But when faced with the decision to cancel the upcoming rudder building workshop at Zenith Aircraft because of travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, Sebastien Heintz decided to go another way.
Instead of bringing the customers to the company’s factory in Mexico, Missouri, Sebastien and his crew are coming to the customers — virtually, that is.
For the first time ever, Zenith Aircraft will hold its rudder building workshop online April 23, 2020. If you want to participate, don’t delay: Rudder kits need to be ordered by April 17 to get to you in time for the class.
And if you’re not ready to make the $425 investment in the kit and the class, you can still watch the livestream for free and see what building an airplane is all about.
Why not just postpone the class until life gets back to normal?
“That’s the first inclination,” Sebastien says. “But my brain always works more in terms of I don’t take no for an answer. There is a way to make it work. I view it as a challenge. And so it came to, “Well, let’s try something different.”
And so the virtual workshop was born.
Most of the customers who were already signed up for the workshop are on board with doing it virtually, he says.
“We’ve had some people who were originally scheduled to come to the workshop who said they’d rather come to the factory later this summer,” he says. “They have certain expectations of the workshop, which includes a tour of the factory and a demonstration flight. For many people that’s a highlight of the two-day workshop.”
But the online workshop also has attracted some people who couldn’t travel to Missouri for the live workshop, he notes.
How The Virtual Rudder Building Workshop Will Work
First thing to do if you want to participate is order the rudder kit for the Zenith STOL CH 750 Super Duty model. It’s $425.
If you don’t have the necessary tools to work on the kit, Zenith will sell those to you, either in a kit or separately.
Sebastien notes that most people will have the tools they need already, as they are very common tools, such as clecos, cleo pliers, drill bits, a hand riveter or a pneumatic riveter. A list of needed tools is on Zenith’s website.
You’ll also need a three by four foot table to build the rudder and a good Internet connection.
The Zenith folks are still working out the platform to stream the class. It may be Zoom or YouTube Live.
What’s cool about this workshop is that even people not signed up for it can watch for free.
In fact, Sebastien hopes to encourage Zenith builders to check in during the day to add words of encouragement to the workshop attendees, as well as tips and tricks they’ve learned through their own builds.
“That’s one of the nice things about building your own airplane,” he says. “It’s really a community of like-minded people. We share information, we share tips, we share our successes. And that makes it that much more enjoyable.”
Zenith typically holds a workshop at its factory once a month, as well as workshops at various airshows around the country during the year. They company has been doing the workshops for 25 years.
Whether a virtual workshop will be added to the continuing schedule is a question Sebastien says he just can’t answer right now.
“If it’s successful and it advances the homebuilding community, then absolutely,” he says. “But if it’s successful because it was the only thing to do during this time, people may find it more beneficial to travel to us instead.”
“I definitely see a place for more learning online, whether it’s classes or workshops,” he adds, noting that other workshops could be in the future, such as one for ongoing maintenance or another for second owners of Zenith aircraft.
There’s definitely an audience for the continuing education classes. According to Sebastien, in a typical year, Zenith ships one kit each working day.
“That’s about 250 kits a year,” he says. “There are probably 2,000 to 3,000 projects under construction at various stages — some are nearing completion and some are just getting started.”
For those new to the homebuilding community, building the rudder tail section of the aircraft is an excellent “starter kit” project, according to Sebastien.
“In the process of building the rudder assembly, participants tackle many activities, including learning how to read drawings — blueprints — and work with assembly instructions under the expert guidance of factory staff. Participants learn the procedures for putting together an aircraft assembly, including drilling and blind riveting. In the end, they have an assembled rudder that is ready to install on a Zenith kit airplane.”
“Participants always get far more out of the workshop than a finished aircraft rudder: They gain the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to build their own airplane,” he continues. “Most importantly, they learn that kit building is enjoyable, and with modern technology and good instructions, aircraft construction has become much easier than most people think.”
Check out the video below for more on the virtual workshop: