Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oshkosh - Afflicted With The “RV Grin”

It was a good week at Oshkosh’s AirVenture - the main goal at Oshkosh this year was to fly Van’s RV-12. And to that end, I found myself purchasing tickets for the show in advance, entering the gate last Monday morning moments after the 7 AM show opening and power walking like a crazed Olympian with tunnel vision to the Van’s Aircraft tent ... which, thankfully, was located just where it has always been in past years. Although the muscles and joints in my legs may not agree, the Herculean effort paid off in spades … I was able to place my name on the list and secure the first RV-12 demo flight. Unfortunately, I discovered the first day Van’s was providing RV-12 demo flights was Thursday, so I had a few days to enjoy the show and let the excitement build before the demo flight.

It may come as a surprise, but the RV-12 project was begun without ever flying or even having had a ride in the RV-12.  I knew, by way of attending the Oshkosh air show for many years and helping my friend Pete assemble his RV-9A, that Van’s Aircraft manufactures a high quality kit which produces a great flying airplane when completed. All of the RV-12 flight reviews and Blog comments made by owners have all had a commonality … they all concur the RV-12 flies really nice. So based on all the comments and Van’s reputation for developing airplanes that have good handling and performance, I felt comfortable ordering the RV-12 without flying it first.

Wednesday morning I found myself wandering along the flight line at the north end of the field near the Van’s booth. While in the area, I decided to hang around and watch a few of Van's prospective customers receive their demo flights in other models of Van’s airplanes … primarily to determine exactly where the factory planes operated from (so I would know exactly where to be Thursday morning for my demo flight) and to see what the procedure was. That morning Van’s was providing demo flights in their RV-7 & RV-9A models. I spent about an hour and a half there talking with guys like myself who started kits without flying in the plane first and a few who wanted to begin a build, but desired a demo flight first.  Honestly, to a person, everybody I saw climbing out of the cockpits upon their return had that big “RV grin” plastered on their faces I’ve heard so much about.

My turn to fly the RV-12 came a little after 9:00 AM Thursday morning … it was a perfect day at Oshkosh for flying. Weather wise, it was a gorgeous morning … a clear sunny day with very good visibility, a steady breeze from the west and a very high intermittent stratus. By way of a Van’s representative asking if I was scheduled for the 9 AM demo flight, I discovered a customer was able to book a demo flight prior to mine. After replying yes, I was informed the RV-12 had left earlier in the morning with a customer and should be back at any moment … about five minutes later Mitchell Lock (Van’s east coast representative) taxied up in N412RV (the red Van's Aircraft  RV-12), parked and shutdown the engine. The canopy swung up and vacating the passanger seat was another happy gentleman (he too was afflicted with the “RV grin”). It was now my turn to experience the RV-12.

Mitchell introduced himself and verified my reservation while I placed my hat and backpack in the baggage area behind the seats and climbed into the RV-12. I’ve sat in the RV-12 a couple of times in years past at Oshkosh so already knew it is plenty roomy for two people to sit in without having their shoulders crushed together or feeling parts of the airplane pushing on you (as other LSA models often do). That said, it is a “cozy” fit to be sure, but not a cramped cockpit. At 6’2”, I had plenty of room for my legs (both on and off the rudder peddles) and there is an ample amount of head room when the canopy is down.

The RV-12's Rotax 912 engine sprung to life the moment the starter was engaged suggesting there is likley not any hot start issues with the 100 hp engine. We taxied with the canopy down but open a little at the bottom … the day was heating up quickly and this offered plenty of cooling air to keep us from cooking under that big canopy.
                                  On the taxi way – we were sixth in line for a mid runway takeoff to the north.
                                  Notice the great view over the nose of the RV-12 while on the ground.

Prior to taking the runway, Mitchell requested I open a small air vent on my side of the fuselage adjacent to my legs. This let in enough cooling air to stay comfortable once the canopy was locked down prior to taking the runway while we waited for the B-17 bomber landing in front of us to clear the runway.
                           We were cleared to take the runway after the B-17 bomber passing in front of us landed.

Where else other than Oshkosh are you cleared to take the runway after a B-17 lands? … You just have to love it!!!

With Mitchell at the controls we began our takeoff roll which was quick, seemingly only a few moments until we were easily off the ground. Once a good rate of climb was established, which I suspect was around 700 feet per minute, Mitchell established a quick climbing right turn to an easterly heading towards Lake Winnebago. I was having a hard time seeing the smaller graphics on the Dynon SkyView display because I kept my sunglasses on as opposed to my reading glasses. Therefore, I could not see most the display’s features clearly all the way from the right seat … only the big numbers such as air speed and altitude, which was OK since I was not taking off or landing. The demo is only intended to let you get a feel for the airplane once airborne.
                                          The Dynon SkyView display looks great (when wearing my glasses).

The SkyView display was divided in thirds and set up to display flight parameters on the left, GPS mapping in the center and engine monitoring on the right side.

Once we were around 1,200 feet I was given control of the RV-12 and asked to climb to 1,700 feet and head out over Lake Winnebago. Once past the shore line, climbed to 2,000 feet and began getting comfortable with the RV-12 while doing a few maneuvers.

The RV-12’s bubble canopy offers great visibility … there is even a good downward view (which for a low wing airplane is unusual) this is because the seating is forward of the main spar.
                                                 The RV-12’s large bubble canopy offers impressive visibility.
                                                            I would say the over the nose visibility is superb.
                            The RV-12 has a super downward view because the seating is forward of the wing’s spar.
                            Try getting this downward view in a Piper Cherokee during level flight.

Flying the RV-12 was a joy, I absolutely loved the way the RV-12 flies! The control forces are well balanced, with good harmony … light and smooth, but by no means “twitchy”. The RV-12 flew very stable with two fingers on the stick. I momentarily popped the stick or rudder a few times just to see the reaction. The airplane responded to the control input and as soon as I released the control input the RV-12 continued flying like it was on rails. At no time did I have the feeling the tail was “squirrelly” (as is one model of LSA I have been in) or of there being a tendency to porpoise.

Instinctively, I was pulling up on the nose slightly during 30 degree turns, as is often necessary on other airplanes I’ve flown, but soon discovered that is not necessary on the RV-12 (at least not for 30 degree turns). I should have tried doing some steeper 45 degree turns, but chose not to … mainly because at Oshkosh, there are airplanes EVERYWHERE!! So, in the interest of safety, I did not feel comfortable making sudden steep turns with so much traffic all around.

Was hoping to hit a little turbulence to see how well the RV-12 handles it … unfortunately, there was none to be had. My thought is with the light wing loading of the RV-12, you will get bounced around a little for sure … but since the airplane seems inherently quite stable, I wouldn’t expect there to be any control issues. Also flew the airplane purposely out of trim to see how the control forces were and discovered the control forces required to maintain level flight were easily manageable with appropriate pressure on the control stick. The trim control is motorized by means of an up-down switch mounted on the control panel to the left of the throttle. (I believe my preference would be to locate it on the control stick … so that is where my trim switch will likely end up being installed since I’m building my RV-12 as an EAB).

On the way back to the airport I needed to quickly lose about a thousand feet before crossing the shore line so the throttle was pulled out and the nose pushed down … the RV-12 responded with a smooth quick decent and leveled out as if on a rail.
Clicking on the  above photo to make it larger one can see Oshkosh’s AirVenture show parallels runway 36 ... which can be seen entirely in the center of the photo as we were approaching from the east. On the far side of the runway there is a sea of aircraft from one end of the runway to the other. If you look closely, you can also see a brown strip just above where the runway ends on the left side of the photo … that is the grass strip used by the ultra-lights and rotorcraft.

Mitchell took over the controls as we were quickly nearing the airport … initially, we were turned away from the runway by the air traffic controllers. A few moments after turning away from the airport, the controllers changed their minds and cleared us to land on 36 right (a wide taxi way to the right of the main runway which is used as a parallel runway during Oshkosh week) but ONLY if we could land quickly. Before the controllers could change their minds again, Mitchell yanked the RV-12 into the quickest and steepest 180 degree descending turn I’ve ever experienced. The RV-12 responded smoothly and gracefully.
                                        Short final to 36 (right) which is a wide taxi way 51 weeks of the year.
                            During AirVenture week, the taxi way becomes an active runway for smaller airplanes.

To add to Mitchell’s challenge, controllers then requested he hold off on landing the RV-12 until after the third turn-off  so we skimmed approximately two thirds the length of  the runway at about 25 feet or so off the deck before setting down just after the third turn-off as requested … once we were safely on the ground, Mitchell received a nice compliment from the controllers for his able abilities to efficiently comply with their requests.

Needless to say it was a thrill to fly at Oshkosh and, of course, I was already smiling about that. However, it was an even bigger thrill to fly in the RV-12 not to mention the “E ticket” turn to short final (older Disneyland visitors may remember the “E ticket”). As I exited the RV-12, I came to the realization that I too had become afflicted with the “RV grin”.

So based on my demo flight, do I have any buyer’s remorse?
Yes, I do!!!  … I should have purchased the RV-12 years ago!!!!!

PS .. My apologies for the poor resolution on all the photos. I forgot to kick up the camera resolution and discovered I still had the camera in a low resolution mode I had been using for taking photos for the Blog.