and had no interest in competing,” Rick says. “Plus, I
knew absolutely nothing about the judging process. Still,
I hung a ‘Judge Me’ tag on the prop and couldn’t believe
it when it won an Outstanding Workmanship award at
AirVenture. I was floored. Then it took Grand Champion
Homebuilt at Sun ’n Fun the same year, 2003.”
It’s important, when thinking about Rick winning
awards, that we remember this was his first airplane, and
he hadn’t farmed anything out other than the interior.
What makes it even more impressive
is that he even sprayed his own paint.
But the RV- 6 only whetted his builder appetite. He was seriously hooked.
More importantly than that, it set some
personal standards that played right
into his natural tendency to be a perfectionist.
. . . it has been said that you
build a sheet metal airplane
twice: first you build the jigs,
then you build the airplane, . . .
“After flying the RV- 6 for a few years I
decided I wanted to go a little faster, so I convinced my
wife that I ‘needed’ an F1 Rocket,” Rick says. He sold his
RV- 6 and used the money to buy a Rocket kit. Of course,
other RV projects popped up, and the Rocket was put
on the back burner. “All the time, I was learning a tremendous amount about RVs and building in general,”
Rick says. “Each one came out better than the last. But, I
wasn’t making any headway on the Rocket.”
With the Rocket gathering dust in the back of the
workshop, Rick decided he needed a four-place airplane
to take the kids with him to air shows. Van’s Aircraft had
just introduced the RV- 10, and it looked like a perfect fit.
“It only took me 10 months to finish it, but within a year
or two it became obvious that my kids were growing up
and their friends and social lives took precedence over
going to a fly-in somewhere,” Rick says. “So, I sold the
- 10 and went back to where my heart had been all along,
Rick finally got serious about the
Rocket and devoted himself full time to
the project. The net result of averaging
10 to 12 hours a day, every day, and
having built a couple of RVs before was
to finish the airplane that won the Sun
’n Fun Grand Champion trophy in just
under a year. But that’s not the entire
story, and you only have to take a
casual walk around the airplane for the
“under a year” completion time statement to really mean
something. There’s a reason the airplane won Grand
“First, the Rocket was a much bigger challenge than the
RV- 10, if nothing else, because it wasn’t pre-punched like
the RVs,” Rick explains. “For starters, this meant building
a jig for the empennage, among other things. In fact, it
has been said that you build a sheet metal airplane twice:
Giving Back to the Community
Somewhere in the middle of all the building, Rick decided to give back to the community of RVers who had given him so much.
“My dad had a tremendous effect on me. At one point he almost died, and
he did his best to impress on me how important it is to make every day pay
for itself. He ingrained in me that we all have a responsibility to develop our
talents in every way possible and not let life pass us by. I’ve tried to pass
this along to my kids, and I think that through the airplane-building process,
they’ve gotten the message. At least I hope so.”
To Rick Gray, the foregoing are not idle thoughts. He has acted on them
in very concrete ways.
“About five years ago, I decided we needed some kind of organization
to tie the region’s RV builders and pilots together, so I started forming the
Ohio Valley RVators ( http://RV6Rick.tripod.com/ohiovalleyrvators/id22.html).
It puts us all in contact and has resulted in a really strong flying community
that has its own formation clinics, fly-outs, and lets builders help solve each
All the while Rick was building his various RVs, he’d have people stopping
by and asking whether he could help them. Then, as the RVators took hold
(they have more than 800 members at this point), the flow of information and
hands-on help continued to grow. Today, Rick has formalized his builders’
assist efforts and set up a new business to help builders over the hump while
they’re building individual components.
“I don’t do complete airplanes, but I’ll be available to give one-on-one help
to builders who either feel a component is over their head or who need training
in specific skills. I got so much help from so many people while I was getting
started, I figure it’s my job to pass along as much information as I can.”