It’s here! After three long days of travel, I have my ZODIAC CH 650 kit from Zenith Aircraft.
The plan was to travel to the Zenith Aircraft facility in Mexico, MO where I would pick up the kit and drive it home to San Diego in a Penske moving van. I am pleased to report that the trip went as planned. Best of all, so far it seems that I evaded the scourge of COVID-19 that upended the world in 2020.
The pandemic transformed otherwise unremarkable commercial air travel into an exhausting nonstop exercise in vigilance. I decided to travel by air (United) after the New Years holiday weekend. Thus, the flight from San Diego to Chicago O’Hare was completely full. Everyone I observed appeared to be correctly wearing an appropriate mask and the plane appeared very clean. In contrast, the quick hop to Columbia, MO from O’Hare was not nearly as reassuring to this cautious traveler. Most of the travelers appeared to be young (college students?) and adherence to facial covering requirements was lax. The flight attendant on the small regional jetliner was extremely concerned about proper safety belt usage and adamantly opposed use of cellular phones but paid no attention to the chin diapers on several young deviants.
The approach and landing at O’Hare was stunning to this CAVU VFR pilot. On approach while still above the clouds, the low overcast ceiling covering the windy city was illuminated by a setting sun in the west. O’Hare was landing to the west with typical winter weather. We broke out of the clouds so low and I could barely see the lights on the buildings directly below us. At landing the weather was somewhere between these METARs:
SPECI KORD 042211Z 23006KT 2SM BR OVC003 M01/M03 A2991 RMK AO2 T10111028=
METAR KORD 042251Z 22004KT 1 3/4SM R10L/5500VP6000FT -SN BR OVC002 M02/M03 A2992 RMK AO2 SNB49 SLP141 P0000 T10171033=
The next morning I woke early and picked up a Penske truck in Columbia. I was warned ahead of time that I would likely get a 16 foot truck despite requesting a 12 foot truck. Apparently Amazon Prime’s delivery service is so desperate for trucks that it has all the Penske 12 foot trucks on reserve. As I expected, I took the keys to a huge 16 foot truck and drove the 45 minutes to Mexico, MO.
At Zenith Aircraft, I was greeted by the office staff and set up with a demo ride. But first I paid the remaining balance on my invoice. Roger showed me the factory 650 and we went up for a quick ride. Meanwhile, my kit was loaded into the truck.
The demo ride reinforced my choice of the CH 650. The cockpit was spacious with a magnificent 360 degree view courtesy of the bubble canopy. The UL Power 350is ran smoothly and rather quietly compared to the loud Skyhawks I fly. Ground handling was simple. For a normal takeoff, the acceleration was reminiscent of a sports car! We effortlessly lifted into the air and then leveled off. Roger got us to a fast cruise speed and trimmed the plane for level flight using the elevator and aileron trim tabs. Controls were light and responsive as has been mentioned elsewhere. On short final, the visibility over the nose provided a clear view of the runway and surroundings. Upon flaring, the nose was high enough to obstruct forward vision but again the superb visibility from the canopy allowed us to see the side of the runway for a smooth landing. I look forward to flying my own example of the CH 650.
Two observations from the demo ride:
- At least while on the ground, the air in the cockpit seemed to be tainted by the exhaust fumes or some other slightly unpleasant smell.
- The bubble canopy will require lots of attention to maintain its condition and avoid cracks or scratches.
Zenith did a great job packing all the parts into the truck. I must admit that my first reaction upon looking in the truck was, “Where is everything? Did they only pack a couple subassemblies?” In reality, Zenith packs efficiently. In retrospect, I want a lightweight aircraft so I guess the less the better.
I had already driven to San Diego once before when I first moved there from Indiana. This time around, the drive was just as pleasant except for the sun setting earlier and the louder cabin of a box truck.