DICK LOEK/TORONTO STAR
A business end of the mint-condition,
Toronto-built de Havilland Beaver owned by Sherritt
International Corp. chair Ian Delaney and based at Toronto Island airport. "Don't be
fooled by the cute exterior," writes The Star's Rachel Ross.
"Beavers are a tough and reliable lot. Uneven terrain, icy snow and
rough waters do not deter the Beaver."
didn't fly past the speed of sound
Yet these beavering planes built nations
wouldn't be the same without the wildlife. The nimble chipmunk, busy beaver
and majestic caribou have come to define this great nation. And it's all
thanks to de Havilland.
De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd., now an
industrious unit of Bombardier Inc., immortalized many Canadian mammals in a
series of rugged airplanes designed right here in Toronto. Bush planes such
as the Beaver and Otter were hotshots of the hinterland, easily landing on
short strips of water, snow or soil. Larger de Havilland aircraft like the
Caribou showed the rest of the world a thing or two about strength and power
in the air. As the company's export business started taking off in the 1950s,
Canadian critters showed up in the most unlikely places: there were Otters in
Chipmunks in Lebanon
and Buffalo in Brazil.
These are planes that put Canada
on the world map in terms of aeronautical design. Too often, Canadians fail
to recognize the importance of their own achievements — especially in
aviation. On the eve of the 100th anniversary of flight, it's fitting to look
back at great Canadian aircraft. They weren't all big sellers. But they
represent sound engineering and innovation.
So, here's a Hinterland Who's
Who of those bushy-tailed birds (with apologies to the Canadian Wildlife
Service, for inspiration drawn from the iconic TV spots).
The Chipmunk — DHC-1
The Chipmunk is a small but
agile creature indigenous to central Canada.
Known for its grace in the sky, the Chipmunk completes aerial aerobatics with
ease. The Chipmunk population is on the decline.
But they can still sometimes
be spotted around flight training centres.
Like its namesake, the Chipmunk
was a petite plane: a two-seater designed to train pilots. It was the first
plane designed by the Canadian branch of de Havilland and the first plane the
company named after a Canadian mammal. The little guy wasn't always named
after a furry mammal though. Russell Bannock, past president and chief
executive officer of de Havilland Canada,
says the plane was originally named after chief designer Wsiewolod
Jakimiuk. But some at the company worried pilots
might have a hard time pronouncing Jakimiuk and that, perhaps, it wasn't the ideal name for a plane. Even Jakimiuk himself was usually called "Jaki" by his colleagues. Phil Garratt,
then chairman and managing director of de Havilland Canada,
decided that what they needed was a distinctively Canadian name — something
that spoke to the country's true nature.
Inspiration came to Garratt on a trip to his cottage. He realized, as he fed
some chipmunks, that the answer was all around him. "He thought it was a
good idea to name Canadian-designed airplanes after Canadian animals,"
Bannock says. The name Chipmunk, in particular, seemed ideal for the little
two-seater. It even sounded a lot like Jakimiuk.
The first Chipmunk flew in
1946, on a test run at de Havilland's Downsview facility. The responsive little plane — which
performed loops and rolls with ease — quickly became a favourite of the Royal
Air Force. More than 200 Chipmunks were produced in Canada,
with another 1,000 made in England.
Like de Havilland designs to come, Chipmunks were shipped to countries all
over the world, including India,
and South Africa.
"It was a big success," says Paul Cabot, curator and manager of the
Museum, at the former de
Havilland plant in Downsview. "You can talk to
people from all different air forces around the world who
The Beaver — DHC-2
The industrious Beaver is
well suited to the hinterlands, working tirelessly in the lakes and ponds of
cottage country. Don't be fooled by the cute exterior. Beavers are a tough
and reliable lot. Uneven terrain, icy snow and rough waters do not deter the
Beaver. It will always be associated with Canada's
If de Havilland Aircraft of Canada
had got their way, the Beaver might have been the company's first plane.
After manufacturing several British planes during the war, the Canadian wing
was eager to design one of their own. Their first thought was to make a bush
plane, but the parent company in England
had other plans. They wanted a new plane for pilots in training — a
replacement for the British Tiger Moth. Hence the little Chipmunk came first.
The success of the Chipmunk and a growing demand for bush planes soon revived
the idea, and in 1947 the Beaver was born. "You couldn't have found a
better name for that airplane," said Cabot. "It was in the bush and
it was a workhorse. It very much had the work ethic of a beaver." The
Beaver was rugged. De Havilland test pilot George Neal says that most bush
planes of the period had fabric-covered wings that could rip if snagged by a
branch. "The Beaver was an all-metal airplane so that made it easy to
maintain especially in the bush," says Neal. The plane was designed so
that it could use wheels, pontoons or skis for take off and landing.
Moreover, it could take off and land using a relatively small strip of land
or water. "It's so logical when you look at it you wonder why somebody
didn't think of it before," says James DeLaurier,
a professor at the University of Toronto's
Institute for Aerospace Studies. "It's a nice, stable, simple airplane.
And it was large enough to carry a dead moose or something." In 1987 the
Canadian Engineering Centennial Board voted the Beaver one of the ten most
outstanding engineering achievements in Canada
for the previous 100 years.
Aviation author and historian
Larry Milberry notes that while the Beaver is
well-designed, the company did initially struggle with sales.
"At the end of the war
there were literally tens of thousands of cheap war surplus airplanes
available," Milberry says.
With a glut of relatively
inexpensive second-hand planes available, it was tough convincing civilians
to buy a new Beaver. A huge order of 1,000 came from the United
States military after the Beaver won a
major contract competition. Some served in Korea
Civilians bought another 554
Beavers. That's a lot of planes. But Milberry says
it hardly compares to some of the Beaver's competitors. Milberry
said sales of the Russian bush plane, the Anotov 2,
Regardless of sales, the Beaver
is still noteworthy for its longevity.
"Most of those airplanes
are, in fact, still flying today," says Cabot.
The Canadian planes sold around the
world. Twin Otters were sold to 76 different countries
flies his Beaver all the time, transporting fishermen, tourists and hunters
around the hinterland as a part of his business, Canadian Adventures.
"It's very relaxing to fly
the Beaver," Lacouceur says. "It also
carries quite a load for the size of it." Ladouceur
has even carried 17-foot boats on the outside of the plane. And, he points out, Beavers are going up in price. He bought his in 1996
for $340,000. "The same one today, in equivalent condition, could be
around $480,000," Ladouceur
says from his lodge in Chapleau. It's too bad he
didn't pick one up when he first started flying Beavers in 1974. Back then,
he said, a Beaver only cost about $56,000.
The Otter — DHC-3
The Otter loves to splash
and slide in Canada's
abundant lakes, rivers and streams. Like the Beaver, the Otter can handle
snow and rough terrain: it is most at home in the bush. The Otter is also
adept at thoughtful tasks that require dexterity and control.
Originally called the King
Beaver, the Otter was designed as a larger version of de Havilland Canada's
first bush plane. The Otter had all the great qualities of the Beaver: the
wings were all metal and the landing gear could be outfitted with skis,
wheels or pontoons. The Otter was also particularly stable and had remarkably
good STOL (short take off and landing) abilities for a plane of its size. As
with the Beaver, the U.S.
military would prove to be a major buyer. More than 160 were purchased by the
Navy and the Air Force combined. The 14-seat, single engine plane also proved
an excellent vehicle for the Ontario Forestry Service, which used it as a
water bomber. Some were bought by Wardair and flown
in the Northwest Territories. "The
Beaver and the Otter opened up the Canadian north," said de Havilland's Bannock. "Even today, a lot of the
northern charter operators have fleets of Beavers and Otters because they are
great for going into small lakes." The Otter was so popular that the
company later decided to build on the design by adding another engine. The
Twin Otter (DHC-6) first took flight in 1965. Six hundred were made before
production ceased 13 years later. Its large size and ability to land on
varied terrain made the Twin Otter a very versatile vehicle. They were used
as commuter planes, for paratrooper training and as an airborne ambulance. DeLaurier says what made the Twin Otter so significant
was that the Canadian planes truly sold around the world. Twin Otters were
sold to 76 different countries, more than any other plane designed by de Havilland's Canadian operation.
The Caribou — DHC-4
The Caribou's impressive
stature casts a distinctive figure across the horizon, with its large upswept
tail. It is also known for its ability to cover uneven terrain with maximum
efficiency. Over the years, Caribou have migrated as far as the Australian
outback and Southeast Asia.
By the time they started
working on the Caribou in the mid 1950s, de Havilland Canada already had a
lot of experience making planes that could handle short take-offs and
landings. So the short-haul transport plane was specially designed with fully
reversible propellers and special flaps that made steep landings possible.
This was a particularly useful feature, as many developing nations had yet to
build proper runways. "In a fairly rough field — literally in a potato
patch — if you had rough patch of 1,000 feet you could get in and out,"
says Milberry. The first Caribou prototype flew in
1958 and it flew flawlessly despite "drizzling rain," Fred Hotson wrote in The DH Canada
Story. The tail design made the plane easy to load and unload from the
Caribous sold almost
exclusively to the military. They were ideal for less-than-ideal landing
conditions that typified military evacuation missions. "The really big
customer was the U.S. Army which found itself in the middle of the Vietnam
war," Milberry says. "That's where most
of the Caribous ended up." Milberry says the
company had a tough time though converting those who already owned a Douglas
DC-3 aircraft, which could handle similarly unkempt runways.
"But it's proven itself to
have been a success in that it endures," he says. "Caribou are
still going strong." The Australian Air Force still has 14 Caribou in
semi-regular operation. In 1999, the Caribou were used as a part of the
Tsunami relief effort in Papua New Guinea
and to evacuate locals in East Timor.
is well equipped to survive natural hazards. It does well in a harsh, rugged
environment given minimal human intervention. A Buffalo can pack on a lot of
weight and still roam the mountains with ease.
Like most of de Havilland Canada's
designs, the Buffalo is in many
ways an up-sized version of the previous generation of aircraft. It shares
Caribou design features, including a single tail that angles up toward the
sky. Designed as tactical transport vehicles for the military, Buffalo
have been used to carry vehicles, machinery or as many as 41 fully-equipped
soldiers. A 1976 issue of AIR International indicates that
specially-designed Buffalo made
for the British Royal Air Force could handle payloads of up to 6,129
kilograms (equal to six of the era's VW bugs). But the Buffalo's
real skills are in search and rescue.
The Air Force Association of
Canada has a squadron of six Buffalos purchased in 1967 that are used by the
Transport and Rescue Squadron in Comox, B.C. The
squadron is responsible for finding hikers who get lost in the mountains. Milberry says the Buffalo
is ideal for this kind of operation. "It's the perfect search and rescue
plane for the west coast," he says. "You can fly it very slow and
find it very manoeuvrable." While the Buffalo
is large for de Havilland Canada
and has ample room for cargo, it is quite a bit smaller than other planes
used for search and rescue. "The Hercules, for example, is too big to
take down into a mountain valley," says Milberry.
"But the Buffalo is half the
size of a Hercules." The Buffalo
have held up well. But Milberry says they are
becoming expensive to maintain. And the problem now, he says, is that there
just isn't an obvious replacement. Nothing is quite as well-suited for search
and rescue on the West coast.
however, did not make waves with its original, intended buyer. The U.S.
military requested four prototypes before the border was closed to the Buffalo.
It would be the last aircraft de Havilland named for Canadian wildlife.
Production of all the
"hinterland" series of airplanes has ended.
Yet Beavers, Otters, Caribou
and Buffalo fly on, testaments to
Canadian engineering prowess. And making runways around the world a virtual
Who's Who of the Canadian hinterland.