By Tom Martin, EAA 452250, via EAA’s Canadian Newsletter, Bits and Pieces
When I was a child, and into my teen years, I was focused on tools and building things such as go-karts, mini bikes, dune buggies, and whatever else I could create. One day, a friend suggested that I build an airplane. At the time I thought this was a really stupid idea, but 10 years later I decided that if I was going to build an airplane, I should get my pilot’s licence. Another 15 years went by. My ag business was doing well and I knew that I needed a new challenge. I was going to build that airplane!
I looked at a few kit planes but they were not really what I was looking for. Another good friend suggested that I talk to this guy in Sarnia, Ontario, Rick West, who had an RV-4. It was my very good fortune that this was an excellent build and Rick had won an award at Oshkosh with the airplane. Rick offered me a ride, and as I was sitting in the aft seat and looking at all the rivets, I thought that I could never drill all those holes. We were rolling about 10 feet down the runway and I decided that I would be able to drive all those rivets. I will never forget this ride that started me on a quest to find a project. There was an RV-4 project in Guelph that was lying dormant. The tail was mostly done and the lightening holes had been cut in the wing spars. This was a first-generation kit that was, I believe, Kit 126. I started building in the fall of 1993 and finished the airplane 17 months later on May 26, 1995.
There was no internet and I was not yet aware of EAA or AirVenture. There was, however, a solid core of builders in southern Ontario: Rick West, already mentioned; my mentor, Gord Baxter (another award winner); Charlie Douma; and the Brampton RV group. Out of this developed the Ontario RVators. It was a solid group and we met formally once or twice a year to swap tips and look at airplanes. We all knew every RV that was being built or flown in southern Ontario. The internet took off in the following years and new builders tended to go to the web for information. It is, of course, a wonderful resource, but I do miss those early years of the RV community.
I loved my RV-4 and it took me all over the province. I was giving a lot of rides and thought that the “Four” was the perfect airplane. Gord Baxter mentioned a new type of tandem homebuilt, the Harmon Rocket. It sounded too good to be true: IO-540 engine, wider and longer fuselage, more passenger space. I was hooked. I started the HR II; two winters and 17 months later, it took to the air. The RV-4 was sold to a gentleman in England, and I took it apart and loaded it into a container for shipment.
The Harmon was a life-changer, much faster than the RV-4, about the same fuel mileage, and the ability to carry larger loads more comfortably. By now I was caught up in the building mode and started another Harmon; it too was finished 17 months later. The first HR II sold to a home in Arizona. I got to deliver the airplane and the cross-country was a real experience. It had the latest, greatest in nav-aids, an Apollo 360, the first GPS for airplanes. It was very basic but a game-changer for navigation.
Then, Mark Fredrick in Texas came out with the F1 Rocket. This offered quick-build wings and fuselage, and was manufactured in the Czech Republic.
Of course, I had to have one and ordered a kit. This cycle repeated again and again until I had completed 11 airplanes in the period between 1993 and 2016, when I completed my last airplane, a RV-14.
My cast of airplanes includes:
Two HR IIs
Four F1 Rockets
One F1 Rocket with an EVO tapered wing (2016 to current)
And the final RV-14
The kit development over the years has been phenomenal, and there are thousands of RVs flying all over the world.
Over time, I of course got wrapped up in EAA and AirVenture. My first Rocket, the HR II, won a Workmanship Award at Oshkosh.
My build focus after that first HR II was to make the airplanes I built more efficient. I tended to not paint the airplanes after my first three, preferring to leave that to the next owner. My EVO Rocket, which I still own and fly, has been a 14-year process of improving efficiency. From 2006 to 2012, I participated in the Sport Aircraft Racing League (SARL). This was a fun and exciting period of my life, travelling around the U.S., participating in approximately three races a year. During that time, I increased the speed of the EVO Rocket to the point where I believe my top race speeds have not been beaten. I got the airplane to a speed where it was just too close to VNE, 230 knots TAS, for me to proceed further with my experiments.
However, those modifications have made a very efficient and fast travel airplane. I flight-plan 205 knots under 10,000 feet and 215 knots TAS at 12,000-15,000 feet. Fuel flows are in the 11-gph range.
My wife and I have travelled across Canada twice, shore to shore, and many times to different U.S. locations.
All of this started when in high school, a friend suggested that I should build an airplane!