Van’s Aircraft offers RVs in standard form or QuickBuild kit. Either includes all the parts needed to build a complete airframe, with the builder left to provide the engine, propeller, instruments, avionics and upholstery — again, except in the case of the LSA RV-12. All RV kits have been reviewed by the FAA for licensing in the “Experimental amateur built” category. This means the fabrication work Van’s does on the kit parts is less than 50 percent of the total required to complete the aircraft, and that at least 51 percent of the work remains for the kit builder.
While it’s true that Van’s Aircraft sells a ton of RV kits, potential builders often ask how many wind up as completed airplanes and not 75-percent-finished husks gathering dust in dark garages or hangars.
“The answer is unknowable,” VanGrunsven says half-jokingly, “because time is infinite. A few years ago, serial number 18, an RV-3, was finished — 27 years after we sold the kit. Given enough time, maybe all of them will be built.”
The RV Family Tree
Naming of the RV lineup is sequential for the most part, but you’ll notice some numbers are missing along the way. We already know about the RV-2, which was never finished, and then there was the RV-5, a one-off design that never made it into production. Another MIA model is the RV-11, a single-seat motorglider designed as a proof of concept, which today serves more as a personal pet project under the control of VanGrunsven, who is also an avid sailplane pilot.
Today, Van’s most popular kit is the RV-7. It’s a slightly larger replacement for the RV-6 that provides ample room for a pair of 6-footers and bigger fuel tanks. Interestingly, the RV-7 came after the RV-8, which VanGrunsven introduced back in 1995 as a rebirth of sorts for the RV-4 tandem-seat sport airplane. The budget-minded RV-9, meanwhile, introduced a new, longer and narrower wing that allows it to climb briskly with less power and glide farther than previous RVs. A Texas group called “Friends of the RV-1,” meanwhile, is restoring the original RV and will donate it next summer to the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The unlucky sounding RV-13 would be next in the line, but VanGrunsven jokes that the model designator is reserved as a “stealth project being produced for the Triskaidekaphobian Air Force.” More seriously, he thinks there probably won’t be an RV-13: “It’s not that we’re superstitious, but it’s just not worth going there.” So that leaves the RV-14 as the next in the line’s succession, but even that model remains cloaked in mystery.
“We don’t have any future plans for a new airplane,” he insists. “I’ll have to talk to the chief engineer to see what he has in mind.”
The mere fact that no new model appears imminent is a testament, perhaps, to the fact that the current RV family covers all the bases VanGrunsven could have conceivably hoped he would when he started out in the business almost 40 years ago, and then some. (There’s even a float-equipped RV-6F flying in British Columbia.)
So which of his creations is VanGrunsven most proud of?
“That’s like asking which of your children do you love the most,” he says with a sheepish grin. “I can’t say I have an absolute favorite; it depends on the type of flying I want to do. For a long cross-country it would be the RV-10. If I’m just going up for a hop around the patch, it’s probably the RV-12.”
Those are somewhat surprising choices considering that what has sold Van’s airplanes for the last 40 years is the way they fly, and the RV-10 and RV-12 are set at the far ends of the spectrum of what that experience is supposed to be. Still, the RV-12 “flies a lot more like an RV-6 than it does a Cherokee,” VanGrunsven insists. “It’s a fun little airplane.”