It’s been 40 years since pilot and engineer Dick VanGrunsven started selling plans for his first homebuilt airplane design, the Van’s RV-3. In the decades since more than 7,630 of his designs have been built and flown, making the RV series of airplanes the most popular homebuilt aircraft in the world. Now after a chance encounter at a Texas airport led to the discovery of the long lost developmental prototype, a small group of RV builders are proudly showing off the restoration of the airplane that started it all, the RV-1.
In the aviation world, do-it-yourself homebuilt aircraft have been around essentially since the beginning. And while the Wright Brothers may have been the first homebuilders to successfully fly their own design, the RV-1 is arguably one of the most historic experimental airplanes in the last 50 years.
The RV-1 is actually a hybrid design. In 1962 VanGrunsven bought a Stitts Playboy, a popular single-seat homebuilt aircraft that offered decent performance and was fun to fly. But like many DIY types, VanGrunsven thought he could make it better.
He designed his own wings, attached a more powerful engine and installed a bubble canopy reminiscent of World War II fighter airplanes. He called the modified design the RV-1. After flying it for a few years, VanGrunsven sold the airplane in 1968.
“I knew I could do better” VanGrunsven says, “because the RV-1 was just a modified airplane and I figured starting over with the same basic planform I could improve upon it, so that’s what I did.”
Eventually that new airplane, the RV-3, would gain popularity amongst homebuilders as would the two seat RV-4, RV-6, RV-7, RV-8 (pictured above with the yellow RV-1), RV-9, RV-12 and the four seat RV-10.
But VanGrunsven had lost track of his original airplane in the years following the sale.
That all changed when an RV-8 pilot named Paul Dye was visiting a small airport near his home in Houston. Before checking on the progress of another RV builder, Dye was shown a small yellow airplane with “RV-1″ written on the side. The long lost grandparent of the entire Van’s aircraft line had been found.
Dye and some other RV builders formed a group called “Friends of the RV-1″ and started restoration on the airplane last summer. In the months since, a dedicated group of volunteers was able to get the RV-1 back in flying condition again with the help of donated parts from companies that support RV builders around the world. The first flight took place just last month, and the airplane was recently flown to Lakeland, Florida where it is on display at the annual Sun ‘n Fun fly-in.
“It’s a great flying airplane” says Dye, “it’s very noticeable that it’s an RV.”
VanGrunsven says he’s happy to see the airplane back in the air. And if all goes according to plan, he’ll be back in the cockpit this weekend, nearly 50 years since he first flew the little airplane.
Eventually the airplane will be turned over to the Experimental Aviation Association’s museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. But first another group of volunteer pilots will fly the RV-1 on a tour of the U.S. and Canada over the next 4 months before VanGrunsven is scheduled to fly it to Airventure in Oshkosh in July.
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/