Among the most popular aircraft on display at EAA AirVenture 2022 was over in the experimental section, where kit aircraft trailblazer Van’s unveiled a prototype for its next model, the RV-15, as the company celebrated 50 years of history.
Builders and operators of Van’s aircraft are as passionate as they come in the aviation world, so it was no surprise that forums hosted by the Van’s RV-15 development team at Oshkosh were packed and full of questions.
The bottom line on what we know about the RV-15 is that there is still a lot of tinkering and tsting to take place. The prototype flown to AirVenture had a reduced performance envelope, so it is likely that the team is working with more options than what they unveiled this week, but the goal is to create a premier backcountry plane that carries the torch and fills the void left by its predecessors, including the classic Cessna 170.
The goal of bringing the RV-15 to Oshkosh, the Van’s team said, was to get feedback that they can take back to the lab to produce the best plane possible.
While not everything is set in stone for what the final product will look like, they tried to address as many questions as possible, while obviously keeping some of their cards close to their vests.
For some who made the trek to Oshkosh, seeing the new aircraft was at the top of their list. In the center of Van’s exhibit, as tall as the RV-15’s shining silver tailfin is 50 years of names, a chorus of owners signing their pride in the world’s largest homebuilt fleet.
Glenn Williams of Auburn, Alabama, and his 16-year-old son Hudson added their names, as happy to build their RV-14, almost, as to fly it one day. His daughter is on board, too.
“They’re helping buck rivets in the garage and it’s making them both want to be pilots,” Williams said, noting the community spirit among kit builders. “If you see a Van’s hat and ask ‘Which one?’ You’re immediately in a conversation with your new best friend.”
From what had been posted online from Van’s, we knew coming in that the RV-15 will be a high-wing, all-metal performance aircraft powered by a Lycoming engine that can handle the backcountry with plenty of storage space.
In regards to storage, the Van’s team at Oshkosh said they looked at options for four-seat or two-seat configurations. Ultimately, they realized that most bush flying is done with two seats and that adding seats would be a tradeoff for cargo load and baggage space.
They expect to give the option to add jump seats for children and also noted that operators could ensure proper headroom by using cushions. They said the tri-gear version of the RV-15 will have a jump seat for a third occupant, an option that they say is popular for flight schools.
The main landing gear is described as a full internal, low-profile damped system with no intrusion into the cabin, fitting into the same space as a leaf-spring system. They noted that the patent-pending design is “absorbent without intrusion,” providing maximum performance with minimal intrusion.
The questions the development team has heard most often center around the build specs and the potential performance of the RV-15. When it comes to fastening the skin to the airframe, they plan to offer blind rivets, as can be found on the RV-12. The team is hopeful to be able to offer options between hard or soft rivets and will keep testing rivets and material thickness in order to provide options to builders.
As far as speed, they aimed for at least 140 knots, an airspeed they were able to pull off on their flight into Oshkosh, even given the additional drag at this point with the landing gear and tail wheel not yet being fared.
Ultimately, they expect the RV-15 to be able to hit 140 knots or more at cruise speed.
The RV-15 development team has yet to test limits when it comes to takeoff & landing distance or rate of climb.
When it comes to stall speed, the team put an emphasis on true landing distance versus claimed stall speed. They promise the final specs will be “measured and achievable” with the high-end and low-end range of performance being determined as they continue testing.
The target timeline to offer the first kits is 12 to 18 months, according to Van’s Vice President and COO Greg Hughes. That would indicate that a final version could be ready by next year’s AirVenture, with first orders coming at some point in the second half of 2023.
When it comes to a projected price, Hughes said it is too early to tell. But based on the reception at Oshkosh this year, we can expect buyers and builders to be lining up.
“We’re excited about it,” he said.