Saturday, September 1, 2007
de Havilland Beaver
Sixty years in the sky de Havilland Beaver
|You first notice the sound as a low rumble in the distance. It grows louder, and the throaty rumble increases to a roar as the big floatplane swings into the wind for landing. On this remote northern lake where you’ve been stranded by weather for days, this is the sound of salvation. A hardworking Pratt and Whitney radial engine, firmly attached to arguably the best bush plane ever built, is on its way to pick up and deliver you to the land of hot showers and warm beds. Indeed, as I was told by a well-known pilot in Kodiak, Alaska, when I began flying a Beaver, “You won’t find a better airplane for flying in marginal weather in the bush.”|
Landings in a Beaver are nonevents. The airplane flares and settles on quite nicely: all in all, a gentle lady. Got some rough water to work? That’s the Beaver’s job. It’s big, tough and as honest an airplane as was ever built, assuming the pilot approaches properly. The airplane has the capability of extreme flap deployment—58 degrees, with a note in the pilot’s handbook recommending that “the full flap setting should be used only for emergency crash landings.” Interesting concept.
The Beaver has been “improved” by numerous modifiers. De Havilland itself adapted the Mk.1 to turbine power to create the Mk.III Turbo Beaver, with a P&W PT6 engine. Sixty were built in the late ’60s. The difference in engine weights required a 28-inch extension to the fuselage aft of the pilot’s seat to keep the Mk.III in CG. A larger rudder and vertical fin manage the additional horsepower from the turbine engine.
Modifications exist for a gross weight of 5,600 pounds for Mk.I Beavers, and 6,000 pounds for Mk.III Beavers. Numerous seating arrangements, larger cargo doors, larger windows and smaller batteries have all been approved. The induction has been moved to the top cowl to reduce water ingestion, the wing struts have been strengthened—the list is extensive. Viking Air Ltd. converts Mk.I Beavers to Mk.III configuration, turning your rumbler into a whiner, so to speak. Wipaire in Minnesota has developed its own turbine conversion for the Beaver, a quite different machine than the Mk.III Beaver, but with many attractive features of its own.
Whether modified or stock, the Beaver is (and has been for 60 years) the recognized workhorse of the North Country. A harder working, more productive bush airplane hasn’t been built, and Beavers are today being refurbished and put back to work at a price that I’m sure the designers couldn’t have imagined in 1947.
When test pilot Russ Bannock made that first flight in Beaver CF-FHB on August 16, 1947, he knew DHC had a winner, but I doubt that he ever dreamed of the impact on bush aviation and the tenacity that the Beaver would display.
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