Tuesday, September 22, 2009

RV-12 Flight Report

I myself have not (yet) flown in an RV-12. Now, I normally wouldn't forklift an entire article off of someone else's web site, but I'm doing it this time. This is a write-up that was posted on Doug Reeves wonderful Vans' Air Force web site. Hopefully he won't mind.

Doug's site is a substantial reason that I was more comfortable buying a Van's airplane over any other experimental. It's a terrific resource for builders, owners, and anyone interested in becoming either. Most anyone reading this blog will already be a regular customer over there and will have already seen this write-up, but for those that are only following this blog for the very narrow purpose of following my build, here it is:

RV-12 at Sky Manor Airport
Frank Smith

This past Saturday I was able to meet Mitch Lock at SkyManor airport and fly N412RV. Here is my general impression of the RV-12.

First Mitch is a gentlemen and an excellent ambassador not only for Vans but for sport aviation in general.

Second, none of the pictures on line do N912RV justice. You have got to see this plane in person to see how nice it really looks. The one item that has never bothered me is the look of the pulled rivets. The plane is obviously well engineered and was expertly built by Mitch. I was concerned the 0.025” thick skins would feel flimsy compared to the normal 0.032” thick skins on other RV’s but they feel fine.

Third, if you live on the east coast you simply have to come to EAA 643’s flyin next year. The planes, the people and the airport are all good and a must see. Tom Poberezny even came to the event this year.

OK now for a brief flight review with lots of disclaimers. I normally fly a Cessna 150. I also like any plane I fly in for 15 minutes so a short hop is not a good basis to judge a plane but here are a few observations about my flight in the 12. Take them for just that – casual observations from a 150 flyer after a 15 minute flight.

The interior is 44” wide at the shoulders and whereas that’s not cavernous it’s plenty of room for a sport plane. Speaking of the interior Vans planes tend to be, well, sparse and utilitarian. Mitch says a finished interior is in the works and for the 11 pound total penalty it will be a welcomed addition to give the interior that finished look. The one thing I paid close attention to is checking for even a hint of the smell of gasoline (with the tank inside the cabin) and I am happy to report there was absolute nothing. If you didn’t tell your passenger about this feature they would never know. The seats are comfortable.

All RV’s are relatively small and short coupled so maneuverability on the ramp is excellent. This same small size seems to give RV’s a “busy” feel on take off. Mitch, being an expert RV pilot gave the 12 a little nudge here and there as we tracked straight down the runway for a takeoff in about 600 feet or so. After a short climb out he retracted the flaperons and handed the plane over to me. We were climbing at 75 knots at around 750 to 800 fpm. That’s with two people and ¾ tanks or about 100# below gross weight. I watched Mitch fly several other people and the climb angle on the 12 was not as steep as some of the other planes taking off. I would have like to see what the 12 could do when climbing at best angle instead of best rate. During the climb the nose was just on the horizon for me so visibility over the nose was good in the climb. The climb was solid and I never felt like we were mashing through the air. I like a plane with a good solid ROC. (Editor: Rate of Climb)

Visibility in cruise is fantastic. Saturday was a stellar day and the sky was filled with planes. In the 12 we spotted them miles away. Good visibility is a great safety feature. It took me awhile to get the right image over the nose and place the nose far enough below the horizon to keep the airplane from climbing. You definitely have to trim this airplane but it happens quickly. A couple of taps of the trim button and the plane quickly trims to speed and flies well hands off. We trued out at 113 knots (130 MPH!) with the Rotax humming along at 5200 RPM and sipping 5.2 GPM of high test auto gas. What’s not too like about that? Mitch thinks wheel pants may add up to 5 knots. That would put it right near the LSA limits.

This is the second Rotax I have flown behind. Although I would still prefer an engine that turns less than 5000 RPM in normal cruise it’s just a number thing. I wish all the other aircraft engines I have flown behind were as smooth and quiet as the Rotax.

We only did one stall, power off full flaps. The wing quit flying at 41 knots indicated and the nose dropped well through the horizon and the left wing dropped a little. It wasn’t violent but it seemed a bit more abrupt than the RV-9 I flew a few years back. Recovery was quick and easy by releasing backpressure and adding power.

Although Mitch was probably wondering why I was wallowing around the sky I felt very comfortable with the RV-12 right away (unlike the PIO’s I experienced in my first flight in an RV-4). The controls were very positive and smooth but did not seem overly sensitive to me. I wished I could have trained in this plane instead of in a C-150. I hope Van decides to produce these planes so they end up in flight schools some day.

Here’s a note about a glass cockpit. The good news is the Dynon provides a lot of information. For example it gave us indicated airspeed and also calculated true airspeed as well. The bad news for me is I am still used to analog gauges so when I started looking for rate of climb it took me a few seconds to find it. I think once you fly behind the glass for awhile it will become second nature but it will take some getting used to.

Back to the airport and we entered the pattern and started to slow down. Mitch handled the landing. Visibility in the pattern is outstanding. You never lose sight of the runway or traffic in the pattern. Although the flaperons lower the stall speed they didn’t seem to provide much drag. Have you noticed most videos of the RV-12 seem to be “wide patterns”. In a 150 you can drop the barn door flaps and descend steeply toward the runway. In the RV-12 the approach is shallower. We were at 75 knots on base with the Rotax at 2500 RPM and descending 600 fpm. We crossed the fence at 60 knots and Mitch greased it on the runway. He claims the 12 is the easiest of all RV’s to land. You just have to control your airspeed well on final (I think the same applies to all RV’s)

So what’s my first impression? Well, the RV-12 is a plane that fills a specific niche market. It’s a light sport plane with the emphasis on sport. Good climb, good cruise, good handing, good visibility, good looking, economical to operate, etc. What’s not to like?

Price for one. But that’s relative and not Vans fault. Aircraft are expensive. Aircraft engines are almost ½ the cost of the plane! Still you can buy a really nice used C-172 for $60,000 and fly it tomorrow. However, if you always wanted to assemble a kit plane and you want or need a light sport plane then this plane has to make the top of your list. In that market it’s still a bargain. I think the best option for the RV-12 is to find yourself a partner and then for $30,000 each you get one sweet plane to share. You also get someone to help you build the plane as well.

Limitations? I get the feeling it’s a plane that going to feel more at home on a paved runway than a grass strip. Van has demonstrated that with proper technique he can land all his planes on grass runways but the small landing gear and short prop clearance on the 12 just give the appearance that this plane was designed primarily with paved runways in mind.

Oh, and as a bonus feature, the first customer-built RV-12 has had its first flight! For details, you will have to go to Doug's site. Link

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