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Stinson 108 Voyager

report by neil macdougall • photos by doyle buehler – first published fall 2000

Stinson 108 Richard Henkel

Richard Henkel’s 1996 Oshkosh award-winning beauty (Best Fabric floatplane) is based at Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba.

When a new four-seater costs 10 times as much as a family sedan, used aircraft are an obvious alternative. But their prices have been rising faster than gas prices before a holiday weekend. Planes 40 or 50 years old are relatively cheap, but parts are usually more difficult to access.

An exception is the Stinson 108, a four-seat classic with a pedigree, the speed of a Cessna 172, a fairly roomy (though horribly noisy) interior, good short-field performance and a superior useful load. Best of all, it can be had for $25,000 to $40,000, while many parts are readily available.

Once a name to conjure with, Stinson is no longer familiar to many pilots. Eddie Stinson was an early American pilot, whose pioneering sister Katherine taught him how to fly. In 1927 the Stinson Detroiter he co-designed came first in the Ford Air Tour. A noted hauler, the plane was soon the choice of pilots seeking fame and fortune but often finding disaster. In 1927 Brock and Schlee flew a Detroiter from Maine to Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, and then on to Europe and Tokyo. This great achievement is seldom remembered. The same year, Canadians Terrence B. Tully and James V. Medcalf disappeared in a Detroiter when vying for the $25,000 prize for the first London, Ontario, to London, England, flight by a Canadian or British citizen. C.A. (Duke) Schiller, a noted Canadian bush pilot, and Phil Wood discontinued their rival flight in a Detroiter on a similar route when a second plane vanished. Other Detroiters disappeared while en route to Brazil or crashed in the Atlantic near the Azores.

Some Detroiters were used by airlines, which later bought two Stinson tri-motor models, one high-winged, the other low-winged. Other types followed, including the handsome Reliant, a gull-winged five-seater popular with oil companies. By the Second World War, Stinson had a cachet unsurpassed by any of today’s light-plane makers. Several Stinson 105 (initially called the HW-75) Voyagers, 75-hp three-seaters, were used by the RCAF as wireless trainers. A Voyager development was the two-seat Stinson L-5 Sentinel, a liaison and observation aircraft. One Stinson 105, eight HW-75s and one L-5E survive in Canada.

For the postwar market, Stinson made the Model 105 Voyager into a 2,150-pound four-seater with a 150-hp Franklin engine, the Model 108 Voyager. It was of fabric-covered, all-metal construction, with metal-skinned tail and flaps. It’s still noted for its strength. In more casual days, one owner used to loop his Voyager seaplane over the Huntsville, Ontario, town hall while a British Columbia pilot discovered, “Mine didn’t roll very well.” Sleeker and cheaper (US$5,489) than the competitive and thirstier Fairchild 24, the Voyager was an immediate success.

Although Stinson advertisements suggested pilots didn’t need earphones, a 108 was the noisiest light-plane I tested for Canadian Aviation magazine years ago. Its 108 dbA level (if I recall the number correctly) was enough to cause permanent hearing loss, and higher than that in some military bombers.

The Model 108-1 had minor improvements and a gross weight increase to 2,230 pounds. The later 108-2 had a 165-hp Franklin engine, a baggage compartment, a sturdier structure and a bungee rudder trim. The 108-2 came in two versions, the Voyager with cloth upholstery and a rear cabin that could carry 350 pounds of cargo with the seats removed, and the Flying Station Wagon, with plywood rear-cabin sidewalls and a reinforced floor allowing 600 pounds of cargo. The rear seats were the padded sling type and easily removable. Some claimed they were as comfy as a hammock.

The earlier models looked alike, but the 108-3, built from 1948, had a startlingly large fin, increased fuel capacity (50 U.S. gallons instead of 40), a gross weight increase to 2,400 pounds and a cockpit rudder trim control.

By then, the US$4,895 Aeronca 15AC Sedan and the US$5,475 all-metal Cessna 170, both new to the market, were competing with a plentiful swarm of bargain-priced war-surplus aircraft. Plane makers went from euphoria to bankruptcy in months. Piper bought Stinson’s assets and assembled a few hundred Voyagers before production stopped in 1948. (Deliveries continued until 1950.) A remarkable 5,260 Model 108s had been built in only three years. (Now, Beech, Cessna and Piper can only dream of such production rates.) Today, 285 Stinson 108s are on Canada’s Civil Aircraft Register, of which 124 are the big-finned Model 108-3.

All Stinson 108s came with a six-cylinder, horizontally opposed Franklin engine. Franklins were renowned for their lack of vibration, apparently achieved by a unique damper system that eliminated the need for counterweights. In 1975, a Polish firm, PZL, bought the rights to Franklin engines and produced four models until 1981.

The only new Franklin engine approved for the Voyager is the 200-hp Franklin 6A-350. Some parts, such as bearings, gaskets and seals, are interchangeable with the 150-hp and 165‑hp engines. Franklin Aircraft Engines Inc. of Fort Collins, Colorado, has the STC, while New Aviation, Inc. of Austin, Texas, also sells the engine. American carburettors, magnetos and ignition harnesses are fitted. New Aviation does not have parts for old Franklin engines and refers inquiries to Susan Prall, A-1 Service Aircraft, Jewett, Texas.

A 1972-1976 National Transportation Safety Board study of general aviation accidents concluded that Stinson 108s had the second-highest engine failure rate, 10.65 per 100,000 flying hours. Only 20% of these were caused by fuel mismanagement and none by fuel exhaustion, according to a similar 1967 NTSB study. Voyagers have a single fuel gauge, which serves both tanks. Unless a switch on the gauge is moved, the gauge may not show fuel in the tank selected. Of the 33 aircraft types in the study, only the Globe Swift was worse, at 12.36. The Cessna 172 and Piper PA-28 rates were 1.41 (the lowest) and 2.37, respectively. This record, lack of spares and the “Frankenstein” engine’s low (1,200-hour) TBO led many Voyager owners to change engines.

Univair Aircraft holds an STC to convert all 108-1 and 108-2 models to a 180-hp Lycoming O‑360 and the 108-3 to a 200-hp Lycoming IO-360. Gerald Reddick of Edmonton converted his Stinson 108-1 to this Lycoming as soon as he bought it. “My Franklin needed a motor job, and I couldn’t get parts. It’s a nice airplane to fly. I’ve had no trouble because I have the small tail.” He recalled having to help others turn around a big-tailed 108-3 in a strong wind.

The 190-hp Lycoming O-435 is a another optional engine, which Bruce W. Furst of Winnipeg has on his 108-3 floatplane. “I wouldn’t buy an aircraft with the engine I have. Parts for the engine and the Hartzell variable pitch propeller are hard to get and overhauls are too expensive. A friend was quoted $15,000 to replace his prop. Otherwise, the plane is comfortable and handles well, although crosswinds [on floats] are a big chore.” He cruises at 110 mph and has a 2,500-pound gross weight and a 1,768-pound empty weight. With full fuel, the remaining useful load of 432 pounds makes the plane a two-seater. He estimates the price of a landplane at $25,000 to $30,000.

Joe Melatini of Nelson, British Columbia, has the same engine and prop in his 108-3. “It’s a good combination if you look after it. You have to grease the prop bearings and collars every five hours. [It’s better not to have a spinner.] Outdoor storage can cause corrosion, and blades have flown off. I fly at full throttle and get 130 mph. While learning power-off approaches I cracked the jugs. You have to keep 1,800 rpm to maintain cylinder head temperatures.

“The 108-3 is noticeably heavier than earlier models. The big fin eliminates in-flight yaw. It’s very stable. In smooth air, you can put it in a 60-degree bank and circle all day without losing a foot. In the utility category [at reduced weight], chandelles, lazy eights, steep turns and spins can be performed. Some people can’t get it to spin, but my instructor, Dale Nielsen, a former CF-104 Starfighter pilot, showed me how. Execute a full-throttle vertical climb. At 40 mph pull the control column full aft and apply full back stick and full rudder. You leave the power on until the spin starts.

“My 108-3’s gross and empty weights are 2,400 pounds and 1,580 pounds for a useful load of 820 pounds.

“Landing speed is 59 mph with full flaps. Without power, it falls like a rock. The third notch of flaps gives you an extra nine degrees of elevator travel. The crosswind limit is 13 mph. I’ve landed in a 20 or 25 mph almost direct crosswind, using full rudder. The dog in the back was a bit worried. It’s a very forgiving plane, but not on the ground. I used to porpoise it. It can be difficult for a beginner.”

Stinson 108s had the second highest rate of ground loops, according to NTSB data. The Cessna 195 had the worst record, while the notorious Luscombe 8 Silvaire almost matched the Voyager’s poor stats. The Voyager and the Silvaire ground looped three times more often than the Piper Super Cub.

Ted Hungerford of Dwight, Ontario, has a 230-hp Continental in his snazzy yellow 108-3. Norland Aircraft Services Ltd., Norland, Ontario, did the installation, using a 700-part US$14,000 kit. Total cost, including the remanufactured engine, was $52,000. “The Stinsons were underpowered with a 165-hp Franklin, but they were miles ahead of their time and are still prettier than others in their class. They were and still are one of Canada’s best bushplanes. With my engine, I can outfly any Cessna 180 around. It has astounding performance,” Hungerford enthused.

Chris Bullerdick, president and chief engineer of Norland Aircraft Services, says the O-470 is the most common seaplane installation. “Performance is outstanding, but it requires about 20 pounds ballast in the tail. At forward centres of gravity, you have to be careful not to let the floats dig in. It’s better to use power and no flaps. Having spray over the windshield is not a good thing.

“It’s slightly underfloated on Edo 2445s. On Edo 2870 floats, performance is phenomenal. Number two in performance but first in affordability is the 180-hp Lycoming O-360 Voyager seaplane. No ballast is needed so you can carry full fuel and three people.”

Yet another option is the 210-hp Continental IO-360. Tyee Aero Conversions, Box 72, Black Creek, British Columbia, owns the STC. Ken Huxham, president, says his STC applies to all 108s, although the 108 and 108-1 need fuel system and rudder trim upgrades. The firm has completed a prototype and two private aircraft, each at a cost of $35,000 to $45,000. More information is available at 1-888-820-TYEE.

Randy E. Teha of Barrhead, Alberta, has a 230-hp Continental O-470 and a constant speed prop on his 108-3 Voyager. He’s been flying it on wheels, skis and floats for 12 years. “I have the STC for auto fuel and haven’t had any problems.

“It’s a good plane, well built with a good roll rate and ample rudder authority–a rocket on wheels. I cruise at 130 mph [wheels] and 110 mph [floats]. On floats, it will get off with anything you can cram into the cabin. Actual useful loads are 800 pounds on floats and 900 pounds on wheels. Full tanks [50 U.S. gal.] will give me three hours’ endurance.

“I’ve very few dislikes. The cabin is small if you’re long legged. When I was green, I got into a crosswind and put it up on its nose. A quick lesson–that big tail needs special care. The power-off sink rate is high, so keep a little power on while landing.”

Randy Teha paid $27,000 for the Voyager, complete with the floats and big engine, in 1988. He estimates it’s worth $70,000 now, while a pristine 108-3 landplane with the original engine might go for $30,000.

The Stinson’s cabin is about 40 inches wide, tapering to 36 inches in the rear. Overall, it’s the size of a Cessna 172’s. The screw trim in the ceiling is more positive than the Cherokee 140’s, to the consternation of students. Ted Hungerford rated the Stinson’s visibility superb, although Diamond Katana and Grumman Tiger drivers might differ.

Takeoffs are made with 10 degrees of flaps, but even when fully lowered, the flaps reduce stalling speed only three to four mph.

Pilots love the flying characteristics and well-harmonized controls. The superior feel is due to ball-bearing-mounted flight controls, without any bushings. The 108 is very stable, although few are flown IFR because the two external venturis could ice up. Stalls are tame, with one wing dropping only slowly. Owners attribute the aileron control at the stall to the built-in slots near each wing tip. (Trans-Canada Air Lines’ Lodestars had a similar system.) A U.S. government agency taped the slots over and found no difference in stalling characteristics.

Company brochure figures give a misleading impression of useful load. In keeping with automobile sales practice of that era, nearly everything but the wings and the control column was a costly optional extra. This practice kept the published empty weight down. Today, artificial horizons, directional gyros, transponders, encoders, dual nav/comms, intercoms and many other items are standard equipment. Nevertheless, some Voyagers are genuine full-fuel, four-passenger aircraft, unlike more modern planes of similar power.

Stinsons were one of the few aircraft that came with a radio–a dinky General Electric or Hallicrafters set, with a single crystal-controlled frequency of 3105 kc and a tunable, “coffee-grinder”, two-band receiver. Because the dials were always in error, finding the station to which you were broadcasting required patience.

Thanks to Univair Aircraft Corporation, Aurora, Colorado, which specializes in keeping old aircraft flying, many Voyager (but not other Stinson) parts are available. The firm has 1,500 Voyager parts in stock and manufactures a few hundred of them. Some items, like 108-3 gas tanks, door locks, ash trays and some interior panels are no longer available. Mike Sellers, marketing and sales manager, said it would not be economical to build more when only 3,000 Voyagers remain. However, he thought that Voyager parts were more readily available and cheaper than those for a 1956 Cessna 172.

The Internet offers prospective buyers access to a mountain of information on the Stinson 108. Many of the over 950 sites I found were depressing accident reports, pictures of someone’s machine or aircraft for sale. The best site (www.stinsonflyer.com/ac-0.htm) by enthusiast Larry Westin includes frequently asked questions on both Stinsons and Franklins and a list of STCs and ADs, weight and balance spreadsheets, a world-wide list of Stinson owners and sources of new and remanufactured parts. The International Stinson Club (www.stinsonclub.org) is another useful source.

No one should buy a used aircraft without having an AME inspect the machine. An investment of $150 or so could save you many times that. Be certain that a fabric test is done, because recovering your new prize could cost $15,000. Another thing to look for is excessive fraying of the rudder control cables near the front guide pulleys, common after 500 to 600 hours.

The AME should ensure that all ADs have been complied with. Transport Canada makes this task easy by listing ADs applicable to individual registered planes on its web site. For example, Stinson C-FBPX, a Franklin-engined model, has four ADs on the airframe, one on the engine and one on the McCauley propeller. Not bad for an old bird. C-FBFS’s Lycoming O-435A engine, has eight ADs on the Hartzell prop alone.

Don’t expect the inspection to discover every problem. Buyers need a contingency fund, especially on planes that are 50 years old. A recent pre-purchase inspection by an AME overlooked a prop with too narrow a chord, an illegal installation that was discovered only after the sale. Unapproved parts are not unusual in old aircraft, whose parts are often in short supply.

You may even be able to sample a Stinson before you buy. Both Wingham Flight Centre and Goderich Flight Centre, located at those two Ontario airports, have a Stinson 108-1 to rent at $80 per hour, solo.

David Thomas, CFI at Wingham, said, “It’s a nice plane to fly, docile on the ground, but enough of a handful that students can’t relax. You can tell who learned on a tricycle. In flight, you don’t need a lot of rudder, but students have to learn to use their feet.”

Instructing in a plane without dual brakes must be as entertaining as checking out a pilot in a Beaver with a throw-over control wheel. “Students jump on the brakes. I’ve had some lift the tail.

“So many people told us they wanted to rent a tail-dragger that we decided to put my Stinson on our operating certificate. Insurance companies insist on 10 tail-dragger hours before they will cover pilots.

“The engine is really smooth running, but its light case is easily cracked by thermal shock. You daren’t chop the throttle and dive for the runway. Maintenance must be kept up. We put in a new carburettor and all-new valves. There’s no trouble with parts. Some came from Univair in two weeks, while a jug was easily found in Toronto.”

Another Stinson 108-1 owner is Marcel McMurdo of Thompson, Manitoba. Asked how he liked it, he said, “It’s too damn old. It’s underpowered and you almost have to take the government to court to change the intake manifold and carburettor.” With a 76-pitch prop and an engine approaching the 1,200-hour overhaul, he gets only 2,150 static rpm on a cold day. For seaplane operation, 2,500 rpm is a minimum. His useful load is an amazing 1,210 pounds, enough “to carry full fuel and four feather weights. Still, it’s a great plane. Weight for weight, you get a lot of bang for your buck. I paid $17,000 for it four years ago, and figure it’s worth $28,000 now.”

Kenneth Lloyd Nodge of Craik, Saskatchewan, has owned two Voyagers. He bought a 108-2 about 12 years ago for $6,200 before he had completed his private licence. “I quite liked it. It was docile and forgiving and never played any tricks with me. The slots guarantee air flow over the wings. Eventually, I learned to wheel land it. It handles crosswinds well, and you can keep the tail up at 23 mph. It’s finely built and is good value.” He now has a Voyager 108-3.

The final word goes to Fred Jensen of Beausejour, Manitoba, whose daughter is learning to fly in his 108-3. “Her instructor complained there was no heat on the passenger side, but the pilot’s side is OK in Manitoba winters. The plugs foul easily if you don’t taxi with the mixture leaned. My maintenance guy says, ‘Your daughter can taxi better than you can.’ If you forget to lean while taxiing, a shudder and shake develop after takeoff. Spares are no problem.

“The glide ratio is no hell. But you can handle pretty good crosswinds on landing. Taxiing can be difficult in high winds. Once I had to shut down and push it. The fuselage has been metalized so I have a useful load of 976 pounds on wheels. Cruise is 120 mph at 2,400 rpm. There’s nothing I don’t like about it.” |

Stinson Voyagers at a glance

Model

Year

Engine

Gross
landplane

Gross
seaplane

Fuel
U.S. gal.

108

1946

150-hp
Franklin 6A4-150-B3

2,150

2,235

40

108-1

194647

150-hp
Franklin 6A4-150-B3

2,230

2,235

40

108-2

194748

165-hp
Franklin 6A4-165-B3

2,230

2,235

40

108-3

1948–50

165-hp
Franklin 6A4-165-B3

2,400

2,500

50

Notes: The first three models of the Voyager are almost indistinguishable from each other. A huge fin makes the 108-3 striking, if not beautiful. This model alone requires no ventral fin for seaplane operation. Gross weights are from the Approved Type Certificates, via Transport Canada. Incorrect figures can be found in several aviation publications.
 

The Stinson Voyager and its contemporaries

 

Stinson 108-3
Voyager Sedan


Aeronca 15AC


Cessna 170A

Engine

165-hp Franklin

145-hp Continental

145-hp Continental

Cruising speed, mph

121

105

120

Stalling speed, mph

65

53

58

Initial climb, fpm

850

450

690

Service ceiling, ft.

16,500

13,000

15,500

Takeoff over 50 ft.

1,400

900

1,820

Landing over 50 ft.

1,500

1,300

1,145

Gross weight, lbs.

2,400

2,050

2,200

Empty weight, lbs.

1,300

1,180

1,205

Useful load, lbs.

1,100

870

895

Fuel capacity, U.S. gal.

50

36

42

Wingspan

34 ft.

36 ft., 1 in.

36 ft.

Source: Aircraft Blue Book Price Digest. In the 1940s, published performance figures were somewhat optimistically stated. When the Voyager appeared in 1946, its competition was the more expensive Fairchild 24. Not until 1948 did the Aeronca Sedan and Cessna 170 appear. By then the 150-hp Voyager 108-1 had given way to the big-tailed, more powerful 108-3.

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