Which RV is Right for Me?
Van’s ‘Total Performance’ concept means that all RVs do many, many things well – and that can pose a bit of a dilemma when a new builder is trying to decide “which RV is best for me? ”
After long experience, we’ve found it more useful to think – at least initially -- about the mission, rather than the airplane. Instead of asking “which airplane” ask “what, exactly, do I want an airplane to do?” There are a lot of factors that come into play here. Personality, stage of life, family, budget….it’s all part of the mission statement. The better the mission is defined, the easier and better the choice of airplane will be. Defining the mission will require making decisions, not avoiding them. It requires (sometimes painful) introspection and honesty. An airplane knows nothing about dreams. It does what it can do.
It’s the builder’s job to make sure that what the airplane can do and what he or she wants done coincide.
So, let’s look at a typical “decision-tree.”
You’ve been renting a Cessna 172. Renting is inconvenient and expensive, and the Cessna is slow and unexciting. Some sort of RV looks like just the thing…but which one?
First question: do you need four seats?
Really? Note that the question is “need,” not “want” or “would it be kind of nice.” If you have a family, or often travel with another couple, then the answer may well be yes. If so, there’s only one choice in the RV world – you’ll be looking at an RV-10.
But suppose the honest answer is no. You’ve thought back over the last couple years and realized that it’s very rare to have anybody in the back seats of the Cessna. For the vast majority of your flying, two seats would be sufficient. That means that there would be little point in spending the extra money and time building the RV-10, but opens up several possibilities: the RV-4, RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A, RV-9/9A,
Do you want side-by-side or tandem seating?
There’s no doubt that sitting on the centerline is a cool, cool thing. You can see out of both sides of the airplane – the seating and the big bubble canopy make it hard for the Focke-Wulfs to sneak up on you. However, the tandem concept does not put both occupants on the same footing. The RV-4 and RV-8 are very much pilot-and-passenger airplanes. The person in back is the passenger. They have rudimentary controls, but they can’t see forward, don’t have access to anything on the instrument panel and sit with their legs straddling the pilot. Total baggage space is much the same as in the side-by-side airplanes, but it’s divided between two smaller compartments, so bigger items, like folding bikes or golf bags, won’t fit. The side-by-side RV-7, RV-9, RV-12 and RV-14/14A on the other hand, have large baggage bays spanning the fuselage and both occupants have the same forward view and access to the controls and panel. Consult your “other half.” You may find their views essential to making this decision.
The next question – do you intend to fly aerobatics?
This question often requires a bit of soul-searching – sure, we’d all like to fly like Bob Hoover -- but it’s an important one. Remember that honest answers are imperative. If you are really, truly interested in sport aerobatics and one of the reasons to have an airplane is to rotate freely in three dimensions, the RV-3, RV-4, RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A and RV-14/14A will fit the mission.
If you are not inclined toward aerobatics, but your mission statement does include economic long distance cross-country flying you can take advantage of the longer, high-aspect ratio wings on the RV-9/9A and RV-10. Although any RV is capable of long distance trips, these airplanes are particularly suited for the role. They are quite fast, even on moderate power. They operate happily at altitudes where true airspeeds are high and fuel consumption is low. The more “relaxed” handling qualities mean that even long legs can be hand flown without fatigue.
Perhaps you’re more interested in local fair-weather weekend flying and an occasional longer trip in the summer.
Any RV can be flown this way, but the RV-12 would make the most sense. The Rotax engine uses five or less gallons an hour and prefers auto fuel to avgas. The wings can be removed easily, so the airplane can be stored in for the winter in one bay of a suburban garage. The RV-12 is also the only RV that can be flown by a Light Sport Pilot.
Once the best airplane for your personal mission has become apparent, you can use the same technique to choose between configurations (most two-seat designs can be built in tailwheel or nosewheel versions) and equipment (you may not need the most expensive propeller). The goal is always the same: an airplane that does the job you want done.
Although RVs can do many things, they won’t do everything. If you want to hurtle through the upper atmosphere at jet-like speeds, compete in advanced aerobatics or haul large dead animals out of remote places, you will need something else. We can recommend some of our friendly competitors.
But during the last forty years and for thousands of pilots, one RV or another has proved the best answer to the question
DEFINE THE MISSION / DEFINE THE MODEL:
Are you flying as a Private Pilot or a Light Sport Pilot?