A while back I posted about a video showing Mitch Lock, East Coast sales representative for Van’s, taking his first flight in his RV-14A. This had provided us with some much-needed inspiration for our own build, as we saw that it really *is* possible to build a plane using an inordinate number of rivets, a baffling collection of tools and some sheets of aluminium!
Granted, Mitch combines these elements with an infectious passion for aircraft building (the RV-14A was his fifth Van’s build!) and a much greater degree of skill and experience than J and I put together, but watching his video was really exciting nonetheless. It made us feel as though we were slightly less crazy for taking on this project!
A series of happy coincidences landed us both in Chicago for a business trip in April, and after looking at the map and figuring out it wasn’t really *that* far by US standards, we decided to take a weekend trip to visit Mitch and see his plane (N-914VA) for ourselves.
The plane is based at St Mary’s Regional Airport in California (MARYLAND – very glad we checked that part…), so we took a late-night flight with Spirit airlines into Baltimore, grabbed a few hours’ sleep and a hire car and set off to meet up with Mitch and see the results of 5 years of incredibly hard work.
As an aside, Maryland, and in particular the area around Chesapeake Bay, is beautiful in the spring – really green, cherry blossom everywhere and amazing views at every turn. We grabbed a chance to paddle at Kentmorr beach on our way 🙂
About mid-morning on Saturday we arrived at St Mary’s airport and met up with Mitch at his hangar.
The plane looks great – we like the paint job Mitch has chosen, but it’s not just that, the shape is lovely as well, and it’s quite compact compared to many we’ve seen and flown. But we’re not building it to sit and look pretty and neither did Mitch, so it didn’t take long for him to suggest that we see what it could do in the air!
A dilemma presented itself with the fact that Mitch would need to be in the plane for the flight, and as there are only two seats, of course we had to have a fight over who was going first. Having done the work to arrange the meet-up with Mitch I was in no mood to be polite, and after some half-hearted glaring, J agreed I could go up before him.
As we lined up on the runway, Mitch glanced over at me and asked: “Do you want the high-performance take-off or the normal one?”. “Go for it!” was my reply. He put the throttle full forward and we took off within what felt like milliseconds (the take-off distance is between 520-630ft depending on weight – full specs here).
We gained speed and altitude incredibly quickly compared to anything I’ve ever flown, and I’d just had the opportunity to think “Wow, this high performance take-off is quite something!”, when Mitch suddenly yanked the controls back and we absolutely rocketed upwards. I hadn’t realised that he’d actually been arresting the climb deliberately in order to show me what the machine could do. I’d thought what we’d done already was the high performance part, but nothing prepared me for what followed! Even after the initial zoom subsided, we achieved a rate somewhere around 2,000ft per minute for a sustained period.
It was all a bit overwhelming for me – I am just not used to something moving so fast through the air and responding to the lightest touch. In our TB-10 we cruise at about 110kts, whereas the RV-14 was booming along at a casual 165kts without really trying…it felt a LOT faster and I could definitely see how it would reduce the impact of headwinds.
Given its light weight, the RV-14 is also remarkably stable. In minor thermals it was less than bothered, and when it was properly in trim it just sat where you put it and behaved itself. Mitch handed me the controls as we reached the point of the level-off, and invited me to have a play (“Just don’t turn it upside down, I don’t do that anymore.” – you may laugh, but the RV-14 is actually suitable for light aerobatics so this is a reasonable disclaimer!).
I did some tentative steep turns and some other manoeuvres, very conscious that I was a newly-qualified pilot playing with someone’s baby and I didn’t want to do anything silly with it. I have to say that whatever I did, it handled beautifully. Mitch then asked me to stick the plane in a steep turn to the left and take my hands off the controls. He initially took over control himself, but then I noticed he’d taken his hands off as well:
M: “Are you flying the plane?”
E: “Not any more…”
M: “Am I flying the plane?”
M: “Then who’s flying the plane…!?”
The point, neatly demonstrated, was that the RV-14 is ridiculously stable and will, to an extent at least, fly itself. Basically it just wants to be in the air! We did some stalls and a little tour – up towards Washington and back to St Mary’s – then we decided it was probably time to let J have a turn.
As we came back in, Mitch told me to pretend I’d hated the flight and tell J we’d made a huge mistake taking on the project – but unfortunately I couldn’t hide my grin, so J was only too aware of how much fun we’d had.
He had a similarly awesome experience (and was a lot more keen on throwing it around than I’d been, apparently…) trying it out for the first time, and we’ve both come home with renewed motivation for our build project.
We hadn’t flown in a Van’s aircraft before, so I think we were bowled over perhaps more than seasoned RV pilots might be, but in the RV-14 at least, Van’s really do achieve their mission of “total performance” – range, speed, stability and incredible climb rates are some of the main reasons why we have chosen to build one. Based on our experience, we won’t be disappointed when it’s done! If we can do half as good a job as Mitch on the build, we’ll be delighted and will no doubt enjoy many years of flying in the end product.
Thank you Mitch for having us, and for showing us what our plane could look and feel like in a few years – hopefully we’ll be back for another practice flight as we get closer to completion!