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An Ottawa Valley flying legend page 5

Story by Mike O’MalleyPrincipal photography by Karel Van Duyse

At the end of each flight day began the task of keeping the ageing workhorses serviced. Often the only mechanic at Da Swisha, Ronny’s silhouette frequently danced alone under the dock lights, sometimes until dawn. A busy season could see two complete engine changes and half a dozen cylinders replaced. The reality of operating “round pounders” is that for every two flight hours, there is a corresponding maintenance hour. Da Swisha had as many as four pilots but only one Ronny, and a busy season often meant little sleep for the one-man maintenance department.

“Beavers hate trees”
Ronny learned the limits of the Beaver early in his career when departing Busted Lake on a hot and humid day. A 40-knot gust drove him dangerously close to the trees and provided a dose of humility that transformed the young airman into a pilot. Ronny later said it was the only time in his career that he was not in control of his aircraft. The experience made him acutely aware of the moving media in which an airplane travels and a keen observer of nature’s indicators, such as watching eagles locate rising air on the windward side of a hill. His pursuit of free lift created some wide-eyed moments for passengers unschooled in the finer points of pilotage, but in Ronny’s experienced hands, orthographic lift was a standard tool for prying Beavers out of short lakes. As he says, “Beavers hate trees. The airplane will languish in the water like a kid on a hot summer day, but show it some trees and you’re flying.” When leaving Da Swisha on hot afternoons, the breeze moving up the hills to the northeast was a regular contributor to the circuit departure, saving time and fuel on the 2,000-foot climb out to west Quebec.

In a story that has been told and retold countless times in the taverns of the upper Ottawa Valley, the members of the Aberford Sporting Club got a first-hand demonstration of the STOL capabilities of a Beaver in the hands of a master pilot. Eighty-five-year-old Jack Watts fell and broke his hip at Buchholz Lake Lodge. This tiny lake requires good eyesight to even locate on a map; it’s inaccessibility made it an ideal location to stock trout and paddle a canoe. Jack was frail and his injury unstable enough that members believed the three-hour truck ride over nearly impassable trails might be life threatening. Two volunteers were sent to Ronny’s cabin by truck to arrange for a medical evacuation by helicopter from CFB Petawawa. On arrival, Ronny advised them that a helicopter would have difficulty getting under the tree canopy to the lodge, and old Jack would likely be scared to death being winched up through the trees in a basket to a hovering helicopter. Instead, Ronny offered to fetch him with the Beaver. The volunteers were aghast at the idea, as no aircraft had ever flown into Buchholz Lake. Of course, Ronny said that was only because no one had ever asked him to before.

Before departure, the plane was stripped bare and fuel reduced. Arriving at Buchholz, Ronny slipped the Beaver down a creek and glided into the tiny lake like a duck onto a pond.

Jack’s condition had deteriorated to the point that moving him from his rocking chair to the stretcher proved impossible. Ever resourceful, Ronny restrained old Jack to the rocking chair, securing them both in the Beaver. In a testament to the de Havilland engineers and the skill of Ronny Bowes, they departed the tiny lake with room to spare and headed for the hospital in Deep River.

C-FODA’s co-pilot
During the spring of 1975, a Montreal doctor lost his life on the Dumoine while paddling with his wife. As requested, his ashes were returned to Ronny to be scattered along the river. Nowhere in the Beaver operating manual does it provide a procedure for the scattering of ashes, so Ronny had to improvise. Flying alone, he approached the area where the good doctor perished, slowed and trimmed the airplane to permit him to travel to the rear camera hatch. He opened the urn and presented the ashes to the airflow below. In a resounding confirmation of Bernoulli’s principle, the ash promptly returned to the low pressure region of the cabin, filling Ronny’s eyes, mouth and nose. Ron was forced to land and unceremoniously return the balance of the remains to the waters of the Dumoine River with a whisk and a dustpan. To this day, the spirit of the doctor soars above the Dumoine River valley, in the cracks and crevices of C-FODA.

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Beaver coin

An Ottawa Valley aviation icon becomes a Canadian “Centsation”

Winnipeg artist Brian Bacon’s submission “The airplane opens the North” was chosen as the November 1999 winner in the Royal Canadian Mint’s Millennium contest, “Create a Centsation”. Brian’s image depicting a Canadian bushplane in an Arctic setting was intended to pay tribute to such flying legends as “Wop” May and “Punch” Dickins, and the essential role played by aircraft in the development of northern transportation.

The master engravers at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa required a clear photograph to turn Brian’s sketch into a coin. Mint researchers were delighted to find that Bradley Air Services, a company with a 50-year history of Arctic operations, had an original 1951 de Havilland DHC-2 sitting at the hangar at Carp Airport, a half-hour away, which was in fact the last plane purchased by Arctic aviation pioneer Russ Bradley. The likeness of C-FODA, including its registration, was engraved and minted by the millions for circulation during the month of November 1999.

C-FODA remains the only aircraft in the Bradley (later First Air) fleet never to have been north of the 50th parallel. It has served its entire working life in Ontario and west Quebec. |

Royal Canadian Mint photo © 2011. All Rights Reserved