Van's RV-9A in Aurora

The Big Picture

The Big Picture
Flying! 8/28/2011

Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Post for Chip's RV9A Project Log

My name is Chip Freitag and I'm building an airplane in my garage. I committed to this project on November 26, 2007 when I started ordering tools. I hope to be flying in 3 1/2 years, which puts first flight in the summer of 2011. This blog is intended to supplement the documentation of the build process.

The aircraft I'm building is a Van's RV9A.


Why build? Why not just buy a plane? It's a long story. Bear with me while I finally document this.

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young, and have a degree in Aerospace Engineering to show for it. Some of the other students at UT Austin, and of course the faculty, were pilots but I never really entertained getting a license, other than "I should get a pilot's license some day".

Years later, the family was on vacation in Sandestin, Florida. The Texas gulf coast beaches are much closer, but I've never liked the Texas coast. The sand sucks. So we made a brutal 1 day drive to the Florida panhandle which has some very nice beaches. Very close to the hotel was a golf course. We lived (and still do) on a golf course and I was going through the golf craze (which was never fully committed to, but would have been much cheaper than flying!). We were walking on the golf course in the morning and noticed planes landing at the nearby airfield. It occured to me that flying to Florida would be a lot nicer than driving. That was really the first time I'd thought about it in a long time. If we had a plane, then we could visit Florida and other places much more often...

A few more years passed. In 2005, AMD was doing very well. I was able to eliminate debt and get in to a relatively good financial condition. Not rich, but others might think so. At 45, I was begining to wonder what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The family was on vacation again in March of 2006 in Virginia. We visited Dad's vineyard outside of Flint Hill, visited with my Aunt and Uncle, saw lot's of museums, etc.. One of the museums was the relatively new Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. I was standing on the catwalk above the Enola Gay, when it hit me. I would finally get a pilot's license!

So I did.

I started taking lessons in May of 2006 and earned my Private Pilot ASEL certificate by passing a checkride on December 9, 2006. The instrument rating was earned on July 5, 2007. I have 170 hours as of this writing.

I'm completely hooked on flying. I want to fly tailwheels, multiengine, sea planes, maybe even helicoptors. I don't think I can make an acceptable living doing it (I'm a bit too old to take the drastic pay cut required!), so the flying is for fun and utility. But it sure did take care of wondering what to do with any extra money.

I paid WAY too much to get the license. The 172's I was renting to learn in were in very good shape, but too expensive at $140 an hour. I was looking at various options including buying something. The UFC planes I fly now are less expensive, but still too much and I sometimes worry about their condition. I've had many flights cancelled for maintenance reasons. A Cirrus SR22 would be very nice, but I make an honest living, so something like that is way out of reach. I could buy a 152 just to have something, but it's way too slow and only holds 2 people. A 172 is at the limit of what I could take on, but I didn't want to go into too much debt. And it's too slow.

I was after something that met two mission profiles: quick short hops of less than 100 nm to get to other airports where I can get tailwheel endorsements, pick up a mutiengine rating, eat expensive hamburgers, just go flying when I feel like it, etc.. I might make half of these solo. The other criteria is good cross country capability with a prototype mission of flying to my Dad's place (1200 nm) in a nice easy day with 1 or 2 stops, for not too much of a premium over flying the airlines. This meant something fast with good range, and ruled out a 172. I wanted the probably unrealistic cost of $50/hour, and I wanted the airplane to be paid for. And that seemed to rule out everything.

We live in Lakeway, TX and there is an airpark (3R9) here. I was doing ramp check one day and this great looking candy apple red airplane was tied down. It really caught my eye. It looked fast and efficient. It was an RV-4. I went home and looked up RV-4 and found the Van's web page. Bingo! At first I settled in on an RV-7. I wanted a real airplane (tailwheel), and the top end performance. This thing would be "cheap", fast, and would get me to my Dad's in 7 hours with 1 stop. Later I took a test flight in Aurora, and they convinced me that a 9 is a better choice. I don't really need aerobatic capability. And I wanted something my daughter can learn to fly, and something easy to land after 7 hours. So a 9A is what I will build.

Right seat view from 2400 ft!

It's only 2 seats, but a 10 is too much to take on right now. The daughter is about to leave the nest and realistically 2 people will be the average long trip. If I need more seats than that, I can rent and split the cost.

And finally, the multiyear time frame lets me pay for it as I go. It will be paid for when I'm done! No other option meets the cost/performance criteria that I have. Sure, if I win the lottery I'll go buy a Cirrus. But I'd still finish the 9!