What if RV makers made airplanes? Would you fly in one?


By Chuck Woodbury
My father owned a small plane, a twin-engine Piper Comanche. I flew with him often, mostly for pleasure, but sometimes I hired him to fly me somewhere on a business matter in a small town rather than hassle with a commercial flight.

When we climbed into the cockpit, we both knew we were about to take off in a very well-built piece of machinery. I was thinking about this today and wondered if I were to learn one day that Piper, Cessna or Beechcraft were purchased by a big RV company, say Thor or Forest River, the two largest, would I fly in one of their planes? I didn’t even have to think: “No way on earth!”

Private aircraft are made to last. Visit any small airport and you’ll find planes made 50, 60 or even 70 years ago, and all perfectly safe to fly. Yes, they were required by the FAA to undergo regular maintenance, but the planes were made well to begin with.

This 60-year-old Piper Cub still flies. Can you imagine the condition of your RV in 60 years? Photo by Adrian Pingstone.

Except for luxury motor coaches, RVs are made to sell, not to last. That’s important. Think about it: made to sell, not to last.

Be sure to answer our poll on this subject when you finish this article.

New RVs look pretty, even the “stick and tin” (industry term) models that Camping World sells to unwary customers by the tens of thousands. Those stapled and glued models will be junk in 10 years.

Most cheap- to moderate-priced RVs do not even receive a final inspection before they leave the factory. If there are defects — which there almost always are — it’s the dealer’s job to fix them: A highly ethical dealer will do that. But most will not, or at least they won’t look very closely for defects. They’re too busy in their shops trying to fix the crappy RVs that previous customers bought.

That job falls to the consumer. And that is why, if you read our Facebook Group RV Horror Stories, you will find report after report from RV buyers whose brand-new RVs spent more time in the repair shop their first year than on the road. All the time, those would-be RVers were cancelling vacations and camping trips. Yet they were still making monthly payments (as their units depreciated) and … tick, tick, tick … their factory warranties were expiring.

Close to a half-million RVs will sell in 2019, as in previous years. I’d estimate three-quarters of the buyers will buy the “bling” — the “great floor plan” or the “beautiful” interior or maybe the great graphic package. But they won’t even bother to look beneath the surface and see the staples and glue holding the flimsy pine framing together, and the very cheapest Chinese components running the systems.

Ya gotta hand it to the RV makers: They know how to build good-looking cheap crap that consumers will buy with a twinkle in their eye dreaming about all the great times they’ll have with their rolling home in the years to come.

OKAY, TO BE FAIR, most RVers will enjoy their rigs, which will be of acceptable quality. But far, far too many will be poorly made, some too badly to be used.

At RVtravel.com, we are only able to educate a relatively small number of those half-million new buyers on how to buy smartly. We hear later from the others, who lament making huge buying mistakes such as “not inspecting the coach from front to back, top to bottom” before signing their contract.

If only RVs were made like small planes, or even automobiles. It’s sad that the biggest remaining manufacturing center in America is in Elkhart County, Indiana, “the RV Capital of the World.” Can’t we Americans do better? But, you know, profits are up, CEOs and stockholders are happy, so there you go…

So what do you think?
Would you fly in an airplane made by an RV manufacturer? Answer our poll.

Sign up to be informed of the progress of NAARVO — the North America Association of RV Owners, a group to represent the interest of RVers, not manufacturers.


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Stephen Comstock

Airstream, perhaps. Remember Spartan? That was an aircraft manufacturer that also made RVs. Not saying it can’t be done, but not without FAA oversight, which may eliminate the “stick and tin” modes of construction.

Henry Dorn

Yes I would.

I am impressed with the build quality of our used 2011 Jayco RD19 .

No, the trailer does not use aircraft-styled steel fasteners, expensive machined castings or fittings, titanium skin, expensive black boxes and that’s what made it affordable to me.

My trailer is made out of carefully selected lumber strips, accurately assembled roof trusses, quality NSF grade plumbing. It uses correct AWG wire (everywhere I looked), is mounted on a very well-designed frame and rolls on quality vendor-sourced axles. The aluminum sides are beautifully installed and painted and the windows let a beautiful view in. The refrigeration, heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems are from top notch manufacturers. My trailer came configured with a customer selectable option of winter insulation and also with vendor-provided operating manuals and warranties.

The workmanship is superb, from behind the walls and under the floor. Kudos to Jayco and its hardworking employees in Indiana and Idaho.

When I asked to see the plumbing and electrical and build schematics for my 2011 Jayco RD19, the manufacturer quickly and professionally delivered them to me. These are top-notch engineering plans that match the drafting standards of commercial airplane manufacturers (zone callouts, title blocks, revision history and signed with the engineer’s initials.)

I would buy a Jayco airplane and of course it would not be built like a trailer!

Airplanes fly. Trailers camp.

jane shure

I also would not fly in an airplane which has a windows operating system. Planes would be crashing left and right.

Rory R

Oh, I forgot to add that during my career I worked in the Aerospace Industry for 12 of my 35 yrs of my working life . Although I was not a factory worker, I spent a lot of my time in factory areas installing and testing software and hardware for IT systems. I witnessed many things, such as vacumn cleaners and other equipment being left inside the wing of completed aircraft. These things were discovered but not until flight testing. So, even though the industry itself is highly regulated, there are many instances of missteps and mistakes that take place. Point being that no system is perfect. But in manufacturing, most of these missteps can be caught and corrected, if management truly cares and puts the proper personnel and QA in place……..

Rory R

First I like to say yes I’d fly in a plane built by my RV manufacturer (Newmar). I’m on my 2nd Newmar, the first was used, the 2nd I bought new. I understand the problem, there are far too many unsafe rigs on the road. I’ve been RV’ing for 10 yrs, I love the lifestyle, so far I’ve managed to stave off the real low downs of the lifestyle, but I have had a few. Fortunately the highs have out numbered the lows, especially horror stories and bad experiences with maintenance and repairs. There are far too many manufacturers who are playing the numbers game and don’t back what they build, because they know if they did they would be out of business. I feel it is up to us the consumer, to stop purchasing these cheaply built rigs. If we do that, these manufacturers will fall by the wayside, mainly because they are in it for nothing else but the money……


We just returned home from a 3,000 trip to visit scattered family members, carrying a 1991 S&S 9.5-ft truck camper on our 1982 Chevy C-20 6.2L diesel pickup. The camper is solidly build, a quality unit. No leaks, and all systems work. The truck carries it easily, up and over high mountain pass highways. While in Colorado, I checked with a dealer: the dealer admitted there is no new truck available that will match the specs or carrying capacity of our “antique” pickup (2-door cab, 8600 lb GVW, 2938 lb cargo, diesel engine, under 22 ft LOA). If there were, it would cost $60 to $70 thousand! So… it’s not just a question of quality, or lack of quality. The market has changed. Pickups are now 4-door SUV’s with a 5’er hitch box on the back: “all cab and no carry.” No thanks. No wonder only one percent of RV’s on the road are truck campers. Sad. As for those “bling” RV trailers, we saw an endless stream of them being pulled at 70 and 75 mph on 80-mph freeways. As each one passed, we wondered: are those trailer tires really rated for that speed? I don’t think so… !


Chuck, some people seem to ‘just miss the point’ so they can ‘just make their point’. Keep making your points, as I normally get the points you make. Get my point? I hope I am not too pointed.

Tom Moeller

I am on my second Newmar and have been well satisfied with both. That said, yes, if Newmar built air craft I’d fly in it because the faa will be inspecting it.

Carson Axtell

The most straightforward solution to the problem of dishonest, shyster RV manufacturers is not simply an incantation of the refrain “caveat emptor” ad nauseum, but to regulate the industry the same way that other dishonest, shyster industries have needed to be regulated. The stumbling block will be finding honest politicians who haven’t been bought off by the shyster manufacturers to write the legislation and create the consumer protection agency that will be tasked with overseeing the shyster RV manufacturers…

Orlando Alvarez

Chuck you fail to overlook one very important point: Regardless of who owns the aircraft manufacturing facility, they have to abide by and operate in accordance with FAA rules and regulations, the same as Piper, Cessna or Beech.

John T

I don’t care if my “stapled and glued model will be junk in 10 years”. I could afford to buy it without a loan, I did not have a single warranty claim (and as a full-timer, it gets constant use), and it will serve me admirably for the number of years that I need it. It is the height of arrogance for those with motorhome budgets to look down on stick-and-tin trailer owners.

Billy Bob Thorton

I’m getting tired of the whole bashing, because it touches the RV industry. They are not even closely similiar, no matter whose badge or moniker is attached to the airplane.

For the uninformed, regulation of aircraft is jurisdiction of federal govt aviation rules and regulations. As an example, not at all like the RV industry, periodically, a complete engine overhaul is required by a certified FAA mechanic after a certain number of clock hours on the propulsion system. Even before that complete tear down requirement, intermediate inspections are mandated, per FAA rules and regs. in addition, things like air frame inspections by similarly FAA certified specialists are also a mandate.

Let’s stop trying to make articles out of things that have absolutly nothing in common. It detracts from the real issues facing the RV industry, and serves only to fill this decent newsletter with meaningless babble.

George Sears

In many ways these are both dysfunctional industries. A private airplane can be built in several different regulatory venues. There are production aircraft, like Cessnas. But there are aircraft produced under the Light Sport Category. There are Homebuilt Aircraft, which are perfectly legal to fly. There are Ultralight Aircraft, built under Part 103, where there are no real production standards beyond weight, speed, fuel, and single passenger (off the top of my head). (FAA calls them vehicles. Yikes.)

Twenty years ago I tried to argue with various people that a mass production Light Sport aircraft would be the only workable “middle class” flyer. The rules were passed. Aircraft groups took from LSA what they wanted. The designs never advanced beyond hand built aircraft in six digits $$$. You had people locked into the home builders, the unregulated Ultralights, and people who wanted a reduced medical standard to fly some existing aircraft.

So with RV’s I guess people build out vans, box trucks, buses, and SUV’s. There’s no consensus in the RV world. The mainstream is relatively upscale RV’s in relatively upscale RV parks. The van people aren’t likely to share much with this group. This breaking down (into groups) tends to create a lot of apathy. People do not think in terms of changing anything broadly. I like to think I tried, somewhat casually, in aviation. What is the catalyst for change in RV’s? Maybe a depression?

marty chambers

A prime example of the lack of quality control for some RVs. recently heard from a reliable source that a man could not figure out why he was smelling his black water tank all the time, no matter what he did.

Turns out that the P- Trap connected to the toilet was not vented trough the roof and the pipe ended inside the inner wall of the RV. How could that happen? No one knows, it was brand new when he got it.

Capt Jim

I understand the nature of Chuck’s point, but the fact is that it makes no difference what company manufactures an airplane. Without an FAA Airworthiness Certificate the very first unit will never leave the ground. Vanishingly few aircraft accidents/incidents are the result of an airframe failure. As with RV’s, most other components are made by outside suppliers (engines, electronics).
Just my .02.

Derek Weakley

This is the dumbest article I have ever seen. First, RVs do not endure the stresses that aircraft do. Aircraft are built much stronger…which costs a hell of a lot more. The average person cannot afford to own an aircraft. The average RV is built to be as inexpensive as possible to be affordable for most normal families. The closest to an “aircraft bulid” in RVs is a Airstream travel trailer. No surprise here; they are also the most expensive travel trailer available, ranging in price from a little 16′ trailer starting at $45,000 to over $160,000 for a 33′ trailer.

Comparing RVs to aircraft is a apple and ten oranges comparison. Why don’t you write another article about making airplanes as strong as submarines (nevermind the fact they would be too damn heavy to fly). Make sure you don’t take into account that submarines and aircraft are built totally different, and cost vastly different, because of the different places they are designed to go….just like RVs and aircraft.

Before you go talking about quality of RVs…go build a vehicle that has to be lightweight enough to get reasonable fuel economy for a RV, or be towed by a F150; that has all the systems of a house (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room. etc…), and has to also be affordable for a average income family. Once you have that built, take it for 5,000 miles at 70mph in rain, snow, and scorching sun…the while time shaking like it’s in a earthquake ( speed bumps, rough roads, etc…).Then write articles.

Bill J

Did I miss something? Why is it “sad that the biggest remaining manufacturing center in America is in Elkhart County, Indiana”?

Bill (from Maine)

Bob Godfrey

Ah, the twin Comanche! Spent a couple of years instructing in those and got my multi-engine rating in one. Economical for a twin too.

Eric Stephan

Having owned an airplane, and dealing with annual inspections and periodic maintenance, I find that maintaining my Class A coach is very similar. I schedule a week in June or July (bought new August 2nd) each year at the dealer 180 miles away to perform the items I cannot. Why a dealer that far away? They schedule me in, reserve a water electric site, and finish the work while I work out of town.

Cost is not much different either! I think owning the plan let’s us plan for maintenance better, and understand that we have to budget for some repairs each year instead of being surprised with both the repair and expense. Pilots and owners of aircraft talk about repairs in AMU’s, Aircraft Monetary Units, which are $100.00 bills with Ben Franklin’s face on them. Not much different with my RV.


For all the reasons you named.