Huh? Does that even makes sense? I mean, here is an airplane designed and built by a guy (Richard VanGrunsven) for his own use – surely, he built it to fit himself like a glove…right? Well of course he did, but that was close to 50 years ago. Van is the same height that he was then, and his still-slender form has no trouble fitting in the cockpit – but the RV-1 is a tiny airplane, and the pilot has to fold their legs into a small space between the firewall and the seat. Flexibility is unfortunately an attribute of youth, and as the years go by, motions that were natural become more difficult. So yes….we had to do a little work on the “ONE” in order to make it possible for Van to fly it again after all those years.
The fundamental problem with the pedal geometry in the RV-1 is that the distance from the seat to the firewall forces anyone with a long leg to bend their knees at a pretty tight angle. This in turn means that the lower leg is more vertical than horizontal, and therefore the ankle is cocked pretty far as well. With heels flat on the floor (as many pilots prefer to fly), the rudder bar is under the ball of the foot, but the sole of the foot is almost vertical. Rocking your toe forward to get to the brakes takes a lot of effort if you aren’t as flexible as a teenager. Since the brake pedals in the RV-1 (as in most aircraft) are about six inches above the rudder bar, many have to slide their feet up, removing their heels from the floor, in order to get any real leverage on the brakes. But this is very hard to do with the knees highly bent – especially with an older human’s flexibility limitations. The design of the RV-1 makes braking extra difficult with the heels on the floor because the vertical part of the “T” that forms the brake pedal is “recessed” towards the firewall – you can’t easily cheat and get braking by pushing on the vertical instead of going all the way up to the brake tube.
Much of the problem could be solved if the pedals were simply farther away from the pilot, but there simply isn’t room to lengthen the rudder cables in the RV-1 to make this practical. What we really needed was a little block of some kind. Well…here we were at Sun n fun, with buildings and tents filled with vendors who supply parts and materials for homebuilt airplanes! It didn’t take long to find a materials vendor (Air Parts) that had a Nylon rod about an inch and a quarter in diameter. We figured that an inch of this (on each pedal) would provide a nice “button” on which the toe could push. A hole drilled in the center of this little cylindrical button, countersunk for a flush NA3 screw, would be perfect – ten all we needed to do was drill a hole on the “C”-section of the vertical part of the pedal and bolt the button in place. Of course, the team was sitting in the middle of a grassy display area, with nary a shop in sight. But wait, this was a show with homebuilt workshops! An eager worker was sent off in search of a shed full of machine tools, and an hour later returned with arts fabricated beautifully on a band saw and drill press. A brand new angle drill was borrowed from Avery Tools, and a little motor oil off the dipstick was adequate to cool the bit as it drilled through the steel brake pedal. Another teammate located a package of appropriately sized screws, washers, and nuts at the B&B tent), and it was a simple matter of assembly and checkout to prove that the concept was sound – Van once again fit nicely in his airplane!
But wait – improvements could still be made. While the foot pedals now fit, we still felt that a little more room could be provided for the torso. The beautifully crafted Oregon Aero seat back was removing at least an inch and a half of usable space form the cockpit. While the cushions were vitally important for the pilots who transport the airplane around the country on multi-hour legs, the padding wasn’t really necessary for the short local flights that van was going to make. The cushion is attached to the frame with four wood-screws, so it was simple to remove – but then the seat was a lot less comfortable, as the human back wanted to fall between the vertical tubes of the frame. Once again, ingenuity came to the rescue – along with the American male’s favorite “fix-it” tool…Duct Tape! A wrap of this provided a little support, and the airplane was ready for its maker to take it aloft.