Tip-up or Sliding Canopy?

The canopy debate is a lively one among RV enthusiasts, and there seem to be many pilots and builders on each side of the discussion. If you are not sure what the difference is, we've got some pictures here that should clear that up:

What we'll do is attempt to outline the pros and cons of each type in what should be a moderately objective way. This will be followed by an explaination of why I picked the one that I did.

Advantages of the tip-up canopy:

  • Better visibility - with the tip up canopy, there is not the obstructions to forward visibility that are in the way when you've got the slider. The exception to this seems to be if you're trying to look directly behind you, in which case the slider will actually have less of an obstruction to visibility than the tip-up. Looking behind you isn't outrageously important as you're faster than many of the Cessnas with whom you share an airport. To quote Gumball Rally: "Whassa behind me is notta important." It's possible that backwards visibility is useful if you're flying formation - having never flown formation, I wouldn't know.

    It's important to remember, however, that an RV with a either type of canopy still has better visibility than virtually any production aircraft that you can buy. However, as far as overall visibility, the tip-up canopy is a bit better.

  • Instrument panel access - with the tip-up canopy, it's easier to pull the entire thing off and get to the instrument panel, as the entire canopy can pop off. With the slider, the front part of it won't come off. I have Dan to thank for this illustration of getting behind the panel on a tipper. Whether or not this makes any difference to you depends greatly on how much you're going to keep changing stuff around after you've got the airplane completed, but it seems nice to have the option of doing that easily.

  • Easier to building - I can't vouch for this as I haven't built it yet, but from what buiders have told me, the tip-up canopy is easier when one is trying to persuade the canopy to seal correctly. Also, it seems to involve less (but not necessarily easier) work to build it in the first place.

  • Less weight - there's just not as much metal in the tip-up canopy design, and any place you can save weight is nice.

Advantages of the slider canopy:

  • Improved taxi ventiliation - although the tip-up canopy can be opened when you're taxing, it cannot be opened as wide as the slider, which can be opened pretty much all the way. The advantage, when taxing or when waiting on the ramp, especially in the summertime, is obvious. With the bubble canopy, RVs just get hot on sunny days when they're on the ground.

  • It's just plain cooler - sliders just look cooler when you are inside them taxing around. I think the appeal of being able to taxi somewhere with the window open and wave at all the people that wish they were flying an RV is part of the appeal of this design.

  • Easier in manage on the ground in the wind - I didn't realize until I read it in one of the Tony Bingeles books: all tip-up canopies, and particularly those that have to cover two people side-by-side, are subject to general weirdness when there is any appreciable amount of wind and you've got the canopy open on the ground. With the slider, you don't have a big hunk of plastic sticking way above the airplane when the canopy is open. If your RV gets caught by a hefty gust of wind from an awkward angle when your canopy is open, the slider has much less of a chance of being damaged.

  • Exiting the aircraft in an emergency - seems like if something went seriously wrong with your RV and you had to part company with the aircraft when it was still in the air, you'd have a better chance of doing this with the slider. There are canopy-release handles that you can put in a tipper, but there seems to be some question as to whether or not they really work (to my knowledge, nobody's volunteered to try it while in flight) and in any case it's fairly common to not put them on at all. Last I heard, no one has successfully bailed out of an RV. Although it's possible to think up situations where you would need to bail out (the engine and alternator quit when you're in a VFR on top of IFR situation, or the tail falls off of the aircraft) they are all pretty unlikely.

There's a weird disadvantage to tipper RVs that should go in here somewhere but as it's a combination of several things, I'm not entirely sure into which category it falls. The RV-7 (and the 6, too, I suppose), if built with both a taildragger configuration with a tip-up canopy, have a weird characteristic that if you open the canopy while it is covered with water, a large percentage of the water will find it necessary to dump itself behind your instrument panel. (With the tricycle-gear RVs with tip-up canopies, all of the water should dump on the cowling and you'll be okay.) This is obviously bad, but it's really not a situation that you would be likely to encouter - most of the time when it's raining, you won't be flying, and hopefully you'll be keeping your RV in a hanger anyway. Nonetheless, it's something to consider.

I am building a tip-up canopy. To me, the advantages of the tipper make it an obvious choice, but hey - that's just me. I suppose this depends on just where your priorities are. I like the greater visibility in the tipper. I'm not entirely sure that this can be understood until you get a ride in both of them. I'm less concerned about the way it looks on the ground and cabin ventilation, and I figure the amount of time that you spend taxing the airplane is so much smaller than the amount of time you spend flying it that the greater visability is a better trade off. In this area of the country (South; i.e., hot) I can understand that cabin ventilation when you taxi could be important to someone, and it seems the slider is a bit better for that. Also, I'm concerned about weight. I'm thinking about cramming a bunch of IFR-like instruments in this airplane, so I'm looking to save weight any other place I can.

Also as I'm building a noseroller (that's a topic for a different rant, so nothing more about that here), so the weird water-behind-the-canopy issue hopefully won't effect me at all.

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