Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated - 3/29/05.

A few people have asked me to do an FAQ section, but I really haven't had the time to do this. Recently, Dan Blather, of Aviation Weakly magazine, was doing an article on home schooled, ah, home built aircraft, and he asked me a few questions. So I thought I would just post that here.

I told him that I didn't have that much experience. So far, all I have completed on my kit are the wings and empennage. I suggested that he should talk to someone like Dan Checkoway, who has actually completed an airplane. Blather said Checkoway was booked for the next 6 months, and I was all that he could get. After his recent departure from big-eye TV, I think Blather was a little worried about drawing too much attention to his new job. Besides, we both live in Austin, Tx, and, apparently, he doesn't have that big a budget for travel, anymore.

Here now, the interview.
Dan: Why did you decide to build an airplane?
Tracy: Lifetime dream, do it my way, always wanted to, blah, blah, blah. While those things are important, the real reason is to get the repairman's certificate. You can't get one without building at least 51% (or you shouldn't be able to, but as we all know). The RC is worth it's weight in gold. Of course, paper doesn't weigh that much, but if you've ever owned an airplane, then you know what I mean. Go here for more on why I decided to build.
Dan: But why did you choose a Van's RV?
Tracy: Because there are lots of RVs out there, they get good performance, his kits include almost everything except the engine and the avionics (and he'll sell you those, too), but most important, is that Van's is going to be around for a long time. After looking at a lot of different designs, it was apparant that more RV's are built than any other aircraft. The homebuilt aircraft industry is a little volatile, and companies come and go on a regular basis. However, Van's has been around for over 30 years, and I am pretty confident that they will be there for 30 more. That's pretty important when you have your fuselage almost done, and you need to buy a canopy to finish it.
Dan: Why the RV-7A, and not an 8A, or a 9A?
Tracy: The RV-8A is really cool, but sitting tandem is not the best seating for wives and friends. The 9A gets great performance on a smaller engine, but I definitely wanted to do some aerobatics. I know the 9A will probably do aerobatics as well as a C-150 Aerobat, but I liked the +6g rating of the 7A.
Dan: Why the RV-7A, and not the 7? Doesn't the 7 look cooler, and don't "real pilots" fly tail draggers?
Tracy: No, the 7 does not look cooler, that's just an opinion. And, no, I don't think you need to have a wheel in the back to be a "real pilot." That's just a myth. I've had two "wheel in the back" airplanes, and I really liked flying them. They were definitely different, but I don't think they made me a "real pilot."

There's a reason why almost all modern aircraft have the wheel up front--they're easier to handle. This makes them inherently safer. Let's face it, I'm not getting any younger, or sharper. Also, my wife might like to fly this thing. No, I just think "smarter" pilots fly nosedraggers.

I'll buy that "real pilot" crap when I see a bunch of those guys flying Wright Flyers. The truth is, the people who promote the tail dragger RVs are just too cheap to pay for a modern airplane. A bunch of trash talking, cheap bastards, every one of them.
Dan: You seem to be a little sensitive to this?
Tracy: Look, you asked the question, not me. I'm just giving you my answer. I think if you told an F-16 pilot that he was not a "real pilot" because his airplane had a wheel up front, you might get a bit of an argument. Definitely, do not say this to a Harrier pilot. You might get your head taken off (Marines fly Harriers). And don't even mention their "training wheels" out on the end of the wings, that really makes them mad.
Dan: Ok, on to other topics. Tell me, how long does it take to build an RV-7?
Tracy: Well, Dan, that depends on a lot of things. First, are you going to go slow build or quick build?
Dan: What's a quick build?
Tracy: It's where you give Van a bunch of money, and he sends you a set of wings or a fuselage that are nearly done.
Dan: So, it's like a bribe?
Tracy: Well, most people prefer to call it an option. You have the option to build it all yourself, or you have the option to let Van's guys build a lot of it. I mean, to be fair, you could compare this to the current match-drilled kits .vs. the older kits, where you had to measure everything and drill all of the holes in the right spot. Now-a-days, all of the holes are pre-drilled, you just have to run a drill bit through all of the holes to make sure everything is perfect.
Dan: I see, so you're saying today's home builder is kind of a pansy, who just assembles his kit, kind of like a model airplane?
Tracy: Those are your words, not mine.

Anyway, a quick build is supposed to cut 35-45% off the build time, so you should be able to complete one in 1000-1200 hours. A slow build should be somewhere around 1800-2000 hours. Average times are something like 200 empenage, 400 wings, 400 fuselage, 400 firwall forward, 400 avionics and finish kit. I'm not sure what builders are estimating for painting.
Dan: You seem to be spending about twice that amount of time. Do you think you will finish this kit?
Tracy: You used to be a news anchor, do you think you'll ever get your job back!
Dan: Oops, sorry, another sensitive area, I see. Can you tell me how much it costs to build one of these airplanes?
Tracy: As with the build times, it varies, according to what you put into the airplane.
Dan: You mean they are not all the same?
Tracy: No, just like a certified aircraft, you can use different engines, different avionics, different upholstery, etc.
Dan: Different engine? Last time I looked at buying a Cessna 172, they all had the same engine. All you could change was the paint and the avionics, maybe leather upholstery.
Tracy: Well, that's one of the advantages of building your own airplane, you can pretty much put in anything that you want. Big engine, little engine, carburated, fuel injection, Lycoming, Subaru, even a rotary engine.
Dan: Wait, you're saying you can put a rotary engine into an airplane? Isn't that dangerous?
Tracy: Well, yeah, if you don't know what you are doing. But there's a lot of other guys out there who have already done this. There's a whole group of builders who are putting rotary engines in their aircraft, who email each other every day. If you have a problem all you have to do is send an email to one of the rotary lists and an answer will show up in no time.
Dan: And, you trust the internet to provide information about how to install an engine?
Tracy: Well, you have to learn to filter the information. You use what makes sense, and toss out the rest. The good thing, is that there are a lot of guys who will give you their opinion, and at least as many who will question that opinion. This helps with the filtering. The internet is at least as good as reading books by so called experts, which are full of mistakes and bad info. Or listening to the evening news and thinking you know something about Iraq.
Dan: I think I get your point, but you never did say what this would cost.
Tracy: Van has a calculator on his website that will help with this, but let's see if I can give you some quick numbers. Van's kit is going to be between $18,000 and $25,000, depending upon whether you go slow build, or QB. Figure $25,000 for an O-320 Lyclone with an FP prop, or $35,000 for a 190Hp E-Subaru with an MT prop. Or you might get away with $12,000-$15,000 for a rotary conversion. Add in $6000 for a basic VFR panel with analog instruments, minimum radios and GPS, or $10,000-$15,000 for a dual GRT EFIS with minimum radios, or, go all the way to the moon ($25000-$45000) for a full IFR panel with an EFIS and Garmin 530/430s. That's anywhere from $40,000 on the low end to $65,000 on the high end for a normaly configured aircraft, up to $100K for a top of the line magic flying machine.
Dan: Well, that's a lot of money.
Tracy: Still cheaper than the least expensive new Cessna.
Dan: On a more sobering note, I keep hearing about this quy called Van. Some people seem to think he is some sort of god. Can you comment?
Tracy: Van is, actualy, Richard VanGrunsven, the designer of the RV series of aircraft. I only met him once. It was 2004 at SWRFI. He really didn't want to talk to me. I just figured he was busy. He didn't seem like a god to me. He just designs good airplanes for a reasonable price. Not exactly a god.
Dan: I've heard other builders talk about "spam cans." What exactly is a "spam can?"
Tracy: It's kind of a derogatory reference to certified aircraft, as if we are building some sort of golden winged chariot, and all other aircraft are just tin cans only worthy of hauling spam. Kind of arrogant, if you ask me. I have flown quite a few different aircraft, and I have yet to find an airplane that I didn't like to fly. This term probably grew out of the reference in the movie, The Right Stuff, where Yeager said the astronauts were nothing more than "spam-in-a-can." BTW, most aviation nuts think this is the best movie of all time (it is).
Dan: So, what was your first ride in an RV-7A like?
Tracy: Actually, Dan, I've never flown in an RV-7A, or any other RV for that matter.
Dan: Doesn't that seem kind of stupid? I mean, your're going to spend something like $60,000 on this thing, and you haven't even taken a ride. How can you justify this?
Tracy: I guess you just have to have faith.
Dan: So, you're saying Van really might be a god?
Tracy: No, I'm saying anything has to be better than buying a 35 year old aircraft, which you have to spend $2500 for a minimal "low cost" annual because the FAA regulations allow the local A&P to hold you airplane hostage if you don't pay.
Dan: So, you're saying Van's not a god?
Tracy: Van is not a god, but the FAA might be the devil.
Dan: Well, on that note, I think we will end. Thank you, Tracy--courage.
Tracy: Thank you Dan. I hope your job hunting goes well.

Disclaimer: Obligatory "this page is just for fun, and not intended to hurt anyone's feelings or reputation, so don't sue me" message. As we all know, I don't have any money, so it won't do you any good, anyway. Seriously, if anyone is offended by the content of this page, then you need to lighten-up a little. Take a walk, get some air, you are wound entirely too tight.