Born in a garage, but now all the world is a market for Zenair Limited: A look at the Cold War era designs of Christophe Jean Heintz, Part 2

A Zenair CH-701 manufactured under license by Czech Aircraft Works Společnost s ručenim omezeným, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 2011. Wikimedia.

Hello again, my reading friend whose health and well-being concerns me. How are you?

Would you by any chance be ready to take up the thread of our overview of the activities of Zenair Limited, one of the giants in the design of homebuilt aircraft in Canada, if not North America? Wunderbar.

A Colombian firm founded by a gentleman mentioned in the first part of this article, Máximo “Max” Tedesco, in 1971, Agrocopteros Limitada, assembled 10 or so kits of Zenair homebuilt aircraft in the early 1980s. Between 1985 and 2003, the same firm manufactured under license the MXP-740 and -750 Savannah, derived from the Zenair CH-701, as well as the MXP-640 and -650 Amigo, derived from the Zenair CH-600 / 601 Zodiac. Business was so good for Agrocopteros that it became Technologias Aeronáuticas Sociedad Anónima in 1998. These firms produced approximately 250 Savannahs for pilots in a number of countries.

The manufacturing outside of Canada of aircraft designed by Zenair did not stop there, however. Nay. A group of former Technologias Aeronáuticas employees founded Ultralivianos Ibis Limitada, today’s Ibis Aircraft Sociedad Anónima, in 1990. The young Colombian firm subsequently manufactured a clone of the Savannah, the Magic – to Tedesco’s great chagrin. Copies of this aircraft flew / fly in 20 or so countries in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Yours truly does not know the number of Magics produced by this firm before it moved on. Ibis Aircraft may still exist as of 2020.

In the Czech Republic, Kappa 77 Společnost Společnost s ručenim omezeným began producing a clone of the CH-701 around 1993. This Kappa 1 was seemingly not produced in large numbers.

The Italian firm DEA Società a Responsabilità Limitata began work on a clone of the CH-701, the Yuma, in 1994. Some people considered the aircraft to be somewhat imperfect. Alisport Società a Responsabilità Limitata absorbed DEA around 2005 and maintained production of the Yuma until around 2014. Yours truly does not know the number of aircraft produced by these firms.

In 1997, Zenith Aircraft signed an agreement with Czech Aircraft Works Společnost s ručenim omezeným, a firm founded by American Chip R. Erwin, for the licensed production of the Zodiac and CH-701 in the Czech Republic. The Czech firm later designed an agricultural version of the CH-701. The agreement between Czech Aircraft Works and Zenair was abrogated in 2006. I do not know the number of aircraft produced by this firm, which went bankrupt in early 2009.

Aware of the potential of the aircraft of the aforementioned Technologias Aeronáuticas, their Italian concessionaire and a CH-701 concessionaire during the 1980s, ICP Società a Responsabilità Limitata, signed a contract with a Slovakian firm in the late 1990s. Eko-Flug Spoločnosť s Ručenim Obmedzeným was committed to making clones of the aforementioned Savannah, known as the Savannah and Bingo. This more or less legal production, linked to that of clones of the aforementioned Amigos, dealt a fatal blow to Technologias Aeronáuticas.

ICP, a firm involved in automobile construction, subsequently began manufacturing the Savannah and Bingo, as well as the Super Bingo – and the aforementioned Amigo. The production of the Savannah and of a derivative, the Vimana, apparently continued in Italy as of 2020. Over the years, the firm shipped more than 1 600 kits and airworthy aircraft to more than 30 countries in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Despite this success, it looks as if the performance of at least some ICP aircraft was / is somewhat inferior to that of the CH-701.

At the end of 2000, the Raashtreey Kaidet Kor, the Indian national cadet corps, signed a contract for 85 CH-701s, with option for 48 others. It planned to use these aircraft at nearly 50 airports to increase the potential number of student pilots for the Indian air force, the Bhaarateey Vaayu Sena. An Indian firm, Agni Aero Sports Adventure Academy (Private) Limited, ultimately assembled approximately 105 aircraft.

In Brazil, Aero Bravo Indústria Aeronáutica Limitada began production of an ICP Savannah clone, the Bravo 700, at an undetermined date. An agricultural version followed but may not have been produced. The firm may have disappeared between 2015 and 2020. I do not know the number of aircraft produced by Aero Bravo Indústria Aeronáutica.

A Polish firm, Przedsiębiorstwo Produkcyjno-Usługowe DCF Spółka cywilna, launched another clone of the CH-701 around 2002. This Trophy / Aerotrophy TT-2000 was produced in small numbers. The firm may have disappeared between 2015 and 2020.

Back home after having worked for the aforementioned DEA, a French engineer and, it seems, representative of the firm in France, founded Espace Liberté Société à Responsabilité Limitée. Charles Guérin began working on an improved derivative of the aforementioned Yuma around 2002. A prototype of this G1 flew around 2003. Faced with serious financial problems, the firm closed its doors in early 2006 after having completed 20 or so G1s.

Around 2004, SkyKits Corporation of High River, Alberta began to assemble and / or manufacture airworthy ICP Savannahs. These aircraft were sometimes renamed Rampage for the American market. Aware that most of its customers were American and disappointed by the lack of federal / provincial government support, the firm gradually moved its activities to the United States from 2008 onward and inaugurated a factory in 2010. SkyKits began manufacturing derivatives of the Savannah, the Spirit and Vision, but seemed to disappear around 2012. Yours truly does not know the number of aircraft produced by SkyKits.

Following the disappearance of Technologias Aeronáuticas, the aforementioned Tedesco founded AeroAndina Sociedad Anónima around 2003-04. This firm manufactured the aforementioned Savannah, as well as the equally aforementioned Amigo. It apparently still produced them in 2020. Again, yours truly does not know the number of aircraft produced by this firm.

Around 2005, Kompaniya “Griffon Aero” began production of a clone of the CH-701, the Griffon 100. As well, this small Russian firm began to assemble and / or manufacture the Ibis Magic around 2010. This production may be continuing as of 2020. I do not know the number of aircraft produced by this firm.

Around 2005-06, the German dealer for the Zodiac and CH-701 began to produce its own versions of these aircraft, the Roland Z 601 and STOL 701 D Sky Jeep. Zenair and Roland Aircraft Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung having amicably (?) terminated, in September 2008, the agreement which bound them, the latter launched the production of modified versions of these aircraft, the Z-602 and the Z STOL, later renamed S STOL. Roland Aircraft still manufactured these aircraft in 2020. Yours truly does not know the number of aircraft produced by this firm.

Around March / April 2006, Serge Présent, an industrialist who worked in metallurgy and himself a pilot of an Espace Liberté G1, launched G1 Aviation Société par actions simplifiée. The firm introduced no less than 5 new versions of the G1 between 2006 and 2012, including one on floats and another, agricultural, the G1 Grive. G1 Aviation sold both kits and airworthy aircraft. It should be noted that the Grive was perhaps developed in partnership with an African firm specializing in aerial spraying. G1 Aviation still existed as of 2020. Approximately 160 G1s, all versions included, flew / fly in at least 10 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Between 2005 and 2010, BRM Costruções Aeronáuticas Limitada launched the production of ICP Savannah clones, the Okavango, Land Africa and Citius. Outraged by this action, ICP may have sued the small Portuguese firm. Such an action leaves one speechless given the fact that the Savannah was itself a more or less legally produced clone of the CH-701. It should be noted that the Okavango, Land Africa and Citius may still be in production in 2020. Yours truly does not know the number of aircraft produced by BRM Costruções Aeronáuticas.

A Ghanaian organization, West African Aviation Solutions and Provider of Services, assembled a few CH-701 kits sent by Zenith Aircraft in the late 2000s or early 2010s. The first female pilot in this country, Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi, acquired practical experience in aircraft assembly there. A non-governmental organisation, Medicine on the Move, used at least one CH-701 in West Africa.

And now for something completely different.

Witness to the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd present during the 1981 edition of the EAA Annual Convention and Fly-In following the demonstration flights of 2 aerobatic pilots from France, Zenair acquired the global production rights for the Colomban MC-10 Cri- Cri ultralight aircraft, the smallest twin-engine aircraft in the world, tested in July 1973. The aircraft manufacturer adapted this very economical French single-seat aircraft to North American standards, thus giving birth to the MC-12 Cricket. Zenair sold kits from the beginning of 1982 onward. For at least a certain time, certain parts of the aircraft came from France, however.

And yes, the EAA Annual Convention and Fly-In was mentioned in the first part of this article.

The Ontario government was so impressed by Zenair and the Cricket that it invited the firm to exhibit the first aircraft of its type in its pavilion at the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, or Expo 86, in Vancouver, British Columbia – a world fair mentioned in the first part of this article. A Toronto homebuilder assembled another Cricket on the fair site. Zenair produced the last Cricket kit around 1987-88.

I note that the Canadian and American civil aircraft registers mentioned less than 5 (airworthy?) Crickets in 2020.

Around 1983, the aircraft manufacturer designed an unmanned aircraft based on the Cricket. A prototype flew in Texas with a pilot on board. Zenair subsequently sold 2 of these radio controlled unpiloted aerial vehicles / remotely piloted vehicles to a government agency in Qatar which used them for pipeline monitoring.

The firm later developed an original unpiloted aerial vehicle, the RPV-007, named after the famous fictional British secret agent, James Bond, created by Ian Lancaster Fleming. A prototype may have flown in the second half of the 1980s. And yes, Bond was mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since May 2018. Fleming, for its part, was mentioned in May 2018 and September 2019 issues of this same publication.

Let us note in passing that the Fédération aéronautique internationale, the Paris-based world governing body for all manners of aeronautical records mentioned many times in our you know what, and this since January 2018, awarded an honorary degree to Zenair (or Heintz?) in 1995. In 1999, Heintz became a member of the EAA Sport Aviation Hall of Fame. He appears to be the first Canadian, and the only one in 2020, unless I am mistaken, to receive this honor.

Heintz officially retired in 2006, but remains just as fascinated by aviation as ever.

With more than 10 000 kits sold since the 1970s by Zenair and Zenith Aircraft and approximately 4 000 projects completed, the CH-200 Zenith, CH-300 Tri-Z, CH-60/600/601 Zodiac and CH-701, and later machines, are among the most successful Canadian / North American amateur-built aircraft of the 20th century.

In fact, the CH-701 is the most copied Canadian aircraft in the world, if not one of the most copied aircraft in the history of humankind. Over the years, at least 22 firms or organisations located in at least 15 countries in Africa (Ghana), America (Brazil, Canada, Colombia and the United States), Asia (India) and Europe (Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia and Slovakia) assembled and / or manufactured this aircraft and / or its derivatives, more or less legally in many cases.

Would I dare to say that, given the number of its derivatives around the world, the CH-701 was manufactured in greater numbers than any other Canadian aircraft? Yes, yes, I dare.

Yours truly also dares to suggest that the incomparable collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, should perhaps include a CH-701 with an interesting career. Just sayin’.

Take good care of yourself.

This writer wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.

P.S. The founder of Zenair, Christophe Jean Heintz, died in April 2021, at age 82. He will be missed.

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Rénald Fortier