Van’s Aircraft and the RV Nation

The story behind the most successful line of kit planes ever.

Van's Aircraft RV-1

Van's Aircraft RV-1

Van's Aircraft RV-1

On the home page of the Van's Aircraft website, there is a replica of a Hobbs Meter. It doesn't count hours; however, it counts aircraft completions…the number of RVs that have been finished and flown. The count this afternoon was 7,684! No other design in the homebuilt movement has come close to that. What's equally amazing is that the number of RVs currently under construction (or abandoned) may exceed that total. What's even more remarkable about all this is the man behind those designs, plans and kits: Dick VanGrunsven. He fits the Dutch stereotype: intelligent, clever, quiet, soft-spoken, conservative, and stubborn. People who try to talk him into modifying one of his designs sometimes get to see a different side of Dick. That's not to say that he doesn't respond to the market. He started out with a single seat, got talked into a two-place tandem, then a side by side model and eventually a four-seat design. In any case, his subdued demeanor makes him an unlikely candidate to be the world leader in producing kits that have made it to the flightline…until you get to know where he's coming from.

There’s more to it than sheer numbers. It has spawned a kind of cult; a band of brothers, who take their RV building and flying very seriously. There are RV clubs out there, RV flying formations, an online chat room and blog that’s hosted by volunteers. EAA sets aside an enormous area for RV tie downs to accommodate those who visit the annual Fly-In. There are guys who have built 5, 6, even 7 copies of the RV designs. They finish one, fly it for a while, sell it and buy another model. They just love building them.

A lot of kit makers have come and gone since Dick sold his first limited kit at Oshkosh in 1974. Van’s Aircraft may be the oldest continuous kit company in the business today. A number of factors have contributed to the on-going success of Dick’s Designs: aluminum, new products, ease of construction, ruggedness, builder support, integrity, and performance, performance, performance. There’s another factor: success…the kind that feeds on itself, stimulating even more success. Few people get serious about homebuilding today without at least taking a look at the RVs.

Dick launched Van’s Aircraft with the RV-3. That airplane and all that have followed have been built out of 2024-T3 aluminum. Obviously, Dick prefers that material over composite, tube and fabric or all-wood designs. Aluminum is well understood for its strength, durability, and endurance. It has dominated the military and commercial worlds for 75 years. Every so often, as one design begins to fade a little, Dick manages to come out with something new and there are a lot of people who built the last design, who can’t wait to line up for a new kit so they can build a copy of the next design.

Builder support has been a hallmark for Van’s Aircraft, with newsletters and websites that have handled just about every question a builder can think of. Nowadays, if someone tackles an RV design, it’s very likely that someone else in the neighborhood has already been through the drill and can provide answers to most issues that a new builder will face.

It’s the performance and handling of the RVs that has won over most builders. Van’s designs are fast, strong and highly maneuverable. The early models were designed to be fully aerobatic and some of them have found their way into IAC entry-level competitions. The later designs tend to cater to pilots who are more interested in utility than high performance handling and certainly the RV 10 and 12 are outside the aerobatic envelope.

The story of how Dick’s stable evolved from the RV-1 up through the RV-12 (RV stands for Richard VanGrunsven, not Recreational Vehicle) is a study in passion, commitment, and a perfect eye for what works and what doesn’t. This is the story of how one man changed from a quiet country boy to a Homebuilt Guru, the world’s leading producer of homebuilt aircraft kits.

Content provided by Aircraft Spruce.