Is the 108 a Good Backcountry Aircraft?

Back in the mid-60s my mother’s brother owned a Stinson 108. I never got to fly in it, but when he passed away I investigated it a tad and discovered that it’s still in service right here in British Columbia. It’s on floats now, and looks like a great bush plane.

That provoked my curiosity about bush plane. It turns out they’re rather appropriate if you desire a four person workhorse.

Edward Stinson established the bush plane y back in 1920, at a time when airplaneproducing aircraft had to be a labour of love. Stinson would have been a aviator first and a manufacturer second (I think we pilots can all recognize why). Unhappily, he passed away in 1938 in an airplane crash. This happened just as WW2 was about to start, and while the war was a dreadful occurrence for huge numbers of people it provided a incredible boost to aviation. The Stinson Aircraft company constructed lots of small aeroplanes for the military, particularly observation and liaison aircraft.

Following or during WWII the Stinson Aircraft Company joined with the Consolidated Vultee Corporation(there is such a thing as a Vultee Stinson). In 1949 the operation was bought by Piper Aircraft, but it continued to put together airplanes, most exceptionally the 108 models. Many of them made the journey into the backcountry, and many are still there, flying away daily into isolated places.

The 108 series was really well known, and they were built from 1945 until 1950. The airplane was based upon on the pre-war 10A Voyager and all 108, 108-1, 108-2, 108-3 and 108-4 model aircraft were made at the Fort Wayne, Indiana manufacturing unit. In 1949 when Piper Aircraft got hold of the STC for the 108 there were 325 of the 5,260 108s built that were built, but unsold. That unsold inventory went to Piper and were marketed as Piper-Stinsons, although I’ve never spotted any Stinson 108s on the used market referred to that way. Bottom line, every one of the 108s that you find were produced during a 5 year period of time and there are still a whole lot of them existing. That fact surely proves the airplanes’s ruggedness and usefulness.

The 108 is a fabric covered aircraft, with tubes made of steel. Some of them have been metalized with aluminum, on the fuselage, wings, or both, with STCs. Metalized airplanes are probably a little bit more reconciled to exterior storage and not so good weather conditions, but they do forgo a small amount to fabric airplanes in when it comes to performance and weight.

Commonly the 108 came with the 150 horsepower Franklin motor but various different engines can be installed in the 108 with an STC . These include are the Franklin 220/220, the Continental O-470 and the Lycoming O-360. Franklins are very good engines, but there is a debate with parts. Parts are reported to be problematic. Other people contest this opinion, and remark that there are a multitude of Franklin engines in existence which generates a vigorous after market for Franklin parts. Franklin was bought by a Polish company, PLZ, and I must admit, I see more Lycoming and Continental ads around. The Franklin website indicates that the company is actually for sale right now, but they do offer conversions for 108s. (Strangely enough, in the late 1940s Franklin lead the American GA market, but it was picked up by the Tucker Automobile Company, which then cancelled the aircraft contracts and really injured the firm).

In any case there are plenty of conversions for the Stinson 108 and they all add more hp – Lycoming O-435 (190hp), O-360 (180hp) & IO-360 (200hp), the Continental IO-360 (210hp) & O-470 (230hp) as well as Franklin (220hp). One important thing to take into consideration with engines is the weight, which is up in front. Like always, it’s about trade offs, but fliers disagree a little over whether the added horsepower from a new motor is worth it. Like they say, everything adds up.

The various models resemble one another but you can tell them apart by a few peculiarities. The 108 does not come with the right-side cargo door, but the 108-1 does. Both of these aircraft had a 150 horsespower powerplant. The 108-2 was essentially the same as 108-1, but it came with a 165 horsepower motor & inflight adjustable rudder trim (I’ve played around with my rudder trim tab, and bet inflight adjustment would be cool). The 108 and 108-2 had 40 gallon wing tanks. The 108-3 offered a taller stablizer fin and the rudder has a straight trailing edge. Some operators say that the smaller tail fin of the 108-2 delivers better crosswind landings. There appear to be a lot of these around. They feature 50 gallon tanks in the wings,and a higher gross weight than the 108 and 108-2, (2400 lbs.), meaning a better payload.

The bush plane variation (did everyone try to stick “Wagon” into the brand back then?) was an option with the -1, -2 and -3 models, with a utility interior withthe wood paneling you see in all those cool restorations and a reinforced floor, allowing 600 lbs. of gear in the passenger compartment. The bush application is obvious. The aircraft can be fitted with wheel, float or ski landing gear.

The 108s accommodate four individuals. They’re 25 feet 3 inches long, with a wingspan of 34 feet. The wing area is 155 square feet. Empty weight is between 1,350 lbs and 1,500 lbs. Max weight comes in at 2,400 lbs. The difference between them is the useful load you can put in the aircraft. The maximum speed is about 133 mph, but that obviously depends upon the engine. Range is roughly 500 miles with a burn rate of about 12 gph. Service ceiling, like many normally aspirated aircraft, is 13,000 ft, but it has a respectable climb rate – 650 ft/min. Takeoff roll is reported to be 620 feet. Pilot reports have said that with two passengers they can take off in five hundred feet, but fully loaded airplanes will need three times that. It can land in under 300 feet.

Stinsons are a fantastic bush airplane. They are reputed to be smooth flyers, both on floats or the traditional configuration. They’re also considered to be really stable during slow flight conditions, which is a good feature for STOL work. The wing comes with a leading edge slot that contributes tothe docile stall. The gear is very hardy and is a great shock absorber. While I’ve heard the 108 spoken of as slow-moving and ponderous, I’ve also noticed plenty of pilots gush over it on aviation boards. It is very roomy, that’s for certain.

There is an annual bush plane, CA that has been going on for 30 years or so now, as well as one in Vancouver, Washington, and many terrific Stinson websites.

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