Van’s Aircraft, Inc. –a Brief History
In the early 1970s, a skinny young engineer from a small town in Oregon built himself a better mousetrap.
Actually, it was a better airplane.
After improving another homebuilt design, the Stits Playboy, as much as he could, Richard (Van) VanGrunsven decided to start with a clean sheet of paper. His RV-3 impressed a lot of people (ďRVĒ of course, stands for Richard VanGrunsvenÖ). Many of them were willing to take on the task of building an airplane from scratch so that they, too, could have an airplane that flew like Vanís. Already an experienced pilot, Van quit his job with a forklift company and seized the opportunity to work with his real love, aviation. He founded Van's Aircraft, Inc. in 1972 and began selling plans and a few parts for the RV-3. These he manufactured himself, working in a small shop behind his house in the small town of Reedville, Oregon. As business grew and Vanís Aircraft began producing full aircraft kits and new designs, the company moved to larger quarters in North Plains, Oregon, a small town about 25 miles west of Portland. Van and his wife Diane built a home on a residential airpark just across the road from the factory. For many years, the RV prototypes and demonstration aircraft flew from the grass runway at the airpark.
Eventually, after several expansions, Vanís had exhausted the available opportunities in North Plains, so in 2000 the company moved to a new 60,000 square foot facility near the small town of Aurora, Oregon (the people at Vanís just like small towns.) Now based on the Aurora State airport (KUAO), the employee-owned company currently employs over 50 people (and dozens more in sub-contract roles) and keeps them busy manufacturing several hundred complete aircraft kits a year. In an era of out-sourcing and foreign manufacture Vanís is a bit of a rarity Ė a huge majority of the components used in the RV aircraft are manufactured in the USA, most of them in Vanís factory.
Van continues to reside in North Plains, but commutes to Aurora by air, flying whatever RV strikes his fancy on the day. Vanís Aircraft became employee-owned several years ago and the day-to-day running of the company is now handled by others, After years of working extremely long hours, Van has carved out a little more time for himself. A lot of it he spends flying sailplanes. At this, he has become quite expert, often winning his class (or at least placing quite well) in large soaring meets. When he is not in the cockpit of his Antares, he and Diane travel, explore the world and visit their three children. In recent years, he has become passionate about youth build projects, helping to introduce young people to aviation and introducing them to their own potential by building airplanes.
By the end of 2012, about 8000 RV kits have been completed and flown, and thousands more are under construction. Completion rates currently average about 1.5 per day. RVs are flying in at least 45 different countries and kits have shipped to about sixty. From a small farm in Oregon, these wonderful airplanes have achieved a global following. Not because of any superior marketing campaign, but simply because they fly so well and bring so much pleasure to their builders.
As the company celebrates its 40th anniversary year, Vanís Aircraft is solvent, strong and alive with new ideas. The coming years will present plenty of challenges but we intend to meet them the way Dick VanGrunsven did when building the company: with honesty, practicality, diligence and imagination.