Group Therapy

The whole group joined in to mount the airplane’s wing to the fuselage. The author has his finger on the pivot bolt to keep it from falling out – everyone else is actually working!

As a naturally introverted engineer (redundant, I know), I enjoy working in my shop all alone, with nothing but a little soft music (and the noise of the compressor) to keep me company. Most of the time. But there are times when getting together with a group to do some building is a nice break from the normal routine, and in some instances, it can lead to doing something remarkable. Way back in 2011, I was fortunate to help lead an effort to restore the very first RV aircraft – the RV-1 – and that activity involved hundreds of people helping out at various times, with work parties every weekend for months, and lots of small teams running off to various bits and pieces in the main shop, and at their own facilities. It is rewarding, fun, and exciting to be a part of a dedicated and motivated team!

Jerry VanGrunsven is busy cleaning out some bird nest debris that may have been in there since he flew the airplane back in the 1970’s.

So when I heard that there was a small group meeting at the Van’s Aircraft facility on Tuesday nights to restore yet another one-of-a-kind aircraft (the RV-5), I couldn’t resist hopping into one of the airplanes and heading north from my Nevada base, turning the corner when I hit the Columbia river and heading downstream to duck under the omni-present cloud cover in the Willamette Valley to arrive in time to pick up some tools and help assemble the recently-painted components into a semblance of an airplane.

You can’t see him – but Chief Engineer Rian Johnson is laying inside the fuselage to line up the wing attach bolts.

The group that night included a number of Van’s employees (staying after work to labor without pay), as well as local EAA chapter members a couple of occasional and frequent Kitplanes contributors, and Van’s brother Jerry, who flew the airplane “way back in the day.” Some dedicated young folks that got their start working on TeenFlight RV-12 builds were there as well, as they have been since the project began, keeping the old guys honest and kindly listening to stories that date way back to before they were born.

Group projects are like that – you get work done, yeah… but you also pass down lore of old, some technical, some simply historical. You eat a little pizza, tighten a few bolts, clean old rags and birds nest out of wings… its a grand way to spend a few hours of your time, and its a bonding experience between generations. Van’s Chief Engineer Rian Johnson had a list of what needed to be done, and while we didn’t get it all, we accomplished a lot, moving the project plan on down the lien to its planned display (static) at AirVenture in a couple of weeks. Look for it at the Van’s booth, enjoy the airplane – and think about the fun that went into putting it back together. It was a satisfying evening – and now I can say that I have actually worked on an airplane in the Van’s Prototype Shop!

Rian Johnson starts each night with a list that is longer than he knows can be accomplished – but everyone works hard to chip away at it, just like a typical homebuilt project.
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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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