Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

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By Tim Hennagir
Managing Editor 

Van's Aircraft Celebrates 50th Anniversary At Oshkosh

Twin Cities RV Builders Group Provides History, Background


August 1, 2022

Jeremy D. Dando

This year's AirVenture featured a number of Van's special events, including a large formation of RV aircraft flying during the opening airshow.

he 50th anniversary of Van's Aircraft RV series was a major element of homebuilt aircraft activities at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2022.

"While aircraft kits have existed for more than a century, it was 50 years ago that Richard VanGrunsven introduced a model that would move the homebuilt movement into an age where kit aircraft would become dominant," said Charlie Becker, EAA's director of chapters and homebuilt community manager.

Today, more than 11,000 completed RV models are the direct descendants of that first RV-3 in 1972. This year's AirVenture featured a number of Van's special events, including a large formation of RV aircraft flying during the opening airshow.

VanGrunsven began Van's Aircraft with a clean design, then selling plans and a few parts he manufactured himself for those aircraft.

Soon the company began manufacturing complete airplane kits and introducing new models that after 50 years now include the latest design, the RV-14, and the company's first-ever high-wing model, the RV-15, which made its public debut at AirVenture on Monday, July 25. Company officials described the aircraft on display in Booth 605 of the Homebuilt Aircraft Display area as an "engineering test article."

The Twin Cities RV Builders Group is one of the largest and most active RV clubs in the world. Also known as the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force, the group has technical counselors who have extensive experience in RV construction.

Tom Berge, of Plymouth, and Mike Hilger, of South St. Paul, have conducted numerous inspections of members' projects and assisted with construction questions.

Hilger has been flying an RV-6 he finished in 2000. The aircraft, N-207AM, has almost 2,000 hours logged. "I've had it to Oshkosh six or seven times. In 2016, they had the RV-6 30th anniversary, so I had it out there. That was kind of fun," he said.

This year, Hilger didn't fly to Oshkosh, but visited Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of AirVenture Week. "My biggest joy is watching people who have never done anything like this before turn out an outstanding airplane," he said. "I've seen it where someone who has had no experience whatsoever with this build one, and a few years later, they will go to Oshkosh, and win an award."

Berge started building his RV-6 back in 1987. "I was working on my pilot's license in late 1986 and early 1987, and I was interested in getting my own airplane," Berge said. "I figured a homebuilt was the way to go." The aircraft, N69TB, was finished and flown in 1991. "That was Kit No. 123," he said.

"It was a very early kit, and those were pretty primitive days. I flew that one for 12 years, and 1,600 hours."

In the late 1990s, the Twin Cities RV Builders Group would put together big get-togethers once a year, Berge said. In 1999 or 2000, TruTrak was selling its digital autopilot. "We had people coming in from a five-state area," Berge said. "At the banquet that night, they had a grand prize of $700 off of the cost of an autopilot. I won the $700. I put the TruTrak into my old RV-6 and built a new RV-7."

Berge started building an RV-7A in 2001 and completed it during the summer of 2003 after 23 months of work. The aircraft's first flight was June 15, 2003. Berge has done numerous pre FAA inspections for local builders to help identify problem areas and pre-buy inspections for those looking to purchase an RV. "I've been going to Oshkosh since the summer of 1987," he said. "I had an unbroken streak until I went to get my CFI. I would go over for a day, check everything out, and fly back."

Avionics improvements in the years since Berge started building and flying Van's Aircraft have become mind-boggling. The biggest change has been the glass cockpit.

Jermey D. Dando

A 2007 Van's RV-3B registered to Sterling Langrell of Woodbury, Oregon, heads down the taxiway at Wittman Regional Airport.

"When I built my first RV, there was nothing," he said. "With the second aircraft, the industry was just starting to switch to screens. Now, you look at the likes of Garmin and Dynon, and you question if it's possible for them to do more. But, they always find a way. When I help people do a panel layout, I always tell them make sure to leave room for the next 'whiz-bang thing' that you just have to have," he advised.

There's a reason why there's 11,000 Van's out there, Berge said. "It's a great airplane," he said, adding he's been an instructor for 12 years with a recent focus on transition training. "In the last few years, I've done my first primary student, and that was in an RV-12 Light Sport," he said. "Currently, I'm on my second primary student, also in an RV-12 Light Sport. My third will probably be the same."


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