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There are countless decisions to be made during the process of building an RV. I've pretty much come up with the following conclusions:

1) You get what you pay for.
2) No matter what decisions you make, you'll end up with a darn good airplane.

This is not a primer war, only an explanation of my decision and why I made the decision I did. When I decided to build an RV I started researching priming parts and came across a whole list of answers from various people. Some folks think that if inadequately protected, their airplane is going to fall from the sky why others think that no priming at all is necessary. I decided to take the middle of the road approach. I'm using what Van's uses on their Quickbuild Kits (Sherwin Williams P60G2). At the very least, my plane with have the same corrosion protection as the quick builders out there.

Update 09-13-2004:
When I started my wings, I decided that I'd had enough with P60G2. The reason?
1) It's incredibly nasty stuff (odor-wise)
2) If you apply just a hair too much, it will peel like a tangerine.
3) I'm color blind and I prime outdoors. As is typical, the outdoors is green w/ trees, grass, whatever. It's quite difficult for me to see how I'm applying it as I spray.

I started looking at alternatives. I knew that I wanted epoxy, since even in the RV preview plans it states that epoxy primers *generally* provide better corrosion protection/durability than other primers. I ran down to my local Sherwin Williams store and they showed me several epoxy primers, but I decided against them since many were more than 'official' Mil-Spec'd epoxy primers. So, I decided to go with AKZO Fast Drying Epoxy Primer which many other builders use and have recommended.

RV-7x vs. RV-8x
I plan on doing a lot of cross country flying with my wife so it is a no brainer that the side-by-side -7 series is better for us. This was reaffirmed after I got a ride in the back of a beautiful 8. It's nice and centerline seating is awesome but the downside is that forward visibility by the passenger...well...just sucks.

RV-7 vs. RV-7A
Currently I don't have a tailwheel signoff. I've decided to go with tricycle gear for overall safety and ease of ground handling. I don't need to prove my manhood by going with a taildragger. I don't care if I'm called a sissy. Speaking of which, it's rather entertaining to me that builders will call other builders sissies because they fly a plane with tricycle gear. I would love for those same builders to call F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, F-117, & F-22 pilots sissies, seeing as how they have the wheel on the front and all.

Here's a perfect example of an accident that would have probably been a non-event in the tricycle gear.

I guess Piper Cubs & Aeronca Chiefs are for real men too. ;-)

The only real downside to the tricycle gear is that they cost about a thousand more for the kit, but that should be made up in a couple of years flying in premiums since the trike insurance is cheaper (about 10% according to who you ask).

Update: (11/11/2004):Despite my previous reservations, I am now considering building the taildragger -7. The reason? Well, I've had more time to ride in them and I'm more open to the idea. I do think they look nicer and almost everyone I've talked to recommends building the tailwheel. I've also started my taildragger endorsement training...so that's really got me going too. I have to decide before I order my fuselage, which will hopefully be in December. I want to order the fuselage in December to avoid the usual January price increase.

Update (12/07/2004): The fuselage was ordered today and I decided to go with tricycle gear. The main reason? Insurance. To build and fly the tailwheel would require me to get about 50 hours tailwheel time and that would cost me...plus about 15% more in premiums. I had to decide if *I* really wanted to build the taildragger. The answer? It's not worth the extra cost to *me*. Some very well respected and very experienced pilot friends of mine have told me that they think I'm making the right decision...and I do too. I'm not looking back. End of story.

Tip-up vs. Sliding Canopy
There are two basic canopy options for the RV-7A, the tip-up or the slider. The tip-up provides better forward visibility and ease of access behind the panel while the slider provides better taxi ventilation and is just cooler looking. I'm still undecided.

Update (12/07/2004): I've decided to go with the tip-up canopy because of the ease of access behind the panel and the unobstructed 180+ degree viewing. I still haven't flown in an RV with a tip-up, but I've seen several videos of people flying in them and it seems to be the clear winner for me in the flying category. Seems to me that some folks building these airplanes are making decisions based mostly on asthetic reasons. I'm trying to base my decisions on practicality and flying enjoyment.

Engine Choice
There are basically two common options to choose from with engines for homebuilt airplanes.

1) Lycoming (New, Mid-time or Rebuilt)
2) Automotive Conversion (i.e. Jan Eggenfellner)

There are really too many issues to mention here but I think that Jan's package is a little expensive (as are all aircraft engines). I'm still undecided on an engine but I would love to have a good used 180h carburated Lycoming that I can have professionally overhauled.

Since my primary 'mission' is to get this thing flying for a reasonable amount of money, I'm thinking of going with a fixed-pitch metal prop... we'll see though.

My panel is going to initially be cross country VFR. I don't hold an instrument rating at this time...although it is definately in my future. I'm going to have enough difficulty just getting the thing finished, and simplifying the process with a VFR panel is going to get me there more quickly.

I ordered Van's pre-punched VFR panel with my fuselage kit to see if it fits the bill. If it doesn't, I have several ideas of what to do but we'll see what happens.

Here is what I'm leaning toward. Very simple, light (except the gyros), proven and inexpensive (relative to the economics of aviation, of course!)

Here is yet another thought I'm beginning to lean toward...using the new Dynon engine monitor. I really like the idea of an engine monitor in terms of safety (the engine monitor will let you know when something's wrong with your engine before your engine will!). At this point, Dynon is claiming to offer major discounts for puchasing the D-10 and the engine monitor as packages. It's still not cheap, but hey...it would get me everything I could want (and be aerobatically suitable, unlike most vacuum gyros), so who knows.

Also, notice the built-in stereo. I'm seriously considering this because I would like to have built-in satellite radio (I hate dealing with cords running through any environment, especially one as demanding as an aircraft cockpit).

When I 'designed' this panel, I was thinking that I would go with the Icom radio, mostly because of the price. Looking at the Garmin SL-40 though has got me thinking that I would really like to use it. Why? Well, there are two reasons -- the standby frequency monitoring feature and it also has a built-in intercom.

If you're not familiar with avionics, most communications radios in aircraft display two frequencies -- one 'active' frequency and one 'standby' frequency. The active frequency is the one that you're listening to and transmitting on and the standby is just that... it's dialed in but your not using it. There's generally a 'flip flop' button that switches the two frequencies. The SL-40 has a fantastic feature in that it has a little 'mon' button that allows you to monitor (listen to) the standby frequency. Why is this soooo cool? Well, it's just like having two radios in the airplane. Most production airplanes (Cessnas, Pipers, etc) have two COM radios and they are generally used in this way...one radio is being used to transmit/receive on and the on and the other is being used to monitor some other frequency (121.5, flight watch, ATIS, etc). The SL-40 gives you this feature in a single unit, and it's not *that* much more expensive than the ICOM radio.

Also, the SL-40 has a built-in 2-place intercom. I can't find any information about the intercom (other than what's in the user's guide), but I'm not sure if I'm going to use it or an external COM. I'm a bit of an audiophile, so I prefer stereo & and audio input for the XM radio I'll be putting in the panel.

I have been mulling over the possibility of going with an IFR panel. If I do, it will most likely look similar to this. This setup should give me adequate IFR functionality with some redundancy (I like the idea of a GPS/COM plus an SL-30. That way if one radio craps out I still have another one by which to navigate, etc. I can always add a Garmin 296 or 396 to this setup later to have a 'pretty screen'.

Ok, this looks like this is going to be very close to my final panel design. Let's just say that you only live once. Jaime and I do not have any kids and I would feel guilty spending this much money on a panel if we did. That's why I think I should do it now. This will give me a decent IFR setup and give me a nice platform to get my instrument rating. I've talked to a couple of CFIIs about this setup and they agree that it should be suitable for training. If I ever decide I need another NAV/COM I can always replace the SL-40 w/ an SL-30 since they're the same size (although I think they use a different tray).

Some features of this panel:
  • The Dynon D-100 (big blue EFIS in center of pilot's side) is connected to the EMS D-10 on the right, allowing the EFIS to display engine data and the EMS to display EFIS data. This should be nice for instrument training as it will allow the instructor to hit the right-most button on the EMS and see a full EFIS display.
  • I may replace the trio autopilot (lower left) with a Trutrak ADI pilot. This would give me a nice backup for IFR incase the EFIS goes tango uniform.

  • Additionally I may try to find a way to fit a Garmin 396 in there. That's a fantastic handheld GPS!

    Update: 03/01/2007: Ok...so in the end my panel ended up looking nothing like any of my drawings. I decided that I was straying from my initial plan of building a cost-effective airplane. My current panel is easily upgradeable to IFR capability by adding an SL-30 to the panel.