Friday, February 17, 2012

Van's Aircraft RV-10: Doctor ready to soar after building plane

The Van's Aircraft RV-10 is a four-seat, single-engine, low-wing homebuilt airplane that Dr. Carroll Verhange and his wife, Sherry, are assembling at the old Fairmont Air Base. 
(JOANIE CRADICK/Lincoln Journal Star)

 Dr. Carroll Verhage and his wife, Sherry, have built a four-seat, single-engine, low-wing airplane.
 (JOANIE CRADICK/Lincoln Journal Star)

Sherry Verhage and her husband, Carroll, have built an experimental airplane together at the old Fairmont Air Base.
 (JOANIE CRADICK/Lincoln Journal Star)

Dr. Carroll Verhage built the instrument panel of this Van's Aircraft RV-10, a four-seat, single-engine, low-wing airplane. He added GPS and auto pilot to the panel and hopes to fly the plane in March.
 (JOANIE CRADICK/Lincoln Journal Star)

FAIRMONT -- Early in March, Carroll Verhage, a 67-year-old family physician, will taxi the airplane he built toward its maiden flight.

The Geneva doctor has 2,700 hours under his wings during 36 years as a private pilot, many in his Cessna 206.

He expects his new VANS RV-10 experimental aircraft will fly about 40 mph faster than that six-seat ship and reach 180 knots at 8,000 feet. That extra speed, plus the challenge of building it, as well as the soundness of the investment, prompted the venture. He estimates resale value at 120 percent of building costs, which roughly equaled the price of an average house.

He invested an additional $5,000 on special tools -- drills, air riveters and bucking bars.

He and his wife, Sherry -- she's the navigator -- began work on the four-seat kit on June 10, 2010. They finished in January.

The directions were deficient, said the 1960s-era U.S. Navy electronics technician, and installing the instruments was the most demanding task.

One appeal of an experimental airplane, Verhage said, is that "You can add and subtract things as long as it doesn't interfere with the flight characteristics."

He installed autopilot, GPS tracking and courtesy lights that come on when the doors open.

The plane also has an external power plug, which can be convenient when it won't start, and save the 30 minutes it takes to take out part of the back cabin in order to get at the battery.

During construction, Sherry Verhage manned the air hammer, one of the few tools small enough for her to manage, and applied thousands of match-head size rivets to the plane exterior.

"There are 13 rows of 180 plus rivets per row just in the tail section," Carroll Verhage said.

Among other notable numbers: a 260-horsepower engine, 60-gallon fuel tank for a 900-mile range, plus super heaters that can keep the cabin warm at 20 degrees below zero.

"This one has terrific heaters," Carroll Verhage said, "one on each muffler."

In the United States, nearly three times the number of experimental planes as commercially made planes are built, he said.

In all, there are 386 completed RV-10s flying, said Cynthia Schrantz, administrative assistant at Van's Aircraft Inc., in Aurora, Ore.

"We have everywhere from one-seat aircraft to four seats. The RV-10s are the most complicated," she said.

The company's website promotes the aircraft's ability to land on grass, gravel or pavement.

Occasionally, Carroll Verhage said, he asked friend and retired military pilot Lyle Bender for advice. Bender spent 41/2 years building his own RV-10.

"To do it in 18 months is pretty fast. I don't know anyone (else) who put it together in that length of time," Bender said. "It depends on the individual. The better measure is how many hours did you spend building it."

Carroll Verhage said he and his wife put in more than 4,000 hours, doubling the 2,000 he'd anticipated.

"It's been a real dedication," said Sherry Verhage.

After a check-off period -- a 40-hour-flying-time obligation, Carroll Verhage expects to make his maiden flight, alone, on March 1.

His wife said some of the couple's 10 grandchildren have asked them to paint the plane fluorescent purple and pink.

Carroll Verhage frowned at the combination and said he doesn't know what he'll use.

"You don't paint 'em 'til you fly 'em because you don't want to ruin a good paint job."

The Verhages, who have four children, already have flown all over the continental United States and Alaska in the Cessna 206.

"Anywhere is fair game," he said.