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Which RV is Right for Me?

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Van’s “Total Performance” concept means that all RVs do many, many things quite well. And while they’re all fun to fly and perform quite well, each model has its own uniquely-appealing set of mission capabilities. This may pose a bit of a dilemma when a new builder is trying to decide, “Which RV is best for me? ”

No worries. We’re here to help!

Through much experience we’ve found it most useful to think — at least initially — about the mission rather than about the airplane itself. Instead of asking “Which airplane?” ask  “What exactly do I want my airplane to do?” Many factors come into play here. Your personality, stage of life, size and age of the family, budget… All of these things contribute to your mission definition. The more completely and honestly your mission is defined, the easier and better your choice of airplane will be. Defining your RV’s mission requires making decisions, not avoiding them. It requires introspection and some decisive honesty.

Remember this: An airplane knows nothing about dreams. It simply does what it can do. It’s the builder’s job to make sure that — after analysis — the airplane’s capabilities and what the builder wants coincide.

So, let’s look at a typical “decision-tree.”

The Premise

You’ve been renting a Cessna 172. Renting is inconvenient and expensive, and the Cessna is slow, marginal on performance, and unexciting. Some sort of RV looks like just the thing for you… but which one?

First question: Do you need four seats?

Really? Note that the question is “need,” not “want” or “would 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 option in the RV world to meet that requirement, albeit a great option – You’ll be looking at an RV-10.

But suppose the honest answer is no. You’ve thought back over the last couple of years of flying time and realize that it’s very rare to have anybody in the back seat 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 that goes into building the RV-10, but that also opens up several new possibilities: the RV-4, RV-7/7A, RV-8/8A, RV-9/9A, RV-12 and RV-14/14A.

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 equally 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-8/8A are very much pilot-plus-passenger airplanes. The person sitting in the back seat is the passenger. They can be provided rudimentary controls, but they can’t see forward as well, don’t have access to anything on the instrument panel and will sit with their legs straddling the pilot’s seat. Total baggage space is much the same as in the side-by-side airplanes, but the space is divided between two smaller compartments – one in front and one in back – so bigger items like folding bikes or golf bags won’t fit. The side-by-side RV-7/7A, RV-9/9A, 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” when defining this part of the mission profile. 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 to really determine. Remember that honest answers are imperative in mission-building. 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 quite well. The RV-9/9A, RV-10 and RV-12 are not aerobatic airplanes.

Are you primarily a cross-country traveler?

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 quite capable of long-distance trips, these two 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 in this manner, of course, but the RV-12iS may make the most sense if your real goal is simply to “go flying.” The Rotax engine burns five gallons of fuel or less 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 a single-bay suburban garage. The RV-12 is also the only RV that can be flown by a Light Sport Pilot.

After picking the model, choose your configuration

Once the best airplane for your personal mission has become apparent, you can use the same technique to choose between configurations (most of our 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 it to do.

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 unlimited aerobatics or haul large dead animals out of remote hunting places, you’ll need something else. We can recommend some of our friendly competitors.

But, during the last forty years and for thousands of pilots our experience is that one RV or another has proved the best answer to the question: “What do I want an airplane to do?”


How many seats do you need?
One seat … RV-3
Two seats … RV-4, –7/7A, –8/8A, –9/9A, -12iS, –14/14A
Four seats … RV-10

Do you need aerobatic capability?
Yes, aero capable … RV-3, -4, -7/7A, -8/8A, 14/14A
No thanks … RV-9/9A, -10, -12iS

What kind of seating arrangement do you prefer?
Tandem/Centerline … RV-3, -4, -8/8A
Side-by-Side …  RV-7/7A, -9/9A, -10, 12iS, 14/14A

Taildragger or Tricycle?
Taildragger … RV-3, -4, -7, -8, -9, –14
Tricycle … RV-7A, -8A, -9A, -10, 12iS, –14A

Are you flying as a Private Pilot or a Light Sport Pilot?
Private … All RV Models
Light Sport … RV-12iS

Want or need removable wings?


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