Van’s Bio and the RV-1

Richard VanGrunsven
Founder / CEO
Van’s Aircraft, Inc

(Re-print from Van’s Aircraft Website)

Dick VanGrnsven
Richard VanGrunsven
Founder & CEO
Van’s Aircraft, Inc.

The initials "RV" usually mean Recreational Vehicle, and while that may be an apt description of the RV line of kit aircraft in this case they are also the initials of designer and founder of Van’s Aircraft, Richard VanGrunsven. Usually known as Dick or "Van", Richard learned to fly in 1956 at the age of 16. He has logged 12,000+ hours (the majority of it in airplanes of his own design) and holds CFI, multi-engine and ATP ratings.

Throughout high school and college years he flew a Cub and a Taylorcraft from the 670′ grass strip on his parents’ farm near Cornelius, Oregon. He flew as a respite from long weekends of academic study and for the sheer joy of it. Noteworthy pioneers of experimental aviation, George Bogardus and Hobie Sorrell, lived nearby and had private airstrips that enabled Van to visit regularly. The information he gleaned from them and others became the basis of his later vocation.

After finishing college with a degree in engineering, he joined the Air Force for a three year tour. He served as a communications officer because a slight color vision problem prevented his acceptance in the pilot training program. He remained active in flying, becoming a key figure in the base flying club.

While serving in Michigan, he purchased a homebuilt 65 hp Stits Playboy. Although it looked sporty, its performance was poor. He rebuilt it, installing a 125 hp Lycoming engine, bubble canopy, and Hoerner style wingtips. The modified airplane flew much better, but still had a high landing speed, high sink rate, and only moderately good cruise speed. Clearly, he reasoned, horsepower was no longer the problem, so the remaining drawbacks must be the result of an inefficient airframe.

Within a year of returning to civilian life, now employed as a mechanical engineer, he had designed, built and installed a set of cantilever aluminum wings to replace the strut-braced wood and fabric originals. Renamed the RV-1, the Playboy flew like a new airplane. The wings were equipped with flaps to provide the short landing performance required for operation from the family farm. His friends joked that the only reason "that cheap Dutchman" rebuilt the Playboy was to be able to keep it at home and avoid hangar rent. Whatever the reason, it was the beginning of the RV designs.

Van flew the RV-1 from 1965 through 1968 and enjoyed its performance immensely, but he was aware that its hybrid heritage limited its performance and felt something better was possible. He wanted an airplane that was able to fly in and out of any reasonable airstrip, with enough power and maneuverability to do good basic aerobatics, and cruise as fast as possible. (This may not seem to be a particularly inspired goal, but consider for a minute how few airplanes actually achieve it.) He reluctantly sold the RV-1 (it is still on the active registry) and began design and construction of a completely original airplane.

The single-seat RV-3 flew for the first time in August 1971 and proved to be a delightful airplane –  Even before the RV-3 had flown and proven a success, Van was inundated with requests for a two-seat RV. His answer was the tandem RV-4. On its first flight in August 1979, the RV-4 proved outstanding, better than Van had dared dream. Its top speed was only 10 mph less than a comparably powered RV-3. The handling, low speed control and delightful aileron response that characterized the RV-3 had been retained. The RV-4 found a ready and enthusiastic market.
After the RV-4 was established, Van began work on an airplane to satisfy prospective customers clamoring for a side-by-side design. Building upon his own work and incorporating ideas from an airplane built in Michigan by Art Chard, (the first man to finish a homebuilt RV-3) he designed the RV-6 and followed it shortly with the tricycle gear RV-6A.
The RV-6/6A became the most successful kit aircraft in history, but Van continued to design new airplanes. Assisted by an engineering staff and CAD draftsmen, Van’s Aircraft, Inc. introduced the RV-7/7A, the RV-8/8A, the RV-9/9A, the four-seat RV-10, and most recently, the Light Sport RV-12.

Forty years after the first flight of the RV-3, Van continues to lead the company he founded – now the most successful in the field. Almost every weekday, he commutes to his desk in the engineering office (no private cubicle, no executive washroom, no reserved parking spot) in his original RV-4 – or his RV-10 – or his new RV-12. Well, almost every day…in the summer, when the soaring conditions are good, he pulls out his all electric self-launching Antares sailplane, takes a few days off…
And goes flying.

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