Van's Air Force
Western Canada Wing
[This article was originally published in the September, 2000 Ontario Wing newsletter. Terry is the editor of the Ontario Wing newsletter, and has set speed and altitude records with his RV-6, in addition to winning an Outstanding Workmanship award at Oshkosh. I had the very great pleasure of flying with Terry last March. Despite the numerous signs of wear he discusses in this article, his RV-6 was one of the finest I’ve seen, and it was obvious that he takes very good care of it—Webmaster.]
After three years and far too much flying, I have some observations on how our aircraft age. I currently have about 800 hours on the hobbs meter. That translates to approximately 600 hours of flying time. Flying out of a medium-sized airport, as I do, requires lots of taxiing and hold time. I estimate between 12-18 minutes for every flight terminating back at my home field. That accounts for the wide disparity in “flight time” and “air time.”
With all that taxiing, the tires do take a beating. I’m on my fourth set of tires right now. I have tried “cheapies” with mixed results. The second and third sets were Aero Trainers at about $48 a tire. I got about 220 hours from the first set, and about 120 hours from the second set. I don’t think my landing has deteriorated that much. The second set just didn’t last. I’m running on Goodyear Flight Special IIs at the moment. I like the stiffer sidewall, and they appear to have a lot more rubber to grind off. The stiff sidewall seems to keep the RV-style wheel shimmy at bay.
I finally replaced the tail wheel with a sealed-bearing type. The new wheel is lighter, maintenance-free, and doesn’t sling grease all over. The old wheel wore down about an inch and a half since new.
The airframe is holding up well. At the 250-hour mark I had to replace the rudder due to cracks in the skin. About six cracks had started at the ends of the internal stiffeners. Part of the problem was the 0.016” skin, part was due to not installing RTV at the ends, and part was due to construction errors. I didn’t get the stiffeners nearly close enough to either the spar or the trailing edge. The skin could flex a little, and the cracks seemed to start where the skin was loosest.
I picked up three cracks in the aft fuselage skin due to another construction error. I had an opportunity to fly with Van in the blue RV-6 many moons ago. Actually, it was at Oshkosh 1990, and I remember being somewhat disappointed at all the sheet metal banging in the back while we were taxiing on the ramp at Fond du Lac. I decided I was going to stop any oil canning in that area on my own RV. I now realize that stiffeners on big expanses of flat skin need to be fixed to the bulkheads in some way. All the flexing in the skins gets transferred to the ends of a floating stiffener with less-than-desirable results.
The airplane was painted at the 300-hour mark. Any place where there were cracks in the gel coat on the fibreglass parts has eventually worked through the paint. I have fine hairline cracks just behind the spinner and in the corners of the air inlets. I think the gel coat was damaged when the cowl was removed from the mold. These little cracks must be ground out and filled before painting.
The battle of the stone chips never stops. I have extra paint left over, and touch up minor damage as I discover it. The prop takes a regular beating. I have found it’s easier to maintain a polished prop than try to keep one painted. The flat black on the back of the blades gets a fresh coat every year. I use 3M leading edge tape on any parts of the tail wheel assembly that face into the prop blast. Periodic replacement keeps that area looking good.
The cabin interior has worn well. I used a minimum of fabric and as many powder-coated panels as possible. I was concerned about the leather seats, as they were fairly thin hides, suitable for the garment industry. They still look almost brand new. Hard to believe with over 250 different sets of cheeks placed on them. [Often at well over 1Gz, if I know Terry—Ed.] I am adamant about not stepping on the seats when boarding, and that has probably helped. The only instrument panel problems encountered so far have been a tach (Mitchell 2.25”) that stopped recording hours and an intercom (PS II Engineering) that stopping intercomming. The RC Allen vacuum gyros have endured hundreds of rolls and are still functioning perfectly. In fact, the DG doesn’t even require a heading reset during a one-hour flight. Due to the design of the tip-up canopy and my lack of waterproofing devices, my Terra radios get a drenching every year during the Oshkosh trek. This year was no exception. I have finally done something about it [see the article Leaking RVs—Webmaster]. The Terras, to their credit, get thoroughly dried out and recuperate to live another day.
The engine compartment has fared almost
as well as the interior. Except for a persistent oil seep from the
split line on the front part of the case, everything shows little wear.
I do give the firewall forward a good solvent cleaning every oil change,
because of the oil leak, and that gives me a good chance to inspect all
the important bits. I have found that even aluminum angle 0.125”
thick will fail if used as brackets and bolted to the big noise-maker up
front. I have suspended my exhaust system from the case, as conventional
legend prescribes, and anywhere aluminum was used, it cracked. I
now have stainless steel stuff supporting all exhaust components.
The baffle kit I purchased from Van’s has held up perfectly. I even
have the original hinge and pin holding the two cowls together behind the
spinner. That has been a problem area for many builders. I
bent the pins up on the morning of the first test flight, and they’ve survived
there ever since. Go figure!
All the hoses were fire-sleeved at installation, and they are easy to keep clean and looking nice. The fact that I can keep my RV inside out of the weather plays an important part in the longevity of the expensive parts. Since I usually get some airtime a couple of times a week, I keep the engine warm all winter as well. With an old sleeping bag thrown over the cowl (my original bag with cowboy print lining) for the heat retention, and the foam stuffed in the nostrils, the oil stays around 100°F. Makes for easy engine starts and little chance for moisture—read “corrosion”—to get a foothold.
The biggest surprise of all for a high-time RV is the amount of fuel that flows through its veins. I estimate over 6300 U.S. gallons (approximately 24,000 litres) have been turned into noise, heat, and grins. My little RV has given me a reason to continue working. I have to buy more gas!
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