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My reasons for wanting to build and fly my own airplane are simple and best summed up by the words of one of the true father’s of aviation, Leonardo DaVinci:
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Even though I’m a low-time pilot, I’ve already figured out that renting an airplane isn’t the best option available. The airplane may not be available when you want it and, at $115 an hour, it’s difficult to do anything more than pattern work and local flights. Of course, there’s a simple solution, buy my own airplane!
OK, maybe it’s not so simple. I started looking at buying a used aircraft and was amazed how airplanes hold their value. An ancient Cessna 172 would still cost me 30-80 thousand. At the 30 thousand end, you get a 40-year-old plane with an engine in need of overhaul. At the 80 thousand end, you get a 20-year-old airplane that is in good shape, but only cruises at 115 knots. Personally, if I own an airplane, I’m going to want to use it to go places and I want to go places fast! Unfortunately, my budget won’t allow this if I purchase a factory built aircraft.
With this in mind, I started looking at kit aircraft. There are hundreds of kits available. Some are not much more than a set of plans and some materials. Others are so advanced that you just match up holes, rivet, hang an engine, and go fly. I’m not an aerospace engineer, but I can follow good directions and I don’t want to have to fabricate a lot of parts. With this in mind, I started to focus on kits from Van’s, Ran’s, Sonex and a few others.
After looking at the specs, performance data, cost, and ease of construction, the hands down winner was the RV line from Van’s Aircraft. In addition, the RV-7 seemed like the best airplane for my mission. For more details on the RV-7, check out the Van’s website (www.vansaircraft.com) or click on my specs and performance page.
The RV-7 is a low-wing, tailwheel design with great handling characteristics in both slow flight and in high speed cruise. Sure, a lot of airplanes claim this, but how many of them fly as slow as 50 mph and top out at over 200 mph? Not many! On top of that, how many take off and land in less than 500 feet and are capable of minor aerobatics? Again, not many! Furthermore, how many kits are computer designed, precision machined, match punched and under $20,000 for the airframe.
With an RV, you get the complete package, fun, fast, and long-range. As a bonus, the airplane is designed to accept several sizes of engines and has many extra features which can be added both during and after construction. There are a lot of great kits out there and an RV may not be for everyone, but for me, the choice was simple.
My Plan (A work in progress):
Airframe – The plan has always been to build a tri-gear model (RV-7A). However, after getting my tailwheel endorsement, I’ve decided to build my 7 as the designer intended…with the third wheel in the back…an RV-7. Standard build kit. Tip-up canopy. Electric elevator and aileron trim. Full lighting for day/night VFR.
Engine– As much as I would like to use an alternative engine. It is starting to look less practical for many reasons. The Eggenfellner H6 Subaru looks great initially, but it seems they still have issues with cooling and the PSRU. By the time I’m ready for an engine, they may have this sorted out, but my mechanical skills aren’t up to the task of constantly tinkering with an engine. There are also some promising turbine and diesel engines out there, but they are just too expensive to be practical. In addition, alternative engines appear to greatly reduce the resale value of the airplane as the majority of aircraft buyers will want a traditional aircraft engine. All of these factors have me leaning towards a tried and true Lycoming or Lycoming clone. The TMX-360 from Mattituck is looking good. However, still many decisions to make. Fuel injected or carburated? Dual magnetos or one magneto and one electronic ignition? If I had to buy it now, I would go with an IOX-360 with dual magnetos.
Propellor – The debate between fixed pitch and constant speed rages on. The benefits of a constant speed prop, to me, don’t seem to justify the increased cost and maintenance. Therefore, I see a fixed pitch composite prop in my future. Catto may be my prop of choice…I’ve heard nothing bad about them.
Instruments– MGL EFIS and engine monitor (Voyager or Odyssey), Garmin AERA 510 GPS (for backup and XM weather), ICOM A210 or MGL radio, Garmin transponder, and Flightcom intercom (to allow for a stereo sound input). Maybe a few back-up steam gauges, but the MGL is a complete system that includes GPS, engine monitoring and auto-pilot (just add servos).