The strongest interest in readyto-
fly special light-sport aircraft
(S-LSA) to date has come
from pilots operating Cessna, Piper,
Mooney, and other general aviation
(GA) aircraft. It is estimated that more
than 100,000 currently certificated pilots
are looking at their prospects for
maintaining an up-to-date second- or
third-class FAA medical and considering
the LSA option. Many are concluding
that LSA are worthy airplanes
and recognize that downsizing to an
LSA two-seater can meet their flying
goals, a fact that has driven a good
share of LSA sales thus far.
Thousands of those pilots have private
or higher certificates with instrument
ratings. They’re accustomed to
having a full panel and want one even
if flying in instrument meteorological
conditions (IMC) isn’t in their plans. In
fact, flashy dual-screen plus electronic
information and navigation panel
layouts have proven quite popular in
many S-LSA, even though they add tens
of thousands of dollars in cost. Think
about it; selling a late-model GA plane
can net a return that easily exceeds the
price of a decked-out S-LSA.
With this fact clearly in mind, Aircraft
Manufacturing & Development
Company (AMD), led by Mathieu
Heintz, added an aircraft capable of
instrument flight rules (IFR), the Zodiac
CH 601 XLi with the “i” representing
instrument, to its line.
The Zodiac Companies
You might be confused. While AMD,
based in Eastman, Georgia, builds
ready-to-fly Zodiac CH 601 XL SLSA,
another company owned by the
Heintz family, Zenith Aircraft of Mexico,
Missouri, manufactures Zodiac
CH 601 XL kits that are built under
the experimental amateur-built regulations.
Any certificated pilot, including
sport pilots, may fly these aircraft.
However, sport pilots may fly only
those 601 XLs that comply with the
Until earlier this year, Czech Aircraft
Works also built ready-to-fly
601 XLs; however, that agreement
was mutually concluded, and AMD
is now the only company producing
the S-LSA version of the Zodiac.
AMD is also the manufacturer of
the Alarus, a Part 23 certificated design
that has been in production for
12 years. The company describes it
as a “dedicated IFR trainer, of which
nine out of 10 are sold in group purchases
to flight schools.” Some 250
Alarus aircraft have been produced.
AMD has built about 150 of those, or
an average of 20 aircraft a year, while
Zenair Ltd. of Canada and JAI of Amman,
Jordan, also have built a few
Because there’s a “good deal of interchangeability”
of component parts
on the Zodiac and Alarus models,
Mathieu said all of the LSA models
are built using Part 23 production
processes. This turns out to be more
efficient, as Part 23 quality assurance
procedures require that certified and
non-certified production parts not become
co-mingled. The good news for
Zodiac 601 XL/XLi buyers is that the
aircraft is built using the same techniques
as the more expensive Part 23-
certified Alarus models.
All AMD Zodiac aircraft conform
identically to the design of originator
and Heintz family patriarch Chris
Heintz. AMD Sales Manager John Degonia
acknowledged that some beautiful
Zenith kits have been assembled,
but they may not identically conform
to the original design because a builder
is allowed to make modifications.
But, depending upon your pilot
certificate, your funds available to
purchase an airplane, and what your
flying goals are, there’s a Zodiac 601
XL you truly can have your way!
Perfect for Sport Pilots
Even in proven designs like the Zodiac
CH 601 XL, improvements can and
do happen. The Zodiac’s refreshed
wing design features a slight taper for
added cruise speed and crisper roll
response. Inside the wing, a shorter
vertical spar (which passes through
the cabin) permits the seats to be reclined
back more, offering a supportive
posture that still assures plenty of
visibility. I found the long seat bottom
restful for my legs, and I imagine
a six-hour cross-country flight would
be reasonably tolerable.
An updated canopy configuration
has the bubble-top canopy opening
to the front instead of to the side as in
older Zodiacs. The new way permits
both pilot and passenger to enter simultaneously.
Dual gas pistons make
raising the large canopy easy.
A step on the side of the fuselage
allows folks to step onto the wing
easily. Once atop the wing, you place
one hand on the rear seat support
and your other hand on a panel handle
just above the radio stack to help
lower yourself into the cockpit.
Once seated, I noticed the rudder
pedals were moved forward to give
more legroom than in earlier Zodiacs.
Optional deluxe leather seats create a
luxurious surrounding in the Zodiac
XLi. All versions of the Zodiac S-LSA
use dual control sticks with push-totalk
buttons and a trim control on the
top of the stick.
AMD originally planned to offer
the Zodiac with the 116-hp Lycoming
O-235 engine, but because the 100-
hp Continental O-200 is 80 pounds
lighter, AMD elected to go with the
Continental, the same engine used by
the IndUS Aviation Thorpedo, American
Legend Cub, and CubCrafters
Sport Cub. (Both American Legend
and IndUS have also certified S-LSA
with the 120-hp Jabiru 3300.)
The Continental O-200 has a long
history valued by some buyers of LSA.
Because many GA pilots have experience
with the well-known engine
brand, John said their confidence
is higher than with Rotax or Jabiru.
Also, a legion of mechanics is trained
to work on Continentals and parts
are in ready supply across the nation.
“You can take a Continental engine to
any aviation service shop, and they’ll
know how to handle it,” said John.
Although Teledyne Technologies,
Continental’s parent, has annual revenues
of $1.5 billion, support for this
engine’s use in LSA was proven by a
visit to AMD from Brian Lewis, president
of Teledyne Continental Motors
Inc. In their discussions, AMD asked
Brian to take some weight off the
engine. A lighter starter motor and
lighter weight castings for the cylinders
shaved off 20 pounds, John said.
As further proof of its continued
support, Continental displayed its
light sport engine (LSE) at EAA Air-
Venture Oshkosh 2006. AMD said it
worked with Continental to produce
this engine. “However, AMD is only
installing the FAR 33 certificated version
of the engine at this time, as it
adds significant value and can be used
in IFR flying,” said Mathieu.
The Zodiac’s large bubble canopy offers
a panoramic view. Taxiing out for takeoff
you have a broad view of any traffic.
During steep turns it was easy to confirm
the maneuvering area was free of
other traffic. In straight and level flight,
your view of the world is enormous in
every direction except downward.
The Zodiac’s flaps work electrically;
on older kit-built 601s, the response
was almost too swift. AMD uses a
different flap motor that delivers a
response closer to what a Piper pilot
might know. Factory pilots say you
can lower flaps before slowing into
the white arc speed range as long as
you don’t put full flaps above white
All of my landings went well,
thanks to the good preflight explanations
I received. On the kit-built
versions, I had been encouraged not
to bring the Zodiac to a high flare
as I might touch the tail. Although I
prefer to execute full-stall landings,
I guarded against that reaction, and
the plane settled in beautifully. On
the AMD Zodiac, the landing gear is
taller, raising the tail and allowing
the full-stall touchdowns I prefer.
Basically I adopted an attitude-landing
technique as a substitute for fullstall
touchdowns. Such a method does
not allow you to slow dramatically as
is useful for soft-field or short field
landings. Yet most GA pilots will
find Zodiac’s behavior well-suited to
Based on conservative initial advice,
I used 70 mph on approach and
rounded out at about 60 mph. Later I
discovered I could use approach speeds
down into the 50 mph range, as could
anyone with a bit of experience.
While doing Dutch roll coordination
exercises, I found little rudder
was needed; the ailerons can execute
turns on their own. The coordination
between ailerons and rudder
was quite acceptable in the Zodiac,
and this may be partially due to the
design’s full-flying rudder.
Some of the turn qualities no
doubt also derive from Chris Heintz’s
use of an all-flying rudder. Much like
a stabilator for horizontal tails, the
all-flying rudder-which has no fixed
surface-is said to promote a cleaner
airflow across both sides of the surface.
Smoother movement across the
surface generates less flow separation
on the lower pressure side.
The Zodiac’s pitch will seem rather
sensitive to most GA pilots, although
it gave good feedback to movement.
In a couple hours, most GA pilots will
become accustomed to the effortless
feel. This is a common reaction to
many LSA varieties I’ve flown.
My trials with steep turns done
at 45 degrees to 50 degrees of bank
showed stable and steady characteristics.
No additional power was needed
as is common with most aircraft, and
this also explains why little back-stick
pressure was needed to maintain the
turn at a constant altitude. It reveals
the Zodiac as an efficient flying machine.
Using 100 mph for good over-thenose
visibility, the Zodiac’s climb rate
hit 900 fpm with two on board at
something less than full gross weight.
With a finer technique, climbs can
reach 1,000 fpm.
At a 130 mph cruise, the Zodiac
felt faster than the speed indicated,
but numbers don’t relate perfectly to
the sensation of speed. Perhaps that
massive canopy imparts a sense of
motion. The Plexiglas canopy also
had good optical qualities, appearing
distortion-free to my eyes.
Full stalls came at 40 mph indicated
(44 mph true airspeed, said AMD)
when flaps are fully deployed. Zodiac
stalls exhibit benign qualities with no
tendency to fall off on a wing. After
discovering the stall qualities, I believe
approaches can be done at 55 mph or
so, which would shorten overall landing
The Zodiac’s adverse yaw is modest.
I found only a slight hesitation
before initiating a normal coordinated
turn. I saw no tendency to turn in
the opposite direction in any adverse
yaw trials. Such good behavior further
burnishes the Zodiac’s image for
Overall, the Zodiac felt solid. Zenith
reports the design is stressed for 6g’s
plus or minus; this is a figure that exceeds
nearly every GA airplane manufactured
today. That doesn’t mean you
should reconsider learning how to do
outside loops if you buy a Zodiac, but
you’ll have a tough machine.
Comparing the AMD Zodiac to
the Zenith Aircraft’s kit version, John
said the AMD model is more apt to
conform to traditional expectations.
However, he said the kit is so easily
built that it’s hard to cause it to not
also conform. He repeated earlier
comments that the design’s 21-year
history is long; it is highly reliable
and only loses that quality when
homebuilders modify the design.
On IFR Approach
In a recent press release, AMD announced
it was expanding the capabilities
of its ready-to-fly Zodiac
to include night and IFR flying. The
equipment added to meet the FAA requirements
for those activities include
heated pitot/static elements, alternate
static source, lightning protection including
lightning deflectors and lightning
grounding, backup electric system,
TSO gyros, pilot de-icing window,
wingtip strobes, wingtip and tail navigation
lights, taxi and landing lights,
and cabin lights. This equipment meets
or exceeds FAR Part 23 requirements
as well as FAR 91.205. The airframe meets FAR 23.867 (electrical bonding
and protection against lightning and
static electricity) and FAR 23.954 (fuel
system lightning protection).
AMD also provides an analog TSO
six-pack of IFR instruments in an effort
to keep a lid on the price of the
instrument-capable aircraft. It also
offers a glass instrument panel, but
these panels are not currently approved
for IFR flying.
Mathieu said, “Because there are
no ASTM guidelines for IFR certification
of LSA aircraft at this time, we
used the requirements set out in the
FARs for IFR certification with the
biggest issue being lightning protection.”
(ASTM is presently working on
night/IFR equipment standards for
LSA flown by properly rated pilots).
EAA offers this advice to members
interested in flying LSA in instrument
conditions: “Some S-LSA may
be equipped for night and IFR operation;
be sure to tell the manufacturer/
dealer if your intent is to operate the
aircraft under those conditions. Make
sure you have the proper ratings (private
pilot or higher with instrument
rating) and the engine is approved
for night flight.”
To summarize, an LSA that is properly
equipped may be operated for
instrument and night flying if the pilot
is properly certificated and rated
for such flight. However, sport pilots
are approved for day/VFR operations
only. Similarly, this restriction also
applies to an instrument-rated pilot
exercising the privileges of a sport
pilot-that is, using a valid driver’s
license as evidence of medical fitness.
AMD Sales Manager, John Degonia
believes the instrument-capable XLi
will hold its value better than an LSA
that does not have such capabilities.
AMD also figures flying clubs may
want to use the XLi as an inexpensive
instrument-training airplane, considering
its added versatility, as a means
to attract more members.
In late October, John reported a 90-
day backlog on deliveries. “That’s
about where we want it,” he said. He
reported that about 25 AMD Zodiacs
are currently flying; he expects to
have 35 airborne by the end of 2006.
“More than 1,000 Zodiac aircraft are
flying throughout the world today,”
John said proudly.
Currently AMD is building three
planes a month; it expects to increase
that to five per month in
2007. John said the company has
built up the production pace gradually.
AMD has about 20 employees
and operates out of a 28,000-squarefoot
hangar at the Heart of Georgia
The fall 2006 price of the IFR-capable
AMD Zodiac CH 601 XLi is $94,900,
including the 100-hp Continental O-
200A engine (FAR 33 certified) and a
Sensenich two-blade propeller.
The standard AMD Zodiac CH 601
XL starts at $79,900 and comes with
a number of standard items such as
wingtip strobe lights, tail light, locking
canopy, dual brakes, emergency
locator transmitter, elevator and aileron
electric trim, and Dynon engine
monitoring system (EMS). “Also, there
is no shipping or handling costs because
the aircraft is manufactured in
the USA,” added Mathieu. At less than
$80,000 and without added transport
cost, the Zodiac compares well with
all but the lowest-cost imported LSA.
John feels some importers of European
LSA aren’t as experienced with the designs
they are selling as AMD is with
its model; John himself has more than
1,000 hours in a Zodiac.
Built in America with U.S. labor
and other costs, AMD can be competitive
with imported and middleman-
handled LSA. But, some AMD
components keep the company working
hard to contain costs. For example,
one component affecting AMD’s
price is the $25,000 FAR 33 certified
Continental engine, a substantial
price premium over the non-certified
Rotax and Jabiru engines. Rotax does
offer a certified version for an additional
$5,000; Jabiru is not presently
offering an FAA-certified version.
For GA pilots, a Zodiac CH 601
XL or XLi is a conventional-looking
light aircraft built with components
they know. It exhibits handsome performance
for the class, cooperative
handling, and room for two to travel.
At 130 mph, you and a friend could
cover 600 miles in a day’s flying in
good comfort with an enormous view.
In a crowded field of sharp S-LSA, the
Zodiac compares favorably. For a fraction
of the cost of a new Piper or Cessna,
the Zodiac aircraft deserves a close
inspection. “Y’all come down to Georgia
and go for a flight,” John invited.
The all-American airplane and the all-
American engine should find a steady
following from those wary of foreign
purchases and product support.
|Empty weight||770 pounds 1|
|Gross weight||1,320 pounds|
|Wing area||132 square feet|
|Wing loading||9.9 pounds/square foot|
|Useful Load||550 pounds 1|
|Payload (with full fuel)||370 pounds 1|
|Cabin Interior||44 inches wide|
|Fuel Capacity||30 gallons|
|Baggage area||40 pounds|
|Notes:||1 Empty weight, useful load, and payload are
for the basic VFR Zodiac 601 XL model.
|Standard engine||Continental 0-200|
|Power loading||13.2 pounds/hp|
|Cruise speed||124 mph|
|Stall Speed (Flaps)||44 mph|
|Never exceed speed||161 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,000 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||450 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||670 feet|
|Range (powered)||6 hours, 780 miles (no reserve)|
|Fuel Consumption||5.0 gph|
|Notes:||2-blade Sensenich propeller.
Max demonstrated crosswind component: 23 mph.