Van's Air Force
Western Canada Wing
We just got back from spending some time in the North Plains area flying with Mike Seager in Van’s RV-6A (N666RV). What a great deal! I absolutely believe that spending this time and money was every bit as valuable as the money spent directly on hardware from Van himself. Almost everyone reading this list agrees with me that sending money to Van’s Aircraft beats any other way to spend it on airplanes, in terms of what you pay for what you get (if not, why are you subscribing?).
Specifically, Kathy and I spent parts of two days(3.9 “billable hours” in three sessions for me, 2.8 in two sessions for Kathy) with Mike, getting some familiarization training in the -6A. Van and Mike have conspired(with the FAA) to make this service available to RV customers to increase their likelihood of success in that critical early flight period (especially the first one!). If you’re already flying a Thorp T-18, Lancair, Glasair, etc., you’re probably already used to the type of performance that an RV provides. If, however, you’re like Kathy and me and all previous experience is in spam cans like the Cherokee and 152/172, hark an ear...
What we got for our money: Mike took us out and introduced us to the plane (climb, cruise, maneuvering flight, turns, stalls, etc.—classic BFR and/or transition training for any new/different plane), then we headed for the airport (Scappoose, OR in my case) to see what it’s like in the pattern. We spent a major portion of our time with him in the pattern, learning how to get the plane on/off the ground safely and smoothly. At this point in time, I feel much more confident that I can handle our plane when it’s ready for that first flight.
The RV-6A is every bit as good an airplane to fly as is claimed. (Hearsay says this is true of the entire RV family; I believe it, just can’t state it from my own experience!) The plane is very predictable, very easy to control, and overall a total gas to fly (hence the universal RV grin from pilots). Although sometimes you start wondering after reading some of the messages on the RV List, it also obeys every one of the same laws/rules/principles of physics and aerodynamics that the Cessper/Pissna’s do. This is both good and bad (balance is far to the good side). At the same time, while aerodynamics say it has to share a lot of flight characteristics with its ancestors, there are also differences that can catch you napping, especially if you haven’t “flown with Mike”.
Biggest difference between the RV and a Cherokee: things can change quickly! The RV whips Piper/Cessna specs in terms of dimensions, weights, power loading, roll and pitch rates, etc. That’s why we’ve all bought (or are buying, or are considering buying) these experimental aircraft: to be able to enjoy higher performance for our dollars than we can get in the certified world. Sliding the throttle forward to start the take-off roll (even uphill on Van’s wet/soft grass strip) causes you to get squished back in the seat way more than a Cherokee can do. This is just a hint of what’s in store through the whole flight. Speed reductions happen faster, too (partly due to the constant speed prop on N666RV, but not entirely). If you reduce power on downwind, then don’t pay attention to airspeed/descent rate/power setting, you can find yourself playing with the bottom of the green/white arcs on the airspeed indicator much sooner than this could happen in a C-172.
To give you an idea of how this is manifested overall, I usually figure on about 6 minutes per lap of the pattern if I’m doing touch & go practice in our Cherokee. I think the average time was closer to 4 minutes in the RV, and that includes stop & goes instead of touch & goes! Like I said, things chage quickly! The same processes are used, but you don’t get as much time to dawdle around noticing that you need to correct a drift, be it attitude, position, or speed. Fortunately, though, any variance can be corrected very quickly and easily. If you pay attention, this aircraft can fly like it’s on rails and under computer control.
As far as Mike’s personality and credentials go, he’s the guy you’d pick if you did a search for flight instructors using the suggestions in articles in Plane & Pilot, Flying, etc. He’s technically a good pilot, has been instructing for a lot of hours, loves flying (and is infectious about it!), is very methodical, and at least for me, he can describe what he wants in words that I understand! I’ve worked with coaches/instructors in the past (not always in aviation) that just didn’t have the communication knack that is the difference between an expert and an expert instructor. He’s patient, allows minor “learning experiences” (as long as they’re not going to hurt us or the hardware), and is constantly positive in his outlook and critique of recent events. He also keeps after a point until you convince him that you at least know what the correct procedure is, and can demonstrate it with reasonable skill and consistency. (I had trouble getting the sight picture, timing, and control inputs correct in the landing flare. I know I was driving Mike nuts, but he kept with it. The last session, I finally pulled it together and got a couple of acceptable touchdowns. Now that I know what needs to happen, I feel pretty good about doing it alone in a few months when the time comes.)
Mike doesn’t consider this flight training to be his primary profession. He owns another business that is his first responsibility. I’m personally hoping that he and Van are both successful enough that he can make a choice. Can he be successful and have more fun by dele-gating or selling the other job so that he can put more time into teaching us to fly RVs?
I’m certainly glad that Van and Mike have seen fit to make this opportunity available to us. I really believe that having done this (especially the landings!) will make my chance of success much better on the Big Day for N110KB, the -6A that Kathy and I are working on. Neither one of them can be getting rich from this process. The cost was only $70/hr, which included Mike’s time and the RV-6A (with fuel). This is pretty close to what I was paying for instructor and C-172 rental during my primary training a couple years ago. There aren’t many opportunities to get experience like this. While a lot of RVers are willing to let you take the stick for a while at altitude, even those who are CFI’s are understandably reluctant to let you actually do the approach and land! I heartily recommend to any and all that you take advantage of this opportunity - who knows, if there’s enough demand, Van might even see fit to open flight training centers around the country. Mike already takes the -6 on tour a couple times a year; I think he’s in Texas this week or next, on the way to Sun & Fun. (Realistically, the logistics could be a nightmare. By using the factory prototypes, Van also has the R&D staff do the maintenance, mods, etc. on these planes. He gets pretty good use and value from them, and has a chance to keep a close eye on them. If a plane doing this job weren’t based in North Plains, it would be a lot tougher to keep it in the kind of condition that these are.)
In closing: Mike, thanks again for
working with us. Scott McDaniels, could you please pass on our thanks
to your boss for going to the trouble to make this possible to us (with
the FAA and with his equipment!).
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