Giving Wings to the World...

On A Mission With The STOL CH 801 

Every year, I come across stories of a Zenith project that just amaze me and the rest of the staff here at Zenith Aircraft. More often than not, the people behind these projects aren't the types who blow their own horn or who seek special recognition, they just do what they do because they have a dream, and the passion and commitment to making that dream come true.

Some years, we've seen school projects accomplished under unbelievably challenging circumstances; other times, it's been a remarkably motivated EAA Chapter that embarks on an ambitious club project. We have heard of major cross country flights flown by physically handicapped builders and pilots; read about humanitarian flights in Africa, flights across the South China sea, an attempted round-the world flight, and many more... Have you had a chance to read about of the numerous races flown (and won) by both 701s and 601s in Italy ; and read about the anti-poaching efforts over Kenya 's vast wilderness? This year, one of most exceptional stories we heard was shared at this summer's annual Zenith "Builders dinner" at the Oshkosh convention.

What's special about this story is that it's not limited to the past tense, and it also doesn't just involve the builder/pilot. In fact, we hope that after hearing this tale yourself, you'll be sufficiently moved and inspired to get personally involved in the project too. It's so simple and takes so little to make a difference. We at Zenith Aircraft heartily endorse and support this initiative.

Sebastien Heintz, President
Zenith Aircraft Company
November 2005


Mike and the STOL CH 801:
Mike and the STOL CH 801

Mike Dawson and Art Mitchell with the first STOL CH 801 kit produced.
Mike Dawson and Art Mitchell with the first STOL CH 801 kit produced

The Dawson family, Art Mitchell and the 801 in Venezuela:
The Dawson family, Art Mitchell and the 801 in Venezuela

Running up the engine...
Running up the engine..



STOL CH 701 on short take-off:

STOL CH 701 on steep final
STOL CH 701 on steep final


Visiting the villagers...
Visiting the jungle villages...


grass field operation


The grounded STOL CH 801 today... without an engine.


Mike Dawson's Story:

Mike Dawson navigating by water"Mike, you need to start flying to these villages," I told myself. After two utterly exhausting days, we had finally arrived at the tiny village of Wasareco by dugout canoe; I was staring at the face of my portable GPS. If you had asked me just then roughly how far we had traveled, I would have figured: Two days in the dugout (with outboard motor), assuming we had been going at least 10 miles an hour, for roughly 12 hours a day, that's 2 x 10 x 12 = 240 miles, give or take a few. Imagine my surprise (shock!) then, when, with the marvel of GPS, I discovered that our home base was only 36.9 air miles away! I could not believe it! That was in 1997.

I began to research the alternatives soon afterward. My criteria were:

  • Had to be cheap.
  • Had to be able to land and take off on very short "strips".
  • Had to be cheap.

Well, it did not take long to figure out that there was nothing out there that fit that bill! Anything that could land and take off in less than 1000 feet cost more than I even cared to think about. I had about given up, when our mission director told me about the ultralight and experimental airplane movement. After one flight in an Aircam I was hooked, but it did not have the room I was looking for. We get into some very remote areas out here, and there are always sick people that need to be taken out for medical care. I would hate to have to fly out just the sick person, so I wanted something that could carry out at least a third person. This way, the sick person would have someone from his or her own village to be with them. In July 1998 we went to Oshkosh, and the first booth I went to was Zenith's, wondering how hard it would be to put a third seat in the CH 701. My wife, Keila and I rounded the last corner and stopped short, stunned: there sat what looked like a 701 on steroids! It was just what we were looking for. Massive gear, high-lift wing, and 4 seats!

We started building our STOL CH 801 with Art Mitchell at the Flypass hangar in Canada, and shortly thereafter took the pre-assembled plane to Venezuela. What a hassle it was working through the Venezuelan government red tape to get it registered! Finally, though, the day came when we had our airworthiness certificate! What a day! To finally fly this amazing plane into the jungle!

The 801 was a real blessing. As a matter of fact, one of my first flights was into a village that normally takes me three 12-hour days to get there. I made it with the airplane in 16 minutes. We were able to use it on many emergency flights. One of the most memorable so far was with a woman in labor: She was not doing well at all. We quickly got the plane ready and got her and her husband strapped in. I was afraid she might have the baby in the plane, so did a quicker- than- normal preflight... Thankfully, we made it down to the hospital in time. Her condition had been worse than initially realized. The doctor came out and told me afterward that had we not gotten her there as quickly as we had, both mother and baby would have died.

Not every flight was this harrowing though. Some days were particularly enjoyable: on my errands between the different villages, I occasionally had an empty seat or two. As there were always Yanomamo children hanging around every time I opened my hangar doors, I was able to take many of them with me on those flights. What a look came over their faces as they looked out over their vast jungle from so high. You should have seen their smiles as we came back to their villages! Could one or two of these Yanomamo youths some day become a pilot?

For a while, the plane was a tremendous blessing to our work: a flying 'workhorse'! Then, the engine began to show signs of troubles. After months of unsuccessful attempts at resolving the issues, it became clear that we would need a different engine. Because the jungle is not a place to have an engine-out situation, we agreed that a factory-new powerplant was really the only way to go. And so the search for a new engine began...

The irony of the situation is that now, being back to the 12-hour days on the river, I have less time than ever to devote to the engine search and/or to solicit support. It has been awfully hard to go back to the two or three days by dugout canoe when we used to fly to these different villages in 15 to 30 minutes. Still, the plane has now been grounded for close to two years, as we still don't have an engine for it.

In the summer of 2005, I was again very fortunate to make it to Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture. As a STOL CH 801 builder and pilot, I attended the Zenith Builder's dinner and was invited to share my story. The reception was wonderful: fellow builders were receptive and compassionate and the Heintz family pledged to share my plight with others until that elusive engine could be found. Also, Art Mitchell, our original builder, agreed to act as our contact person here in North America , while my family and I continue our humanitarian work in the jungles of Venezuela.
We are certainly grateful for any help we receive! On behalf of myself, my wife Keila, our children and the Yanomamo people we work with here on a daily basis, please accept our deepest and most heartfelt thanks for any and all support, be it prayers, encouraging letters or engine funds.

Most respectfully,
Michael Dawson

Contact addresses are:

Personal contact:
Michael Dawson
PYH0200 Venezuela
PO Box 02-8537
Miami, FL 33102-8537 USA

Mission Address for tax deductible receipt:
Christian Light Foundation
PO Box 23881
Jacksonville, FL 32241-3881

Memo on check: "for airplane engine in Venezuela"


The following by Art Mitchell provides additional background information on this fascinating project. With more details on the aircraft, the old (as well as the new) engine, it also outlines a plan of action for the future and ends with a solicitation for your assistance.

Art Mitchell  

The Venezuela STOL CH 801 project.

Since you are reading this, you, like me, are likely someone with a passion for aviation. Why else would you be challenging gravity, the weather and your bank account? You know that it is futile to try to explain our desire to fly to a ground lover.

We do it because we need to, want to, have to, that's all!

You know, of course, that aircraft have become useful for more than just showing the mother-in-law that we can scare her (and ourselves) and showing the neighbors that we can do something that they can't. Light aircraft are a great way to get from place to place, to transport people and materials into areas where ground travel is difficult, and to respond to emergencies.

Some of you know that I flew in the mountainous jungle of central Africa for several years as part of an organization called Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). Some trips that regularly took me less than an hour would take over a week on foot. There were no roads or even navigable rivers, so the only way to get there was by walking or flying in my little Cessna 185. I saw first hand the incredible difference an airplane could make in the lives of those people.

Wouldn't you love to be part of something like that? Imagine if someone could use something like a CH 801 to make a huge improvement in the lives of people suffering in the remote regions of some place like the Amazon! Well, there is someone attempting to do just that. Read on!

Many of you have already heard of the STOL CH 801 that has been used in the jungle of Venezuela . That plane was built in my hangars several years ago, largely by volunteers. I later went to South America to help finish the project and do the test flying. The people there are used to other certificated aircraft like the Cessna 206s but you should have seen their response when they saw that STOL machine climb into the air!

The owner/pilot, Michael Dawson took the plane down into the jungle, where he lives and was using it to fly into little "airstrips" that other planes would not land on. He would use it to evacuate sick and dying people and bring others out for training. Without the plane it would take several days by dugout canoe and in many cases the people were just out of reach, period. What a difference that little plane made. But....

When we built it we installed a Walter LOM, 210 hp, inline, inverted engine into it. It is a good engine but we - and others - found that problems with the fuel pump system showed up in the tropics. Also, since no one there had any experience with that engine, there was no way to get any local service. The engine was removed and the plane was put away. Since then, that poor bird has been sitting in its little hangar out in the jungle while people continue to suffer. It is even worse now, having seen what a wonderful thing it could be.

This year at Oshkosh, Michael Dawson came by the Zenith display and left a DVD that he had made in Venezuela . It showed him and some of the Indian men taking two 40-foot dugout canoes two and a half days up river through raging rapids to retrieve the airframe of a Cessna 185 that had flipped over on a little jungle strip. It is an amazing DVD and you can have a copy by requesting it with your contribution. Yes contribution! But please read on.

The morning after the Heintz family saw the DVD I dropped by the Zenith display and they were buzzing. As soon as he saw me Sebastien said "Art, did you see that DVD? We have got to get Michael flying again. That plane is really needed. What can we at Zenith do?" After some discussion with the team, Michael and myself, we determined that the plane needed a proven O-360 and preferably the XP. Auto fuel is cheap down there and Avgas is really hard to get. Zenith would provide all the parts that they manufacture from the firewall forward, including a new firewall with nosegear assembly. They would pre-assemble it complete and ready to install and would even like to send one of their people down to install and test it. That is a major contribution!

We plan to acquire a factory-new Superior O-360, prop and accessories. We are approaching everyone but particularly Zenith Aircraft builders, owners, pilots and enthusiasts. Who better knows what great planes these are? Who better understands what they are capable of? Who else has the heart to see their own passion being used for something so worthwhile?

I don't have the space to tell you of the incredible things that have been accomplished since 1953 when Michael's parents first went to that remote part of the jungle. They raised ten children there and all of them are still involved in that work with their parents. What a family! "Spirit of the Rain Forest" and "All The Day Long" are two books written about them. Either of those books and/or the DVD mentioned above will be sent to any donor who requests it. All U.S. gifts are tax deductible if sent to: Christian Light Foundation, PO Box 23881, Jacksonville, FL 32241-3881.  (Mention on the memo line of your check: "For airplane engine in Venezuela").

Maybe you can't use your plane to rescue a snake-bitten Indian child or to bring medicine to a village where people are dying of malaria, but you can be part of this exciting project. It will make you feel a whole lot better while you are enjoying your own beautiful Zenith airplane. Let's make it happen!

  • Art Mitchell (former missionary pilot and past-president of Flypass Ltd.)
    Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF)
    Office tel: 519.821.3914
    Home tel: 519.648.9440

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