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Jamie and Barb Tait’s Summit Air Charters page 2

Story by Dirk Septer

Shorts described their Skyvan as “a big box with wings that’s easy to maintain and cheap to operate.” Up to 4,600 pounds (2,085 kg) of cargo or vehicles can be lifted. It can easily take a mid-size pickup truck like a Ford Ranger or Toyota and can fly eleven 45-gallon barrels of gas or 10 barrels of diesel fuel up to 100 miles. When using aluminum pressure bulkhead tanks, up to 550 gallons of bulk fuel can be transported.

In August 1969, the Skyvan was demonstrated in Yellowknife. The aircraft, described in a local newspaper as an ugly beast, produced some rave reviews. It was even predicted that the Skyvan would one day replace the DHC-3 Otter as the preferred form of passenger and freight transportation in the North. STOL capabilities made the Skyvan well suited. Fully loaded, the aircraft was airborne in only 840 feet (256 m). The high location of its two turboprop engines meant it could operate from rough and rocky surfaces. Low-pressure tires allowed takeoffs from snow without skis, and it was cleared for operation by a single pilot.

Despite all these advantages, the Skyvan was never destined to become the future of Northern transportation. It just couldn’t match the freighting capacity of such aircraft as the Hercules, DC-3, HS 748 and Twin Otter. But more importantly, in its own class the Skyvan could never compete with the Northern love for the Canadian-designed Beaver and Otter.

Summit Air uses the Skyvans for a wide variety of special work including support of rafting outfitters operating 11-day trips on the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers. The Tatshenshini starts as a narrow, swiftly flowing river, with most of the whitewater concentrated in the first day of paddling. Soon it enters the Quiet Canyon and widens in size. Reaching the confluence of the Alsek River, the Tatshenshini begins to braid into many channels. Now surrounded by numerous glaciers, rafters float past 7,000-foot peaks, including 15,300-foot Mount Fairwater. On the last day, rafters are picked up from the air strip at Dry Bay, Alaska, and flown back to Whitehorse. An average flight from Dry Bay with up to nine passengers and two rafts will cost around $2,200. Three summers ago, when an iceberg blocked the Alsek River, the Skyvan had to land on a gravel bar in the river to fly a group of rafters out.

The Short, advertised as being able to land on a dime, does not require much room–“only a strip a little shy of 1,200 feet,” confirms Jamie Tait.

One of the more unusual loads was a horse belonging to the granddaughter of a local outfitter. This older horse had walked in on a trail, but could not make the two-week trip back. The choice was to either shoot the horse or fly it out. Tait thought this would be a fairly straightforward operation. “However, the horse didn’t want to walk up our aluminum ramp. So we constructed a sort of log arrangement that solved the problem,” Tait recalls. “The horse didn’t even have to be sedated and once in the air it was as quiet as could be.”

While mining and exploration is not Summit’s only market, that is where the company sees its greatest potential for growth. An important customer is New Polaris Gold Mine Ltd. Skyvan flights to this company’s New Polaris property southwest of Atlin are good for about 350 to 400 hours over a winter season. At the old mine site dating back to the 1930s, underground rehabilitation work is being carried out. The immediate area has large deposits of copper, gold, lead and zinc. Next door is the Tulsequah Chief mine, which was originally staked in 1923 and was later operated by Cominco for seven years before it closed in 1957 due to low metal prices. Vancouver-based Redfern Resources Ltd. believes their Tulsequah Chief property will become a world-class mine.

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