View our aviation books
canaero - Canadian aviation history

Restoration perfection – Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant – first published winter 1998

Piper PA-12 C-FEPY

Dr. Frank Broomhead’s Piper likely qualifies as Canada’s most highly cared for and modified PA-12–a flying objet d’art. With an empty weight of 1,246 pounds on floats and a gross seaplane takeoff weight of 1,836 pounds, C-FEPY has proven itself to possess STOL performance.

As we turned final for Chapleau’s Runway 28, 102 miles northeast of Sault Ste Marie, a white-winged seaplane taxied out from a narrow bay on Borden Lake. Seconds later, the Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser became airborne after a spectacularly short takeoff run. Unusual, we thought, since the winds were zero and the dark blue lake surface glassy.

The 160-hp PA-12 belonged to one of Northern Ontario’s most enthusiastic float pilots, and Frank Broomhead’s meticulously restored airplane probably held an unofficial record for modifications from an original type. A fanatic outdoorsman when not performing as Chapleau’s busiest general practitioner, Frank probably also holds records for lakes fished, ducks retrieved and moose counted. Frank’s C-FEPY, one of 3,760 PA-12s manufactured between 1946 and 1948 by Piper Aircraft, came from a long line of proven designs. I knew the type personally, having enjoyed my first ride in one at age four, and had never forgotten the sleek lines, high wing and spacious interior with cloth-covered seats for two behind the pilot.

Years later, while I worked for Georgian Bay Airways in Parry Sound, one of the company’s AMEs discovered a yellowed sales brochure. A colourful souvenir, it claimed the “most completely equipped” PA-12 skimmed “along in feather cushion flight” at 115 mph. Several drawings showed business-suited men and women sitting comfortably above a herd of horses supposed, we guessed, to represent engine power.

Like most postwar sales departments, Piper wanted to make their product look good. It did, but the company overlooked the fact that Canadians would want a float version. When Canada’s first wheeled PA-12 arrived, Canadian Aviation editor Ronald A. Keith praised CF‑DHG highly when he flew an evaluation trip and recorded a 480-foot takeoff run. It was left to bush operators like Georgian Bay Airways to adapt PA-12s to handle short northern lakes in Precambrian Shield bush country. In spite of a meagre 108-hp engine, experienced pilots managed to carry out daily miracles although more than one fatigued soul ran into shorelines when he found the airplane too underpowered and overloaded for hot days.

Frank’s interest in PA-12s developed when he grew tired of watching lake country slide by underneath his Cessna 337. In 1990, he decided to cash in the “sky maggot”, as some fire detection pilots nickname their patrol airplanes, and search for a STOL-type seaplane. Coincidentally, ex-Ontario Provincial Air Service chief pilot Floyd Swant in Sault Ste Marie decided to sell his all-red PA-12. As a result, C-FEPY became well known to every loon, black bear and raven within 200 miles of Chapleau.

The Aviation History Series

Limited edition, collectible aviation books

Support the growth and expansion of this web site by purchasing our first title, Tales from the Lakeview. Order with confidence using the secure, online credit card processing service by PayPal. Anticipate a great reading experience for yourself, beautifully produced, or send a gift anyone will appreciate.

View our aviation books
View our aviation books

Get published!

Make a lasting impression with your research and writing.

Have a great Canadian aviation story to tell? Contact the CanAero publisher, and put more than two decades of aviation publishing experience to work for you.
217 Bulrush Cres., Gloucester, ON K1T 0E6 Canada

Phone: 613-581-6625
E-mail the publisher

To view the Piper PA-12 photo gallery, click on the photo below:

Once the first image has loaded in the pop-up window, click near the right or left edge to move forward or backward through the photos. The arrow keys on your keyboard also perform the same function. © 2011. All Rights Reserved