Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Backcountry Monster: The Legend Of Bigfoot

Expedition Aircraft introduces a tailwheel version of its bush-country workhorse

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings,” wrote Gordon Lightfoot in his wrenching ballad about the sinking of the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, “in the rooms of her ice-water mansions.” And on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, near Georgian Bay and about 150 miles north of Ontario, Canada, Expedition Aircraft quietly goes about the business of making some of the toughest aircraft on earth. Born of the legendary gales and fierce storms that batter this part of Canada, Expedition introduces a new contender in the heavyweight bush arena: Bigfoot.

If Expedition Aircraft doesn’t ring a bell, its parent company might: Found Aircraft. Bud Found started the company in 1946 to design and build ultratough airplanes for the backcountry market. Not just any backcountry, but the rugged northern Canadian wilderness, from the Mackenzie River to the Arctic coast. The first Found aircraft was certified in the U.S. and Canada in 1964 as the FBA-2C, and could operate on floats, skis and tires while delivering impressive payloads to the far-flung bush country. Somewhat odd-looking, the FBA-2C became popular with bush pilots operating out of the remote northern territories, and gained a reputation for being safe, tough and reliable—a reputation that continued for 40 years.
A formidable beast did emerge from the woods, both mysterious and a little frightening, and now promises to open a new chapter in backcountry operations.
In 1996, Found Aircraft began development on an improvement to the FBA-2C. They brought in de Havilland’s former VP of Engineering and Director of Research, among other consultants. The idea was to improve on an already legendary aircraft, and open the potential market to general aviation pilots. The result was the Bush Hawk-XP, which received FAA certification in 2000. The Expedition line of aircraft was born, and Oshkosh 2007 saw the unveiling of the Expedition E350, with tricycle gear and an interior that was a little more genteel than the Bush Hawk-XP. Certified by the FAA in 2008, the E350 is in service all over the backcountry today, with the same reputation for rugged safety, hauling capacity and reliability.

Rumors and sightings of a tailwheel version of the E350 began circulating around the backcountry last year. Like its namesake, a formidable beast did emerge from the woods, both mysterious and a little frightening, and now promises to open a new chapter in backcountry operations. Sure, Bigfoot lives up to its name, but unlike its hairy cousin, this beast does things a little differently.

Bigfoot Groupies
I meet Ted Dirstein, Chief Pilot for Expedition Aircraft, and I immediately realize he has the best job in the world. Ted gets to fly Bigfoot and demonstrate its capabilities to pilots everywhere. I’ve gone out to look at Bigfoot at AOPA Summit and have seen other pilots share my inquisitiveness, doing the pose like in the old RCA Victor ads where the dog is tilting its head at “His Master’s Voice.” From every angle, Bigfoot is intriguing. It’s not ugly, but it’s not “pretty.” It’s attractive in the same way that old Land Rovers and Willys Jeeps and International Scouts are attractive—it looks chunky and cool.

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