Pilots of Alaska’s small planes carry mail, groceries, and passengers to Bush villages and ferry hikers, hunters, and fishermen to some of the prime spots in North America. They often need to carry items that don’t fit in the airplane, such as canoes that ride like lampreys on the bellies of planes, or 60-inch moose antlers tied to struts.
One of the most common floatplanes in Alaska and Canada is the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver.
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De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
The Beaver was designed with the float pilot in mind. Its short takeoff and landing capability made it ideal for areas normally only accessible by canoe or foot. As well as having cabin doors, the cockpit has a pilot’s door on each side and full-sized doors on both sides of the aircraft allow it to be easily loaded no matter which side of a dock it tied up on. The doors are wide enough to allow for a 45 Imperial gallon drum to be rolled up into the aircraft. Beavers have large cabins and can seat eight people. Depending upon equipment, their useful load can be 2,100 pounds.
Because it often flies to remote locations, often in cold climates, its oil reservoir filler is located in the cockpit and oil can be filled in flight eliminating the need to scale the airplane to put oil in it and risk dropping something or someone in the water.
In addition to hauling passengers and freight around the bush the Beaver is used for crop dusting and aerial topdressing, and has been widely adopted by armed forces as a utility aircraft. The United States Army purchased several hundred; nine DHC-2s are still in service with the Civil Air Patrol for search and rescue. A Royal New Zealand Air Force Beaver supported Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition to the South Pole.
Despite the fact that production ceased in 1967, (1692 were built) hundreds of Beavers are still flying—many of them heavily modified to adapt to changes in technology.
The original Wasp Jr radial engine of the Beaver is long out of production, so repair parts are getting harder to find. Some aircraft conversion stations have addressed this problem by replacing the piston engine with a turboprop engine. The added power and lighter installed weight, together with greater availability of kerosene fuel instead of high-octane aviation gasoline, make this a desirable modification, but at a high financial cost.
The Beaver was deployed by the British Army Air Corps during the Troubles at least until 1979 for photo-reconnaissance missions. One of them was hit seven times by machine gun fire in South County Armagh, near the border with the Republic of Ireland in November 1979, while taking valuable photos of an IRA checkpoint. The border crossing where the action took place was known by the British Army as “Beaver Junction” since then.
Designed and built in Downsview, Ontario, the Beaver was cited as one of 10 Outstanding Canadian Engineering Achievements of the past 100 years. The Royal Canadian Mint commemorated the Beaver on a special edition Canadian quarter in November 1999.
Beaver has been featured in Hollywood films such as Never Cry Wolf, a film based on the true story of Farley Mowat’s journey alone into the Canadian tundra to study the relationship between wolves and and caribou. In the film, Early on the film provides a good look at the sights and sounds of a well worn Beaver. Brian Dennehy’s portrayal of a Canadian bush pilot captures the spirit and unique character present within many a cavalier bush aviator.