This is what I decided to build!
It seems like all of the builder logs I’ve read start with some kind of “why this?” sort of post. I won’t break tradition here.
I’ve had my ticket for about 2 and a half years at this point, flying regularly for about four years. Single-engine land. I’m hoping to finish my instrument rating next month. The planes that I can fly in my club range from clunky, old, and slow (Piper Archer) to bigger more complex and fast enough (A couple of Bonanzas) with a couple of Arrows in between. None are really a good match to the kind of flying I currently do nor the kind I would like to do. The flying I mostly do is a get-up, fly around, do some landings, grab a $100 burger. I sometimes travel medium distances (a hundred fifty miles or so) to visit my daughter at college. I haven’t really gone very far on a cross-country, but I would like to do that in retirement.
The idea of a fast cross country cruiser that is fun around the patch fits what I’m likely to want to fly most of the time. My wife doesn’t really enjoy flying, and my kids are getting to the point that they’ll move out soon, so having four seats isn’t really a draw. The trainer I fly travels a little less than 2 miles a minute at cruise (a little more than 2 miles/minute at firewall). I set a figure in my head of 3 miles a minute. I can get places at that speed!
I wanted some range. I sometimes work in Chicago. That is 750 air miles from here. Being able to do that in 4 and a half hours without a fuel stop would be nice. Not much farther to Oshkosh. In retirement, one of my brothers will still likely be in Texas. About 1100 air miles. About 8 hours with a single stop would do it. I wanted to be able to cross the whole country in two days. Again, a 400 mile range is pretty limiting. I was hoping for an 800 mile range at cruise.
I knew that fuel was going to be a big part of the final cost. I probably will run out the 2000 hour TBO on the engine and then sell the plane, so I wasn’t that worried about engine reserve costs. The Archers I fly now get by on a little less than 10 gph. I was hoping for something in the 8-11 range while keeping the speed up.
I spent a lot of time thinking about a Diamond DA-40. Pretty fast (140kts), pretty sleek, very good safety record. It’s hard to find a good one below $150,000 though. Quite a few are pretty beat up. Their useful load is kinda questionable too. A Diamond would be an OK three-person plane.
I spent a lot of time considering LSA’s. They’re a good hedge against future problems with my medical, they’re kinda slow, but maybe fast enough. The thing that killed it though, is that I wanted a plane that I could fly in light IFR. The Northeast is notorious for weather that’s just a bit too crappy for VFR. I’m thinking of retiring in Southern California which is notorious for a couple hundred feet of marine layer spoiling a lot of flying days. You just can’t get a good IFR LSA. So that was out.
I thought about building — especially quick building. The Arion and the Sportsman two-week to taxi program sounded just about right time and cost-wise. As much as the Arion intrigued me, I just couldn’t see putting it together. The Sportsman 2×2 is a high-wing — I’ve been flying low-wing almost exclusively.
I really fancied a Sonex Onex for a while. It would be a pure fun machine (one seat, folding wings, fits in the garage on a trailer). It just wasn’t practical though. No cross country capability. No way to do a BFR in it. Not really a capable instrument platform.
The plane family I kept coming back to though was the Van’s RV. I thought a lot about an RV-9. I didn’t really need acrobatic. It was a stable cross country plane. It was mostly pre-drilled. It seemed doable. Several times, I almost got the will to get started. I signed up for an EAA workshop, but had to cancel for some reason. I read forums and builders logs. I never pulled the trigger though. I thought about an RV-7 (a -6 was way out of my league), but it seemed like a bit too much of a sportplane. An RV-10 sounded awesome, but the build time and $200K price to finish was just too much (though a true 4-seater would be nice).
Then Vans announced the RV-14. It didn’t please everyone, but it fits my needs pretty well. It is more aggressively pre-punched and pre-drilled than the RV-7 and RV-10. It is acrobatic, so it is strong (and can go upside-down once in a while). It has a shorter build time (70% of a -7, much less than a -10). It is a little wider than a -7, but otherwise a lot like a -10. Most people think of it as a big -7 or a small -10.
Still, I wasn’t sure.
I followed a lot of the forums at vansairforce.net. I went from guest status to getting a login. I asked about builders and then about a chance for a ride.
Then I got a ride from “King,” an RV-7 driver who pilots a private jet for a deep pocketed owner. I was in awe the whole time. We lifted off from Stewart and he handed the controls over to me. It was wonderful. I have never had so much fun flying as that afternoon. It was actually my second flight of the day. I took my niece and her friend up for a flight down the Hudson River corridor that morning. Spectacular in it’s own way, but it just did not compare.
When we got back, I sat in my car coming down off the flying high. I called my wife and told her that “I just took the most expensive flight ever.” She knew that it was over — I was going to start building one. I still didn’t have the space figure out. I still hadn’t taken that riveting class. But it was a done deal. My end-of-year bonus was spoken for. I’m building.
The test flight was useful in another way. I’m glad I opted for the -14 as the RV-7 is just a little bit cramped. It’s a touch narrower than the Archer I’m flying now. The -14 is just a touch bigger. I think it will help when flying with a buddy and hopefully it will work OK for the wife.
So, the speed is there (150 kts in econo-cruise, 174 kts at high cruise — nearly 200mph), the range is there (1000+ miles), the instrument capability is there (I’ll probably go with a Dynon Skyview plus a couple of VOR’s). The price is in range (I’m guessing around $110K to build it) and is spread out over a few years. As you’ll see in follow-on posts, I’ve secured the space.
I’m guessing 2 to 3 years to do the bulk of the build. Another year plus to do the finish up. We’ll see how that stacks up to reality (Van’s estimates 1000 hours).
Here we go!