Back in 2007, a group of volunteers began building a Zenith 701SP in the sheet metal workshop at SUN ’n FUN. Each year that dedicated group returned, working diligently on the plane, which was named “The Spirit of Hope.”
This year, “The Spirit of Hope” takes flight when the plane is donated to Wings for the Word, a missionary organization that works with the Maasai people in Tanzania, doing everything from well water projects to teaching them to farm to teaching them the gospel, said the organization’s Scott Brallier, who noted their mission statement is “Delivering Hope to the Unreached.”
The North Carolina-based mission group already has a Zenith 801 in Tanzania and is excited about adding the 701, he added.
He noted the real benefit of the STOL plane is that it will decrease transportation costs and travel time by 70% because traveling by ground is often difficult, if not dangerous in Tanzania “A 30-minute flight will take three gallons of autogas,” he said. “A ride in a Land Rover would take at least five to six hours.”
Having the 701 used for missionary purposes means a lot to the folks at Zenith Aircraft, according to Sebastien Heintz, president. His father, Chris, designed the airplane.
“In the U.S. the kit market is primarily recreational — big toys for big boys,” he said. “So it’s nice to see it move to the next level and be used as a tool for humanitarian and missionary needs. That’s a lot of cool factor, plus a lot of our customers feel better that the kit has a track record for simplicity of construction, the pilot can be the mechanic, and it runs on autogas.”
When the plane is donated to Wings for the Word Friday, it will be a proud moment for the men and women who built her. It took Burl Nelson, who headed up the effort, two years to find the right organization to donate the plane to. So many just wanted the plane so they could sell it, he said. Once he found Wings for the Word, it was a perfect fit, he noted.
What was also a perfect fit was working with Zenith, he added. Heintz gave the builders a discount on the plane once he learned of its mission.
“I get a lot of requests for discounts and I usually turn them down because, while people have a lot of good intentions, they often don’t follow through,” he said. “But Burl was persistent enough and everybody was working so hard that I had faith they would complete the project.”
The plane will be presented to Wings for the Word Friday at 10 a.m. on the SUN ’n FUN grounds.