The RV-14 is the most recent design from Van's Aircraft, and is essentially a marriage between the immensely popular RV-7 and the newer 4-place RV-10. It is intended to be a little more suitable for cross-country, while still retaining some of the sport aerobatic elements (+6G, -3G) of the RV-7. The aircraft is a traditional all-aluminum construction and available in both tricycle gear or taildragger configurations. I elected to build the RV14A tricycle variant because they're a little easier to handle on the ground despite being slightly less efficient in the air.
More information can be found on the Van's website here.
Van's is one of the largest kit manufacturers, and you see RV's everywhere. Furthermore, they have an almost cult-like following of builders and pilots, which is one of the main attractors to building one. The Van's Air Force forums is generally very active, and a great source of feedback and information.
So far, my experience with Van's has been rather pleasant. The people at sales have been helpful, crating and shipping was prompt, and the empennage kit arrived very nicely packed without any discernible damage.
It took me about 3 hours to inventory everything. Everything was clearly tagged, and the included materials list was easy to follow. I had a few items that were marked as b/o (backorder), and I assume they will arrive in the mail shortly. None of the backordered items are needed for the initial steps, so this isn't a hindrance at all.
Vertical stabilizer build getting started
The vertical stabilizer took me quite a bit of time to complete for several reasons.
First was simply figuring out the process for how to dimple and rivet in various places, some harder to reach than others. Second and more prominently was that I hadn't decided on how to deal with primer yet. Fairly quickly in the build you have to do final assembly of parts, which need to be primed if you choose to use primer. More on that later!
For dimpling and riveting, I found that the pneumatic squeezer is a little more versatile than I originally thought. At first, I thought it was fairly useless because the most reliable/safe way to dimple or rivet is to place the manufactured head on the far end of the yoke so that the piston compresses the shop head or female die. Other than on the edges of flat skins, however, it's rare you can get the squeezer into this position since most of material that needs riveting is on an outside flange where the body of the squeezer and the material your working with gets in the way of each other. If you reverse the squeezer dimple dies but keep the material flush now on the female side, then it's really difficult to keep the material aligned such that the pilot hits the hole perfectly centered. I found this is a great way to punch unintended holes into parts, and should in general be avoided.
If you put the material flush against the female side on the interior of the yoke, this causes the squeezer to jump back when you pull the trigger because the piston is pushing the assembly forward. It wasn't completely obvious from the squeezer manual that the piston could be throttled by having a light touch on the trigger. It definitely takes a bit of practice, but it makes the squeezer useful in so many more scenarios. There's still a few cases, like in the image below, where there's not a lot of room for error and I kind of had to try my best to line it up then hit the trigger and pray. I'm almost tempted to get a mechanical hand-squeezer for places that require good control if they weren't $300.
Vertical stab done
It took quite a bit of time to decide on a primer and get everything ordered and delivered, so I ended skipping through sections every time something was held up because it needed to be primed. Afterwards, I was able to revisit the vertical stabilizer, and it came together rather nicely without any issues.
Seemingly any time there is a rib with reasonable curvature, the plans calls to flute the flanges if needed. It isn't entirely clear to me when it's needed, as most of the flanges that I've come across seem to sit pretty flush with the skin after simply getting them at the right angle. Furthermore, all my attempts at using a fluting tool seems to just bend the flanges up and make it worse. Instead, I 3D-printed a little 90-degree alignment and bending tool that seems to work pretty nicely in getting the flanges nice and square. I'll try to put up a section to download all 3D printed tools I've come up with.
The rudder requires that you trim off or separate all the stiffeners to get the ends to taper off to a point. I tried to use snips at first, but it doesn't really work at all. Afterwards I broke down and purchased a cheapy band saw, put a metal blade on it, and it works great cutting sheet aluminum.