Students from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA) have completed the build of a Zenith 750 Cruzer kit airplane, with the finished project successfully making its first flight in late July 2021.
The airplane is now being flown extensively for phase 1 testing by Andy Ovans, the aircraft maintenance manager for Sun n’ Fun Aerospace Expo and the Aerospace Center for Excellence at Lakeland-Linder International Airport (KLAL).
CFAA received the 750 Cruzer kit the week of Sun n’ Fun 2019, with the first rivet pulled on June 6, 2019. Ovans said that in total, between 15 and 20 students helped throughout the project, and they “stopped counting at 2,000 build hours” as the project presented a number of challenges very unique to the students, who ended up rebuilding quite a few parts “to get it right.”
The CFAA Zenith CH750 was built for one purpose: to serve a mission to teach people with limited to no use of their legs how to fly. The aircraft was built through a partnership with Able Flight, which has launched a training location at KLAL.
“The aircraft is equipped with two very different features from a stock CH750 kit,” Ovans explained. “We modified the cockpit to adapt the ‘unpanel’ from its bigger cousin, the 750 Super Duty—it’s an articulating TV mount that replaces the traditional panel to integrate a Garmin 3X package.”
“The second feature is the set of custom-built hand controls on the pilot’s side of the aircraft,” he said. “The high wing and simple design is a perfect candidate for what we are doing with Able Flight. Since Zenith had experience adapting their previous aircraft with special controls, we knew they had the ability to do this safely.”
The First Flight
On the day of the first flight, Ovans said, nobody was around the airport, and the flight “kind of just happened.”
“Sun n’ Fun’s CEO John ‘Lites’ Leenhouts, one of the students who put an incredible amount of time into aircraft build, my family and our volunteer photographer were the only ones who knew that day would be ‘the day’ for the first flight.
“On takeoff, the aircraft jumped off the ground and had a little more bite in the prop than I was expecting!” he said.
The primary mission of everything that happens on the Sun n’ Fun campus is to inspire the next generation of aviation’s pilots, builders, crews, engineers, and managers. Ovans said many students became inspired during the Zenith build, but one stands out.
“During the first week of the build, a student just showed up at the hangar with his lunch box and a positive attitude,” Ovans said. “That young man became my right-hand man and was there for every step of the way through the project. About a year into the build, he started asking a few questions and told me that this project inspired him to be an A&P mechanic.
“It was the first time I saw the transformation a build like this had on a person,” he said. “The more he got involved, the more he wanted into the world of aviation. That young man went from ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’ to just a couple of weeks ago loading his stuff into a dorm room at Embry-Riddle in Daytona.
“He came a long way in such a short time, and when he earns his engineering degree in a couple of years, the industry will benefit.”
How to Get Involved
Funding for build projects like the CFAA Zenith CH750 Cruzer comes in part from individual donations.
Ovans said that if someone would like to support the mission of inspiring the next generation of aerospace professionals or the Able Flight aircraft program, they can visit this link, call 863-640-0085 or email to [email protected].