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An Ottawa Valley flying legend

Mike O’Malley pays tribute to one of Canada’s great bush pilots, Ron Bowes. Principal photography by Karel Van Duyse – first published summer 2001

Bradley Beaver 1

Photographer Karel Van Duyse’s son Chris and his university buddies board Bradley Air Services’ Beaver at the Da Swisha floatplane base for a late May 1980 trout fishing trip on Kennedy Lake. Pilot Ron Bowes is wearing a green jacket and rubber boots.

After 35 years of bush flying, 63-year-old Ronny Bowes has finally retired from Bradley Air Services. With pilot-in-command time on de Havilland Beaver C-FODA conservatively logged at 21,400 hours, Ronny is reputed to be the world’s highest-time Beaver pilot on a single aircraft. This achievement is all the more remarkable as Ronny flew entirely on floats under daylight visual conditions with an average trip length of under 50 miles. Not to mention his unblemished safety record while operating from log-filled rivers across hilly terrain into the short rocky lakes of west Quebec. The Canadian-designed Beaver is celebrated as the greatest bushplane, legendary for reliable operation in adverse conditions. Those that know him best, believe the same could also be said about Ronny Bowes.

From farmer to pilot
Born in 1938, Ron Bowes was raised on the family farm on the Bonnechere River between Douglas and Renfrew, Ontario. Following in his father’s footsteps, Ronny and his bride Kaireen ran a dairy operation with their five children. As money and time permitted, he travelled to Russ Bradley’s flying school at Carp airport, 60 miles to the east, earning a pilot licence in 1964.

Using an Aeronca Champ from a grass strip at the farm, this natural flyer accumulated the 200 hours required to obtain a commercial licence within two years. Ronny had the Champ maintained at Carp and noticed that aircraft mechanics seemed remarkably clean compared to dairy farmers. Russ Bradley was persuaded to take him on as a mechanic’s apprentice in April 1968. His farmer work ethic, eye for detail and affection for all things mechanical made him a natural for the job, and he quickly developed a reputation for high quality results under adverse conditions.

The combination of the commercial licence and apprentice ticket also made Ronny an ideal candidate for one of Russ’s frontier operations, as he could both fly and maintain an airplane. Initially scheduled to start an Arctic rotation in the spring of 1969, instead Ronny was offered a job as fire patrol pilot on a Super Cub at Bradley’s Rapides-des-Joachims (Da Swisha) floatplane base, only an hour’s drive from his farm. That summer the farmer turned pilot met Paddy Doyle, the man who later became his boss and life-long friend. Paddy worked for Laurentian Air Service on the adjacent dock at Da Swisha. In their off-time, the two men would hold conference from the floats of the Super Cub on remote Kennedy Lake and fish for speckled trout.

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