By Mark W. Woodring, EAA 580088
This piece originally ran in the August 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
My first memories of flying was when I was very young. I was Superman. I ran around our backyard and had my very own bath towel cape pinned around my neck. I never got too far off the ground but spent a lot of time trying. I never lost the bug.
The first time I realized you might actually be able to build an airplane yourself was the time that Mechanix Illustrated published plans for a simple all wood primary glider. However, it was beyond my means, and I was a bit young to take on such a project.
My first serious flight time was during high school, I met Rudy Defrangia, who had a J-3, and for keeping it clean and cutting the grass in his tie-down spot, he taught me how to fly it. Thanks, Rudy, won’t ever forget those times.
It wasn’t until much later, when I got my seaplane rating, that I found my favorite type of flying. Despite being much older, any production seaplane was well beyond my means. I realized the only way to obtain my dream airplane was to build it.
I live in the Caribbean, so after much searching, I decided upon an all glass kit to avoid most of the corrosion issues of saltwater. I chose the Comp Air 4. I figured this four-place aircraft — with the weight of the floats — would end up being a two-place one with baggage.
The kit was well engineered, and within 18 months of spare time and weekends, it was finished. The kit has mods for a wide body, high gross weight, high horsepower, and high lift wings. It is powered by a Lycoming IO-540 and Hartzell constant-speed prop, 70 extra hp over the standard kit.
The aircraft was tied down at the airport and the DAR scheduled to come and do the airworthiness certificate inspection. A week before his arrival, disaster struck. A storm spawned a tornado and ripped it from its tiedowns; it was thrown up into an overhead wire and came smashing down onto the floats. Devastating. It was disassembled and moved back to my workshop, and eventually it was repaired, though the floats were toast. (Lacking the airworthiness certificate, no insurance was available in my area.)
I wanted to be on floats, but the float kit for the Comp Air was now near $30,000. The Comp Air had also turned out to be a much larger airplane than what I had envisioned. With a gross weight higher than a Cessna 206, it was quite formidable on floats.
It was decided to put the Comp Air back on conventional gear and use the money to buy a new, smaller kit. Having had impressive performance from ACF-50, an anticorrosion treatment, corrosion was no longer my major concern, so I chose the Zenith 701 on Zenair amphibious floats. I wanted to stay with a familiar engine, so I chose the Continental O-200 with a ground-adjustable Whirlwind prop as my power.
Twelve months later, the aircraft was completed. I made quite a few minor mods to increase strength and utility. Two major items were that all the wings, floats, etc. were painted on the inside prior to final assembly. Secondly, I installed a homemade tow hook on the tail. No, I am not going to try and tow banners, but during my float flying, I always found it a bit reckless to be driving around the lake, trying to check out the mags, etc. and at the same time watching where I was going — there’s no brakes on the water. Now, I tie a rope to a tree or a dock and properly test my mags, without going anywhere. When I am ready, one flip of a lever in the cockpit and I am free to taxi off.
On April 10, 2021, the DAR granted both aircraft their airworthiness certificates. What a great day it was to know what you had done passed inspection. My library is full of references and how-to manuals all bought through EAA. Without them, none of it would have been possible. Thanks to all involved.
I am currently waiting for space to install tiedowns at our ramp (it’s also hurricane season) and will be moving the Zenith to the airport to do its 40-hour flight testing. After which, I will be helping to promote mechanic and pilot training by building other kits on the island. The Comp Air will be next in line. My two airplanes are the first ever to be built in the country and hopefully will spawn the start of a new era in local aviation.