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Stinson 108: A Very Practical Antique

By Randy Dufault

  • Stinson
    Stinsons on parade. EAA AirVenture 2015 brought out a swarm of vintage Stinsons for the mass arrival Sunday with a show of color that brightened the taxiway as they headed to their camping area.
  • Stinson
    Five generations of Applegates have flown in this 1947 Stinson 108. Harve Applegate of Queen City, Missouri and the plane's current owner, said that the plane has only been recovered once. The engine has been rebuilt several times, but the interior and the panel are as they were 68 years ago.

July 22, 2015 - Five years ago members of the International Stinson Club gathered for a mass arrival into AirVenture. Unfortunately 2010 was the year of “Sploshkosh.” At the start of the event the grounds were very wet, and the Stinson arrival was canceled.

So they tried again. This attempt was much more successful with 19 airplanes arriving together last Sunday here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015.

The club represents owners of the Stinson 108 series airplanes, a metal-framed, fabric- covered, four-place taildragger of which more than 5,500 were produced between 1946 and 1949.

“I call it an honest four-seater,” said Bob Pustell of Windsock Village, New Hampshire. Pustell is a club member and organized the group arrival.

Another club member, Bernie Gersteimer of Advance, North Carolina, added, “For lack of a better term, it is a sleeper airplane. It is an honest airplane because it is one you can have a full load of fuel and have four normal passengers in it. Where most other airplanes you can’t do that.”

Pustell did say that when it is that loaded you are going to climb with “dignity,” but at least the airplane can do it.

The club estimates that half or more of the airplanes—despite their age—are still flying. The club is a key reason for the type’s ongoing success, but Pustell also credits the companies that specialize in supporting the 108 community.

“Even though at this point it is a 60-to-70-year-old airplane, there’s still enough planes to base a good robust support operation on,” Pustell said. “And because there are so many of them out there, it’s not like trying to buy an antique where there’s only eight left in the whole world…. It’s plain, hard economics. When you have two to three thousand of them still flying it’s enough to make someone interested in finding a stash of parts and marketing them—possibly even tooling up and making some parts. Working up an adapter and a [supplemental type certificate] to use a different engine or different brakes; things like that.

“It’s not just having a robust owners group and club, its having enough planes to make it worthwhile.”

All the 108s left the factory with a Franklin engine. The Franklin is no longer produced and, at least in some circles, has a less than stellar reputation.

“That’s because it is distinctly different in many ways from the Lycomings and Continentals,” Pustell said. “If you use the same torque value on a Franklin [spark plug] that you use on a Lycoming or Continental, you will rip the plug and the threads right out of the head…. It is a very precisely built engine of meticulous design, but you need to know how to work on it or you are going to hurt it.”

By most estimates more than 90 percent of the fleet still fly behind the original 150-hp or 165-hp Franklin.

Even though the production run of the 108 series was relatively short, its impact on the aviation industry was significant.

Piper purchased the Stinson company in 1949. At the time Piper was a manufacturer of fabric-covered airplanes and needed metal-working expertise. While the 108 wings and fuselage were fabric-covered, the vertical tail and control surfaces are all aluminum. Control surfaces on Piper airplanes leaving the factory today bear a very strong family resemblance to the ones the 108s left the factory with.

Pustell and the other owners are obviously happy with the airplane.

“I like to say that it is safe, strong and sensible,” he said. “A nice antique to own.”

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