Recently I’ve been helping a friend get his RV-7 airborne after eight years of building and thought some might be interested in the ‘feel’ of how something like this goes with a well developed design built by a careful builder.
In this case the plane is a near standard RV-7 (the tail wheel side-by-side version) with a new Lycoming 0-360 engine and new CS propeller. Really the only major departure from the norm is the landing gear, which is a prototype Grove contoured/formed spring aluminum design, bolted to a suitably modified engine mount weldment. The brakes are also Grove. Otherwise its pretty much standard although all of them vary in detail. The builder is a foreman for a industrial fabrication shop so as you might imagine the build standard is very high.
Two major issues came up as the plane neared completion: the first is that the plane, although having been hangared (unflown) at one airport, needed to move to another airport to get its C of A, and for its initial test flight. Our friend the FAA Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR) has been under pressure not to issue any C of A until the aircraft is physically located at the airport where the initial flight is approved – this being an outlying airport surrounded by fields. Inevitably this came up because several times recently other builders have surmised that with C of A in hand the easiest way to get their plane to the designated airfield for its initial test flight was to fly it there….
The second issue is typical for builders I think – he basically hasn’t flown in five years. In addition to building the plane he got married and both had their impact on his time to fly. I’m not the guy for any test flight role and have no RV experience, but luckily we have another friend (he might’ve made the landing gear ) who agreed to do the initial flight and yet another friend who said he’d help out putting some time on the plane. Moving the plane was not a big deal – enough people came out of the woodwork, and with trucks and trailers made available the plane got to its new temporary hangar. The next day the wings were reattached and it was made ready for flight. Late in the week the DAR issued the C of A. That’s actually when the more interesting part of the whole procedure started (for me). The engine, prop, instrumentation and radios had been checked out pretty carefully prior to transportation and were checked again – no problems. On the Saturday the designated pilot showed up and repeated all those checks. Then he taxied to the end of the runway and took off…
After a while he came back, landed and taxied back to the hangar. Along with the obvious joy of the thing having flown came the obvious question: what’s wrong with it? “I think the CHT and OIl temps are about 20 degrees lower than optimum” And?… “and nothing. Its in trim. It’s an RV, what do you want me to say?” The next weekend pilot number two gave it a try: happily he came back too: “Yeah, you should think about closing up the cowling a bit, maybe it’d go faster” And?… “I rolled it, looped it, and tried to spin it… it won’t really spin, it does what a Vari-Eze was supposed to do. It’s as predictable as that 172 over there. There’s nothing else to do”
Now the problem is that the builder can’t fly it, the other guys have done everything they can do with it in 1.5 hrs, and it has to be flown solo for another 38.5 hours! I’m happy the builder has that kind of problem to solve After seeing the diametrically opposed situation with my dad’s plans built homebuilt in the 80s, which included two engine failures and a broken canard (in other words years of development) I was a little taken aback by the RV experience. They are really pretty close to being factory built aircraft in dispersed production.