Zenith Aircraft Open House


Here are a few photos and thoughts from last week’s Zenith open house celebrating 20 years of operation in Mexico, MO. (Zenith has been in operation more than 30 years, but was based in Canada for the first years.) After I took them, I realized that almost all of them were shots of people. This is fair enough, because in the real measure, homebuilding is about people and their hard work to achieve something extraordinary in their lives, people un willing to settle for what others will accept.

This month marks 9 years since Grace and myself bought our 601XL kit from the factory. When it flew several months later, we started the era of ‘Zeniths powered by Corvairs’, something we shortened to “Zen-Vair.” The years since have seen almost 60 more Zeniths take to the air with Corvair power. We now have another 50-60 aircraft that could fly in a year, and a completion rate that is close to one every 12 days. It is a success story make possible by Zenith providing outstanding designs that are well supported. Choosing an airframe is something of a marriage between the builder and the factory. In the case of Zenith, they have a long track record of successfully working with builders of all experience levels. They are one of the longest lasting and most stable companies in our industry, and as one of their builders, I will gladly say that they are first class people to work with.

Some people show up everywhere. Albert and Dan Glaze have been to the last half-dozen Corvair Colleges, a number of airshows and several Zenith open houses. Dan’s engine ran at Corvair College #20 in Michigan last year. Yet he and Albert return to events to give back a little more than they received, a common thread in the Corvair movement. These two long time friends have an ongoing comedy routine like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Dan’s aircraft is a 750. he is now past the 75% mark, and having the engine done and running is a lot better feeling than having a big expense looming in the future.

650 builder and pilot Dave Gardiea. His aircraft was the polished one with the red nosebowl.  Dave’s plane has also been seen at Oshkosh, and is another outstanding example of the breed. Although I like pretty much anyone into homebuilts, Dave is a good example of the self-reliant, thinking kind of builder that we attract to Corvairs, easy people to admire and get along with. At first glance, builders considering engine choices often compare weights and prices. truthfully, finding the best match for your plane is much more about your personal goals in homebuilding. For people who want to know everything about their aircraft, on both sides of the firewall, we have the Corvair.

Delton Perry and his better half. He is closing in on finishing his Zenith. Last year, at College #21, Delton ran his magnificent engine. A life long mechanic, his powerplant displayed a very high level of detail and gave a very smooth test run.

Sebastien speaking at friday night’s dinner. He made sure to personally thank his staff for the success of the factory. When he recounted how long each of the people had worked there, it stood in contrast to many other aviation companies that go through employees like water, unable to generate stability nor loyalty required to attract and keep a first class staff like Zenith’s.

Craig and Valerie Westedt.  The both came to Corvair College #22 in Texas and CC#23 in Florida earlier this year. Craig is quick to point out that the project is actually Valerie’s build, he is playing the support role.  At the Zenith dinner Valerie won a deluxe VIP Oshkosh Package from the EAA’s president, Rod Hightower. It included an up close parking pass. All the Corvair builders who have met Valerie understood she isn’t going to need the parking pass, as she is determined to fly into Airventure.

Lynn Dingfelder’s 601XL(B). This is the first time I have seen his plane since he flew it into Corvair College#20. The engine is a 2700cc power plant with a Dan bearing and an Elison EFS-3A carb.

Shane and Phyllis McDaniel stand in front of their 650, which was the first amature built 650 in the country. They brought it to Oshkosh to great praise, it is a outstanding example. They recently finished a 601XL, also Corvair powered, for a his and hers combination. They are both skilled builders and pilots. Both of their aircraft have 2700cc engine with Dan bearings and MA3-spa carbs.

Dr, Steve Minart, of Iowa, stands beside his 2700cc Corvair powered 601XL(B).  His aircraft was the 4th Corvair powered Zenith to arrive at this years event. Over the years we have had a steady stream of builders bring their Zeniths to Mexico, Colleges, Oshkosh and Sun n Fun. This is the best measure of success. Sales numbers mean little, I am in the game to get people flying.  Our Corvair program for Zeniths has been around a long time. On our 2005 Midwest Night School tour, one of the stops was Dr. Minarts home. Here today, gone tomorrow companies in experimental aviation have stolen more builders dreams than most people first guess. Few people understand that less than 10% of the firms in our industry 20 years ago are left. Even many of the familiar names went through ownership changes and bankruptcies, often at builder expense. Zenith’s record is a complete standout in our industry.


Above, Mark Petinunas of Falcon machine speaks with Lynn Dingfelder about Lynn’s 601. Mark ‘Petz’ is one of our Corvair All-stars. He came down to the open house to meet with builders and Deliver a 3,000cc Corvair that is destined to power Clark Taylor’s 601XL. Because we are primarily in the business of teaching people how to build their own engines, the Corvair All-Stars are all mechanics and builders, not sales people.

Above I stand beside Ray Huffman from Lexexa Kansas. who has a long personal history with aviation. I noticed his hat and asked him about it. I listened closely while he spoke of Flying Hellcats and Corsairs in WWII, and Banshees in Korea, including ditching in the sea of Japan and being rescued by a helicopter. He is 88 today. About 10 years ago he built and flew a 601.  It says a lot to me about the experience of homebuilding that a man who had flown the front line of aircraft in combat in his youth still found homebuilding a vital part of the panorama aviation, something he was unwilling to miss. 

Listening to this man will likely turn out to be the best hour I spent in aviation in 2012. In another decade, we will still honor the courage of aviators of the greatest generation, but they will be gone, and you will never again be able to listen to one of them while standing in the sun on the ramp at an airport. You will always be able to see a F4U or a F6F at Airventure, or read about the history, but these are just machines and books, and are not comparable to meeting the man. 99% of us will never see nor do the things this man has, but as fellow homebuilders you have some common ground with him, a connection that can give you slightly better perspective on his experience. I have casually wasted many hours in my life, but from 3 to 4 pm CST September 22, 2012, I spent one of my hours doing something very worthwhile.

Above, Gary Burdett with the 2,850cc Dan bearing engine we built for his 750. He picked it up at the open house. He is on the fast track to finish the plane and have it out for the 2013 flying season.  Our upcoming Corvair College #24 is an excellent place to make your own progress and lay the ground work for your own outstand year in 2013.-ww

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