We Fly: Van's Aircraft RV-14A
Flying|September 2020
FULL PERFORMANCE BUILDING AND FLYING VAN’S AIRCRAFT’S BROADEST EXPRESSION
AMY LABODA

Let’s get this straight from the beginning: The Van’s Aircraft RV-14A is not an off-the-shelf airplane. Every one of them out in the wild is custom-built.

Even its recommended 210 hp Lycoming Thunderbolt XIO-390 engine is hand-assembled, polished and ported by a select team of Lycoming employees. And the “A” denotes a nosewheel version, with the tailwheel model being the RV-14.

Every airplane that has ever been graced by the Van’s moniker is essentially a one-off, again by design.

These aircraft are delivered to buyers as sophisticated kits with an elaborate set of detailed assembly instructions—generally, five shipments of aluminum and fiberglass composite parts, pre-drilled, pre-welded and mostly pre-formed, and all machined to exacting standards by CNC machines. Since 1973, Aurora, Oregon-based Van’s has delivered more than 18,000 complete kits, beginning with the RV-3. Of all the kit aircraft delivered, there are more than 10,000 Van’s aircraft flying, more than any other aircraft kit manufacturer.

Why go with a kit aircraft if you are looking to own a general aviation airplane? Ask yourself: Are you looking for the adventure of building an aircraft? Not feeling rushed? Need an aircraft you can afford? Many kit buyers look purely at the economics of building and owning an amateur-built aircraft. They need to understand that you can only take full advantage of the economic advantages if you build the airplane yourself. Why?

FAA rules state that homebuilders must construct a minimum of 51 percent of the aircraft. Those who do can apply for and receive the Holy Grail of homebuilding, a repairman’s certificate entitling them to perform all the necessary maintenance on their own machine. Any aircraft owners who have paid labor costs for an annual inspection know the value of that certificate.

A NEW KIND OF KIT

Putting together a modern homebuilt kit airplane such as the RV-14A is not a quixotic journey for your average, everyday pilot. It’s not Peter Garrison planning and then hand-fabricating every part of his Melmoth fliers. Richard VanGrunsven, founder and chief designer of Van’s Aircraft, notes the RV-14A takes roughly 1,000 to 3,000 labor-hours to build. Most humans translate that into one to five years of construction.

Who are the successful RV-14A builder-pilots in 2020? A lot of different people, it turns out. They include Punta Gorda, Florida-based retired educator Dr. Allan Stern, who sees himself as more builder than pilot, having tackled and completed an RV-6A, RV-8 and RV-12 before his RV-14A.

“It took me six years to build the RV-6A, which really had a lot of detail work left for the builder,” remembers Stern, who fully admits the build was also interrupted by travel. “I certainly wasn’t at it every day,” he continues. The RV-8 build went faster, and he held onto the airplane for about 10 years, enjoying its maneuverability and tandem seating configuration. He bought the light-sport RV-12 Experimental- LSA kit when he thought he might lose his FAA medical; it was another two-year build. And when Basic Med came in? He decided to go for a roomier airplane with the ability to fly longer cross-country legs than the RV-12.

And How Does It Fly?

VERY FINE, INDEED!

Bradenton, Florida-based Dennis Sutton was ready to get back into aviation, and retired physician M. Turner Billingsley had a newly minted, hand-built RV-14A for sale. It was a match, and Billingsley delivered N14VB to Sutton on a balmy spring day. There was only one catch: Sutton had not logged a flight in 20 years.

Enter Brett Williamson. A late bloomer in aviation, Williamson helped with a teen-built RV-12 that he owns a part of and learned to fly—and he decided to become a professional pilot.

“This specimen flies perfectly!” Williamson said when asked about the quality of Billingsley’s build. It is a good thing too, since Williamson has taken on not just an extensive flight review for Sutton, but also primary flight training for Sutton’s son, Jody, in the airplane. “Even with the relatively complex Garmin 3X touchscreen avionics and a constant speed propeller, the RV-14A’s efficiency and honest flying make it a good trainer,” Williamson says.

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