First Flight - and Beyond

After inspection by the FAA, and receipt of my Certificate of Airworthiness, I incorporated several optional Service Bulletins and prepared for the momentous First Flight. I still had not decided if I would make the First Flight or have someone else do it. I had an experienced RV-12 pilot on the field who volunteered his services if I wanted them. He had done quite a number of First Flights for other builders. Many builders are too proud and wouldn't think of having someone else steal "the honors." Not me. If I didn't feel ready, I would let someone with experience do it.

    Receiving my FAA Airworthiness Cert.

The First Flight can be a big challenge - BIG - and many builders have had accidents - sometimes fatal - during theirs. Airplanes have had significant failures, or operational problems during their first flight. Combining those challenges with a non-professional test pilot who has little or no experience in the airplane - or maybe little recent experience in any airplane - can be a deadly recipe for disaster. You don't want to learn how to fly the airplane and address a major problem simultaneously!

    My first taxi

I was very aware of these dangers and pondered long and hard as to whether I would be the pilot or not. It occurred to me that if there was something seriously wrong with the airplane, and its controls, and it crashed on take-off, I would not be much better off (relatively speaking) if someone else lost their life due to my work. 

Tony had closely looked it over. So had Bob, the EAA Tech Counselor. And Jim D., an FAA friend who does these inspections all the time. And, of course, the two guys from the FAA. But still...... In the end, it was my work and my judgment.

After several days of engine runs and taxi trials, I went up with my friend and mentor Tony T., in his airplane. We made three landings in the morning, had lunch, and then made three more in the afternoon. It had been seven months since I completed my RV-12 training in Oregon, and it showed. But, the circuits and landings hadn't been disastrous, so I contemplated my navel for a bit.

I figured it was now or never, so jumped into my airplane, taxied out, and took-off. The takeoff was smooth, the flight controls and engine all worked as advertised, and I quickly forgot about the airworthiness side of my worries. Since it seemed to fly OK, my job now was take her around the patch and land without rolling it up into a ball. I flew as I'd been trained, added a few knots to the airspeed to account for the fact the airspeed indications might be in error, and landed without too much trouble.

    A little airplane and a big, big sky........

My plan for the First Flight had been very simple - a take-off, circuit of the field, and landing. Which is what I did. As the airplane rolled out following touchdown, I think I was surprised that I had actually done it - taken off, and made a reasonable landing - and me and my baby were still in one piece. I taxied up in front of my hangar, shut the engine down and opened the canopy. I guess I had that big "RV Grin." Tony snapped a picture. Dot came over smiling. I wondered if she was as apprehensive as I was. I wasn't nervous - the whole operation was straight-forward and engineering-precise - as only an engineer would want it to be. I knew the risks and dangers were substantial, but I had done everything in my power to minimize and deal with them. I was confident the airplane would fly well.  I believed I could fly it.

    Back on the ground....and in one piece!

As I turned off the runway and taxied back to the hangar line, I could see Dot watching, and Tony there with his camera. Some people make a big deal of the First Flight, with lots of people watching, with cameras, and on-board video etc. I decided I wanted none of that. I decided I wouldn't even know myself when I would fly. It would require a combination of just feeling right and having the right benign weather conditions. I wasn't even sure ANYBODY would be there to see it. And I really wasn't sure I wanted Dot to be witness to my winding up in a big smoking hole. Better if the Sheriff told her......

    Hard to believe - I had built it - I had flown it.

So - Tony snapped the picture. I was happy, and relieved, and more than a little incredulous - that I had taken the little machine I had built with my own hands - up into the sky - and returned both of us safely back to earth. Up until that moment - like all airplanes - she wasn't a "she" - she was an "it" - a machine - a big bunch of steel and aluminum and plastic and rubber parts, all held together with nuts and bolts and a ton of tiny aluminum rivets. Sitting for a year in a sheet metal hangar, getting worked on incessantly. But now, having flown, when she got rolled back into her home - she was no longer an"it", but a "she" - a living, breathing thing, that had actually flown through the air and looked down at the trees and hills and houses and cars and mere people, who cannot fly, and have never flown. The flight was the very embodiment of why I like airplanes, and have always loved airplanes. Airplanes are different.

  One turn around the pattern - 8 minutes - I left the gear down....

So ---- there you have it. I've spent my life working on airplanes, and flying airplanes, and watching airplanes make their first flights, and sometimes - their last flights. I've spent years working on, and being around specific airplanes and have grown as close to them as if they were alive. But now I had actually built an airplane, my own airplane, and I had taken it up for its First Flight. I think I can probably say building it was the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken, and I've bitten into some pretty big ones!

And the First Flight was the most exciting thing I have ever done.

Dot made me a Birthday present in honor of my commencement of flight activities - Captain's Stripes!

Flight Testing

With the thrill and uncertainty of the First Flight behind me, I set about testing the little machine. Vans provides a full Flight Testing Guide, with an extensive collection of Flight Test Cards. Slowly you test the handling characteristics and expand the flight envelope. You check the instrumentation and validate its accuracy. You fly slow and perform innumerable stalls - this airplane can fly down to 37 kts, or maybe even slower, depending upon weight. And you conduct high speed dives - to Vne - Never exceed speed - to ensure there is no flutter of the flight control surfaces. Vne in the RV-12 is 136 kts. Depending upon altitude and temperature - that can be over 160 mph. And you climb high - to 10,000 ft.

While doing all this testing, you - the pilot - are becoming more and more comfortable with flying the airplane and increase your confidence.

My mandated testing area was a 25 NM semi-circle centered on, and west of the Bremerton airport, over sparsely populated areas. My first flights were right around the airport - I just climbed to about 4500 ft and orbited the airport, staying within gliding distance, should the engine fail. After a few flights, I put the airplane down for maintenance and opened it up to check for any problems, leaks, loose connections, etc. Pulled the fuel filter and checked for debris.

    My second and third flights both lasted  1 hour and 42 minutes.

Then I ventured further and further from the airport, as I gained confidence in the airplane, engine, and systems - to the limits of my flight testing area. 


Climb to 10,000 feet

    The view on my panel

Still climbing at 500 fpm over the south end of Lake Cushman.  A long ways up for that little airplane!

After every flight (or ground operation), I downloaded all the data and studied it at home.

This was a BIG change from the "good old days" - actually, the very recent past - when a pilot took off with a Test Card of Tests and Maneuvers to be performed.  He had to review the maneuver, then fly it - recording the temperatures, speeds, altitudes etc as well as trying to fly precisely, talking on the radio, and looking out for other airplanes.  Tough to do by yourself, and generally with not much experience in the airplane.


This computerized airplane records about 75 parameters at sampling rates of up to 16 samples per second.  Every engine parameter, rpm's, speeds, temperatures, altitudes, rates of climb, headings, fuel pressures and flow rates, engine exhaust gas temperatures and cylinder head temperatures.  So now all I had to do was jot a half dozen required tests on a scrap of paper, go out and fly the mission, and go home and study the data.  Amazing!

 The data can be graphed on-line or analyzed in minute detail on an Excel spreadsheet.

For example, in testing the Autopilot, I experienced a phugoid while in Altitude Hold - a sinusoidal oscillation where the nose pitches up and down.  The Autopilot has numerous adjustments to the Sensitivity and Gain and I could analyze the data to allow me to zero in on the proper settings for my airplane.

Here, I am tracking Altitude, IAS Speed, and Vertical Speed over a four minute slice of the recorded data.

The phugoid was NOT my imagination!

As you can see, I spent a lot of time flying up and down the Hood Canal fjord.  The traffic was light and the scenery was beautiful, but the flying was demanding and tedious with lots and lots of repetitive adjustments and tests.
Just like Boeing Flight Test!

My friends called this area the BOA - Bogash Operating Area - mimicking the MOA Military Operating Areas on the aeronautical charts.

Besides testing the airplane, I had to practice my flying skills - including lots of time in the circuit, shooting touch-and-go's.

    Here's an example - 7 times around the pattern


And here - reviewing the data - checking my consistency - my airspeeds, descent rates, etc.

The FAA required minimum Flight Testing time for an E-LSA airplane (like mine) is 5 hours.  I decided to have no set time as a goal, but would instead fly and test the airplane until I felt very confident in the airplane and its systems, and equally confident in my piloting skills.  In the end, I operated the airplane for 18 hours - 15 hours flight time - before I reached that point.  Then I signed the airplane off in the Logbook as having passed all the required Flight Testing.  It's called the end of Phase I.

    To Tacoma Narrows Airport - my first Cross-Country

With the airplane signed off, it was now legal for me to fly outside the designated testing area.  It was also legal for me to carry a passenger.  My flight testing actually continued for many more hours, and, in some ways, is still on-going.  My first cross-country was a short flight to Tacoma where I needed to get my Transponder tested and certified, for me to fly legally in controlled airspace.

And, my first passenger - of course - was Dot - loyal supporter for this monumental project.

Our first destination?  Hansville, of course.

After her first flight (she said she wasn't scared) - she paid me the tradional $1 for being my first passenger.

In the next 8 months, we began using the airplane as we had first envisioned - as a Magic Carpet - to explore the PNW - and to make long trips into short ones.  Before the year was out, we had put on over 100 hours - equivalent to about 12,000 miles - flew into 25 airports - crossed the Cascades four times, visited the Coast and the San Juan Islands many times, attended County Fairs - and validated the Dream.

    100 Hours!

  In December 2013, I acquired a hangar at the Pt. Townsend airport - about 35 miles north of Bremerton - about 1 hour drive by car - 20 minutes in the airplane.  It's closer to home and has much better flying weather.  In January, we moved the airplane to her new home.

Bremerton Airport                                                            Pt. Townsend Airport

N737G's new Home

The rest of this section of my website on my - our - RV-12, will take you along as we fly around the region, showing the airports, the geography, and some of my best airborne shots.  Those sections will be augmented continuously as we continue our adventure.

Next ......  Flying

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