In the hot morning sun of Friday, April 1, Zenith Aircraft’s Sebastien Heintz surveyed the area around what was supposed to be his display tent at Sun ‘n Fun 2011. It was not pretty. The violent storms that swept through Lakeland Linder Airport on March 31st at around noon had decimated his display area and lifted two out of three of the aircraft tied down there off their tiedowns.
“We had a STOL CH 750 totally destroyed. The Wings for the Word CH 701P ended up wrapped around the Eclipse 500 sitting next to it,” said Scott Brailler. “It’s kind of ironic, two missionary aircraft just taken away.” The 701P had been built by many hands over more than one Sun ‘n Fun, and the organization is now accepting donations to begin the process of acquiring materials to rebuild at www.wingsfortheword.org.
“This airplane represented lives we could save in Tanzania,” said Brailler, missionary pilot for Wings for the Word. “The Zenairs are well-suited for the challenging airstrips, are made sturdy, and have STOL characteristics. I’m confident people will help us build up another aircraft and we can go on.”
The force of the microbursts flowing out from the storm slammed aircraft so hard that landing gear snapped, and wingspars, too. Just behind the Zenair display, four AirCams lay upside down in a pile of Dacron and aluminum. The sound of an electric saw could be heard beginning the disassembly process, and as Heintz spoke one worker carefully extracted an undamaged aileron from the heap of tangled aircraft.
“We really like it when we see our aircraft being used as tools around the world,” Heintz said. “It makes the whole process so much more rewarding. It takes about a thousand hours to build one of these Zenairs, and it only took seconds to destroy them. It’s just another challenge for us, but we’ll come back.”