 100LL. The RV-12 is a complete kit where only the paint is not provided.
As of this writing, over 7100 RV airplanes have been built and flown, making Van’s Aircraft the most successful kit built airplane company. This is one of the reasons why I chose the RV-9A as the airplane I want to build. With so many RV builders, there is also a large community of support which goes a long way to help a new builder.