On September 16 & 17, 2022, Zenith Aircraft’s latest edition of its annual open house celebrated the factory’s 30th anniversary. We made our first visit to the freshly-built facility on Mexico, Missouri’s welcoming airport in July, 1992, just a month after it opened for business, chronicled in the following December issue. After three decades of steady improvements and changes, we have seen both stability and growth in Zenith’s infrastructure and its products.
The Zenith kit production plant in the middle of the United States came about from lack of space at Zenair’s home office on Huronia airport at Midland, Ontario in Canada. To better serve U.S. customers and avoid re-importation of the kit’s U.S. content, a well-situated cooperative small town with a good airport was sought, and 12,000-population Mexico, Missouri has filled the bill admirably.
The September party bore evidence of how well-accepted Zenith Aircraft has become in 30 years. Parking for vehicles and aircraft was overflowing, suppliers and vendors like paint-maker Mike Loehle of Loehle Coatings, FlyCorvair, ULPower and Viking engines, and Dynon, Avilution, and Garmin were on hand, and our own Ivy Ericksen staffed the KITPLANES booth.
Zenith Aircraft traditionally opens the factory for an annual homecoming of Zenith builders, along with regular builder’s workshops held throughout the year. This 30th birthday party simply enhanced the draw for Zenith aficionados. Great weather encouraged attendance and planeside camping was in evidence around the perimeter. About 40 Zeniths flew in for the 2022 event.
Zenith builder and flyer Val Westedt taught a women-only workshop for a hands-on introduction to building techniques. “There should be more women building airplanes,” she said. ”I wanted to show them that they have the skills to do it.” Her efforts were well rewarded by a large turnout.
Matt Heintz was down from Zenair in Canada to support his brother, Zenith Aircraft president Sebastien Heinz, at the event. Charlie Becker from EAA Oshkosh came to brief the crowd on the latest government issues. Veteran insurance expert Scott “Sky” Smith (SkySmith Insurance) covered the specifics regarding insuring Experimental airplanes like the Zeniths.
As we sat down with Sebastien Heintz to reflect on advancements over the years since our first meeting—the Zenith plant expansions, the changes wrought by Light Sport Aircraft standards, the ease of building with vastly improved simplified kits—it was only natural to look at the current state of Zenith Aircraft.
“At this point, we generally put out one complete kit a day,” Sebastien said. “Because we try to make components in-house as much as possible, the supply-chain issues haven’t affected us all that much. Even if we’re short one item in the kit occasionally, the builder can continue without it until we’re able to get it to them.” Obtaining tires is an ongoing problem, he said, which is a complaint we hear all across the aviation industry along with shortages of things like oil filters.
The current trend to employ a tricycle landing gear option on back-country kit airplanes would have brought a “so-what” shrug from the late, great founder of Zenair, Chris Heintz, who introduced his STOL CH 701 with beefy tri-gear from the very beginning, as an integral part of its design philosophy. And, while others may be introducing high-wing models as their newest shiny thing, Zenith was already offering its 700 STOL series when the factory opened 30 years ago, along with the 600-series Zodiac low-wing designs that had been established when Zenair was founded in 1974.