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The Stinson 108

When I was a youngster my Uncle Roy flew a Stinson 108 out of Port Alberni. I never got a chance to fly in it, but after he died I poked around a bit and discovered that it’s still flying in central British Columbia. It’s on floats now, and looks like a great backcountry plane now.

Stinson 108 on floats, CYPK

That got me thinking about Stinsons as backcountry aircraft. I found out that they’re very good four seat backcountry airplanes, but that’s not all I found out.

History

Edward Stinson started Stinson Aircraft back in 1920, a time when building aircraft had to be a labour of love more than a business. Stinson would have been a aviator first and a industrialist second (I think we pilots all recognize why). He died in 1938 in a airplane crash, which was unfortunate in many ways. He died just as World War II was beginning, and although the war was a tragic occurrence for many individuals it gave a exceptional boost to the aircraft industry. The Stinson Aircraft company fabricated lots of small aircraft for the military, especially observation and liaison aeroplanes. If Stinson had survived he would have been able to accomplish a lot.

Following or during World War II (I’m not clear exactly when) the Stinson Co. joined with the Consolidated Vultee Corporation (there are still Vultee Stinsons in existence). In 1949 the company was purchased by Piper Aircraft, but it didn’t stop making airplanes. Most significantly they continued building the 108.

Many 108s made their way into the bush, and a great many are still there, flying daily in remote areas.

The 108 was quite popular. All were manufactured between 1945 and 1950. The airplane was developed based on the prewar 10A Voyager and all 108s were crafted in the Wayne, Michigan manufacturing facility (some parts of the plane were also built in Nashville). By 1949 when Piper acquired the STC for the plane there were about 325 of the 5,260 108s in company inventory, but not sold. That inventory went to the Piper company and were sold as Piper-Stinsons. I’ve never encountered any Stinson 108s on the modern used market called that, however. Bottom line, all of the 108s that you’ll ever look at were made during a 5 year time frame and there are still a lot of them existing. That simple fact clearly proves the aircraft’s ruggedness and functionality.

Construction and Engines

The 108 is a rag and tube airplane, with the tubes made of steel. Some of them have been skinned with aluminum, on the fuselage, wings, or both, with STCs. Metalized aircraft are maybe a little bit more compatible with out door storage and bad weather conditions, but they do forfeit a bit to fabric covered planes in terms of performance and weight.

The 108s originally came with the 150 horsepower Franklin engine but many other different motors can be, and have been, installed with an STC . Among these are the Franklin 220/220, Lycoming O-360, and the Continental O-470. The Franklins were fine motors, but there is a debate with getting parts. The complaint is that parts are hard to get. Other people disagree, pointing out that there are lots of Franklin motors available which creates a vigorous secondary parts market.

Franklin engines were acquired by a Polish company, PLZ, and although it still produces engines it’s products aren’t as common as Lycoming or Continental. The Franklin website says that the company is actually for sale right now, but they do provide conversions for 108s. (Oddly enough, after the war Franklin dominated the American general aviation market, but it was picked up by the Tucker Automobile Company, which then cancelled the aircraft contracts and really hurt the health of the firm).

In any case there are lots of conversions available for the Stinson 108 and all of them deliver additional horses – the Continental IO-360 (210hp) & O-470 (230hp), the Lycoming O-435 (190hp), O-360 (180hp) & IO-360 (200hp), as well as Franklin (220hp). One thing to take into account with conversions is their weight, which is all added up front. It’s all about trade offs, but pilots differ a small bit about whether the extra horsepower from a new engine is worth it. As the old saying goes, it all adds up in the end.

You can recognize Stinsons several ways, but the air intake and big stabilizer are two easy tell tales.

Stinson Air Intake

Stinson 108 Stabilizer

The 3 Models of the 108

Each of the three models closely resemble each other but you can distinguish them by some variances. The 108 does not have a right-side cargo door, but the 108-1 does. Both of these airplanes came with the 150 hp engine. The 108-2 was basically the same as 108-1, but it came with a 165 horsepower engine & an inflight adjustable rudder trim (I’ve fooled around with my rudder trim tab, and I think inflight adjustment would be cool). The 108 and 108-2 had 40 gallon wing gas tanks. The 108-3 brought in a taller vertical fin and the rudder had a straight trailing edge. Some people say that the smaller tail fin in the 108-2 delivers better crosswind landings. There seem to be a lot of these around. They come with 50 gallon fuel tanks in the wings,and a higher gross weight than the 108 and 108-2, (2400 lbs.), meaning a better payload.

Non-Backcountry Stinson with Wheel Pants and Nice Restoration, CYPK

A “Flying Station Wagon” variation (did everyone try to stick “Wagon” into their brand back then?) was an available option with the -1, -2 and -3 models, coming with a utility interior featuringthe wood paneling you run across in all the cool restorations and a reinforced floor, allowing a total of 600 lbs. of gear in the passenger compartment. The backcountry value is self-evident. The plane can be fitted with wheel, float or ski landing gear.

Performance and Specs

The 108 can handle 4 individuals. They’re 25 feet 3 inches in length, with a wingspan of 34 feet. Wing area is 155 square feet. Empty weight ranges from 1,350 lbs and 1,500 lbs. Maximum weight is 2,400 lbs. The difference is the useful load you can carry. Maximum speed is roughly 133 mph, but that obviously varies with different powerplants. Range is approximately 500 miles with a burn rate of roughly 12 gph. Service ceiling, like many normally aspirated aircraft, is 13,000 ft, but it offers a respectable rate of climb – 650 ft/min. Takeoff roll is reported to be 620 feet. Pilot reports have said that with two people they can lift off in five hundred feet, but a heavily loaded plane requires three times that. It needs only 290 feet to land.

108s are a awesome backcountry plane. They are considered to be smooth flyers, whether on floats or in the traditional configuration. They are also said to be really stable during slow flight conditions, which is a good feature for short field landings. The wing has a leading edge slot. This is a really cool feature that boosts the docile stall characteristics, and is something you sometimes see on experimental planes or high end bush planes. The landing gear is very hardy and is a very good shock absorber. While I’ve heard the 108s referred to as slow-moving and ponderous, I’ve also noticed a lot of aviators sing its praises on the internet. It has a lot of room in it, that’s for sure.

Leading edge slot

There are annual Stinson fly-ins in Columbia, California and Vancouver, Washington, and several good Stinson websites:

Hanger 9 Aeroworks
Larry Westin’s Stinson Page
Dave Miller’s Stinson Info

My name is Rob Chipman and I’m a realtor and pilot based in Vancouver, BC. I AM NOT A FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR AND I AM NOT OFFERING FLIGHT INSTRUCTION! I am sharing my study notes and other things I’ve learned while getting my education as a pilot. You’re welcome to make use of this information, but do not treat it as expert advice.

I really enjoy flying, real estate and the Chilcotin.  My company is Coronet Realty Ltd., located at 3582 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, V5K 2A7. I have a C-150L that I own with two other pilots, based out of Pitt Meadows. Do not hesitate to contact me by email if I can help you do anything, especially if its likely to be interesting or concerns selling remote property in British Columbia.

One Response to “The Stinson 108”

  1. Doug. Sowden says:

    HI Rob,
    Thank you very much for the great history of the Stinson 108. I fly “Doris” a 1946 Stinson 108 with the original Franklin 150hp. She and I fly mostly the lower mainland, V.I. and the Sunshine Coast…although we did the maybe “once in a lifetime” flight to Oshkosh last summer. If you haven’t…go!
    I sold my “remote” property up the coast in 2001.
    Thanks for the read.

    Doug.

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