By Paul Dye, published in Kitplanes magazine (January 2018)
“What do you get when you take an LSA bush plane and put an Aero Sport Power IO-375 on the nose? You get a machine that is ready to take on the world—a world of short strips, sand-bars, and mountain meadows. Zenith Aircraft started with a STOL CH 750 aircraft, lengthened the wings, enlarged the tail, beefed up a few things here and there—and created a new model called the Super Duty. Think of a real pickup truck, not one of those fancy citified vehicles. We’re talking about something that you can throw the tools into and go running off the landscape to patch a hole in the fence. The Super Duty is that kind of machine, with the muscle to get you there and back.
If you’re used to the standard STOL CH 750 or the Cruzer, the Super Duty is going to seem bigger when you first approach it. The truth is, the fuselage is virtually identical to its older siblings, but the fact that it is sitting on larger tundra-style tires makes it sit higher. The cowl is also larger to accommodate the bigger engine, and the tail surfaces are larger as well. The wing is a bit longer, but it is challenging to determine airplane size just by looking at the wingspan, so this probably isn’t a factor.
The next thing you are likely to notice is the unusual instrument panel configuration. It doesn’t have one. Instead of the usual panel, there is empty space all the way to the firewall. This empty space is home only to an articulated arm assembly supporting a single large-screen EFIS panel.
The articulation of the screen allows you to place it wherever you want—in front of either front-seat occupant, with the height adjustable to where you like it. Remember the throw-over control yokes in older Bonanzas? Just think of this as a throw-over panel. If the panel is in the way, you can also push it forward and down, so that the view is uncluttered.
And speaking of the view — with the solid instrument panel gone, the windshield continues down the sides of the aircraft where there would normally be skin. The effect is almost like flying an old bubble-cockpit Bell 47 helicopter. Zenith visibility out the bubble-windowed doors has always been good, and now it is even better.
The primary flight controls for pitch and roll are on a shared center stick between the two front seats, with a Y-shaped handle so that each front- seat occupant has their own grip. Flying from the right, I thought the angled hand position on the left was familiar and soon realized that it felt much like the side- stick controllers for the pilot on many modern jets. It was actually very comfortable and easy to fly. Standard rudder pedals with brakes will be the most familiar flight control in the cockpit for most pilots—the only difference being that you can actually see your feet, since they are not hidden under the panel.
Now take a look behind the front seats—yup, that’s a third seat back there! The baggage area is standard size for a CH 750 fuselage, but there is plenty of room for one person, and I suppose if you put in the necessary seat belts and only carried small, young folks back there, you could convince yourself it was a four-seater. According to Zenith, they are expecting a final baggage/rear seat capacity of about 200 pounds, so think about how you’d like to use it. Zenith does have plenty of experience with rear seats by the way—the Zenair STOL CH 801 (Zenair is Zenith’s sister company in Canada) is a full-up four-seat airplane that has been available for many years.
Upon entering the Super Duty, the first thing I thought was, this thing is roomy! The combination of Zenith’s bubble Plexiglas doors and the lack of the instrument panel combine to make the airplane feel even more spacious than its lower-powered siblings. The center stick (between the two seats) keeps the area in front of each person clear, and if the panel is in the way, you can always reposition it. Visibility is further enhanced by the full greenhouse roof—there are probably very few high-wing airplanes with such good sight lines.
What I felt was a very normal airplane with good stability and excellent visibility. Engine parameters were well behaved, with temperatures for cylinders and oil doing fine. We slid the instrument panel around into different positions, just to see what it looked liked, and the ability to do this and get it out of the way when we wanted was quite handy and very unique.
Rolling the airplane into a couple of steep turns, we found that it was easy to stay on altitude and keep things coordinated — nothing unexpected here. Slowing down for a couple of power-off stalls, the airplane responded with a little buffet, but no break. It just settled into a sink rate with a slight bit of bucking to let you know that it wasn’t happy about the situation, but it wasn’t going to bite.
If looking at the ground from an airplane is your thing, the Super Duty is your airplane. No matter where you look (except straight down or straight back) you have a good view of the outside world. In formation, the airplane was solid and stable, and as you can expect, there is no substitute for horsepower!
The excellent visibility allows you to maintain a view of the touchdown point pretty much right up until you plant the mains—then you just want to add power and go do it again because it is so much fun.
From our experience with Zenith, this will be a fine airplane that many will find suits their needs. It’s an honest airplane with plenty of power and good handling characteristics.”