Aviat Eagle II: ZS-GDO


By Noel Otten

Some time in early 2001, my business partner, Brian Roach told me about an Aviat (formerly Christen) Eagle II project that was on the market. The fuselage had been imported complete from Aviat in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The complete wing kit and most of the instruments were also on hand although the ribs needed to be made and the wing assembled. The spars were already machined. The complete undercarriage and wheels plus fuel tank were also in the kit. There was no engine, propeller, canopy or covering materials. The builder had not been able to finish it due to work pressures and was wanting to sell it for what he had spent on it at the time. R50,000.00 – was the asking price!

Now I had renewed my licence a little more than 2 years before that and I had not even sat in anything like an Eagle or a Pitts for nearly 19 years! I also was not up-to-date with the market value of such an aircraft. I thought about this offer for approx 1,4 milliseconds and said… “buy it!”

It turned out that the seller was none other than John Glaum who managed a sugar estate in Swaziland. He was an “old” acquaintance from early EAA days. Lindsay, John’s wife was the local flying instructor at Matsapa Airport. Brian took the truck and trailer and fetched the aircraft from the Glaums.

The airframe arrived in June 2001

What a complete difference to the Pitts Special “kit” this was! And the drawings and manuals were simply superb. Frank Christensen who designed the Eagle was the first “kit” supplier who showed the world “how it should be done!” He was a legend in the home-building movement. Before he came along, so-called kits were of a very low standard and left the home-builder to do a lot of interpretation of the drawings and instructions. Not a good scenario! Frank changed all of that! He raised the bar 50 notches and set the whole home-building movement on the path that it is today, a path that RV and others have built upon!

From the very beginning, we decided that we:

  • Wanted the aircraft completed as quickly as possible.
  • Wanted it built to the highest standard of workmanship throughout.
  • Did not have the time to do this ourselves as we were busy running a business.
  • Would hire someone to do the work. We would do the paying!

As luck would have it, we bumped into Peter Eich one day and he told us that an old acquaintance, Horst Szimansky, was arriving in South Africa for his annual 6 monthly stay. Now I have known Horst for over 30 years. He built Nick Turvey’s Pitts ZS-ZAP in the early 1970s. He was an experienced aircraft builder coming as he did from a background of building gliders for Schemp-Hirth in Germany. You see, Horst hated the European winters so he spent 6 months of the year in Germany during the northern summer building gliders and 6 months here during our summer, usually helping Peter Eich repairing the local gliders. Peter told us that he did not really have much work for Horst and that if we wanted him we should grab Horst before anyone else did.

Now I have always regarded Horst as a bit of an “aviation Gypsey!” Horst would go wherever there was sunshine and aeroplanes that needed fixing. He did not care too much about his accommodation, what he would eat – nothing! “Just give him bread and water, put a guitar in his hand”; (sorry, I got carried away there for a moment. Thought I was writing a song!); put a bed in a corner, make sure he had enough money to play his beloved “ponies” and he would work!

And what a master-craftsman he was (is)!!! But Oh! So fussy!!! He would sometimes bring me to tears with things that would “upset” him!

So! That was the arrangement! We put him up in a B&B in Edenvale, let him use one of the company bakkies, and for 6 months at a time the aircraft was put together. Then he would disappear for 6 months, (he would usually let us know a day or 2 before hand), and then back the following summer. But Horst would work from 07:00 to 18:00, non-stop, day after day. He didn’t like help! And didn’t like to be interrupted!

“Jawohl! Das ist Horst, ja!” Nov 2001

One day he walked into my office and announces “Ze drawings zey are wrong, ja!” I am stunned! “What???” I replied. “what do you mean wrong?” Horst was doing the initial rigging of the aircraft at the time. “I have set up ze aircraft exzactly according to ze drawings, ja! And I hefe measured from ze fin post to ze winngg tip on bose zides and ze drawings are not akuraate!”

“Holy mackerel!” I am thinking to myself. “How could this have happened?” We checked every measurement 10 times whilst assembling the wings and the fuselage came from Aviat. Maybe the fuselage was damaged somehow.
“Show me!” I said, and followed Horst to the workshop. Horst first spends a good hour showing me that he has levelled and plumbed the fuselage and wings properly and clamped everything down so that nothing can move. I am really worried that this is a major disaster now. Then he picks up the tape measure and measures from the fin post to the wing tip on both sides. There was a 1,5 mm discrepancy!

One comma Five mm difference!!! On bended knees and with tears in my eyes I ask you – 1,5mm!!!

“You zee!” he says, “zay hefe made a mistake! You must phone ze factory and tell zem to correct ze drawings! I vant to know exzactly vot ze korrekt dimension is! I am not going any furzer until I hefe zis informations.” I look at him and can see that he is absolutely serious! “For 1,5mm difference, you want me to phone Aviat and tell them they’re wrong?” “Jawohl!” he says. “Horst!” I splutter, “halve the difference between the 2 dimensions and I will be more than happy. I am not phoning Aviat for that!”

He looks at me in absolute shock! “But you do realize, ja, zat ze aeroplane might not fly purfectly, ja!”

“Horst, I won’t hold you responsible!” I said. “Just carry on!” Well!, for a week he would not speak to me. I had forced him to lower his standards!

Sometime later, after he had covered the wings, he again walks into my office and I can see he is fuming with anger.

“Ve hefe saboteurs in zis place!” he says. “What are you talking about?” I gasp. “I hefe to recover ze Top Ving. Somevon has destroyed ze fabric on ze Top Ving” he informs me.

“Oh my god!” I think. “Why is this happening to me?” We have a fairly good relationship with our staff; who would want to damage the Eagle? Off we go to the workshop and sure enough, there is hole about 10 mm in diameter through the fabric close to the wing tip of the Top Wing. It looked like someone had taken a pencil, pen or nail and just poked a hole through the fabric. “Bastards!” I said, “who would do that?”

“Saboteurs!” says Horst, “now I vill hefe to recover ze ving!” “Horst”, I said, “you don’t have to recover the wing; just put a small patch on it. We haven’t started to dope it yet! No one will notice a small patch on the top of the Top Wing”.

“Nein!” he says, “zat is not acceptable!”

“You’re not going to recover the whole wing for that” I insisted. “I tell you what; put another patch the same size on the opposite side wing and then the aircraft will fly level. It won’t be a problem! But you’re not going to recover it!”

Another week of sulking and silence from Horst for forcing him to lower his standards yet again! The drama we went through!

A couple of days after this episode, Mike McAuley came to see the damage caused by the “saboteurs”. Mike does something neither Horst nor I had done, he looks under the wing and announces that … “the hole goes right through the wing”.  “Oh no!” I said. “Please don’t tell Horst that. I cannot bear another week of sulking and silence”. I get down under the wing and look at the hole from the underside. “I can site through the 2 holes and there directly above in the roof sheeting is a neat round hole. “The saboteur came from above and outside” I said. “There is a bullet hole in the roof!”

A quick search of the floor under the wing and sure enough, we find a 9 mm slug which had penetrated the roof and the wing of the Eagle.

And that is why the Eagle has 2 patches on the Top Wing!

Our factory in Wynberg is about 500 m from Alexandra Township, and on a Saturday afternoon, when the soccer matches are on, whenever the favourite team scores a goal, you can hear the AK47s and pistols being fired in celebration. We probably have 50 holes through the factory roof. Now you know why I hope the 2010 Soccer World Cup falls flat on its face!

About this time, Jonathon Radford, who was dating one of my daughters at the time, came to work on the Eagle. He assisted Horst with the covering, fitting of the Canopy and he did the painting, instrument and radio installation by himself. He helped with the engine installation and did the final rigging of the aircraft before flight.

It is a super aeroplane!

1st flight: At 15:30hrs, 03 August 2003 at Lanseria. Duration: 35 mins Pilot :- Brian Roach (he was far more current on tail-draggers than I was).

2nd flight: 10 August 2003.

3rd Flight: 17 August 2003 (now that was an experience not to be repeated, and we didn’t!!! Lanseria ATC!!! Tell you about that in a few year’s time when I have calmed down!)

Brian Zeederberg flew it on 11 January 2004.

My first flight: 18 April 2004 I had been getting in a bit of tail-dragger time with Mike McAuley in his Super Cub and Bob Hay in his Tiger Moth. When I felt that I ready, I went for it!

First allow me to introduce to you the main role-players in this project.

By the way, the registration “GDO” pays tribute to the product that paid for it… Garage Door Operators! That’s what we make.

Footnote: John and Lindsay Glaum

About 6 months after we acquired the Eagle from them, John and Lindsay were found murdered on their estate in Swaziland. Sometime previously, before the Glaums took over the estate, the previous manager had problems with one of his workers. He caught the man stealing and had him arrested and subsequently jailed for a couple of years.

In the interim, the Glaums took over the estate. The fired worker, now released from jail, went back to the estate to take revenge on the manager who had fired him. Unknown to this moron, there was now a new manager at the estate, John Glaum. He broke into their house and murdered them … the wrong people! There was a slightly positive ending to this tragedy, the moron’s mother turned him over to the police and he went back to jail.

RIP John and Lindsay.

What follows is a selection of photographs that cover the assembly and first flights of Aviat Eagle II ZU-GDO