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The Story of a Zodiac CH 601
By Chad Scriver, EAA 1109503
August 12, 2014 - I had been an Air Cadet as a kid, and my first ride in a Cessna 152 at Trent Air Aviation on my 13th birthday had me hooked. As time went on and life became more complex, I took another leap of faith; I tried my hand at the ultralight scene up in Barrie. I flew throughout the summer but always felt that I didn’t know enough to be shooting around the skies in a plane. So, that kind of put a damper on all things aviation. I didn’t have the money to pay for a private pilot licence, so the dream was put on the back burner.
In 2009, my daughter was born. She became my focus of everything for me; we used to make airplane noises together. I would fly her around the house and take her to air shows. We developed a very deep bond.
I decided one day to try to approach the licence issue again, and I went to a flight school at the local airport. I signed up and got my first flight, but that was my only flight…the reason: instructor shortages!
There I was, dream crushed again. Every night, I would sing to my little girl before she went to sleep: “Hush little baby don’t say a word, daddy’s gonna buy you a mocking bird / and if that mocking bird don’t sing, daddy’s gonna buy you an aeroplane / and you and daddy will fly so high, high up in that big blue sky!” It put her to sleep every time and made me want even more to do this for her.
Well, life throws curveballs. In February 2010, my marriage ended. The intense pain of that time was an important motivator in my decision to fly: Maybe it was time to chase some dreams. I said to myself “I am making this happen! Off I go!” I flew almost every single day, sometimes two times a day, other times three. I went at it with a passion and I did well. From the very first to the very last flight, I took off and landed, and my instructor never once had to take control from me.
I started in August 2011, soloed October 18 of the same year, and was fully licensed on August 8, 2012. I made it! It wasn’t easy, but I did it. On my written test I scored a 98 percent overall, and on my flight test I scored a 97 percent. I managed to take Aviana flying a few months after, but she was still pretty small. She looked nervous, yet I knew as she looked at me that she trusted me…and we were off!
So time passed and eventually I came across an ad on Barnstormers.com for a Zenair Zodiac CH 601 XL. Bravo mod done! Bravo mod? What’s that? So I researched and researched. It had a Rotax 912S in it, and I knew that motor from my ultralight flying days. Could this be the airplane?
The price was affordable. No paint, but I could live with that. Well, my dad and I went to Ottawa, deposit in hand to look at it. Keep in mind, there was no one with Zodiac experience that would look at it for me. So, another leap of faith…I didn’t know airplanes well; but I’m pretty mechanical and I know what safe and built proper looks like.
Dad and I drove up there, and I was happy with what I saw. I gave the vendor a deposit on the condition that he fly it to me as soon as he could. (If it made it from Ottawa to Oshawa, then it will be safe, someone said to me. We chuckled about that.) It was getting late in the year (September) and the weather wasn’t cooperating.
Finally a window opened up, and the airplane arrived, complete with radio problems. Great…here we go! He barely got into Oshawa because of the radio issue. I began to feel discouraged, and what crossed my mind next was, who the heck is going to teach me how to fly this thing? Luckily there was a man I befriended through the RAA Oshawa chapter named Ed McDiarmid. He had the same exact airplane, only with a Jabiru engine and paint.
He was gracious enough to let me fly with him for three hours. It was a tricky little plane compared to a 152, but not scary - just different. I wasn’t sure I’d love it. I’m not big on change. Well, C-GYXQ, my very own airplane, sat there at Oshawa at the Canadian Flight Academy for almost a year.
I found a lot of little issues that needed to be repaired, so I tinkered from October to the next spring, May 20 to be exact. You see, the insurance company demanded 5 hours with a licensed flight instructor to be covered, and the instructor had to be experienced on this airplane. Guess what? There is no such thing in this part of Canada!
After many phone calls, they allowed George Nelson from the Canadian Flight Academy to do it. He’s got somewhere close to 25,000 hours single engine, so this man is a legend. On May 20, 2013, we went flying. On our first flight, something was wrong: The prop (we hoped, rather than something worse) was causing a bad vibration, and so we landed immediately.
It was a GSC wooden prop, and it had just endured a winter outdoors; so that had to be it. We changed the prop (beginning of airplane ownership) for a 68-inch, three-blade Warp Drive and off we went again, problem solved. We flew those 5 hours off like it wasn’t even a chore. It was done and signed off before we knew it.
I remember my first solo and cannot describe the feeling of flying your own airplane! I didn’t have to sign out, brief, or anything, just go. I flew and flew and flew, every morning before work, fixing problems that popped up here and there. The airplane had sat for many years, so things began to break down - seals, hoses, etc.
I also noticed a lack of proper paperwork such as a pilot’s operating handbook, and sloppy maintenance and journey log organization. So I created and cleaned up the paperwork. I realized it never had a pitot-static test or any of the requisite mandatory items. I’m a stickler, so I spent some more money and got it completely legal.
After last summer, I had accrued close to 100 hours but wasn’t happy with all the little things that kept breaking, so I decided to bring her home for the winter and fix these items. I really wanted paint. But the cheapest I could get a quote for was $10,000 and that seemed ridiculous. Overhearing me talk about this paint thing one day, my stepdad piped up and said, “You get a painter - I’ll get you the paint.” He owns his own company, and it turns out he is tied in with DuPont!
I asked how much the paint would cost, and he kept telling me not to worry. In the end, “the boys” over at DuPont took a special interest in my project and formulated the best paint money could buy. Forty-year guarantee with this system! Three stages. Single-stage paint. I could never get the truth out of him about the cost of the paint.
Word spread, and before I knew it, I was meeting with Blair Decker, a superb painter and whom I now consider a friend. I told him the story and that money was an issue. He took the job! I will feel forever indebted to him. So we got the plane painted, and what a mess.
Acid etching took days, then he sprayed a Metalok (like Alodine) primer that eats into the metal, followed by DuPont DTM epoxy primer.
Then the beauty comes next: DuPont Imron Elite series single stage. I was always a skeptic of single stage, but…wow. Months later the Zodiac still looks wet. What a shine!
Getting the plane to and from all these locations was a challenge, too, as the landing gear was too wide for any trailer out there. I ended up using a flatbed tow truck and made a lot of trips. So, airplane painted, homebound it went, into a single-car garage. It was tight, but all of the airplane fit, wings and all. I ordered a custom interior from Flightcrafters in Florida, new tires, brakes, bearings - if it could be changed, I changed it.
I spent about $8,000 in parts alone. (The good folks at Aircraft Spruce actually recognize my voice now when I call.) New sending units, new sensors, new everything. I wanted this to be perfect when it went back to the airport in the spring. One thing I have to mention is the unbelievable support, encouragement, and help that I received from Zenair. They helped me every which way and fielded literally hundreds of phone calls from me. Michael Heintz had patience with me, as I’m sure I would have cursed me if I was him. Thanks also to Cleo, who helped with the technical stuff, and a very warm thanks to Travis of Kobush Welding in Mexico, Missouri, who custom fabricated me a complete new exhaust system practically blind that fit like a glove.
I’m proud to say Zenair originated as a Canadian company, and I am flying a Canadian-designed airplane. I would say I have more than 300 hours of work in this little bird since just the beginning of winter, working almost around the clock sometimes.
So the day came when I was at the airport, and the Canadian Flight Academy mechanics that took her apart told me, “You better hurry and get her back here. We are really slow right now, and if you miss this window, you might be waiting a month or more.” “But I’m not ready!” I said. They laughed: “No one is ever ready, and there is always something missed. But you are there - get her here!”
And the journey began again. I still had a bunch of vinyl graphics that needed to be done to finish off the paint job, too. Another great connection I made, Rob TenWesteneind of graphics company 10West, showed up the day of assembly and worked around all of us reassembling her. His job was meticulous, and in my opinion, he made it pop in a way I’d never imagined!
It took us two full days to get her back together, running into issues here and there. Flap motor problems showed up which were fixed. Here is where the luck hits an all-time high: We did the weight and balance, and the airplane only gained 12 pounds – from 783 pounds to 795 pounds. That’s it!
How is this possible you say? I took out 37 pounds of interior that was made out of ultraheavy memory foam. I also went to a lighter battery and removed a few small useless items. It’s amazing what little changes like that can do! There’s so much paint it had to add a lot of weight!
So now this is effectively a new airplane. It now requires a full test flight. I’ve talked to the tower staff already, and they are expecting me any day now. I will stay overhead the airport, CYOO, Oshawa, remaining in the control zone for several flights until I know I don’t have any leaks or any other more serious issues.
I want to thank all those that I’ve mentioned who helped make this dream a reality. It took a team of people from start to finish, including my sister and business partner April, but most of all, thank you, Aviana-Juliet. This is all for you. You are my inspiration. I love you!