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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed New life for a distinctive design

By RANDY DUFAULT
Republic Seabees
All four of these Republic Seabees take to the air on V-8 power. PHOTO BY MARIANO ROSALES
Seabee
Brian Robinson’s polished Seabee has been a test bed for a number of improvements to the type.
PHOTO BY STEFAN SEVILLE

There was a time when just about every airport had at least one, sad-looking Republic RC-3 Seabee tied down in the weeds, possibly with a flat tire or missing its propeller. Not anymore.

“The capability of the Seabee is unmatched anywhere,” said Tom Kennedy, owner of a Seabee project who makes his home in British Columbia. “It’s a heavy built airplane and is good for conditions that other amphibians won’t handle.

“They’ve operated off the open ocean.”

Estimates are that more than 200 of the unique Percival Spencer-designed amphibian are flying today.
As many as 500 of the 1,070 airframes built still exist but with new technology options, along with support from the owner community, it is not unreasonable to expect that many more will return from their bone yards and once again take to the air.

See…see Seabees Reunion
Over the course of the week 16 Seabees are expected to visit EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011, substantially more examples of the type than have been seen at recent conventions.
Brian and Blair Robinson of Kirkfield, Ontario, headed up the effort to bring the planes here, mostly to celebrate the type’s 65th anniversary.

Read about Robinson’s engine conversion here.

Republic, like many aircraft manufacturers looking to keep busy after wartime contracts expired, entered the civilian airplane business and picked the Spencer design.
After a substantial amount of reengineering to simplify production, the first example of the RC-3 rolled off the Farmington, New York, production line—a site formerly occupied by the P-47 Thunderbolt.

“There are really no ribs in the wing,” Tom’s brother Neil said. “It’s built entirely differently—that’s why [the wing skins are] beaded.”

Neil just completed a Seabee restoration and along with his wife, Janet, flew the airplane here from their home in Elmira, Ontario.

“There is a lot of duplication left and right too,” he added. “So many of the parts could go in either way.

“They could crank these things out at a pretty good pace.”

Originally the Seabee’s power came from a now-rare Franklin engine, a fact that has had an impact on the type over the years.

“Back in the day there weren’t any big engines and Franklin made the biggest one around,” Tom said. “It only went into the Seabee and one other airplane that never got into production. The engines never developed.”

New Power Equals a New Can-do Seabee
In order to solve the Franklin power problem Neil installed a V-8 automobile conversion Brian Robinson has developed. First flights of the completed bird occurred a few weeks ago, after which he and Janet set off on a five-week trip west across Canada, south to Seattle, and east again to Oshkosh.

They now have 40 trouble-free hours on the craft.

Extra power and performance available from the V-8 allowed the gross weight of Neil’s plane to jump from the 3,150 lbs. it left the Republic factory with, to a whopping 3,850 lbs. An electrically reversible, constant speed MT propeller replaces the original, hydraulically controlled variable pitch fan.

Tom is in the process of rebuilding his Seabee and is planning the V-8 conversion as well.

Canadian rules are less strict than U.S. rules for making such a modification, but U.S. owners have options to install a variety of different Lycoming and Continental engine models in place of the original Franklin.

In addition to the V-8 package, Brian, an engineer by trade, has developed a number of other improvements for the type.

He uses his airplane as a flying test bed for options like relocating the hinges to the top of the door. With the hinges located at the front of the door, a Seabee pilot had to be very careful not to place the prop into reverse with a door open.

Prop blast would catch the open door often causing substantial damage. Hinging at the top solves the prop blast issue and, as an added benefit, provides a bit more clearance during docking operations on the water.

Other improvements include ailerons that droop with the flaps and electric gear operation.

“He is the technical leader of the fleet,” Neil said.

“This is the development program the Seabee needed back in 1946,” Tom added. “And it is happening now in the EAA 60 years later.”

Growing the Community
The Seabee community is very active on the Internet. History of the type and its variants is well documented, including the current status for each and every one of the airplanes Republic built.

For the trip East from Seattle, Neil and Janet hooked up with three other Seabees all headed here through the magic of the Internet.

Here at EAA AirVenture the Seabees are gathered in the amphibious parking area just past the end of the Ultralight runway.

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