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Sometimes, flying feels too God-like to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see.

Charles A. Lindbergh

As children, some youngsters age on a different path compared to others.  Some are born as ‘old souls’, whereas others never seen to grow up.  Sometimes, a parent sees traits, capabilities, and the spark of special interests in a child at very early ages. Years before these characteristics should normally develop.  This was the case for John van Lieshout, EAA 414941.  John was born an old soul and had enhanced capabilities from a young age that others might never achieve in a lifetime.  

From his earliest memories, he was always fascinated with all things to do with aviation.  Even at 6 years old, John built a model airplane and launched it from the roof of the barn at the family farm in southwestern Ontario in Canada.  Much to his surprise, it flew straight – that is straight downwards into a pile of fresh manure and hay.  Grateful for the soft landing, it still required an excessive amount of cleaning before the next flight.  He continued to make model airplanes as he grew up, but later with balsa wood, a fabric cover, and a doping agent to shrink the cover tightly to the spar.  

His models advanced with lightweight realism and faithful replication of the real-life aircraft designs that John cloned.  John was always naturally talented and good with his hands.  He loved to solve complicated technical problems, to innovate, and improve upon designs.  He saw them all as puzzles that he was compelled to complete. 

Photo by John van Lieshout. Taken with the camera and a light inside the fuel tank looking out.

His natural ability for engineering, design, and creativity allowed him to flourish and excel far beyond others in this field.  John possesses a calm, easy, and relaxed attitude, so he could stay focused, remain on task, and take as much time as was needed to resolve the problems.  John completed all his projects without fail.  But no one ever accused him of being too fast at it all.  John ponders a problem until the solution reveals itself to him.  Deep thinking takes time to consider every course forward and he analytically weighs the outcomes even before he starts with the next step.  

Now, as an adult, John has not changed one iota.  He follows his own trusted and proven methodology to eke out answers to his complex technical problems.  While he is intensely detailed and methodical, he is not very fast.  

As John builds his Van’s RV-6a, the progress has been slow.  It is a constant point of humour for all of John’s friends.  Whenever asked about when he will finish his labour of love, John responds with a coy smile, and simply says, “it will be finished sometime after next Saturday”….  He is in no rush whatsoever.  

For John, building his airplane is a true labour of love.  It is all about the journey and the destination.  And the destination is just as real and as tangible as the journey itself because he is driven by the meticulous processes and work efforts to get to proverbial endpoint.  

His airplane will be distinctively unique.  Even though the Van’s Aircraft RV-6a is the most popular kit plane ever offered, John’s RV-6a will standout in the crowd.  He has photographed and documented a multitude of enhancements and changes along the way to optimize systems and improve performance and robustness.  Even with so many changes, it will still take a trained eye to spot the differences from the classic lines of this popular model.  

The RV-6a is the tricycle gear version and the RV-6 is the taildragger model.  More than 2,600 have flown to date and homebuilders like John still have new entrants approaching completion.  One of the reasons that John selected the RV-6a was due to the excellent completion record.  In 2001, the RV-6 / 6a was replaced by the RV-7 / 7a.  However, Van’s happily continues to provide parts and builder support for John’s RV-6a project.  

Photo by Mark Pasqualino.

John works as a contract worker in the film and television industry, so when he is fully engaged in a feature film or an episodic TV series, work on the airplane needs to be placed on pause.  He is also cash-flowing the project out of his own pocket so when it is done, it will be fully paid for, which is a very smart way to do it.  

During the past three years of COVID, most media productions stopped, so John had more free time to invest into the airplane project.  His project experienced a leap forward and really started to take shape.   When the media productions resumed, John only had some weekends to work on the RV-6a.  A typical airplane workday is about 6 to 7 hours long.  He has put about 2,700 hours into the project so far.  The crate arrived in 2000, so it has been 23-year adventure.  My, how time passes when you are having fun.  But John’s ‘enhancements” have slowed the progress, as have his intermittent start / stop work schedule.  

The performance specifications for the standard RV-6 are published as follows:  

  • Engine – 150 to 180 hp
  • Top Speed – 210 MPH / 338 KMPH
  • Ceiling – 25,700 feet
  • Stall Speed – 55 MPH / 88.5 KMPH
  • Fuel Capacity – 38 US Gallons / 144 Litres
  • Seats – 2 (side by side)
  • Baggage 100 LBS / 45 KG

These performance numbers reflect an airplane built exactly to the factory specifications.  John is still not sure of how his variation of the model will perform.  Yes, of course it will fly safely, but time and testing will tell its own special story once it is ready to command the skies and the weight and balance calculations are finalized.  Once thing is for sure, it will be fast.


  True to the RV-6a design, the fuselage is made of aluminum as are the wings.  The vertical and horizontal stabilizers are also made of aluminum.  The wing tips and the end caps for the vertical and horizontal stabilizers are made from fibreglass.  The cowling is fibreglass and allows for a smooth, clean design for airflow over the airplane.  John made his own airflow louvers to direct the air to better cool the engine.  One aspect that is very interesting for his design is the built-in video camera on top of the vertical stabilizer.  John will have a bird’s eye view of his departures, flights, and approaches.  He can easily switch out the camera for the traditional stabilizer cap whenever desired.  He can add a VOR to his second cap when needed.  So, he has a modular design to add in some flexible capabilities.  

Van’s RV-6 Fuselage (Drawing by Van’s)

John went with manual trim.  He decided against electric trim.  For the trim wheel in the cockpit, he deviated from the Van’s design, and he manufactured the trim wheel similar to a Cessna trim wheel.  He was not comfortable with the vernier knob from the kit.  A vernier tuning knob is one that with each complete rotation of the control knob causes only a fraction of a revolution of the main shaft.  John wanted a more positive feel to the trim wheel, permitting a positive response for a fine and accurate adjustment.  Just as John wanted – precision in everything.


John began with a slightly used, but never actually flown, automotive engine.  It was a Eggenfellner Aircraft Subaru E6 conversion engine.  This engine had a gear reduction system to transform the much higher automotive RFMs down to the appropriate propeller cruise speeds of 2200 to 2800 RPM.  

John liked the engine from the start.  It was both water and air cooled.  But as John learned more and more about the engine, he heard too many stories of gearbox failures.  The customer support was poor too.   

Finally, a well-known aerobatic pilot friend coached John to reconsider the power plant.  John eventually sold off the engine as a spare parts project.  So, it was crated up and shipped to California for the next owner.  With the 2009 bankruptcy of Eggenfellner, John’s decision was deemed to be wise in retrospect.   

He decided that any automotive conversion engine was not what he wanted in his RV-6a even though reports suggest that nearly 300 of these Eggenfellner engine conversions were sold to Van’s homebuilders like John.  

Photo by Michael Martin

Next, John was able to acquire an Aero Sport Power I/O- 375 aircraft engine producing 195 horsepower.  Aero Sport designs, builds, and customizes high performance aircraft engines.  Aero Sport Power, Ltd., an associate firm of Pro Aero Engines, Inc., is in Kamloops, British Columbia.  The company has been building since 2002, some versions of Lycoming engines for uncertificated, homebuilt experimental aircraft.  Versions are now available (KP4/02, 4/03, 3/05, 4/05, 4/06, 3/07) for the O-320, IO-320, O-360, IO-360, IO-390, O-540, and IO-540 series.  Models with either fixed-pitch or constant-speed propellers are available.  

John now has a fuel-injected, 4-cylinder engine and he believes that he made the smart decision to upgrade the powerplant.  His trust level for these Power Sport engines is much higher.  He has not yet determined the weight and balance for this engine upgrade but feels firmly that he made a smart decision.  

He needed an entirely new engine mount for the Aero Sport engine so that impacted his project’s progress.  

John reports that the customer service from Aero Sport is superb and he is delighted with all the help they have provided to him.  He has learned a lot from them and recommends this Canadian company.


John’s RV-6a is a tricycle gear model.  He elected to enhance the nose gear.  He added a more robust nose wheel caster normally found on the RV-14 kit airplanes, which he felt was much stronger and would add far more physical support compared to the originally designed nose gear.  It is known for excessive ‘shimmy’ while taxiing the airplane and some think it is ‘springy’.  John’s modification to the nose gear required integrated fortification of the engine mount too.  John acquired the new engine mount from Van’s for the RV-14 and fitted that to his RV-6a to accommodate the new nose gear and the bigger engine.

Photo by Michael Martin


  When John began his adventure, he envisioned a panel with classic steam gauges.  They were the standard at that time.  However, over the duration of the build project, he switched to a Dynon 10” display for the primary and secondary displays.  He was still not happy with the panel, so he continued to investigate his options.  Today, the panel is magnificent with Garmin 3GX displays.  He had attended an EAA seminar at AirVenture one year and learned about the next generation of touch displays, which is what the airplane has ready to install today.  The Garmin G5 was added to the 3GX for its important role as a back up display.  His autopilot is a Garmin too.  John has designed everything for IFR flight with a heated pitot tube as well.  Of course, John made use of the voice annunciator capabilities that tie into the headsets.  He added a carbon monoxide detection alarm system for safety too.

Photo by Michael Martin

John designed his panel using a CAD tool called, XP Pilot.  This way he was able to perfect the ergonomics and workflow that is critical to his needs.  Every switch, button, display, and gadget are laid out for optimum performance and to avoid confusion and inadvertent errors.  Is the panel over engineered?  Maybe, but that is just the way John is in life, he is a perfectionist and if it is not right, then he starts over and makes it all right.


John is a dedicated member of EAA.  He estimates that he has attended perhaps 75 in-person seminars over the decades.  During the COVID years, he engaged in the online seminars including one this past January on engine storage versus overhaul.  Like most homebuilders, John greatly prefers the in-person seminars as the learning and the entire experience is much richer and more hands-on.  John began his learning journey in 1999 by attending a week-long learning session on restoration building techniques offered by the EAA Wright School of Aircraft Building.  

The EAA Aviation Foundation conducts week-long aviation camps for adults.  The Wright School of Aircraft Building provides in-depth instruction in metalworking, woodworking, fabric covering, composites, and other homebuilding trades from some of the finest craftsmen and instructors in the world.  These hands-on learning opportunities are conducted at EAA’s Air Academy Lodge, Leadership Center, and Headquarters facilities in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  These programs continue today.  

Photo by Michael Martin

John has been a member of EAA for over 30 years.  He always goes to AirVenture.  At one time, he had a 1958 Cessna 172.  He purchased it in 1990 and restored it.  In 1996, he entered it into competition and won several noteworthy EAA awards.   

He was also a partner in a previous RV-6a, C-GDOC.  As a result, he already has about 270 hours on type.  Being involved with the previous RV-6a taught John a lot.  One annoyance was the gas leaks in C-GDOC.  So, for John’s new RV-6a he has gone to great lengths to ensure that it never leaks fuel.  He has modified the rivets and added seals.  It is perfectly tight now.  

John’s dream is nearing its natural end.  His airplane will be airworthy and go through the requisite testing.  But, as John always says, it will be done whenever it gets done.  He is in no rush whatsoever.  For John, it is both a Journey and a Destination.

About the Author:

Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 40 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was a senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin served on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).  He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has completed over 30 next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, Indigenous Canada awareness, and more.