Every dog has its day—even a Seabee. A design bought by Republic to help keep its Long Island factory active when the world no longer needed P-47s, the ’Bee was poised to profit from the anticipated postwar private aviation boom. The boom sounded right on schedule, but it was brief. The market was soon saturated with ex-military aviators trying to start flight schools, air taxi outfits, charter operations and crop-dusting firms. (In the late 1940s, my father would arrive at our summer house in a friend’s Seabee, which landed on Cape Cod Bay and, with a great roar, taxied up onto the beach. A buddy of his had bought two Seabees, planning to open an air taxi service on Manhattan’s East River. It never panned out, but a Republic RC-3 gave me my first airplane ride.)
The Seabee originally sold for $3,495 but quickly spiraled to $6,000, which bought a very slow four-place amphibian with a 215-hp Franklin engine turning an optional reversible-pitch pusher prop for water maneuverability. The Seabee’s short-coupled tailwheel gear made runway landings an adventure, but the ’Bee was in its element on the water, with a strong, stable and maneuverable hull. Republic built 1,000-odd Seabees in just one year (1946, plus a few in 1945) and spent the next four years trying to sell them.
Seabees were never particularly desirable as restoration projects—one hulk has corroded away for years on a riverbank not eight miles from where I live—yet suddenly, the ’Bee fleet has been increased by two. Floridian Mike Araldi has flown his refurbished Abeja—Spanish for bee—and John Cuny of Carlsborg, Wash., has impeccably restored and flown the Seabee that he has owned for 30 years, 15 of which went into its restoration. (Cuny’s aircraft received a Gold Lindy in the seaplane category at 2014 AirVenture.)
Both airplanes have geared, 480-cubic-inch Lycoming sixes in place of the original Franklins. It’s a popular Seabee mod, and Cuny’s airplane carries the most powerful, 340-hp supercharged version of the engine. “It’s a large aircraft, and it takes time to thoroughly restore,” Cuny admits, “but it turns into a swan on the water.”
Araldi, an experienced restorer, found his Seabee hangared not far from his Bartow, Fla., base. It hadn’t flown in 14 years yet had been faithfully annualed for most of that time, so Araldi’s work consisted largely of replacing expired hoses, fittings, seals, pumps and the like, plus a total repaint in a clean pattern that enhances the Seabee’s unusual shape.