Sunday, December 13, 2009

Open for business

You could forgive the RV builders and pilots of the Upper Midwest if they hung a "Closed For the Season" sign on their hangar doors. The nationwide blizzard last week ended a relatively warm fall and the single-digit highs since haven't been fit for man nor Plexiglas canopies, it seems.

But on Saturday, dozens of them turned out for the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. The Wing was one of the first builder groups in the country, and it now supports a flying RV force of about 70 airplanes. Some of the best and brightest RV builders in the country are in the Minnesota Wing.

We got to hear from one of them on Saturday. I've written in the past here and on RV Builder's Hotline about Pete Howell, for example. If I didn't know Pete, I'd probably just refer to him as the "I Wish" guy. I wish I had a plane as gorgeous as his RV-9A. I wish I were as smart as he is. I wish I had his ability to experiment and have it turn out well. I wish I were Pete Howell.

Pete gave us a demonstration of his various experiments with LED lighting, well documented on VAF so I won't repeat them here. Oh, along the "I wish" line: I wish I'd invested in some of the HD landing and taxi lights and I wish I'd waited to decide on the lighting for my airplane so I could LEDs. Sure, I could pull out the Duckworks 50 watt incandescent landing/taxi light I put in about 5 years ago, but the closer I get to finishing the plane, the more I have to stop myself from trying to undo things I've already done. The Whelen strobes, the TruTrak single-axis wing leveler, the old light -- all are fine components of the N614EF, but all could be replaced by better systems if only I had the money and the time. But it's been almost 9 years since I've started the RV-7A and it's important to keep moving forward, not to jog in place.

Pete also demonstrated the APRS tracking system, which I've written about here. It's an ingenious little system for letting your loved ones -- or others -- track your progress as you fly your RV around the country (insert your own Tiger Woods joke here).

Here, for example, is the track for Pete on But Pete has gone one better. He can use the system to send e-mail messages, or other messages as he flies. He can even track other APRS-equipped airplanes on a GPS!

We also heard from insurance broker Sky Smith (right, above). In a wide-ranging discussion on insurance for RVs, here's what I learned: I'm glad I'm building an RV-7A. Scott told of past difficulty getting insurance coverage for RV-8s, various taildraggers, and occasionally an RV-10. I didn't hear anything about the RV-7A.

I also learned that before you before you build an F1 rocket, you might want to see if you can get insurance coverage for it. It's very difficult, he says.

I went to the Wing meeting hoping to win one of the 10 Van's Aircraft calendars that wing president Doug Weiler was giving away as door prizes (value $10). Instead, I won this neat 3M Aircraft Paint Restoration Kit (value $95). Pretty cool. Now all I need is a paint job on N614EF.

As usual, after a get-together with RV builders, the motivation is restored to get cracking on the airplane again, even if by nightfall the temperature was rock bottom in Minnesota. So I went back out to the hangar and made a doubler plate for the Comant antenna that needs to be installed. I only worked on it for about an hour, which is about the limit for unheated T-hangars in December in Minnesota.

But it beats being closed for the season.


  1. Bob, just a quick note to let you know your gift for the written word and your recent search for motivation keeps a lot of us motivated as well. Why, just today I placed the order for my RV-8 fuselage (started building in 2001). Keep building, and keep writing.
    Kent Scherm

  2. Bob, Due to lifestyle changes, I had to move my project to an unheated garage. I haven't made any progress due to using the temps as an excuse.
    If you can work in an unheated hanger in MN., then I can work in a garage in MO.
    Thanks for the motivation,
    Richard Emery
    St. Charles, MO