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Learn, Build, Fly — An EAA Chapter 1410 High River Initiative
By Jack Dueck, EAA Lifetime 337912
March 2019 - There must be a thousand or more amateur-built aircraft projects out there where the building process has stalled due to financial, health, or loss-of-license circumstances.
There are also thousands of individuals who have dreamed of flying but to whom the opportunity to learn to fly or build their own airplane seems completely improbable.
How do we connect these two groups?
Members of EAA Chapter 1410 High River are doing just this. We have purchased a partially completed, amateur-built aircraft kit, and have assembled a group of enthusiastic builders. We are learning to build, we are building, and we intend to fly this aircraft in our own flying club, formed from these members.
The aircraft is a Zodiac 601 XL. This aircraft, designed by Chris Heintz, has enjoyed widespread popularity. The Aircraft Manufacturing & Development Company (AMD) led by Mathieu Heintz began building this aircraft with IFR capability in Eastman, Georgia, while another company owned by the Heintz family manufactures the Zodiac 601 XL kits for the amateur-built category in Mexico, Missouri. Many hundreds of these aircraft have been put into service in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe.
Zenair was founded in Canada by Chris Heintz in 1974 and still functions as the original company, Zenair Ltd., with a base in Midland, Ontario, at Huronia Airport (CYEE). You can read more about the Canadian operation here by clicking on the Zenair Canada tab. The U.S.-based Zenith Aircraft Company was founded as an independent operation in Mexico, Missouri, in 1992. — Ed.
The aircraft is a two-place, side-by-side, low-wing, all-metal construction. It is light enough to fit into the U.S. light-sport aircraft category as well as similar categories in Europe and in the United Kingdom. In its kit form, it is easy to build, with all the parts manufactured to exact dimensions by CNC punch technology. In addition, it uses blind-rivet fasteners, pulled by a Chris Heintz modified rivet puller, giving the rivet increased strength.
Nevertheless, this aircraft has had a troubled history. Starting in late 2005 a series of Zodiac 601 XLs crashed, resulting in multiple deaths. Not all accidents were observed, but those that were indicated a breakup of the aircraft in level flight under normal flight conditions.
In 2006 the FAA started to monitor the aircraft, resulting in an investigative team being formed in 2009. And on November 12, 2009, the FAA suspended issuing new airworthiness approvals for the subject aircraft. The authorities in the United Kingdom and Europe followed suit.
The FAA could not find a single definitive cause of the failures, but instead implicated the potential combination of several design and operational aspects. The complete FAA report can be found here.
In 2009 Chris re-analyzed the wing structure, and developed and incorporated modifications to address flutter concerns including balancing the ailerons. It is understood that there have been no structural failures on any of the 601 XLs (now called the 601 XL-B) that have incorporated these modifications.
Zenith offers the parts for the modification for about US$350 to builders, but does not cover the labour costs involved. This is a major problem for completed aircraft because it basically requires the aircraft to be torn apart and rebuilt.
Our aircraft is a Zodiac 601 XL, serial No. 7390, and is clearly indicated to be in the above group. The builder started this project just before the problems started. He purchased the mod kit and started to incorporate these components into his building process. Life got in the way as his new business quickly grew, and the kit was put away for a future date. This is where we came in. We acquired the kit and took stock of our components. Only one wing needs to be taken apart for the modification, so we benefit from the timely acquisition.
The concept is tailored after the program initiated by EAA for American members. This concept has been modified for Canadian EAA members by Jack Neima of the EAA Canadian Council. By connecting EAA chapter members to partially build, or restore aircraft, these members learn all about building, owning, and flying their own aircraft. EAA chapters can build an aircraft, but their insurance prohibits them from flying the completed aircraft. However, EAA chapter members can form their own flying club as a separate organization. By trading sweat equity in the building program of the aircraft, these members now own a completed flying aircraft. For information on how your chapter can follow suit, contact Jack.
Our build members include three seasoned builders and six and one-half newbies. Seasoned builders include: Vance Lucas, EAA 1037086; Doug Eaglesham, EAA 1060932; and me. Newbies include: Ron Gardiner; Jeff Ogilvie; Sukhman Singh, EAA 1304426; Kelvin Downs, EAA 1305615; Debra Dueck, EAA Lifetime 1151896; and Kent Barlow, EAA Lifetime 750213, along with his daughter, Lucy.
Our first group meeting was held on Saturday, February 9, which introduced the interested members to each other, to the concept, to the aircraft, and to a general get-together feel of it all.
Then on February 16, we started the project. We divided into two groups. Vance (a seasoned Zenith 750 builder) took the leadership of one group and began the construction of the rudder, and Jack (sheet metal builder) took the leadership of the other, working on the right-hand aileron together with the upgrade modification. Like every building program, everyone was quickly engrossed in the work, enjoying the comradeship. Lucy was especially adept at handling the Cleco operation. (What a great way to spend time with your 13-year-old daughter!)
Our plan is to learn the basics of an aircraft by researching information, learning the required building skills, building the aircraft, and then forming the flying club. Nonpilot members will be able to learn to fly, and experienced pilots will be able to advance their training or enjoy the use of an amateur-built aircraft at very reasonable hourly rates. We will learn how to operate an organization’s financial requirements and service and maintain the aircraft. But above all, we want to come through this process with the great feeling of friendship and achievement. As Paul Poberezny so often said: “It’s the airplanes that bring us together, but it’s the people that keep us together.” Well said, Paul!