Plane & Pilot
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Water Stinson

Though the Stinsons of the late ’40s weren’t designed as floatplanes, they adapt to water as if born for it

Good water manners and quick liftoff are key talents for floatplanes. Seaplane pilots don't care much about cruise speed. The primary benefit of more horsepower on the water is in leaving it, but extra power also increases fuel burn, a more critical concern in an airplane that can't refuel just anywhere. It's important to remember that refueling sites for pure seaplanes may be more widely separated than for landplanes. Except perhaps in Minnesota.

Benike lives in Birchdale, hard by the Canadian border in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," a seaplane paradise. In this part of the world, it's not necessary to mount those large, heavy, more-complex amphibious floats, as there are docks and avgas refueling sites in hundreds of locations. Even when fuel isn't readily available, many older-generation seaplanes are approved for auto/boat gas, and you can park them on any convenient lake or sheltered river.

Accordingly, Benike keeps his airplane on the Rainy River about a mile from his home, a 700-acre farm planted with wheat, canola and soy beans. The river itself forms the international border between northern Minnesota and Canada, so Benike often does his flying in Ontario, fishing or simply exploring the beautiful country up north.

"A pure floatplane might seem like a liability in some places," says Benike, "but here in Minnesota, you give away very little in exchange for the fun of operating off water. There are lakes adjacent to practically anywhere you might want to fly; even if there's no established seaplane base, there are few restrictions on waterbird operations. If you fly someplace where there's no avgas, you can nearly always arrange for auto fuel if you have to use it."

Total capacity in the Station Wagon is 50 gallons or 300 pounds, and at a burn of 12.5 gph, Benike figures his longest legs at 3.5 hours. "I never press my luck on range," he comments, "but it's nice to know that if you did have any kind of engine problem in my part of the world, you have emergency landing sites practically everywhere below. You can glide down and land on virtually any convenient 1,000-foot stretch of water, even less if there's a headwind."

Ross Benike purchased his 1948 Stinson 108-3 with wheels, floats and skis at the bargain price of $52,000 in 1997.
Fuel management takes on a special significance when there's less petrol available, and for that reason, Benike installed a JPI EDM-700 engine analyzer with a fuel computer. "The JPI is a lifesaver for a seaplane pilot. It not only allows me to keep track of EGTs, CHTs, oil temp and all the other parameters, but also lets me monitor fuel burn right down to a tenth of a gallon, so I know exactly how much I have left at any time," he explains.

When the airplane is docked at Benike's informal base in Birchdale, the owner refuels it from a storage tank in his truck. He also has a 500-gallon tank at his farm adjacent to his 2,200-foot grass strip. He operates the Stinson about equal time on wheels, skis and floats, flying perhaps 100 hours a year.

Benike likes to cruise his Stinson at 23 square most of the time, operating at about 75% power and at 6,500 feet or higher. He sees cruise speeds of 105 to 110 knots. Typical of most floatplane pilots, he's more interested in how much he can carry and where he can go rather than how fast he can get there. That's partially because flying over the magnificent lake country of the northern Midwest invites sightseeing.

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