The Stinson Reliant was another step in the development of rugged aircraft designed to withstand the punishment of operating in harsh climates. The design is distinctive with its gull-wing profile.
But despite the improvements in manufacturing and operations, one thing remained indispensable, regardless of the aircraft – a skilled engineer/mechanic.
Models such as the Stinson were vast improvements over their predecessors, but they were often still ill-suited for operation in the extremes of the Canadian north. This was where a skilled mechanic could make all the difference. Through their innovation, perseverance and commitment, they were essential to keeping these fragile flying machines airworthy.
The annuals of aviation history are filled with accounts of engineering ingenuity, where resourceful mechanics built everything from propellers to skis with only primitive wilderness supplies in order to get their damaged aircraft back to civilization.
The end of a day’s flying brought little rest for the mechanic. To protect the aircraft from the elements, wing covers and an engine cover would be put in place, with snow typically mounded around the engine cover to keep out the bitter winds. The engine oil would be drained into a bucket and the airplane was refueled from gasoline drums via means of a hand wobble pump.
In the morning, the mechanic would reverse the process. The engine oil would have to be heated over a wood stove or fire. The mechanic would crawl under the engine cover and using blow pots (open flame gasoline or kerosene heaters) start to heat the engine, often with one eye on the closest fire extinguisher. When the engine was sufficiently thawed to start (often after an hour or two effort), the mechanic would retrieve the warmed engine oil, pour it into the oil tank and hopefully start the engine. The engine and wing covers would then be stowed and the aircraft made ready for take-off.
Without the ingenuity of these early aviation flight engineers and mechanics, aircraft like the Stinson Reliant would have been hard-pressed to operate effectively in northern climes.
The museum's Stinson flew the North for more than 50 years and was acquired in 1992. Restoration of the aircraft has taken about 15 years of on and off work.