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A Word From Zenith Aircraft

CH 601 XL retrofit

By Sebastien Heintz, president, Zenith Aircraft Company (Mexico, MO.)

On November 7, 2009, the FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin SAIB #CE-10-08, the same day that AMD, the manufacturer of the special-light sport aircraft (S-LSA) version of the CH 601 XL and CH 650 aircraft, released a Safety Alert on these aircraft. The FAA Bulletin and AMD’s Safety Alert were released after a series of accidents over the past several years involving this aircraft type, and prescribe that a number of upgrades be performed to the aircraft before further flight. Our own findings mirror the FAA’s determination that these accidents do not have a “single root cause,” instead implicating “the potential coupling of design and operational aspects of the aircraft.”

Excerpt from SAIB #CE-10-08
“After the review we made a determination that these accidents did not clearly indicate a single root cause. Instead, it implicated the potential coupling of design and operational aspects of the aircraft.”

As the designer of the Zodiac series aircraft, Chris Heintz has been literally “pulled out” of retirement to assist us and the large number pilots flying his designs worldwide. Since no “single root cause” or fix has been identified, Chris Heintz has engineered a comprehensive “Upgrade Package” that significantly “beefs up” over a dozen components on the aircraft.

The upgraded CH 601 XL and CH 650 will now be significantly “over-built” making it far more difficult to over-stress. The upgrade also addresses concerns of flutter by installing aileron counterbalance weights (as tested by the United Kingdom Light Aircraft Association authorities). The Upgrade Package has already been load tested (and independently verified), and the FAA specifically prescribes this Upgrade Package for all amateur-built (experimental and E-LSA) builders, owners and operators in the SAIB.

Zenith Aircraft Company is very pleased to be able to offer the Upgrade Package kit to all builders and owners of the Zodiac CH 601 XL / CH 650 aircraft, and we are fully endorsing the upgrade. Since its announcement, our many builders and owners have been very supportive of this upgrade; it will provide them with the full confidence to resume flying and enjoying their aircraft that only a significantly “over-built” design can offer.

Since the SAIB was issued, we have begun installing them on our Zodiac XL demonstrator aircraft. (It may be interesting to note that this demonstrator aircraft was built in 2001 and has logged well over 1,000 hours as a factory demonstrator and test aircraft; and as we have installed the Upgrade Package we have found this original aircraft to be in excellent condition – with expected normal wear and tear). We are documenting installation of the Upgrade Package to develop detailed assembly instructions (including comprehensive videos) and to validate the drawings and parts, and we are sharing this online as we progress (See my daily blog posts at: www.zenith.aero).

We have also been very active in sharing information about the Upgrade Package and in answering builder and owner questions. We have published an online “Q&A with Chris Heintz” document on our website (www.zenithair.com), and have been posting answers to questions on Zenith.Aero, the companion website to the Zenair Newsletter. Through the Newsletter and website we will provide builders and owners with guidance in installing the Upgrade Package, including distributing this information on video (DVD).

As of today, we are finalizing the Upgrade Package kit so that we can be ready to start shipping it to builders as soon as possible (within the next week or two). While I would love to offer this kit at no cost to all builders and owners, economic realities are forcing us to charge for this kit at our out-of-pocket cost: This will be less $500 per aircraft and will include full technical support to all our customers on the installation. This low cost may come as a pleasant surprise to many as we have been working tirelessly to make this readily available at minimal expense. I know that some owners may expect the Upgrade Package kit at no cost, but as a small kit airplane manufacturer, our business model is made up of paper-thin margins and there is no available product liability insurance to help out, and we simply do not have the cash flow to offer this as a free upgrade.

I am thankful that Chris Heintz has finalized the comprehensive upgrade package and that we can make it available promptly and affordably so that our many builders and owners may resume building or flying their aircraft with minimal delay and inconvenience. I am also very appreciative of the support and cooperation that we have received from our customers, whether current builders or longtime owners of a flying Zodiac. We are committed to supporting them so that they may get back to building and flying their aircraft as soon as practical.

Once installed, the Upgrade Package allows owners to resume full normal operations with their aircraft, and start flying once again with the confidence that the upgraded airplane has been significantly over-built, with margins well beyond required limits. Together with ongoing builder, owner and pilot education and training, we are assured that the Upgrade Package will restore confidence in this popular plane, as it will undoubtedly be the most tested and proven light sport aircraft in existence.

Quality Sport Planes, representing Zenith aircraft on the west coast, is offering a free two-day seminar at their facility in Cloverdale, California this weekend (Nov 21-22) where they will undertake the retrofit on a customer’s flying CH 601 XL. All are welcome to attend.  www.qualitysportplanes.com/qsp-2006_004.htm

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