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Restoration perfection – Piper PA-12 page 4

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

“When I go moose hunting, the meat goes in sealed game bags, and when I fish I take a white plastic pail and put the fish in it,” said Frank. “Every fishing rod or gun that goes into this airplane must be fully cased, and for outboard motors, I use a polyethylene bag. Ice augers, which can be broken down, have protectors on the cutting edge and are stored in a canvas case.”

Before the restoration, FEPY would cruise at barely 80 mph, averaging a fuel burn of five to six Imperial gph. Now, with 160 hp coupled with a new seaplane Borer propeller, cruise on floats averages between 93 and 95 mph burning seven Imperial gallons, with a seven-hour range. Most flights take place within 100 miles of Chapleau, but Frank intends to branch further out, north of Moosonee and possibly into the Arctic. With his plane’s long-range tanks and ability to carry extra in plastic fuel kegs inside, Frank has the satisfaction of knowing he will likely never run out of fuel.

In 1946, original PA-12 Super Cruisers on wheels sold for $3,970. Today, their value has skyrocketed, and most seaplane versions sell between $60,000 and $70,000. Dr. Frank Broomhead’s FEPY, however, with all modifications and STCs such as skylight, metallized belly and roof panels, would probably exceed the value of some light twins.

It doesn’t matter. Frank has no intention of selling and is, in fact, considering other improvements if he can find them.

A flying objet d’art
After hours of listening to Dr. Frank Broomhead extol the benefits and beauties of what likely qualifies as Canada’s most highly cared for Piper PA-12, I looked like I’d fallen asleep. After all, claimed several area seaplane aficionados, Frank’s evangelistical enthusiasm had driven almost everyone away from Gus’s Café, the Chapleau pilot hangout. One man said he expected Frank to stand on street corners dressed in a shabby suit passing out PA-12 operating notes and shouting, “Hallelujah! Praise Piper! Praise Punkari!”

I quickly assured the big man that he certainly did hold my interest. Piper PA-12s in any configuration had always ranked, to me anyway, as one of the finest airplanes built. I was no expert on them, however: my logbook showed barely 100 hours on type and none current.

“You gotta fly it!” he snapped. With Frank weighing in at 208 pounds and extending into the heavens for over six feet, I meekly agreed. Unfortunately, after several missed opportunities due to weather and the gall of my employer deploying our Canadair CL-215 to other bases, the situation seemed hopeless. Finally, I found myself in Sault Ste Marie when, coincidentally, Frank had delivered FEPY to Great Northern for a 100-hour inspection.

We met at Air-Dale Flying Service’s dock. A few yards away stood the shrine (a hangar in which FEPY had levitated from the netherworld of factory standard flying machines). Frank watched as I opened the airplane’s door and proceeded into the back seat. Again I heard the Broomhead roar: “Forget that! In the front!” Soon, his step-by-step instructions had us taxiing on the St. Mary’s River. Throttle forward, stick back, and FEPY jumped into the air–just like the brief run back in Chapleau. Three touch-and-goes later, Frank sent me solo.

Within minutes, it became clear that Frank had genuine reason to be proud of his Piper product. Comfortably seated with front and rear shoulder harnesses and superb visibility, I found the PA-12 a pleasure to handle. Power-off stalls with no flap occurred at 34 mph, and half flap indicated 31. It looked like 30 to me on the airspeed indicator, but Frank insisted it was 31–a perfectionist. (Thank God! After all, he’s probably delivered half the baby population of Chapleau.)

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