Sunshine Clipper

We at Kitplanes are always looking for new and different airplanes to review, and we found this one right under our noses at the annual Sun 'n Fun Fly-in in Lakeland. It has been greeting visitors as they walk into the show from the camping area for years, and we just assumed that someone had covered it before - but sifting through our dusty archives, it is apparent this fine effort at homebuilding has been all but ignored. An unfortunate situation, and one we'll rectify here!

Sunshine Clipper pilot's seat
Sunshine Clipper pilot's seat

The airplane is a one of a kind offering from Henry C. Palmer, an amphibian biplane that is trying to decide if it is more of a boat or an airplane. Perhaps the truth is that it has been caught in mid-metamorphosis, emerging from its chrysalis and not yet fully formed. It has, however, been proven as a flying machine, having logged approximately 100 hours before having been donated to the Sun 'n Fun organization for display next to a quiet pond on the grounds. Since the airplane appears to have been out of annual for a number of years, we weren't able to give it a turn around the patch (or the pond), but we can report on some of its unique features.

The configuration appears to have been spawned by the marriage of a Wright Brother's flyer and an aluminum fishing boat, with a few nods to modern technology thrown in along the way. Powered by a mighty C-85 in pusher configuration, the structure appears to be well thought out and features a modified boat hull and retractable landing gear. The tail booms and surfaces might owe more to Curtiss than Wright, but they appear adequate for the job.

Sunshine ClipperWe are impressed with the spacious accommodations for the passenger, which features plenty of shoulder (and elbow) room as well as astroturf carpeting. The white vinyl boat cushion seat appears comfortable, and the leg-room (both fore/aft and side to side) is enormous. The plastic pilot seat (a better word would be "chair") appears to be borrowed from a set of lawn furniture, but does have a bucket configuration. Thoughtfully, both seats are equipped with seat belts - a nod to modern design, no doubt.

Sunshine Clipper

Flight controls are conventional, with a standard stick and rudder configuration , with rudder return springs that will be easy to preflight. In fact, all the flight controls appear easy to preflight, as all cables, pulleys, and fasteners are exposed for all to see. An airspeed indicator is featured prominently between the pilot's toes, with an altimeter and a few engine instruments on a panel to the side. The "Landing Gear Winch" appears utilitarian, and was probably stolen off the trailer that the boat rode in on.

Sunshine Clipper landing gear winch
Sunshine Clipper landing gear winch

Baggage compartments (which appear to have lived a previous life as tackle boxes) are mounted on either side of the pilots chair, and the entire aircraft is appropriately finished off with a mermaid figure-head tied to the bow. The "Sunshine Clipper" is certainly one of the most unique aircraft - or boat - we have seen in years, and only wish that it was still operational, so that we could give it a try.

Sunshine Clipper

Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and a Subsonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

4 Replies to “Sunshine Clipper”

  1. Paul - I was fascinated by your article about the Sunshine Clipper. My son and I would invent this concept over and over on our trips to Osh Kosh over the years, not knowing -but suspecting- someone has tried it before. I imagine there have been many attempts. But here we have what was a nice-looking flying example although with somewhat "underwhelming" performance.
    It's not hard to see that designer / builder Henry C. Palmer ran into almost all of the classic problems of airplane design using a C-85 engine and yielding 58 mph cruise speed with apparently 400 lbs. of net load. Is Mr. Palmer still alive? Or anyone else that could bear witness to the performance part of the story? And did the designer at least contemplate upgrading the performance, or did he conclude that this would be a lost cause?

  2. Doug, if you search the EAA Sport Aviation archives from the ~mid ‘80’s, there was an extensive feature on the Sunshine Clipper.

  3. Just looking at the construction of the hull, I would bet it was an Orlando Clipper built in Orlando. A well built boat. The rest is a guess for me, But what a great restoration project. I'd like to be a part of that and would feel safe flying it once restored.
    Who cares about speed when you can just enjoy the water and view from the air while going from one fishing lake to another.

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