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Restoration perfection – Piper PA-12 page 3

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

Unlike early PA-12s, the floor has been modified into a totally flat area extending almost to the tail itself. Frank admits that the extra length necessitates caution; it’s easy to load tail heavy for an excessively aft centre of gravity. Sleeping bags and other light items occupy the space, and, farther forward, a semi-permanent survival kit, axe and portastove have been attached.

Not long after securing our Canadair CL-215 for the night at Chapleau’s airport, Frank drove me to the southwest corner of Borden Lake where FEPY sat in a quiet bay flanked by solid depths of dark spruce. Approaching the airplane, I couldn’t help but notice the remarkable finish. According to Punkari, who had researched every fabric type on the market, he could find nothing equal to Stits and the Stits dope, which matched it. “You’d probably get away with as few as three coats, but if you really want the best job, you do five and that stops the sun from killing the fabric,” Frank explained. “Merv applied about 11 coats–nothing’s been spared, we didn’t go short on anything, and nobody, but nobody, does as perfect a job as Merv Punkari.”

A perfectionist, Frank obviously could not bear to install ordinary dented and bashed floats as found on most airplanes north of city country. He located a low-time pair of Edo 2000s with only 66 hours since rebuild. Knowing he might have cold hands during his outdoor adventures, and that float plugs often disappear into the loon slime of northern lakes, he followed Punkari’s suggestion and attached each one semi-permanently to the float. Lockable compartments provide storage, and speed fairings on the spreader bars reduce drag. “It seemed like a good idea to extend the float rails along each side so that there wasn’t any chance that spray would reach the prop on takeoff,” he said. “Mine come right back to about the middle of each float at the step now. Merv and I both agree that you get on the step and off the water quicker.”

Entry to FEPY was accomplished through a right-side Kenmore door that travels over the top of the wing strut and halts at the engine cowling. The Super Cruiser brochure showed a similar one-piece door, which, when opened, went no further than the strut and made access to the front of the floats difficult. More than once, a bump on the back has shocked a pilot into a cold October lake. Prompt, dry exits become necessary on fast-flowing rivers.

Frank had delivered his PA-12 to Great Northern Freight Forwarding in October 1996, and restoration commenced almost immediately. Although Frank did little hands-on work himself, he made the four-hour drive from Chapleau to Sault Ste Marie almost weekly, occasionally accompanied by his wife, Karin. Finally, on May 15, 1997, his son Ken conducted the first flight. After an hour aloft Ken made a landing in typical Broomhead style–perfect.

Punkari and his crew, which included a host of experienced part-time AMEs such as ex-Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources chief engineer Steve Denley and volunteers such as Ralph Aitken, Lincoln Ray, Jerry Vaillancourt and Michel Bouffard, carried out their work almost snag-free. Returned to Borden Lake the same day, FEPY now has nearly 500 hours since the restoration with a total airframe time of slightly less than 5,000 hours. In one 65‑day period, Frank flew 96 hours–far more than most licenced pilots do in a year. He is no “slam-bang” pilot. No one steps inside the Piper unless they first place a foot in the water and wash the sand off or, in winter, brush their boots and shake their parkas. Maps and documents are not haphazardly thrown along the floor. Punkari installed several pouches on both sides and the rear of each seat.

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