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RV-4 Celebrates 40th as 'Grandfather of Fleet'

By Barbara A. Schmitz

  • Dick VanGunsven
    Dick VanGunsven

July 23, 2019 - The RV-4 is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and Van's Aircraft Founder Dick VanGrunsven said the anniversary has made him realize just how important the plane was in his life and in the life of his company.

"It really established our company … and a lot of what it demonstrated is included on everything we've done since," Dick said at a Monday forum at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019. "The RV-4 is really the grandfather of the whole fleet and a very significant airplane."

Over the 40 years, 1,436 RV-4s have flown and more RV-4s are still under construction.

Dick said his first plane, the RV-1, was basically a modified Stits Playboy with an aluminum cantilevered wing. The RV-3, an all-new single-seat plane with metal fuselage, was even better. They marketed the plans and parts in 1973, and by 1975 had complete kits available.

"But as soon as the RV-3 was available, people wanted a two-seat RV-3," Dick said. "You really don’t just add a seat and end up with a wonderful airplane."

So he went back to the blackboard, and started construction of a prototype of the RV-4 in 1975. By 1979, the RV-4 was available with tandem seating.

"It flew quite well out of the box, and we didn't have to modify much," he said.

At first they marketed the plane with a woman by it, thinking a beautiful woman would sell more airplanes. "We used that photo on our brochure for a couple of years, and then realized the airplane would sell by itself," he said.

The RV-4 was also featured in aviation magazines and flew in exhibitions at air shows. They also gave many introductory flights and flew it in competitions to demonstrate its performance.

Soon people were telling Van's they wanted side-by-side seating, and so Dick started engineering the RV-6. Shortly, RV-6 sales were surpassing those of the RV-4.

Dick said they actually considered ending RV-4 sales, but decided not to. However, RV-4 kits are produced on a scaled-back basis, he said.

So what is Dick's favorite RV?

"Which is your favorite child?" he asked. "If you have multiple children, you understand that while you may have a favorite, you don’t vocalize it."

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