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Restoration perfection – Piper PA-12 page 2

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

Sometime during the airplane’s lifetime, a previous owner had upgraded to 135 hp. Although without flaps, the PA-12 on Edo 2000s helped Frank gain access to places he had only glanced at before. After he and his three pilot sons had logged nearly 500 hours, the time had arrived for major overhaul. In particular, the fabric needed replacement and numerous parts and pieces were rotted, corroded or bent from years of hard use.

Frank contacted Sault Ste Marie-based Merv L. Punkari, who worked under the odd name of Great Northern Freight Forwarding Ltd., a branch of Air-Dale Flying Service. Known as a superb craftsman for several similar restorations and the exquisitely built four-place Condor 275, Punkari agreed to take the project on at his shop beside the historic St. Mary’s River, the route of voyageurs, fur traders and explorers.

“When Merv got in there and started tearing things apart, he found all kinds of things wrong like rusted tubing, so we decided on more than just a fabric job,” Frank recalled. “Once he started, we’d get to a certain stage, somebody’d suggest another modification or find an STC we never heard of, so everything would stop and we’d go for it.”

Although the 135-hp Lycoming performed adequately, Frank was not satisfied, and, coincidentally, the engine had nearly time-expired. He considered a factory-fresh 180-hp, but found the cost prohibitive. Luckily, Punkari arranged for the purchase of a new 160-hp Lycoming, which accounted for the STOL takeoff I’d seen near Chapleau. Another newly discovered STC allowed the installation of dynafocal mounts to lower vibration. To further eliminate the possibilities of cracked cowlings and fittings, Punkari installed rubber bumper-like seams along all panel edges.

Punkari also relocated the oil cooler from the standard PA-12 forward position to the rear firewall for improved heat distribution. A lightweight starter saved an additional 16 pounds and enabled Frank and his fishing buddies to carry an extra lake trout or occasional string of pickerel.

The faded Georgian Bay Airways’ Super Cruiser brochure pointed out that 1946 models, sold by Cub Aircraft Corporation in Hamilton, left the factory with two wing tanks of 19 U.S. gallons each. Frank not only increased the wingspan by adding another four feet, he used the additional space to install long-range fuel cells. Now the airplane carries a 61.5 U.S. gallon total.

For shortened takeoff runs, Frank authorized an anterior wing leading-edge cuff similar to the Baron STOL kit and also included droop tips. Instead of standard PA‑12 ailerons, FEPY has PA-18 units and a PA-18 tail for improved slow-speed control. Knowing that the refurbished airplane would likely outperform the 135-hp version, Broomhead and Punkari realized that the original airspeed indicator would not register quickly enough. “We had to come up with an airspeed indicator that started working at 20 mph. We’re off the water at about 40, and the old instrument didn’t show a thing until after getting airborne,” said Frank. “Once you’re on the step, you go stick forward and that’s it–you’re flying.”

Inside the cockpit, FEPY in no way resembles the sparseness illustrated in the 1946 sales drawing. Shown with four basic instruments and a radio nearly as large as most modern televisions, the panel now has an array of lightweight instruments, many of them digital. Instead of the large-dialed VHF of the postwar era, Frank uses a small Bendix/King KY97A VHF, King KR86 ADF and circular Apollo moving map GPS with voice-activated intercom and headsets for rear and front seats. A tape deck helps the time pass during long cruises to Moosonee, and double-wall soundproofing and Naugahyde panelling actually make the headsets unnecessary.

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