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Don't Build a Zenith STOL CH 701!

Originally appeared in Zenair News #183, March-April 2011
By Bob Jones, Big Lake, Alaska

Zenith flightline
Zenith flightline at the Quality Sport Planes Open House & Fly-In, Mother’s Day weekend 2011

Whoa, I bet that title will get the attention of Sebastien and the boys at Zenith Aircraft. There’s a good reason for that statement, but it should actually read, “Don’t build a 701, unless you want to use it for what it’s capable of!”

I built my first 701 in the 1990s, and according to my logbook, I now have in excess of 1,350 landings. And no, they weren’t short demo flights – they were mostly for hunting, fishing, and backwoods exploring. The honest truth is, there’s no other plane that will do what the 701 will do, for price, durability, and capability. I can hear the arguments already, so let’s set some criteria.

To beat the 701, a plane will have to:

  1. land on a logging road with trees only 30 feet apart
  2. take off on floats in less than 3.5 seconds
  3. cruise at 85 mph
  4. burn less than 4.5 gallons/hour of automobile fuel
  5. be legally flown by sport pilots
  6. carry two people side by side
  7. carry a payload of 500-plus pounds
  8. take off anyplace it will land
  9. have all-aluminum construction
  10. be built with floats, wheels, and skis for less than $40,000
  11. carry a minimum of 20 gallons of fuel
  12. have folding wings, tundra tires, and true STOL capability
  13. have a kit construction time of less than 400 hours.

Specifications

STOL CH 701

Wingspan

27 feet

8.2 meters

Wing area

122 square feet

11.4 meters²

Length

20 feet, 11 inches

6.38 meters

Height (rudder tip)

8 feet, 7 inches

2.6 meters

Empty weight

580 pounds

263 kilograms

Gross weight

1,100 pounds

500 kilograms

Useful load

520 pounds

236 kilograms

Wing loading

9.0 pounds/feet²

43.8 meters²

Power loading

13.75 pounds/bhp

6.25 kilograms/bhp

Design load factor (ultimate)

+6g/-3g

Cabin width (shoulders)

40 inches

100 centimeters

Cabin width (optional bubble doors)

44 inches

110 centimeters

Fuel capacity (std., dual wing tanks)

20 U.S. gallons
(2 x 10 gallons)

76 liters
(2 x 38 liters)



CH 701 Performance

Rotax 912 (80 hp)

Rotax 912S (100 hp)

 

Single

Dual

Single

Dual

Top speed (mph)

85

85

95

95

Cruise, sea level (mph)

80

80

85

85

75% cruise at 8,000 feet (approximate true airspeed)

92

92

98

98

Redline (mph)

110

110

110

110

Stall (mph)

28

30

28

30

Rate of climb (feet/minute)

1,100

1,000

1,200

1,100

Takeoff roll (feet)

60

115

50

90

Landing roll (feet)

80

140

80

140

Service ceiling (feet)

13,000+

12,000+

15,000+

12,000+

Range (miles)

372

372

350

350

Endurance 

4.6 hours

4.6 hours

4.1 hours

4.1 hours

3-view.jpg

I have people contact me from all over the world and ask me about the plane, and my answers are always the same. I’ve probably promoted the sale of about 30 planes and discouraged about as many people for the simple reason that it’s a very specific piece of equipment. If all your friends are building RVs, then build an RV, unless you think you will tire of airport-only operations or want to talk about places they can’t land.

Okay, now which airplanes can even come close to meeting this list? How about the Savannah VG? It looks like a 701; it goes faster, but the leading edge slats have been replaced with vortex generators. And although the specs for the Savannah state a slower stall speed, the takeoff and landing distances are longer than the 701. Also, the rate of climb isn’t as brisk as the 701.

Does any of this matter? It does to me. I don’t have to share my favorite little lake with Savannah owners. The Savannah can’t get in or out. How about putting dual sticks in the 701 like those in the Savannah, as opposed to the 701’s shared center stick? That’s great until you try getting in with waders or snowmobile boots on. The answer to that is, don’t go fishing on floats or skis.

There’s good reason the 701 is now flown for famine relief in Africa, pipeline patrol in Saudi Arabia, game preserve enforcement on the Serengeti, and highway patrol in Wisconsin. It’s literally a flying Jeep. It’s an ugly little plane, and you won’t see many at Oshkosh, probably because they’re out working. It’s not a hangar queen; it doesn’t matter how much pretty paint you put on it, and it’s not going to fly faster or work harder. Maximum performance is just that.

I like sitting on a pothole-sized lake, catching trout and watching the competition circle. Thankfully they’re smart enough not to try to land, because cell phones don’t work down there and the only way out for them is via helicopter. My good friend’s Robinson R44 helicopter takes longer than 3.5 seconds to spool up – much less to take off on floats, but then his takeoff run is a lot shorter.

The next time someone tells you he has a true bush plane, look for brush scratches, gravel pitting, smashed bugs, and a few dings, and underneath all that will more than likely be a 701.

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