Why the Zodiac?

As you may have noticed from the front page, I'm no longer building a Zodiac. I'm building a Sonex! However, much of the narrative below is common sense stuff. In the hopes it will help someone else with their "what to build" decision, I've left it live.

Chris Boultinghouse
10 Dec 2001

Believe me, choosing which aircraft to build was a long and tedious journey. It took over a year and much soul-searching to reach a decision. To begin with, I set some criteria that my airplane had to have:

  • Two seats (side by side)
  • ~100 horsepower engine (to keep costs within reach)
  • Low wing (personal preference)
  • Construction suitable for outside storage (hangars are scarce here)
  • Built from plans (I'll explain this in more detail later)
  • Proven history (the biggie)

    There was also a list of things "nice to have":

  • Decent cruise speed (~120kts)
  • Decent short field capability
  • Good looks (is any airplane truly ugly?)
  • Easily trailerable

    So as you can see, my own criteria made the choices very limited! In a way this made things easier, but in a way it made it more difficult. Now, to explain some of my reasons.

    Two seats, side by side, is pretty obvious. I'm married with no kids (and no plans for any). My wife and I are best friends, so throwing her in back in a tandem design was not acceptable. Gotta be able to hold hands while flying, right? :^)

    Limiting the engine to around 100 horsepower was simply for cost reasons. And it is also the reason why I'm not building an RV-6! There are about 25 of them under construction in the Austin area, with darn near that many already flying. They're everywhere, and they are beautiful planes. But I can't afford to build or feed one.

    Low wing? Just my preference. I'm tall (6'3") and when I fly a high-wing and try to look out the side all I see is wing root.

    Suitable for outside storage. Ah, here's the one that killed off some good ones from the list. I really like the Jodel, but a stick and rag airplane just won't last if left outside. Too bad, as you certainly don't see many Jodels in the US. And there isn't much of anything with more of a proven history! I also like the Paxman Viper, but it fails on both the stick and rag and by being a new design.

    Built from plans. I'm not rich. Who is? But money (or lack of) is not the only reason to build from plans. There are people like me that really enjoy creating things with their hands, and that means doing it all the hard way. I prefer to build from scratch. So, I'm strange. I knew that already. :^)

    Proven history. This one killed off three of my four finalists. I had it narrowed down to the Zodiac (duh), the Vision from American Affordable Aircraft, the WS-202 Sprint designed by Bill Spring and the Sonex. I even bought the Sprint plans (nicely done in CAD). It's a simple airplane that is arguably better looking than the Zodiac. But what does it lack? History. The Sonex is a neat airplane. John Monnet certainly has experience. But the design itself lacks (yes, you gessed it) history. (Oh, and did I mention that my wife thinks the Sonex is the ugliest airplane she's ever seen? Not that this would influence my decision in the smallest way. Never.) And finally the Vision. Ah, what a georgeous creation. Smooth glass flanks, simple structure, great performance. But it's missing something....something important. Say it with me: History.

    As you might have gathered, I don't want to be an aviation pioneer. I don't want to wonder if I'm going to be the one to discover some quirk that the first one or two builders never encountered. Nope, none of that foolishness for me. So what choice did I really have? I think the answer is pretty obvious since I'm building a Zodiac.

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