On this page:
Basic info
RV-3 wing spar background
RV-3 Wing Types & Mods recap
Operating an RV-3 with Type I or Type II wings
RV-3 serial numbers
RV-3 Model designations
RV-3 Airfoil info
Determining rear spar location in the fuselage
RV-3 Weight & Balance issues


  • In addition to the information presented here, anyone interested in RV-3s should check in occasionally at Van's Aircraft.
  • RV-3 Info is a compilation of bits of information collected for the benefit of all builders and owners. Buildlers and flyers of RV-3s are encouraged to contribute, send via e-mail to the webmaster at...
Basic info

The RV-3 is an aircraft that can be built from a kit sold by Van's Aircraft, Inc. It is a conventional low wing single-place format constructed mostly of aluminum. It is designed to use Lycoming aircraft engine, normally an O-235, O-290, or O-320. The finished aircraft can be registered with the FAA in the Experimental, Amatuer-built category. Originally offered in 1971, and improved version of the kit still offered today. More info can be found www.vansaircraft.com.
Specs & performance from Van's site...

19 ft 11 in
19 ft
5 ft
Wing Area
90 sq ft
Empty Weight without electric system
703 lbs
Empty Weight with electric system
750 lbs
Gross Weight
1100 lbs
Wing Loading
12.22 lbs/sq ft
Power Loading
11.0 - 6.9 lb/hp)
100 -160 hp
Fixed or C/S
Fuel Capacity
30 US gal
30 lbs
Empty weight and performance measured with fixed pitch wood propeller
Solo Weight 1050 lbs
125 hp
150 hp
Top Speed
195 mph
207 mph
Cruise [75% @ 8000']
185 mph
196 mph
Cruise [55% @ 8000']
166 mph
176 mph
Stall Speed
51 mph
51 mph
Takeoff Distance
350 ft
300 ft
Landing Distance
350 ft
350 ft
Rate of Climb
1,700 fpm
2,050 fpm
20,500 ft
23,500 ft
Range [75% @ 8000']
640 sm
595 sm
Range [55% @ 8000']
770 sm
715 sm
Speed Ratio


Here are links to a few articles I've found on the RV-3...
1973 Pilot Flight Test Report by Budd Davisson (link)
January 1983 article from Sport Aviation by Richard Vangrunsven (.pdf)

RV-3 wing spar background

There were issues with the RV-3 wing spars, both front and rear, which started in 1981 with the issuance of a GENOT by the FAA. With permission from Van's Aircraft I've scanned them and created Adobe Acrobat documents. Anyone interested in fully understanding the issues and history should read these documents thoroughly...
(Adobe Acrobat documents, right-click and "Save target as...")
Van's Aircraft letter to builders, orignal GENOT, and two other letters
Van's Aircraft CN-1
Van's Aircraft CN-2

RV-3 Wing Types & Mods recap

There are 3 types of RV-3 wings and 2 types of modications (change notices) put out by Vans. The wing "mod's" are for the Type 1 (1/8" laminated spar flanges) or the Type 2 (3/16" laminated flanges - post 1984) wings and spars. Following is a brief summary:

Original "Type 1" wing (1974-1984):
• Tapered laminates (counting the root web) of 1/8" thick x 1 1/4" wide
• Staggered 1/8" rivets pattern on spar flanges
Re-designed "Type 2" wing (1984-on, re-designed after the the RV-4 plans/wing):
• Tapered laminates of 3/16" thick x 1 1/4" wide (not counting a 1/8" thick root web, which stayed 1/8")
• Single centered row of 3/16" rivets on spar flanges
Completely re-designed "B" wing (1998-on)
•New RV-3 "B" wing 1998 on, re-designed to copy the design and technology used in manufacturing of the CNC machining of the RV-8 wing.
• One piece machined spar flanges with a .063 (I believe) machined spar web doubler on the back side of the spar
• Single centered row of 3/16" rivets on spar flanges
• The wing and center section are the only part of the RV-3 designed in CAD
• Available only with integral 15 gallon/side fuel tanks
• Available optionally as QB assembly
• Special retrofit instructions and program from Van's for previously built aircraft

Vans Change Notice 1 (CN-1):
This is the wing root/rear spar modification to strengthen the wing root rib and rear spar attachment due to torsional failures of the rear spar attachment when at high G-loads. This is known as the RV-3 "A" (aerobatic) designation and is done as a CN-1-1 for type 1 spars or CN-1-2 for type 2 spars (there are differences in the mod for each per Vans drawings). An aircraft registered as an "RV-3A" is normally assumed to have this mod incorporated. Copy of Van's CN-1 in Acrobat format available above.
Vans Change Notice 2 (CN-2):
This mod is done as a CN-2-1 for type 1 spars and CN-2-2 for type 2 spars. The mod consists of putting aluminum angle doublers on the upper spar flange on the back side of the spar between each rib in the inner half of the wing and in the fuselage at bulkhead 303 (this is the same for type 1 and 2). On the type 1 wing, it also drills out the inner 1/8" rivet row on the bottom flanges on the inner half of the wing and replaces them with 3/16" rivets. AN3 bolts or hi-locs can also be used. Copy of Van's CN-2 in Acrobat format available above.

Operating an RV-3 with Type 1 or Type 2 wings

If you plan on purchasing or piloting a RV-3 or RV-3A (pre-RV-3B) you should be aware of some limitations on operating the aircraft depending on what spar mods have or have not been completed. Essentially, if the aircraft hasn't had both mods performed it should be restricted to Utility Category G limitations (+4.4g, —1.76g).
IMPORTANT: This info is covered in a service bulletin SB 96-3-1 from Van's Aircraft in 1996. All owners and operators should be familiar with it.

RV-3 serial numbers

Van's original RV-3 serial numbers were three digits and ran in sequence. Van's later added a "10XXX" in front of original plans s/n's once a builder sent in and received the CN-2 kit. This allowed them to confirm that they had the paperwork returned from the owner acknowledging that they had been sent the documentation on the wing spar failures and the CN-2 kit. Serial numbers go by plans set and not by completed aircraft. For example, an early plans s/n would be 45 and the customer number designation from Vans changed to 10045 once the CN-2 kit and info was sent. All later plans and builder numbers are five digits starting with "1". Serial numbers as of early 2008 are up to at least 11426 meaning that 1,426 sets of plans have been sold in total.

RV-3 Model designations

RV-3 model designations are important! Due to the FAA's GENOT of March 16, 1981, builders of new RV-3s are well advised to familiarize themselves with the above referenced GENOT, and in all cases use the "RV-3A" or "RV-3B" (as appropriate) designation in obtaining their FAA Registration and Airworthiness Certificate. In theory, a newly completed RV-3B kit registered simply as an "RV-3" could, with a literal interpretation of the GENOT, be construed to be subject to it, so heads up on this issue!

RV-3 Airfoil info

From the very first iteration the RV-3 has always used the 23012 airfoil. All the two-seat short wing RVs (-4, -6, -7 and -8) use the 23013.5.  All the 23000 series airfoils have the same basic shape, the only difference in these airfoils is the thickness. The thickness is given by the last digits. The 23012 airfoil is 12% thick (i.e. the maximum thickness is 12% of the wing chord) while the 23013.5 is 13.5% thick. The 23000 series is extremely widely used, on everything from Taylorcrafts to Cessna Citations, so RVs are in good company. When the -3B wing was introduced in 1998 it retained the 23012 airfoil but featured a new internal structure. The trade-offs that Van made when selecting 13.5% thickness for the RV-4 (and subsequent 2 seat designs except RV-9) versus the 12% from the RV-3 were a fairly sizeable structural benefit (varies as the cube of spar depth) against a small increase in section drag... really a hair-splitter in the speed realm that RV's typically operate. Section drag doesn't start to become a very big deal until you get above roughly 15% thick.

Determining rear spar location in the fuselage

If you are construcing an RV-3B with the new wings, especially if you are getting the QB wings, best advice is to wait until the wings are there in your shop before getting too far with your fuselage. The reason is that you need to accurately determine the distance between the front and rear spars in order to locate the rear spar carrythrough in the fusealge correctly. The new RV-3B wings are slightly different that what the plans call for and/or the older wings. See here for more info.

RV-3 Weight & balance issues

There has been some confusion on the correct weight & balance specifications. In November 2004 Van's Aircraft was consulted and confirmed that the correct specifications for all models of RV-3 are as follows...


50" forward of wing leading edge

C.G. Range
Normal or Aerobatic

18% - 27% of wing chord
59.72" - 64.58" aft of datum

Aerobatic gross weight
(does NOT include fuel in WING tanks)

1,050 lbs

Baggage compartment limit

50 lbs.

-All models of the RV-3 wing have a 54" chord.
-The manual erroneously specifies the baggage compartment weight limit on page 14-4 as 100 lbs, Van's web site erroneously lists it at 30 lbs. Both are incorrect, the correct weight is 50 lbs.
-Older construction manuals may have incorrect figures, the above data has been verified and should be substituted.

W&B calculators
Online weight & balance calculators...
- Dan Checkoway's


Missing in earlier kits, but available here for download, are updated content lists for the small paper parts bags supplied with each kit. Use these to avoid having to look through each bag in search of small parts. These files are from Van's and are current as of the date indicated. Note that Van's is constantly updating things so beware of changes. Right click and "Save Target As..." to download to your computer...

Empennage kit bags (October 2000, Word file)
Wing kit bag contents (February 2003, Word file)
Fuselage kit bag contents (June 2004, Excel file)
Finish kit bag contents (June 2004, Excel file)