Airplane GEEK

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What Our Members Are Building/Restoring — Kentucky Zenith CH 750

By Paul Gabehart, EAA 1356151

This piece originally ran in the February 2022 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

My name is Paul Gabehart, the 54-year-old dreamer and builder of Red Rat, my beautiful red and white Zenith CH 750 STOL. The airplane took shape starting with the rudder workshop in Mexico, Missouri, on December 13, 2019, with Sebastien Heintz, Roger Dubbert, and Steve Oppenlander expertly guiding several others and me through the basics involved in assembling the delicate aluminum parts. Having already made my decision to purchase a full kit, I came home with smiles and a head full of hope.

Setting out to organize the hundreds of pieces large and small is the most important thing you can do to cut time off your build. All the parts have a tag that indicates the part of the airframe it goes to. Putting all the parts together in sections allows you to pull all the parts for the section you getting ready to work on. Pull all the parts for, let’s say, the elevator, get familiar with them, look over the drawing, and review the videos before you start. By the time you lay out the parts for assembly, you know in your head how the puzzle looks and where each piece goes.

Tricks came to me as I built. My hand got tired of deburring so I used an oversized bit on a slow drill. If you’re going to paint, roughing up the rivet line before you start assembly will help later. Make sure your parts are warm when you pull rivets or the heat will expand and cause waves in your skin in the sun, especially the top of the wing. Have a perfectly level surface to build on. Don’t try to be perfect or you will never be finished. Make sure you leave the first task of the next day ready to do so there is no head-scratching when you start. Most of all, keep your tools out in the open. If you lay them down just anywhere, hours will be lost just looking for them.

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Running into problems can stall your work terribly. Luckily Roger was always quick to answer any questions I had, and customer service was awesome. Assembly can look easy in the videos but doing that task for the first and often only time is a challenge, but that is what we build for, right? The windshield was one of the biggest challenges with all the concern about breaking it, and not a lot of instruction on the install stressed me before I started. Just take your time, work with it warm, grind off the extra, and tell yourself no worries, as a wise woman I know likes to say.

After three months of eight- to 10-hour days in my garage with my wife, Jennifer, so lovingly feeding me and helping when I needed an extra hand or two, the airframe was assembled. The panel was started with just basic switches and breakers. I used an iPad with iFly with the only steam gauge being an airspeed indicator. Boy, did it look good sitting there with wings, seats, and windshield — but no engine, just a bucket of lead holding its nose down. Luckily I had a pallet of black and gray horses sitting right there with nearly everything I needed for the firewall forward. Like choosing the airplane to build, for the engine I looked for not only quality, price, customer service and mission fulfillment but also the speed of build. One deal stuck out for me on a lot of fronts, but most of all it was automotive-based, which meant I did not have carb heat, fuel mixture, or baffles to direct cooling air to build. Which engine?

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When I called Viking Aircraft Engines I was delighted to hear a warm voice that was patient, knowledgeable, and not high-pressure sales-based. Having a gearbox promised quick power, which I learned the hard way. My first flight was a direct result of the absolute power that it can deliver to the prop in a split second, taking me off the ground while fast taxiing. Yes, I flew the pattern, set it down perfectly, and was as torn up as a can of kraut. I was smart enough to make sure it was ready to fly just in case something happened like this.

My friend and fellow 750 builder David Banahan came to me over the summer and asked if I wanted to go to Oshkosh. I thought a half-second and said yes. Having gotten the airworthiness June 25, 2020, I had flown off Phase I and was ready for a trip. I could write a book on our trip, but all I can fit in here is it was an overwhelming experience. The moment we pulled into the grass after the controller at Oshkosh said good job, I about lost it with excitement. If you have done it, you know. If you don’t know, do it. Oshkosh 2021 made all the time and effort, sweet tears and worry, bad days and good days worth it.

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Life is short, but it can be full of wonderful people and things. There are lots of good choices in aircraft and engines out there, so choose the one that is best for you. When it comes to building an airplane, there is no wrong decision if it’s what you want. Some people go their entire lives without fulfilling their most desired dreams. I can say that I am not one of them, and you should not be either. Peace!

Attention — Aircraft Builders and Restorers

We would love to share your story with your fellow EAA members in the pages of EAA Sport Aviation magazine, even if it’s a project that’s been completed for a while. Readers consistently rate the “What Our Members are Building/Restoring” section of the magazine as one of their favorites, so don’t miss the chance to show off your handiwork and inspire your peers to start or complete projects of their own. Learn more ->

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