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So you want to be a bush pilot? page 3

Story and photos by KAVIV MOMOH

The first time I encountered a de Havilland Beaver was also the first time I flew one, and what struck me was the absolute ruggedness of it. It felt much bigger than anything I had flown before; you could actually walk between the front seats if you had climbed in through the back. Four doors and sliding windows, tall and wide–a Land Rover with wings.

If you are lucky enough to eventually fly a Beaver, you will also develop a new opinion about how an airplane should really perform. A 48-foot wingspan, 450-hp radial engine and full-span flaps can have it airborne in less than 100 feet in the right conditions.

With a wide range of flap extension, it lives up to its STOL billing (or is that star billing?). Takeoffs over a densely treed shoreline can feel positively helicopter-like, descents amazingly steep, yet fully controllable.

Only when large objects like snowmobiles, refrigerators or boats are strapped on the outside does the performance wane. Nonetheless, the mere fact that such external cargo can be carried is a tribute to the Beaver’s capabilities. There is a rumour (and a photograph) of a fully assembled outhouse being flown as an external load!

The Beaver can carry a lot of weight and bulk for a plane its size, but not so much as to destroy your back by the end of the summer. Perhaps that is why the Otter was built. In a typical configuration, a Beaver load consists of five occupants, four to five hundred pounds of baggage and 35 gallons of fuel–enough for about an hour and 45 minutes of flying. For longer flights, there are three fuel tanks under the floor and an optional two in the wing tips.

Possibly the only shortcoming that the Beaver has is speed–or rather, the lack of it. On floats it cruises at around 100 knots, give or take some. This can be nice in a way. You can slide the window down on hot days (or garbage runs) without making it too windy inside. And opening the window doesn’t make much difference on the noise level inside either–it’s already loud.

I have finally come to understand why those Beavers seemed low. The slow but agile aircraft almost feels out of place when high above the land. It is more in its element when flown low enough for the pilot to be able to see the wind on the water and in the trees. It’s there that a Beaver is most comfortable.

Every day is different
One of the best things about flying in the bush is that no two days are the same. You might accidentally drop a passenger’s CD player in the water one day, and have a dog toss its cookies in the plane the next. Once in a while, an interesting and unusual charter might crop up.

Travelling north, there is a noticeable lack of roads and railroads. Towns in these areas are serviced by aircraft. It is only during the winter that some roads open up, because they can be ploughed across frozen lakes.

One winter ago, a little west of Lansdowne House, a large bulldozer proved too much weight for the ice. The machine broke through and went straight to the bottom. The unfortunate driver lost his life in the frigid water.

Although sunken 1,500 feet from the shore, the large Caterpillar was worth too much not to attempt salvage. The owner had a couple of Cessna floatplanes, but the required equipment was far too bulky and heavy, so he hired Huron Air to transport it–a typical example of the role of charter companies in remote places.

The equipment included several huge inflatable airbags, winches, generators, compressors, gasoline and other back-breaking objects. The airbags alone weighed a couple of hundred pounds each, and other individual pieces of equipment were all ridiculously heavy.

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