When a Kit Aircraft Is Not a Kit Aircraft

Photo by Brady Lane/EAA

Until a few years ago the NTSB did not recognize kit aircraft as a “type” and would not record them as a common type in accident statistics. That position is technically correct because each amateur-built airplane is certified as an individual with the builder providing at least 51 percent of the total effort to create it. And the builder also technically is responsible for the design of the aircraft.

But the NTSB changed its position because kits are the gigantic majority of all amateur-built airplanes and unless accident data was recorded under the name of the kit, it was impossible to analyze the data and look for trends in accident rates and causes. The NTSB identification of amateur-built aircraft involved in accidents as a type – RV, Lancair, etc. – is not as consistent as we all want, but is much better than it was. The NTSB tracking of kit aircraft as a common type is evidence of how accepted kits are, and how much builders are expected to follow the instructions supplied with the kit.

The fact is that the development of high-quality kits of well-designed airplanes that are straightforward to build has transformed homebuilding. The only part of GA that has shown growth over the past few years is amateur-built, and virtually all of those airplanes are from kits.

Van’s Aircraft alone is most responsible for the success of kit aircraft. Nearly 7,400 RV airplanes have been completed and thousands more are under construction. There are about 30,000 total registered homebuilts so you can see that Van’s with its long list of RV models is driving the boat.

These are the reasons that an article in the August issue of Sport Aviation by Van’s founder Dick VanGrunsven is one of the most important commentaries on amateur-built and kit aircraft in many years.

What triggered Dick’s article and comments was an earlier Sport Aviation story about a builder who made extensive modifications to the design of the four-seat RV-10 that he built. The builder increased the maximum takeoff weight, totally changed the seat belt anchoring system, modified the rudder control cable connections, and apparently doubled the fuel capacity.

Rudder cables are run through the center console tunnel and attached through “smiley face” slots which is a change from Van’s original design.

None of the changes to the RV-10 design that the builder made violate any rules because as builder he, not Van’s, is responsible for the finished airplane. But as Dick points out, changes to the fundamental structure and design of the airplane sends the builder off into unknown territory. How the airplane will perform and withstand the possible loads of maneuvering and turbulence are unknown to Van’s Aircraft because the alterations have not been tested. Perhaps the builder has the experience and tools to evaluate how the gross weight change, extra fuel, and changed rudder cable connection will alter the proven performance of the RV-10, but maybe not.

There is little question that the change in the shoulder harness anchoring system implemented by the builder does compromise the performance of the belts. Van’s worked with Oregon Aero to create seats and restraints that worked together and the changes made invalidate the testing those companies did. The builder has every right to make the changes, but all of our concern – not just Van’s – should be that those changes were made with full knowledge of a likely compromise in restraint performance.

Read about Greg Hale’s RV-10 in Sport Aviation

Doubling fuel capacity, Dick points out, could cause very unpredictable changes in flutter margins and stall/spin behavior. Adding significant amounts of mass to the wings can alter the natural frequencies of the structure and that can change flutter margins. And extra weight in the wings does add inertia to any wing drop or rotation of the airplane so who knows what the altered RV-10 will do in a stall or spin. The design was tested as specified, but changes become the builder’s responsibility to test.

Greg Hale wanted his RV-10 to resemble the styling of a Lexus and made more than 25 major modifications inside and out including how the seat belts were anchored to the aircraft. Photo by Brady Lane/EAA

I am no amateur-built aircraft expert, but pilots I know and trust who have flown the RVs all report that they are well-designed airplanes with conventional flying qualities. In this context the word “conventional” is a high compliment, meaning the airplanes behave the way an experienced pilot expects them to without the flying qualities traps that lurk in some amateur-built airplanes.

The enormous sales success of the RV line proves to me that builders and pilots want an attractive airplane that delivers good performance but requires only basic fundamental building skills to create. The RV designs are sound, the kits are very complete, and the builder has every reason to know what to expect at the end of his efforts. Paint schemes, interior furnishings, and avionics selections give RV builders wide range to express their individuality without altering the tested and proven fundamental design.

View a gallery of Greg Hale’s RV-10

I don’t want to see the amateur-built aircraft rules changed to take away the authority of the builder to create his own airplane whether he starts with a very complete kit or from scratch. But like Dick, I do hope that kit builders understand that when they modify the kit they have launched themselves and their passengers into untested territory. That’s why Dick’s article is so crucial to all who care about amateur-built airplanes. I hope you will read it.

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52 Responses to When a Kit Aircraft Is Not a Kit Aircraft

  1. Rick Sked says:

    I love how Sport Aviation prints an article on how nice Greg’s aircraft is then refuses to let him respond to Van before the next issue. Looks like the EAA and it new leadership and authors really don’t care about it’s membership other than collecting “revenue” from the people who make up the grass roots of what the organization was born from. With the recent resignation of our past President I expect it will only get worse. Come clean and give Greg Hale his opportunity to at least respond. Until then my EAA renewal will sit on my desk collecting dust. Then park that bus you used to run him over and apologize for running him over with it, forwards, backwards, forwards….you get the picture.

  2. John Melchert says:

    Hmmm. Seems a bit (or rather quite a bit) unfair to single out Greg as the poster child for modifications to a kit built plane. Van is covering his hind quarters, but I’ve seen a lot of experimentals, both kits and plans built; and nearly every one of them has modifications, some minor and some extensive. With the case of the RV-10 alone I’ve seen extra tanks, in the wings and on the wing tips. I’ve seen alternate engines, alternate seats, AC installations, even a removable carrier POD that affixes to the belly. That last one has to fall into the category of a major modification aerodynamically. But Greg gets the attention today.

    News post – kits are not certified airplanes. This article tries to make an argument that they ought to be. Well, they aren’t and shouldn’t be; and the FAA has been right in treating each one as an individual, one-of-a-kind. Yes, accident data may be hard to aggregate, but since they all are really one-of-a-kind, then there logically is really nothing to aggregate now is there?

    I do think very highly of Van and his very well engineered kits. But we do this industry a major disservice when we vilify a builder for making modifications and not just following the kit manufacture’s instructions verbatim.

    Van’s reaps the benefits of manufacturing kits, thereby selling more planes then Cessna. The reason he has this business is due to the fact that we have the Experimental rule and the freedom to “build it” ourselves. Embedded in any real freedom is the freedom to make mistakes too. Without that freedom, there is no freedom at all.

    If the message here is that we all “should” really just follow the manufacture’s instructions explicitly, no modifications, we really just become extensions of the factory, and not experimenters. So, where does the too many modifications line get drawn? Who gets to draw it? To what criteria? If every builder stressed over whether or not they’d be vilified for stepping over that line there would be a lot less builders and Van’s would sell a lot less kits.

    I suspect Van is really just covering his behind as I’m sure he faces litigation every so often that must be fought, and at a real cost. But I’m a bit disappointed with Van for vilifying one of his builders like this. His company exists because of the Experimental rule. To attempt to make an argument some go too far is frankly myopic and hypocritical. His business exists because his builders have the right to go as far as they see fit.

    But I’m also a bit disappointed with EAA and this article. Yes, it was carefully written to coax along an underlying agenda, but anyone who’s been following this saga knows what Mac is really trying to say. The message comes from a certified industry mindset, not a long established experimental industry mindset. Mac, please remember the ‘E’ in EAA stands for Experimental and that you’re now writing to builders and flyers of real honest to goodness experimentals. Your days at Flying Magazine were glorious, but these are not certified airplane drivers you’re writing to; we are builders, and want the freedom to build it how we see fit, whether that means following the kit manufacture’s instructions verbatim or not.

    Nice plane Greg!

  3. J. R. Archer says:

    This appears to be the classic engineer’s “cover your butt article” and Van has every right to do so. I object to the very public flogging of Greg in Sport Aviation. Van should have directed his concerns only to the builder involved. If he wanted to make his views to a greater audience through Sport Aviation, , every point could be made in the article without the public humiliation of the man who bought his RV kit. I don’t think I want Van looking at my RV6.

  4. Deems Davis says:

    Shame on you Mr. McClellan !
    Double Shame on you EAA & Mr. Hightower !!

    An appology to Greg is the absolute least that I expect. There can be no defense for abusing your members thusly. I and my renewal stand waiting for your response.

  5. Pascal Reid says:

    I am rather disappointed with your comments! There is a flyoff off period of 25-40 hours where a builder tests all the designs that went into their aircraft. The fact that Greg completed the flyoff successfully, before any passenger was allowed in his plane, should give an idea that maybe Greg took his RV-10 beyomd a few limits imposed by Vans, but that is why it’s “experimental” and quite safe to this point, hence in TESTED territory.
    I am frustrated that EAA didn’t see this RV-10 as a beautiful plane with excellent attention to detail, and failed to commend him for it at OSH, instead of bash, him for the last two months.

  6. Mac says:

    Interesting comments by all. But the fundamental question remains. At what level of modification does a kit airplane move out of the kit fleet and into a unique individual category? There is value in being able to study the performance and safety record of any fleet of airplanes but there must be enough conformity among members of the fleet to make that data meaningful. A highly modified kit can mislead everyone who is interested in the design of the basic kit. That certainly doesn’t make a highly modified kit illegal, just an individual design, not part of a fleet of airplanes that share common features.

    Mac Mc

    • Deems Davis says:

      Bull Pucky! The Experimantal catagory existed long before ‘kits’ emerged. Van and others have taken advantage of this catagory to do what American entrapreneurs do best. Good for him! Along with his considerable financial sucess also comes the risk inherent in our marketplace (liability). For builders we are ALL also intimately familiar with Risk, we put our considerable time, money and ultimately our lives into these projects. The sucessful outcome is life altering. But your premise suggests (falsely) that kit mfgs have some preemtive rights to the Experimental certificate. If (your) premise accurately reflects the EAA position today….. I’m out.

  7. Steve Carter says:


    These are all good comments and I have to side with the builder. What he does with the aircraft ( good bad or indifferent) is totally up to him and his DAR. Don’t forget Mac, the FAA approved his modifications (airworthiness certificate) and then he had to sit his behind/butt in the aircraft (test pilot) and perform the maneuvers mandated for flight safety. Maybe you should read FAA’s circular on this subject prior to writing these types of articles. Van is a wonderful engineer and successful kit plane manufacturer and is covering his Butt. E is for experimental Mac, unless your agenda is about something else. Just my two cents.


  8. Paul Wisgerhof says:

    The aircraft has an airworthiness certificate marked, “Experimental – Amateur Built.” It is not certified, carries a placard on the instrument panel announcing that fact to passengers, and has a 2″ high “experimental” sign either under the entrance door or somewhere highly visible in the cabin.

    Once the kit leaves Van’s door Van is no longer responsible. Was the plane built in his shop under the supervision of his people? No. Am I, as the purchaser of a kit from Van or anyone else in the business, authorized to modify it as I see fit? Yes, unless it is an E-LSA. And, even then, I have the option to build it as an E-A/B. So, occasionally, some of us make mistakes. Once in a while, Darwin wins. That’s life. We all understand, or should, that every time we build a kit on our own responsibility we take a risk. Is our risk higher in our homebuilts than if we were in a certified aircraft? Perhaps, but we have the huge satisfaction of building something that, for most of us, is food for the soul.

  9. Mac says:

    Good comments, and I agree on the importance of the big E and freedom we all enjoy to build as we see fit. But a completed kit aircraft is typically registered as a “Jones RV” or a “Smith Lancair” etc. At what level of modification should the airplane become just a Jones or a Smith? Such identification would confirm to all who are interested that this is in fact a very individual airplane that is being celebrated and owes nothing to the kit designer.

    Mac Mc

    • Jeff Boatright says:

      “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet.”

      Sorry, Mac, but regardless of what string of letters are entered into the registration slot, an experimental plane is an experimental plane in the eyes of the good Lord and the FAA. The manufacturer is the homebuilder, period. In theory, the string of letters could be “XXXXXX” for every experimental aircraft registered and it would hold as much meaning. This state of affairs vastly lowers liability Vans’ faces, and as others point out, has allowed his and similar companies to flourish.

  10. Jim Richards says:

    Mac – your question is an easy one to answer. It is an individual airplane when it gets its special airworthiness certificate. The added “RV” or “Lancair” at the end of the type name is a way of saying, “based on one of those”; not “and is one of those”. The point everyone is trying to make is that the name of your article is itself misguided. A kit aircraft is always a kit aircraft. It’s you that is trying to make an argument that we ought to group them together (for accident analysis), when in fact they shouldn’t be and it doesn’t make sense to. Then, in attempting to group them together you’re trying to make a second argument that in order for that to make sense they should all be built the same. Backwards. They are all different, as they should be; and therefore they should not be grouped together. That’s what experimental stands for and why the rules are set up as they are.

  11. Phil N says:

    Mac – it sounds to me like you are advocating regulation of kit builders, turning them into kit assemblers simply to make ‘statistical relevance’ out of numbers. Just because analysis is difficult doesn’t mean we should give up the freedom we now enjoy. Easy isn’t better, in my opinion. In fact, along these lines we should not only be kit assemblers but graded in some fashion as to workmanship as well. I’ve seen structural rivet jobs that are scary and others that are works of art. If you want statistical relevance you must also take the quality of workmanship into account. How difficult do you think that would be?

  12. Dan Horton says:

    At what point does modifying our Sport Aviation magazine create a whole new publication, one which no longer reflects the values of the organization’s core group?

  13. Robert Miller says:

    We all want to do the same thing>>FLY. I am an old hotrod car fixer upper and cycle nut, But I got into flying and got my Ticket. How can I fly, Build,why COST. Now I know I can do the work , I also know I am a LOW time pilot. If it wasn’t for KITS, I would not have all the Knowledge to get off the ground. I also know each airplane has been made for a type, or job to do. I also know I like the difference design features from many difference planes. All this talk is telling me that I am not wanted if I don’t have the large amount of money kit, etc want. I was under the impression all IDEAS the old and New are needed to better our sport, along with the proper support. Ask,look,make the effort, get checked off by the rules>Faa. Lets help make every thing safe. But DO NOT TELL >>Me This can”t be done”’!!!!
    That’s my Dime. C.B.

  14. Thomas Boyle says:

    This brings up a couple of points.
    1. We need a way to get more low(er) cost aircraft, of modern design, into the fleet without having to build them ourselves. E-AB eliminates a large portion of the certification cost, and most of the product liability cost. It would be a good idea for aviation, and for the FAA, to find ways to do both for fully-manufactured aircraft too. S-LSA does it for the certification cost, and E-LSA cuts product liability cost also (without requiring a 51% rule). It’s time to move that thinking beyond LSA.
    2. E-AB means just that, which is great for the builder but, in thinking about it, made me very hesitant about buying anyone else’s E-AB aircraft (which, in the long run, is bad for the builder, if other people think that way). One of the things that’s attractive about E-LSA, from the point of view of a potential buyer of someone else’s aircraft, is that it had to be built exactly per the plans. That does suggest that there might be room for an E-KB (Experimental – Kit Built) that would be similar to E-LSA but applicable to aircraft not fitting the LSA restrictions. Just a thought.

  15. Linn Walters says:

    Sorry Mac. Right out of the box you’ve stepped in it. You should have taken a little time to remove the ‘certified’ hat and spent that time fitting into an ‘experimental’ hat. the two hats don’t look anything alike. I purchased Vans RV-10 kit. It won’t be registered that way though. I’ll have to come clean. I’ve deviated from the plans. That’s my right. Van has said that if you make changes, don’t call it an RV-10. Fair enough. I’ve seen enough Experimentals that I wouldn’t get into and I can make the same choice whether to get into Greg’s plane. I agree that Greg has compromised the integrity and the effectiveness of the shoulder harnesses. But it was his choice and within the concepts of the Experimental category. I surely wouldn’t have made that change. But it’s not my plane and I’ll not chastise him for the change. Nobody else should either. Educate him, but don’t chastise him.
    However, no matter what two airplanes you pick that are built from the same kits that sit side-by-side …. they will never be the same.
    So, as I see it, Greg really only made one mistake. Registering it as an RV-10. I think EAA and you owe him an apology for the public ‘hanging’, and not giving him the opportunity to respond ….. just as publicly.

  16. John Melchert says:

    Mac – to answer your question directly (“At what level of modification should the airplane become just a Jones or a Smith? Such identification would confirm to all who are interested that this is in fact a very individual airplane that is being celebrated and owes nothing to the kit designer.”) – This is easy. The level of modification required is that the kit left Van’s factory, period. Anyone who has actually built a plane knows this viscerally. I’m not sure I’ve met any builder that doesn’t understand that. It’s part of the longstanding ‘E’ culture and there is no question in my mind here. It’s also why we have all the placards on every E plane, not just those with modifications beyond an arbitrary line.

    After the kit leaves the Van’s factory infinite variables apply: builder skill, patience, desired modifications, errors, etc. With ‘E’ there isn’t, and shouldn’t be, any “certification” authority to bless a build as under or over the modification line. Think ‘E’, not ‘C’.

    By the way, this includes improvements to the design as well.

    The RV-10 stock door latch is an example of a flaw in the kit, that has been improved by builders and the builder network. Van’s has argued problems with the door are the builder’s fault, and maybe they are, or perhaps the design built per Van’s instructions doesn’t promote a good installation (which is really a flaw in the design no matter how you look at it). In any case, some doors built to spec will be fine and a few will blow off (already have). And the builder community will take note and make adjustments; and some fine modifications we have available for the door latch. Thank goodness for the big ‘E’ and builders willing to honor it.

  17. Michael says:

    There is only the “Experimental” category. There is no “homebuilt”, “RV”, “John’s RV”, etc. I have no problem with the NTSB or anyone else breaking it out into subgroups for the purpose of research but to say that if someone goes and makes a change, any change really, to a kit they are no longer in compliance is bull. I would like to also point out that Van’s is adamant that their aircraft are VFR only. I guess this would mean that the vast majority of the RV fleet is out of compliance as most are equipped for IFR flight. Shall we discuss Van’s Aircrafts approach to manufacturing problems like cracks or QC control on their quick builds? Or that they knowingly ship kits to individuals that are pure spec builders that churn out RV’s like any other manufacturer. Nah that might upset an advertiser. My point is they are no less perfect in what they produce or how they do business.
    Your argument has holes and I have to wonder what exactly makes you qualified to even represent the EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT Association in their magazine. Have you even built an aircraft? You seem to only view things from a certified viewpoint and are more than happy to side with manufactures and advertisers.
    I am very disappointed to see what my association is turning into, just another group that panders to its vendors and advertisers. Maybe we could get Marc Cook to replace you so we have the correct viewpoint again. I hope that anyone else that is asked to showcase their hard work in Sport Aviation takes a pass as it’s clear you may become an example and, unfortunately, not a good one.

    • Thomas Boyle says:

      There are subcategories to Experimental, laid out by the FAA, and they have different (materially different!) regulations that apply to them. The FAA specifically notes that Experimental certificates may be issued for:
      Experimental – R&D
      Experimental – Training
      Experimental – Exhibition
      Experimental – Air racing
      Experimental – Market survey
      Experimental – Amateur built
      Experimental – Light Sport

      Interestingly enough, there IS already a “Experimental – Primary kit-built” classification, which allows for the manufacture of an aircraft from a kit manufactured by the holder of a production certificate for that kit. I don’t know if that would be useful, to Mac’s point of separating kit “types” from E-AB “one-offs”.

  18. Eric says:

    Um, Didn’t Van take a stitts playboy and “modify” it to suit his liking? I thought that was the start of the whole RV line of aircraft. While I think that all modifications should be made in a well thought out systematic manner consistent with the design, I think that is a bit unfair to paint these modifications as inherently unsafe.

    Mac, I also question whether all kits are designed and tested to meet certain(any) standards. I am sure that the later RV series aircraft were thoroughly vetted, but I would want to see proof that all kits are so tested. I thought that I could sell wing components to fit onto a lawn chair being pulled by a turboprop engine with absolutely no interference from anyone except my conscience, my lawyer and my insurance carrier.

    I feel like the EAA has done some serious pandering to a major advertiser and Mac has went back to his roots of “manufactured” aircraft.

    This is dissapointing on both counts.

  19. Bill Watson says:

    Van made important points and re-opened my eyes as to why I chose the RV-10 as my project. He, his company and his products are why many of us are here. Important to the sport, important to EAA.
    However, EAA really screwed Greg Hale and he deserves a big public apology from the EAA… perhaps for “the unfortunate presentation and sequencing of articles about his project and what may have resulted in a public humiliation of someone clearly not deserving of such treatment and who is a praise worthy member of EAA”. The magazine did wrong here. Apologize or something please.
    Welcome aboard Mac. See if you can get a flight or two in an RV. If mine was flying, I’d offer you one.
    Bill “first flight any day now” Watson

  20. Bill Watson says:

    Sorry for screwing up Mr Hale’s name – please fix it if you can.

  21. Gordon Arnaut says:

    I’m glad Dick Van Grunswen, and now Mac, have decided to address this issue, even though they are getting flamed for it.

    As a flight test engineer I have to agree with Dick Van Grunswen on each technical point he makes. I could add a couple myself, for example adding extra fuel mass to the wing will increase centrifugal force in a spin, perhaps to a point that the wing structure was not designed to take.

    Apparently there are at least 10 other airplanes with that same tank mod. Not good.

    Likewise the modifications to the seat belt. Yes car seat belts are anchored at the floor, but the belt goes up and passes through a loop secured to the door post that is above shoulder level. If you lower that loop to below shoulder level, the occupant will be crushed downward in the seat. Again, not good.

    Mr. Hale, an airline captain with prior experience in flight testing, should frankly know better. I’m sure he is not second-guessing the engineering that went into the airliner he commands. Yet he (and many others) don’t seem to mind making “improvements” to the airplane kits they buy.

    A few years ago I ran across a fellow who was building a 2-seater from plans (not a Van’s design) and decided to lengthen the span. His mods looked iffy to me and I crunched some numbers and found his plane would probably not take much more than 1 g negative without coming apart, about half of what FAR 23 requires. Scared the hell out of me.

    The response I got to my well-intentioned caution was similar to what I am hearing here, a lot of emotion and not much logic.

    Yes experimental airplanes are for education and recreation, but the reality is that many folks build kits because they make financial sense. The cost of new airplanes is out of reach for most people, so many buy a kit. Good thing too, because that’s about the only place new built light airplanes are coming from these days…

    The suggestion was made earlier that we need an Elsa type category for homebuilts. Well such a category exists already but nobody is using it. It’s called the primary category and it is a streamlined type certification process that has been in place for more than a decade. The rule is here: http://www.faa-aircraft-certification.com/21-24-primary-category.html

    The rule also allows the airplane to be built from a kit, although I am not sure of the details.

    Van’s should just go ahead and certificate this airplane in the primary category. I know a Rans S7, a cub-like 2-seater has been certificated under this rule, so it would seem the process is indeed streamlined enough to make it financially doable.

    Considering what an emotional hot button this is for builders, this is probably the only solution.

    • Deems Davis says:

      There are 2 sererate issues in this thread:
      1. Modification of “Kit” built aircraft
      2. The ethics of an organization that praises one of it’s members and then abruptly and publicly chastises him.

      The ‘Flames’ in this thread are directed toward #2. IMO they are 100% valid and should not be rationalized/diminished by arguments supporting #1.

      As I see it EAA and M Mc have already established their veracity, we are only haggling over its price.

    • Gerard Blake says:

      “RIGHT ON.”

  22. John Melchert says:

    Gordon, what are you seeing as illogical (you said – “…similar to what I am hearing here, a lot of emotion and not much logic”)?

    Point 1: Greg was treated unjustly and deserves a public apology (do you think Greg was treated fairly and deserved what Dick and EAA is giving him?)
    Point 2: We are builders of experimental category planes, not certified planes, not primary category planes, and not E-LSA’s. Dick and Mac are arguing that they out to be treated like certified planes, or S-LSA/E-LSA’s at best because Van’s did extensive engineering and testing. But they are still Experimental, and as such the builder is ultimately responsible, not Dick and not his engineers. If you think you know better, that’s fine, but it doesn’t make this very specific point illogical.

  23. Gordon Arnaut says:

    Guys, I understand your point about the builder being publicly chastised. that’s gotta hurt…

    But what about the shoe on the other foot? Van Grunswen is probably pulling his hair out with all the people that decide to ignore his instructions for building an airplane that he and his engineers put a lot of thought and work and testing into.

    I would blame the EAA magazine for running the original story which praised the builder, but offered no cautions about the extensive modifications. That was the original mistake.

    I think EAA needs an engineering editor who is going to vet stories before they explode. Once that story was published, I think EAA and Van Grunswen had no choice but to go public.

    Their aim was clearly not to embarrass Hale, although they probably knew that was inevitable. Still they had to do it because they cannot keep quiet when people are making improper mods and the press is publicizing that.

    It is a no win situation.

    • Jeff Boatright says:

      Vans and other kit manufacturers have thrived because the experimental category allows for this niche market in which relatively low manufacturing liability rests with the kit manufacturer (certainly compared to certified aircraft). Vans can make all the _requests_ of their customers that they want, but if “experimental” builders really had to comply as enforced by government regulation (or possibly alternatively by contract), then the experimental category de facto would no longer exist and an enormous liability load would shift to Vans (and all other kit manufacturers). Their current business model depends on exactly that NOT happening.

  24. shellie barnes says:

    Wake up call…..Mac moves from hardcore GA back ground, and has no idea whatsoever he’s delving into now and trys to sound like he does. Hightower also is letting EAA slip ever more closely towards GA. Right, Dick did in fact seriously modify a Stits Playboy and of course now he’s taking the high road. RV’s are great aircraft no doubt. Mac and Dick have toasted a builder…..and I think Dick as a long time EAA’er can do that but this guy Mac…PLEASE think about moving back to Beechcraft and Cessna…..you’re just much more in tune with the GA brand

  25. Michael Hongisto says:

    The Primary Reason why I chose to build an aircraft from scratch was so that I could modify it from the original design to suit my needs. I put fuel in the wings, widened the fuselage, moved the seat back, made it taller and changed the entire canopy in the process, the FWF and engine has no resemblance to the plans, I’ve got different wheels and brakes, installed a different tail wheel/spring assembly and I even made a unique set of composite skis with an intergrated trailering link suspension which I flew all over North East Minnesota. The control system was also redesigned (oh, my). All of this was done with no engineering background/oversight or any other type of supervision. Given what’s been printed it’s amazing I’m alive today, let alone flown off over 400 hours to date, with four trips to AirVenture.

    The freedom we have with the Experimental/AB rule should be celebrated, not feared. It allows us to build and fly something closer to that “perfect” airplane. The airplane that meets our mission and not someone else’s.

    EAA could change it’s name to “AAA”, the “Aircraft Assemblers Association”. The “rules” might state that no modifications are allowed to a type design, upon purchasing a kit or plans the company’s workshops must be attended so that the proper skills can be obtained and verified though appropriate task testing, professional oversight and sign offs during the build process will, of course, be critical to ensure safety, and a professional test pilot will have to hired to fly off the initial flights to verify it conforms with the original design. And I’m sure the Government would be willing to lend it’s hand throughout the process. All of this, and the associated costs, will ensure that the homebuilt accident rate will drop to zero (yea, right).

    The EAA is one of the greatest organizations on Earth. It is there to promote amateur aviation and to assist all those who participate in it. It encourages individuals to pursue their dreams and to try something different if so inclined. And those who have built and flown their own airplane, whether kit built or a unique design, look back upon their achievement as one of the most rewarding experiences in their lifetime. Some, working under the amateur rules, have even gone on to develop products that have changed aviation forever.

    The EAA has my support even though there may be a misstep from time to time. I’m not perfect so I figure why should I demand perfection from others? Oh yea, my plane’s not perfect either. But like the EAA, I think it comes pretty darn close.

  26. Rick Lark says:

    I have mixed feelings about Gregs RV. First and foremost I respect his right to change his experimental aircraft as he see’s fit. Obviously it’s beautifully crafted and what he wants his aircraft to be. As a builder myself, I am making some changes to my aircraft, minor in nature in my opinion, but none the less changes from Vans design. I do feel however that Greg may be pushing the envelope.

    I also can see Van’s point of view with respect to “his design”, and the liability issues that could plague him.

    Mac your articles in Flying mag while they interest me, never did really represent GA, other than the “Turbine Crowd”….Why you’re writing for the EAA boggles the mind.

    What does bother me most though is the fact that the EAA has published Van’s thoughts, concerns, etc for all of the aviation world to see. Maybe I’m mistaken but I thought the EAA was an advocate for the “experimental world” of aviation? How many other builders “pushing the envelope” will allow their aircraft and story to be published after this? Certainly not me. I am re-evaluating my membership as I write this.

    I also think Vans could have chastized Greg in a more respectable means, privately or at least amongst the RV10 crowd to make his points known. We RV builders all know Vans position on modifications and when I read the initial SA article, I wondered what Vans would think.

    Overall, I’m disappointed with the outcome, with EAA and Vans reactions. I will keep building, but keep my project to myself.

    Greg, hang in there. You have a spectacular aircraft, worthy of praise, not what you’ve been subject to.

  27. Donald Orrick says:

    Wow, I can’t beleive this !#!#, this will be the third time that Greg Hale has been criticized in print for building a magnificent aircraft. This time by someone who has never built one! ” The most important commentary on amateur built and kit aircraft in years” REALLY? what bull#!#!. This is Van saying do as I say not as I do, the very beginning of his company revolve around his modifying the crap out of a different manufacturers plane. Isn’t that ironic! Greg chose not to come to Osh Kosh after all this blew up just before it started and therefore probably left his grand Champion homebuilt trophy for the next worthy builder. And for what? For following every rule that exists regarding experimental aircraft and setting a high water mark for RV-10′s? Oh I forgot, he strayed from the original plans so lets say for building the finest Greg Hale RV-5+5
    If any one took the time to let him tell his reasons for building the aircraft he wanted maybe they could see how he plans to utilize his plane in regards to the extra fuel tanks. In other words just because he has capacity for 120 gallons doesn’t mean that he intends to fill the plane with 120 gallons with any passengers on board. His rudder pedal conversion seems like it would be very easy to monitor for cracking to see if indeed a cracking problem exists and take action once any occurred. Van’s ordered a crack inspection for RV-10′s in the tail section, why can’t Greg be able to monitor his potential cracks at his descretion? This is EXPERIMENTAL folks… We know we are on the cutting edge and are the creators and testers of new ideas and new products, that’s why were here.
    P.S. to Sport Aviation
    I want an apology as well to Greg in print or the 8 annual EAA renewal notices get shredded, also stop spoon feeding us light sports every time we turn the page!
    I’m overdosed.

  28. Mike Perkins says:

    Sport Aviation went from stop-to-stop here. First it publishes an article on a highly-modified kitplane, and then it publishes an article damning the highly-modified kitplane. I’m sorry, but that’s schizophrenic. This magazine should figure out what it wants to be. I think Paul would have a few choice words. No, wait – Paul would not have let this happen to begin with.

    Some years ago, Sport Aviation began publishing more and more chrome-leather-paint-job pieces. It’s too bad, but when Sport Aviation prints a column-and-a-half-wide photo of a flip-up veneered cover-plate to hide flight-critical switches, something is amiss.

    As far as Mac’s editorial article, his point seems to be that builders should not modify their aircraft so the NTSB can better correlate accident histories of amateur-built aircraft. I’m not sure that is a good reason to stifle the purpose and intent of the FAA’s whole amateur-built category.

    Also, what does Mac mean when he says that Van’s Aircraft alone is most responsible for the success of kit aircraft? Is success measured by how many cookie-cutter kitplane dollars trade hands? Or is the real measure of success of the amateur-built category based on its true intent – what people learn about aviation through the process of building and testing their own aircraft and safely flying them?

    Most of us know by now that Van is spring-loaded to the don’t-mess-with-my-design position. So his blast of this aircraft and its builder is in character for him. In fact, this isn’t the first article Van’s written to “state his position” publically. But some other well-known kitplane manufacturers also take the same position.

    Builders should always put airworthiness over comfort, cleverness, and cool. But that’s hard when Sport Aviation writers and editors reward beauty and veneer over airworthiness. If a guy’s dream these days is to get published in Sport Aviation, he’s not going to be aiming for engineering-based changes -he’s aiming for spiffy. And that’s too bad.

    Sport Aviation was wrong to publish a looks-like-a-Mercedes article in the first place and then follow it up with a spank-the-builder article in the second place. Can we maybe get these writers some EAA tech counselor and EAA flight advisor support here to help decide when an aircraft is worthy of magazine-celebrity status? Because spanking builders is in no one’s best interest.

    So I would ask: Sport Aviation, could you please move the goal back to Paul-worthy aircraft?

  29. shellie barnes says:

    These are all great comments and I think every one of them are very worthy of reading…..and just another thought on modifing aircraft or implimenting our own ideas……..anyone remember a guy named Steve who wanted to go pylon racing, a guy named Bernie who built a parasol with a model a engine, or just when there was enough parasol aircraft around, a guy named Paul (Mac says Paul who?????) designed his own parasol and it was beautiful, or maybe a guy named Burt who had his own radical design ideas a put us all over the edge of aviation bliss, so Greg, kudos to you and happy flying…..you are among hundreds who have modified their aircraft design……..long as it;s safe, go for it.

  30. Rick Sked says:

    Oh I forgot one thing Mac. You may want to change your column name. See, there are alot of EAA aircraft out there that are tandem, sorry, one person sits “inline” or in front or back of each other. Then there are a bunch of them with, believe it or not only ONE seat so as to not tick these fine folks off you may want to change the name to “pilot seat”. Might save some future frustration. I have no issue with Greg’s changes, their HIS, I won’t do any of his mods on my second RV-10, didn’t on the first! Deems, myself and others have said, it’s about ethics. Maybe we should add mass transit to the EAA’s realm since running over one of our members several times seems in vouge in this case. I wonder if Greg took out a full page paid advertisement he would at least be given the same air time as you and Van had?

  31. Folks, let’s all (including Mac) just admit that whenever we set our own a’s in any airplane we’re taking (perhaps in a considered way, perhaps not) our own chances. An aeronautical engineer friend of mine had his RV-3 wing fold up to smack the right side of his canopy in a climb. Sadly, he didn’t survive the fall to the surface of our shared planet. I’m absolutely certain the service bulletin Van’s company released (before the accident, to be truthful) was issued in the best of faiths, even admitting that the “thorough engineering” going into Van’s products may not have caught every nuance. Don’t get me wrong; I understand and choose to accept the risks, and the opportunities, of building and/or flying an airplane. But for the sake of our collective sanity, let’s just let Greg and Mac take their own carefully chosen chances, shall we?

  32. Robert Melis says:

    I’m surprised at the heated `anti-establishment’ reaction of nearly all of these replies to Mac’s comments and Van’s article. As I see it, Van’s underlying message was `build a safe airplane with predictable flying and handling characteristics’. He never said Greg wasn’t entitled to make the modifications that were described in the original article, but he was obviously concerned about the safety of some of the changes that were made. Call it backside covering if you want, but his message was straightforward – if you’re going to modify the design of an aircraft, make sure you understand what you’re doing and what all the implications are. Makes good sense to me. Most of the preceeding comments have simply been a vigorous defence of an experimental builder’s right to do as he/she pleases. As a builder I agree, but I think it’s missing the point of what Van and Mac are saying.

    • John Melchert says:

      Anti-establishment? Hmmm.

      Van’s position has been clear for a long time and I don’t think anyone is surprised at his writing the article. The issue I have with it is related to EAA/Sport Aviation and their publishing Dick’s article after highlighting Greg and his plane in a preceding article; and then not providing Greg with a chance to rebut or refute. It was hypocritical at best, and a personal and public slap to a paying member; and indirectly a slap to anyone that made modifications to their kit built plane. Not something I would have expected from the “established” EAA (before Mac and Hightower, who are both very recent and not “established”).

      I don’t think anyone will disagree with the goal of building a safer plane. But keep in mind that we’re flying airplanes here. Any airplane is less safe than staying at home on the couch. So there will always be tradeoffs and you may disagree with someone else’s tradeoff and their reasoning; but you and they have the right to do as you individually see fit. This is the established EAA mentality.

      The problem with these articles is that for some, safety can ONLY mean following a kit manufacturer’s instructions, unless you can prove to those that think they know better (and those with a pen in a nationwide magazine) that you are “qualified” to do the engineering and testing to do something different. The problem with that elitist notion is the having to prove you’re qualified part. I have no problem with some believing builders should follow the kit manufacturer’s instructions to the letter; but I do have a problem with vilification of others that do not.

      Even Van’s aircraft have some major engineering shortcomings, in spite of their engineering and testing; and so deemed unqualified builders have made improvements and changes that do indeed improve these aircraft through thought, community discussion, and experimentation.

      It’s the mentality/perspective of Mac that scares me here and it is anti-established EAA/Experimental “Amateur” Built. I suggest that it is he that is being anti-establishment.

      There is much in his article that shows this, but here’s one quote: “The NTSB tracking of kit aircraft as a common type is evidence of how accepted kits are, and how much builders are expected to follow the instructions supplied with the kit.”

      Somehow he is attempting to imply that the NTSB’s (a non regulatory government entity) decision to gather their data a certain way is highlighting someone’s (unnamed entity) “expectation” that builders follow the instructions and not make modifications. Huhh? Really? Who has this expectation again?

      No, I’m afraid not. The NTSB is neither an authority here, nor is anything they do an indication of any authorities expectation. The regs are clear and this story has played out for decades. He made that “how much builders are expected to…” bit up. It was rhetorical. But more importantly it was an indication of his perspective.

      It is a certified industry mentality that even refers to an authority here. It is also a certified mentality that advocates homogeneous planes under the banner of safety. I.e. give up some of your freedoms and we’ll guarantee you’ll be (purportedly) safe. Of course, no authority is vetting Van’s designs or his engineering or testing, because his designs “aren’t certified”. So the only word we have for them being safe is Van’s. Problem is there are known issues with his designs. So who do we turn to now? And what about other kit manufacture’s? Are their engineering and testing as good as Van’s? Are we to take their word as well?

      And what if we really do want a different mission for our aircraft than a VFR only spartan airframe? What then? Just forget that silly idea just go buy a certified aircraft?

      With long-”established” EAA and Experimental AB tradition and culture, the only authority, and the one taking the risks, is the builder. That represents the establishment, not Mac’s or Van’s position here.

      • Jeff Boatright says:

        I agree completely with John. Mac has conflated a lot of issues here. Mac, I think you need to step back and ponder long and hard about what “experimental” means both philosophically and in the regulatory sense. No matter how much those long lines of similar-looking RVs at OSH remind you of those long lines of similar-looking Bonanzas, they are completely difference species.

  33. Gordon Arnaut says:

    Well said, Robert.

    I also agree with Mike Perkins that airworthiness should come over “comfort and cool.” Unfortunately Sport Aviation magazine seems to be encouraging the opposite.

    Of course every amateur builder has the right to do whatever he or she wants, provided the airplane passes the airworthiness inspection—which is really a minimal standard because there is no structural analysis involved. Nor any flying qualities, control and stability, aeroelastics (flutter), etc.

    When we are talking about a 200 mph airplane that can carry four souls, then suddenly this seems like a very lax standard indeed. And you know what, that may not last too much longer. As we speak, the NTSB is doing a review on the entire E/AB category. The FAA has raised an eyebrow also and there could well be changes ahead.

    What kind of changes? Well look at the rules in some other countries. In Britain for instance, no amateur built airplane is allowed to fly IFR. Also only approved designs can be built. In order to gain approval the designer or kit manufacturer must submit complete engineering info and the PFA (popular flying association, an EAA-like outfit, but with official government blessing) does a complete engineering check on the airplane.

    Goes without saying that it’s a whole other ballgame over there for amateur builders.

    Look folks, we’re not in Kansas anymore, with a few guys here and there floating along in 90 mph parasols. E/AB has got much bigger than anyone ever thought…to the point now that amateur built adds more planes to the registry each year than the GA piston industry. Like it or not we are on the radar of the authorities. We have to think about our responsibilities because we are a big part of the airspace system now.

    Not to mention that the accident rate is way too high. The FAA says 5.5 fatalities in 100,000 hours, which is nearly four times as high as the piston single rate of 1.5. Frankly we should be glad that Dick Van Grunswen is doing what he’s doing. I would have a lot less respect for him if he just sat back and let people boogie any way they want.

    He is by far the most successful kit maker because his airplanes are very well engineered and thoroughly tested—unlike many others. Not to mention a hell of a good value for your buck.

    Van’s idea of a good homebuilt airplane is rather basic—some would say spartan. I think Paul would agree with that. Weight is the enemy and anyone who works in aircraft design and manufacturing knows this is the rule to live by.

    Modifications are fine if you are talking about a low and slow airplane that might have been designed by an amateur and probably has a lot wrong with it to begin with. That is not the case with Van’s aircraft. Van is an engineer himself, not to mention a pretty good test pilot.

  34. Jim Richards says:

    I didn’t miss Mac and Disk’s point. I think they’re missing the point.

    I also am very happy we don’t have the same rules in the US that exist elsewhere. Many of my overseas friends and builders wish they were building under our rules, and flying in our skies. Not a very good reference I’m afraid. The grass isn’t greener over there.

    Gordon, why do you put Van on a pedestal and everyone else in a dunce cap?

    How low and slow is Ok for us dunces to experiment with?

  35. Gordon Arnaut says:

    Jim, nobody said anything about a dunce cap.

    Look I respect greatly folks who decide to take seriously the “education” part of experimental aviation.

    Ever heard of Mike Arnold? No professional training, but he hit the books and taught himself aeronautics…built a plane that set a world record, won the Bleriot Medal, and earned the respect and admiration of some of the biggest names in the aeronautical engineering profession. http://www.ar-5.com/

    And btw, his little plane will do over 220 mph (on a 2-stroke snowmobile engine).

    That is what the E/AB category is all about, as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who don’t want to bother with the books or the education part, they just want a Cirrus clone for half the money. And if the airplane wasn’t designed to be a Cirrus clone, well then they will modify it until it is, or have someone do it for them.

    I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind either…

  36. Jim Richards says:

    Gordon, I suspect we are of similar mindsets here; however our differences are maybe related to our stomach for judging others abilities and whether they are “qualified”. I’d suggest no one is in a position to judge here, including Dick, and especially Mac.
    Note though, that even the of builder expertise isn’t a mitigating force with the judgment by Mac or Dick of Greg Hale and his plane. Greg’s credentials are enormous and take several paragraphs to describe in the original SportAviation article, Greg apparently:
    * has been rebuilding and customizing cars as long as he’s been flying.
    * earn[ed] his private certificate by the age of 17
    * earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical technology and completed his A&P mechanic certificate
    * [began his career] in the engineering department at Beechcraft where he was
    * responsible for the firewall forward of the Beech T-34C Mentor before becoming a production test pilot.
    * worked as a corporate pilot for several companies
    * worked with friends to build his first airplane, a VariEze, in 1978.
    * took [his career] to the airlines
    * earned his helicopter Certificate
    * built a one-man helicopter, a Revolution Mini 500
    * [built an RV-8 with a friend]
    * [built and RV-10]

    I personally own and have read several homebuilder books and aeronautical engineering texts, as well as books like Test Flying your Homebuilt, etc. I’ve also taken builder classes, sat in several forums at Oshkosh and other fly-ins, and taken part on builder forums and lists. My personal skills as a mechanical engineer and several electrical, woodworking, composite, and metal projects are also part of my personal vitae. And I’m not alone; and most other builders I know exceed my skills in many areas.

    You may, but I personally don’t “see a lot of people who don’t want to bother with books or the education part.” That just doesn’t match my experience and certainly wasn’t the case with Mr Hale.

  37. Gordon Arnaut says:

    Jim, I certainly agree with the gist of your message.

    There are lots of people taking the education part seriously, and that is the most rewarding part I believe, because the knowledge you gain is something money can’t buy.

    I probably should have said the “other” kind are the exception to the rule. Nonetheless they exist. And they are the ones who will ruin it for all of us, until the Feds step in and set up something like the PFA here and we can’t even substitute one bolt from the “approved” plan.

    That’s not what I want. I’m just saying we have to be responsible.

    I also don’t want to judge Greg Hale—or anyone else. Really he has built a beautiful airplane, not my kind of plane, but a beauty nonetheless. Personally I would have no qualms about flying with him.

    But it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that we have a magazine here that is acting quite bizarre. They reward the show-boat kind of airplane while completely ignoring the technical side of things.

    Than when someone like Van has to step forward and say wait a minute, then that’s no good either. But the fact remains that a few people see the freedoms as a license to go way beyond what is reasonable.

    This thread has shown me that there is a strong culture of individualism in our movement, but perhaps it is time to button down a bit and—gulp—move a tad in the direction of conformity.

    Because if we don’t then someone is going to do it for us.

  38. Jim Richards says:

    I think we may agree on many things; however I’m not sure we yet agree on the state of things in the E-AB industry. I’m not sure I think things are as dire as you. Certainly not as much as Mac or Dick.

    But I’d also say there is never a time to give on individualism. That is a mighty slippery slope.

    The answer here, is the same one it has always been – promote education, promote safe thinking. These have always been hallmarks of EAA. But promoting conformity is not the same thing; that stifles creativity and innovation.

    I’d also disagree that EAA ignores the technical side of things. They have done an amazing job of including technical and educational articles in the magazine, supporting technical counselors, publishing technical and educational material in print and on the web, etc. Always have.

    I also enjoyed reading the article about Greg’s plane. Its only a show-boat if you assume the mods were unsafe. Some have made that assertion (like Dick and Mac); but they didn’t do any testing either. Their comments are just assertions.

    EAA needs to continue to “showcase” innovators and fine craftsmanship. It keeps some of us motivated not only to finish our projects, but to make them the best they can be.

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  40. Ron Sutton says:

    I built a Wittman Tailwind, rule #1, a pound has 32 half onces, rule #2, when in doubt refure to rule #1. I built an RV4 that I flew for 1000 hours. performance is weight over horse power. Both my aircraft were 5.3 and 5.19 lbs per horsepower. I have been flying experimental aircraft since 1966,starting out with a Stits playboy I bought and own a RV4 I now fly, If you are going to modify a designers aircraft, make it lighter, as Van did with the original Stits Playboy
    Ron Sutton
    Yaw String

  41. Edward Chipps says:

    Of course we should experiment!! How would we ever learn and advance science without experimentation. I too will always defend the right to keep the experiment in experimental aviation. However, just as in medical trials, we need to do this ethically by keeping our passengers informed. I bring my family in my Vans RV-10 because I know that there were many highly trained and smart engineers who designed and tested this aircraft with wide safety margins. These engineers have an in depth understanding of aerodynamics and physics. When a well designed and safe aircraft is created, it is in concordance with the laws of physics, and is designed around the laws of physics, which are indeed immutable. We can change an aircraft all we want, but these physical laws of the universe will not change for us no matter what we do to our aircraft. In short, what I am getting at is that Vans aircraft are really not experimental at all, when built according to Vans specs. They are well studied and predictable. These kits are a well thought out formula with predictable performance and limits. The only thing that makes it experimental is the FAA legally calls them experimental. Sure we can modify these kits but as I said previously, physics will not bend to our whims. By all means experiment with your well studied and predictable kit plane, but do so ethically by informing all of your passengers of the changes you made and that these changes may indeed be taking you down an unknown road

    Ted Chipps N498EC Vans Rv-10

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