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Budget Buy: Van's RV–4Budget Buy: Van's RV–4

Fast, efficient, mechanically simple—and superb handling

Pilot Briefing November 2019
Photography by David Tulis

Richard VanGrunsven’s sensational, single-seat RV–3 in the early 1970s created an avalanche of requests for a two-seat version—and this became the RV–4.

The tandem-seat design first flew in 1979 and represents the “total performance” versatility that has become VanGrunsven’s hallmark. It can cover long distances, operate from short or unpaved airstrips, reach high altitudes—and it’s aerobatic.

RV–4s are designed for four-cylinder Lycoming engines ranging from 150 to 160 horsepower, although more powerful 180- and 200-horsepower versions are numerous. Most RV–4s are equipped with fixed-pitch propellers, but some have been modified for constant-speed props. Panel space is at a premium, so relatively few are equipped for instrument flight rules. RV–4 kits all come with tailwheels, and there is no tricycle gear option.

RV–4 kits are somewhat primitive by today’s standards and they require skill, craftsmanship, and determination to complete. As a result, the construction quality of finished RV–4s varies much more than other kit airplanes in which structural parts are prefabricated and holes are predrilled, prepped, and matched.

The RV–4 also is the fundamental building block upon which other, more powerful high-performance kits depend. The six-cylinder, Lycoming IO-540-powered Harmon Rocket, and later the F1 Rocket, start out as RV–4 kits before they are reinforced and heavily modified for higher speeds and greater loads. Also, Bruce Bohannon’s Flyin’ Tiger, which set numerous altitude and time-to-climb records from 1999 to 2005, was a reinvented RV–4.

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Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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