Saturday, August 22, 2020

A return to building


 I’ve been delaying ordering the engine for the RV-12iS project for quite awhile. The first year of retirement took a little getting used to; the tax implications weren’t entirely clear so I decided to wait a year.  And then there were two aging mothers to look after, both of whom passed on within weeks of each other last fall.

When I was looking at last year’s building log, I was pretty shocked by how little I actually worked on the project; some wheel pants and swapping out an old nosegear leg design for a new one and fitting the wings to the fuselage to drill a couple of holes and that was about it.

It wasn’t until the engine arrived a couple of months ago that I realized how much I missed building. Last summer, at least, was taken up by a lot of ushering at Target Field. But even though I went to the hangar every day, I wasn’t really doing much of anything.

The engine kit is probably the most expensive part of the RV-12iS (about $36,000) and it is also probably the smallest. One crate. About 400 pounds total.

My son, Sean, and former Minnesota Public Radio co-worker John Wanamaker did the heavy lifting when the engine arrived.



Van’s does some weird things with the RV-12iS instructions. They’re not particularly linear and several sections supplied with the finishing kit you can’t do because the parts (the fuel pump, for example) are included in the powerplant kit.

The cowling is included in the finishing kit, too, but you can’t do anything with it until you have a propeller hub and spinner plate installed and you can’t do that because – guess what? – they come with the powerplant kit.

The canopy also comes with the finishing kit. Mine is still sitting in the crate because Van’s doesn’t want you to work on the canopy until the rear window is installed. And it doesn’t want the rear window installed until the tail cone assembly has been permanently attached to the fuselage. But if you do that, you lose all access to the area behind the bulkhead, which is where the fuel pump assembly goes, which – you may have heard – is included in the powerplant kit.

It is a maze of dead-ends at this point in the build. So there was really no good reason not to order the engine kit, except for the money, of course.

Anyway, it arrived June 16th and after some inventorying, I was hanging stuff on the firewall, and  bending tubing for a fuel pump assembly that looks like it should be on the space shuttle.  On a Rotax 912iS, the boost pump is always on.

I counted something like 15 potential points of failure on the boost pump assembly.


Installing the engine is about as simple as it gets. I have an engine hoist (it’s available to borrow if you ever need it) so I just lifted it out of the crate and put it on a table to make some minor modifications before lifting it into place.

When I built the RV-7A, about six guys came by to help me install the IO-360M1B. It still look us about four or five hours to get the four bolts to line up properly through the Lord mounts.

But I decided to just hang the engine myself this time. It took about 45 minutes, the bulk of which was torqueing the bolts down to the proper specifications. At one point, I wasn’t getting one bolt to line up, so I just lifted the engine by hand for a moment. Try that with an IO-360!

You really hold your breath when you lift a $36,000 engine


The Van’s product is truly an incredible feat of engineering. We’re not really building anymore; we’re just assembling. I swear that one of these days I’ll stop by the hangar, and the RV-12iS will have built the rest of it itself.

If only. Its time to order the avionics kit. Someone has to keep Stein rolling in dough.

Unfortunately, while working on the cowling installation, my Meniere’s Disease flared up again. I had hoped to fly LSA with this plane, but I’m coming to the realization that my flying days are likely over, at least with flying that involves the legal technicalities of disqualifying condition.

Unless something changes (not likely; Meniere’s is a progressive disease with no cure), my plan now is to find someone who can do the first flight and the required five hours of Phase I, then get it up to Midwest in Hibbing for paint and find someone who wants to own a truly well-built airplane that, I hear, is a lot of fun to fly.

Then what? I’ll either build another 12 or explore some ultralights. I had always wanted to try powered parachutes but, inexplicably, they’re in the same class as the LSA, while ultralights are not.

Building is not flying, but it's the next best thing.

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