something of an icon in the aviation world,
and so therefore someone every pilot would
like to impress, I’m actually more con-
cerned with preserving my tail than
preserving my pride.
most comfortable?” I ask
Dick. Now it’s his turn to pause.
fly it from either side,” he
says, “but I’m more comfortable in the left
seat. I don’t really fly it from the right, ever.”
“Then you take the left,” I reply. My pride
will just have to live with that.
We pull the RV- 12 out of the hangar. Or,
to be precise,
pulls the plane out of the
hangar. The RV- 12 only weighs 740 pounds
empty, so it doesn’t really require two people
to move it.
The hangar at Van’s Aircraft houses half
a dozen of Van’s aircraft designs, so we
fly something a bit more zippy and power-
ful. But Dick specifically wants me to see
why he’s so enamored with this very light,
100-hp puddle-jumper. Clearly, he likes the
plane. Most days, he actually chooses to fly
his RV- 12 to work, even though he has other
models available. I guess I must have looked
at him funny when he said that, because
now he’s on a mission to show me what he
finds so appealing.
As we get the plane ready, Dick excitedly
shows me some of the RV- 12’s special fea-
tures, including a single fuselage fuel tank,
incorporated into the design so the wings
can be removed for trailering or storage.
(Dick’s not sure how many people actually
want to store aircraft off airports and trailer
them back and forth, but he figured if he
could incorporate that option into the design
without a penalty, it was all good.) I can’t
vouch for this personally, but I’m told the
wings are easy enough to release and attach
that a couple of people can take them off and
put them on again in less than five minutes.
In truth, I suspect that quick-release
wings are a concept that elicits an almost-
involuntary intake of breath in most pilots.
The first time Dick mentioned them, I
instantly thought of the iconic Gary Larsen
cartoon depicting a hapless young
kid about to push the “wings stay on/wings
fall off” button on board an airplane.
In reality, of course, the RV- 12 system is
nothing like that. In fact, there’s a big “wing
spar bolt” warning light in the cockpit that
illuminates–and disconnects the starter
switch– if any of the attach bolts for the
wings aren’t solidly locked in place when the
master switch is turned on. Having a “wings
on” item in the pre-start checklist still
sounds a bit odd to the ears, but it
the airplane a lot more versatile.
Dick also enthusiastically points out the
positioning of the cockpit seats, ahead of the
wing to enhance visibility, and the flat-panel,
glass-cockpit instrument panel design. In
point of fact, he’s enthusiastic when he talks
feature of the airplane: the sim-
ple push/pull air vents, the side pockets, the
lack of mixture control to worry about, the
constant carb heat…and we’re not even off
the ground yet.
It reminds me of the time I flew with
Steve Wittman in his V-8-powered Tailwind.
Steve was 90 when I flew with him, and his
to fly with, if you really thought about it too
hard. But Dick, like Steve, is just so darn
excited about sharing his newest invention
with me that it’s hard to see him as anything
except what he is at heart: a man whose pas-
sion for flying has led him to spend a lifetime
in excited, energetic pursuit of the perfect
It’s hard to see him as anything except what he is at
heart: a man whose passion for flying has led him to
spend a lifetime in excited, energetic pursuit of the
perfect flying airplane.
age showed as he moved around the house.
But when we walked out to go flying in his
airplane, it was as if the Tailwind was emit-
ting the same kind of restorative energy as
the alien pod-enhanced pool waters in the
. The closer we got to the
plane, the peppier Steve’s step got. And by
the time we were barreling down the run-
way, Steve excitedly pointing out our speed
and climb rate as we lifted away from the
ground, it was as if the 90-year-old had
morphed completely into the excited, ener-
gized, 25-year-old race plane designer and
pilot he’d once been.
Dick VanGrunsven is a good 20 years
younger than Steve was when I flew with
him. But Dick, too, is a legend in the aviation
world: someone who could be intimidating
clouds are abundant. But Dick finds an area
west of the field with big patches of blue,
and we climb up through one of the holes. I
always feel, in my much heavier Cheetah,
that it’s really straining to climb smartly
through a cloud layer. The RV- 12 has 50 per-
cent less power than the Cheetah, but the
power-to-weight ratio is better. So it’s actu-
ally a more comfortable climb. Looking out
the huge bubble canopy, and down in front
of the wings, I understand why Dick also
touts the visibility of the plane. You really do
sit in front of the wing, dramatically chang-
ing not only your field of view, but also how
, moving through the skies.
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