Dad bought his first Seabee in 1949. He traded it for a tired J-3 and $500 dollars. Dad had planned on reselling the Bee at a profit, however he could not part with it after flying it home. I guess I come by my love of the Bee honestly. We purchased our present Bee in 1969. It was sitting derelict on the shores of the Hamilton Bay, and was a sad case. Damaged by the winds & vandalized by local kids, it definitely needed a new home. This Bee was strictly a flying boat; the landing gear had been stripped out - including all the hydraulic lines! The Bee had been operating in the north country supporting a hunting & fishing camp - truly every panel on our Bee has a story to tell.
We hauled the Bee home on a trailer behind my brother's 1968 Dodge Charger and put it back into flying service. We operated on a limited budget, and did only what was necessary for safety. This included a basic VFR panel only, with no radios or navaids, and an original Republic interior. Fortunately Dad was a talented mechanic and an excellent scrounger. He even found everything necessary to reinstall the landing gear. We flew the Bee on a sunny day on 22 August 1971.
Like Dad, I always figured we would fly the Bee for a while and then sell it. That was over 30 years ago! The Bee really spoils you for flying most other light planes with it's handling characteristics and utility. The only downside to the Bee was the underpowered Franklin engine. The Bee has a large cabin, and the Franklin had only 215 H.P. It was an easy plane to overload. Additionally, the Franklin's reliability was a constant concern. You really had to enjoy getting your hands dirty on a frequent basis & maintain a good supply of spare parts. If you go for a ride in a Bee, be careful: Seabee fever is contagious & it can be very difficult to cure!
My love for the Sea Bee goes back a long way. My dad Eric bought his first "Bee" in 1950 when I was a very young boy. He operated it commercially & really enjoyed flying it. After I received my pilots license we bought our second "Bee" and I have been an active Sea Bee pilot ever since. In my opinion it is a great aircraft, and easily one of the best recreational aircraft of all times. We flew the Bee with the original Franklin engine for 28 years and have many fond memories of the trips we made.
In late 1997, the Franklin was due for another overhaul and I had a decision to make. I believed there were three viable options for me:
Unfortunately, the last new Franklin parts were produced in the late 1940's. Overhauling a Franklin involves a resourceful mechanic, a lot of ingenuity and a combination of installing some automotive components (e.g. Crankshaft and rod bearings), reworking existing components (e.g. Camshaft), and welding up 50 year old cylinders to allow installation of modern aircraft valve seats and guides. After much effort, you still end up with an obsolete engine.
The most popular certified aircraft engine conversion for this aircraft involves installing the GO 480 series of engines. This is an expensive option, and the GO 480 engine is 1960's technology. Removing one obsolete engine to install another obsolete engine did not make a lot of sense to me. There are a limited number of other approved aircraft engines for the Bee, but the conversions are all expensive.
The automotive engine conversion option offered the following possible benefits:
Based on all of the above factors, the decision was easy. I decided to proceed with automotive conversion and set the following objectives and principles: