Most Memorable Flight : First Flight of my RV-8

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Contrary Mary RV-8When the group (Blogging in Formation) settled on this topic for June I wasn’t sure what to write, but after some some introspection the choice was clear – the first flight in my RV-8 topped the charts as most memorable. Get a cup of coffee this is a long story!

One of the things that made it so memorable was the five years of anticipation leading up to that flight, you see I built the airplane from a kit.


Having decided I wanted to build an airplane in early 2006, I spent six months researching what I wanted. I looked at all types of airplanes before settling on the tandem seated RV-8. The RV actually exceeded my initial requirements, but I thought if I was going to spend five years of my life building, I better make it count!


I started the project in October 2006 and after 2425 hours of building across four years and nine months it was complete.


IMG_1672The building process was an amazing experience. I had rebuilt a couple of airplanes under supervision, but never tackled something so ambitious by myself. I learned so much. It’s really hard to explain such an experience. In the end, I also learned a lot about myself – something I hadn’t anticipated when I started this journey.


My family was very supportive and even helped work on it from time-to-time.



To minimize the impact to family time I used an unorthodox method of working each day before work, which forced me into an early-riser routine that I still retain to this day. I also made a commitment to do something on it each day, which really caused me to keep focus.


I did as much work as possible at home in my garage to minimize time wasted driving to the airport (:25 each way).


When I originally planned to build the airplane, I thought to myself that the time would go by anyway. In 5 years I could either wake up with an airplane or without, the effort and the money wouldn’t really matter in the future. Boy was I right. I almost can’t believe I crawled out of bed all those times and slowly crafted a machine that could propel me into the ether with grace and agility from my two-car garage. This isn’t because of super-human skill or motivation, it was sheer willpower and discipline. And indeed the time went by anyway…


After moving ‘Contrary Mary’ to the airport in July, I spent lots of early morning driving out to Buckeye to complete final assembly.





P-51DFrom the pictures you gather that the -8 is painted up like a warbird. This is a popular option amount RV-8 drivers and as a wannabe fighter pilot, this was a no-brainer. When I was searching for a paint scheme, I happened upon a copy of Air&Space that had a small article on a P-51D from WWII named “Contrary Mary” and the die was cast. I loved the paint scheme and my youngest daughter’s name is Mary so it was a natural fit.



The first flight happened August 13, 2011. That date is indelibly etched into my brain.


The days leading up to the first flight were highly energized. There were lots of things to do, and check, and verify.

Luckily I had a lot of support from my fellow builders and friends.


My friend, Glenn Pew, is a contributing editor for AvWeb and he suggested we do before-and-after podcast interviews to capture the experience for the AvWeb readers. That was super-fun. It really contributed to the buzz preceeding the coveted FIRST FLIGHT.


Link to Day-Prior interview here – AVweb

Link to After-the-Flight interview here – AVweb


I recall a question Glenn asked in my interview. He asked if I had considered letting someone else do the first flight. In a truly smart aleck manner I quipped, “that would be like letting someone else sleep with my bride on my honeymoon!” Point made…


The reason Glenn asked that question was because he was aware that I had never flown an RV-8 or even ridden in one. But I had done many self-check outs in all sorts of airplanes so this wasn’t completely new territory for me. Not that I am some kind of sky-god, I was plenty nervous!


I was really lucky that I had a great technical counselor and flight advisor in Jim Baldwin. He is hangared right behind me and seemed to exhibit this “guardian angel” trait of always showing up at just the right times. Case in point, the evening before my first flight I was out there doing some last minute preparations and Jim popped in and suggested we take his RV-6 around the patch. That little “warm up” flight really helped calm my nerves the next day when I would be alone in my -8. This kind of serendipity seemed really uncanny with Jim, and it was much appreciated.


Jim is a pilot, longtime home builder who has built 2 RVs, and an engineer. His help really smoothed out the wrinkles.


The day of the flight, August 13th, 2011, dawned slightly hazy, but calm with a high overcast that was almost perfect for a test flight like this.


A friend and fellow build once remarked about the experimental category of our RVs and said that with several thousand RVs flying the “experiment” is really over. True words. It is unlikely that the design will cause me problems. But that is only mildly comforting when you prepare to launch yourself into the air in an amalgamation of parts assembled in your garage. There’s plenty that can go wrong.


I had arranged for a small group of helpers to join me that morning. The concept was to have a focused team, but no onlookers. Save that for the more sedate flights. This flight is too important to be distracted or feel any extra external pressure to go.


My wife and daughters stayed home, but I did bring my teenage son along. If you watch the video you’ll hear him.


As the team assembled I organized a briefing to go over my plan and to set some basic expectations. I was starting to feel the nerves a bit.


I had another RV flying chase, which at least made me feel better. My buddy Rick flew the RV-4 that he built and really did a great job supporting me that day.


Preflight complete, paperwork done, briefings accomplished…there was nothing left to do. Nearly 5 years of blood, sweat, tears, and $$$ culminated in that moment.


I had done this kind of work before in a previous life as a test/demonstration pilot for a kit manufacturer called Fighter Escort Wings, who built 2/3 scale P-51 Mustangs. That was exhilarating work, but I was young and bullet proof back then.


I found once I strapped in my brain focused on the task and not on the fear.


“I can do this!”


“I have DONE this!”


flying the RV-8

Setting on the runup pad, I was pretty focused at this point.


Engine start, taxi out, run-up, checklists, all complete. Once I got onto the 25′ wide runway at my home airport, it was all business. Power – check; instruments – check; keep it on the runway. With half fuel and a cool Ohio morning, I was airborne in a few hundred feet and climbing like a homesick angel. I passed through 800′ before the end of the 2700′ runway and started turning to stay over the field. Rick took off behind and gave chase, but my 200+ HP half-loaded RV-8 wasn’t to be caught. I leveled off at the pre-planned altitude of 4000′, a good altitude to get down fast if it was really bad, but also good altitude for options to glide in. Rick caught up to me in my constant turn to stay within striking distance of the field.


Everything was going great. The only glitch was the oil door latch didn’t couldn’t hold the oil door closed so it popped open on takeoff, but it was no big deal. There were nasty warnings from my EFIS, no funny smells, no handling issues, no unwanted vibrations – could it be this easy?


I experimented with slow flight and approach to stall. No issues noted. All system were tested on the ground, but until that moment NONE of them had ever been checked in the air. Primary and secondary control surfaces, constant speed prop, cylinder cooling, oil cooling, indications system (altimetry, airspeed, VSI), all being newly tested above terra firma.



Rick giving chase from his RV-4

Rick giving chase from his RV-4



After my planned :30 of droning, and checking, and pinching myself, it was time to return to that little runway. I had considered making the first landing at a more suitable (read:wider) field, but the calm winds beckoned that I give it a try. Besides, I wasn’t afraid to make a go-around if I bounced or if I was unstabilized.




Darn oil door spoiled some of the images. Thank goodness for Photoshop.



Rick followed me down the chute and somehow I pulled off a decent, if not long, landing. I intentionally landed long and a little fast to leave room for instrument error and pilot error for this first return.


I taxiied back to the hangar where the crowd had grown somewhat. It was great to come back victorious and to greet all those kindred spirits.



first flight RV

Elated to be back with no major problems and no screw-ups by yours truly!



I didn’t consider it ultra-dangerous, but it’s not normal ops either. Subsequent test flights where probably more threatening, but through the 40 hour test flight period there were virtually no issues and nothing scary since.


Only two years later, I still smile when I think back on that day. The pressure, the excitement, and the unmatched sense of satisfaction is still palpable today.


Was it hard – of course!


Did it test my patience – unequivocally!


Did it stretch my skills – without a doubt!


Was it a financial burden – yes, still is!


Would I do it all again – ABSOLUTELY!

If you want to see the video of The Build and the First Flight- click YouTube links below.

Notice in the RV-8 Build video how my 3 kids get bigger and bigger.


Beware of the typo in the 1st flight video – it says first flight was August of 2013, should say 2011.




Starting this week, six aviation bloggers will again join forces to provide a series of common posts. Think of us as “blogging in formation” (#blogformation) for the next six days. This month’s theme will be – OUR MOST MEMORABLE FLIGHT.

You don’t want to miss this. Tune in to the specific blog listed below on the appropriate date and you’ll be glad you did.

And if you like what you see, share it with your friends! #blogformation

You can see the posts at:

The series runs the June 4th-9th, 2013

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