Used Aircraft and the Art of Refurbishing: Part II

Sprucing up used single-engine pistons.

Better than New
Stinson 108-3

__One of the nicest examples of a custom restored Stinson you'll find anywhere occupies a row hangar at Sussex Airport (KFWN) in northern New Jersey. Here, a 1947 Model 108-3 "Flying Station Wagon" (so called because of its Woody-style wood-paneled interior and reinforced floor) proudly displays its window sticker signifying the airplane's status as "Outstanding Stinson" at Oshkosh last summer. The immaculately refurbished taildragger has been drawing admiring crowds wherever it goes ever since.

Listing everything that’s been done to N702C would be a difficult task because there’s almost nothing that wasn’t touched during the extensive restoration of this highly customized and modified post-war classic, which owner Robert Potter cautions “isn’t your granddad’s old Stinson.”

“I have $50,000 invested from the firewall forward, and $185,000 in the full restoration,” Potter confides.

That’s a significant outlay of cash for an airplane that cost $3,000 to buy new when it rolled off the Stinson factory floor in Wayne, Michigan, 64 years ago. The downside to that lopsided economic equation, Potter says, is that his insurance company will only offer coverage on the airplane up to $47,000.

“So they’d basically cover almost the cost of the engine,” he says with a laugh.

But what an engine it is. A few years ago Potter located a 220 hp Franklin six-cylinder crate motor in Arizona that was manufactured sometime in the 1970s but had never before been run. He spent more than a year rebuilding it and, for good measure, had just about everything made of steel or aluminum chrome polished by a custom motorcycle shop.

“Even the oil pan is chromed,” Potter says. “Totally unnecessary, I know, but I love it.”

While the polish job might strike some as superfluous, the extra 60 hp mated to N702C’s Hartzell constant-speed propeller has transformed this airplane into one of the hottest performing Stinsons you’re likely to run across as well.

“The tail comes up in less than 400 feet and I see climb rates of 1,400 to 1,700 feet per minute,” Potter says. “It’s a real rocket ship and, best of all, handles like a dream.”

Centennial Aircraft Services in Battle Creek, Michigan, performed the restoration, pulling everything apart and taking the fuselage frame and wing down to bare metal before recovering the airplane in Stits poly-fiber fabric and applying several generous coats of PPG paint — the same as Centennial uses on the new Waco biplanes it builds and sells through its Waco Classic Aircraft subsidiary.

Inside, the leather seats were redone in a rich burgundy to match the attractive exterior striping. Wood panels crafted by hand match the originals perfectly. Adding several additional modern touches to his classic Stinson, Potter had the shop install LED landing lights, a Whellen 360-degree strobe package, Garmin SL40 radio and GTX 327 transponder, and a PS Engineering four-place intercom. Additional soundproofing and four-point safety harness complete the package.

The restoration took more than two years to complete, Potter says, but the time and money spent were well worth it.
"I'd never think of selling this airplane," he says. "To me, it's just about perfect."

Cream Puff
Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer

When Dave Sterling got ready to purchase his first airplane, he was looking for something simple but capable. He started searching for a Cessna 172, but he had a friend with a Tri-Pacer that offered him a flight as an introduction to the airplane.
"As soon as I took a flight in his Tri-Pacer, I was hooked," says Sterling.

So Sterling refocused and found a fully restored 1957 PA-22-150 — N6929D — which he purchased in September of 2010. The more than half-century old airplane was better than new, from propeller to empennage, with a nicely equipped IFR panel to boot.

With a Garmin GNS 430 GPS/navcom linked to a GI 106 CDI and a now discontinued but very capable Garmin GNC 300 GPS/comm, there is no reason to avoid IMC conditions in N6929D. And while the Brittain Trak autopilot is not new by any stretch, it will keep the wings level, hold a heading, and even fly a GPS track since it slaves to whatever feeds the CDI.

“It is very simple and not much can go wrong with it,” says Sterling, who is also happy that Brittain is still in operation and capable of supporting his autopilot, should it become necessary.

The panel also includes a Garmin GTX 330 transponder, Electronics International engine monitoring gauges, and a PS Engineering PMA 6000 audio panel — the only unit on the panel Sterling is considering updating. He would prefer a PMA 8000 with an internal MP3 player and he is considering making the switch within a year.

While this Tri-Pacer was originally equipped with a 150 hp engine, it was replaced with a 160 hp Lycoming O-320 in the early 1990s, which gives the airplane a few extra knots. Additional speed modifications include Piper wheel pants and what’s known as “Pearl mods” designed by Tri-Pacer enthusiast Frank Sperandeo. His speed mods include aileron and flap hinge fairings, and rudder cable fairings.

The interior was done up with a nice, cream colored leather. The wing skins were replaced with new fabric and the entire airplane was draped with DuPont’s Imron paint in a pretty cream and bright red scheme, with the same design as the original.

Most of the alterations and updates were completed between 1998 and 2004, so with the exception of the audio panel, Sterling feels that there is nothing that needs to be upgraded in his Tri-Pacer.

“It has all the STCs and 337s that I would want,” he says. Since he purchased the airplane last year, he has flown approximately 25 hours. He and his wife, Stacy, plan to make regular weekend trips from their home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to visit family in Twin Cities. The couple also plans to show off N6929D at AirVenture in Oshkosh.