It wasn’t long before prospective RV builders were practically begging VanGrunsven to offer a two-seat version of the RV-3. While he liked the idea of expanding the product line, he was reluctant to add a second seat for fear that a heavier airplane would lack the fun flying characteristics that had made the RV-3 a success. But the company was growing and demand for a new airplane only strengthened, and so finally, in the summer of 1979, VanGrunsven introduced the RV-4, a tandem-seat taildragger that was 10 knots slower than the RV-3, yet, to its designer’s deep satisfaction, retained the exceptional handling traits and aerobatic capabilities of the predecessor.
Adapting to an Evolving Market
By the start of the 1980s, kit building had truly come into its own as dozens of small companies sprang up to serve a burgeoning market. What the homebuilding masses clamored for now was a Van’s RV with side-by-side seating. To the performance-minded VanGrunsven, this was almost too much to take. Did people want to fly their airplanes, he wondered, or were they more interested in chatting with passengers?
“It was a changing market at that time,” VanGrunsven recalls. “Rather than the homebuilt airplane being seen as a sport plane, which is how I saw it, people were starting to view it as a transportation airplane equivalent to factory models like the Piper Cherokee or Cessna Skyhawk.”
VanGrunsven once again acquiesced to the demands of buyers, and for a second time he was surprised — again, pleasantly so — by the results. Thanks to refinements and improvements he was able to incorporate into the RV-6, this model turned out to be his best airplane yet, with heart-pounding power and handling that fully retained the lineage’s aerobatic underpinnings while introducing the added comfort ideal for making long cross-country trips. With the introduction of this newest RV coinciding with the product-liability-driven collapse of the piston-powered general aviation market in the mid-1980s, VanGrunsven was handsomely rewarded: The RV-6 and follow-on RV-6A model (the A in all Van’s models except the RV-3A denotes tricycle landing gear) became the most successful kit airplanes in history, cementing the company’s legendary status and laying the path for several follow-on models.
Since the beginnings in 1973, RV builders have completed more than 7,400 Van’s kits, spanning the line from the original RV-3/A, of which around 600 were built, to the current crop of aircraft including the RV-7, RV-9, RV-10, RV-12 and even a reborn model, the RV-3B, featuring a new wing spar design and QuickBuild wings similar to those of the RV-8. (Early problems with the RV-3’s wing have also been remedied, with retrofitted RV-3s now referred to as RV-3As.) So endeared to the Van’s aircraft family have RV builders and owners become that the term “RV grin” has arisen to describe what it’s like to settle in behind the controls of one in flight.