De Havilland Aircraft DHC-2 Beaver: The Bushcraft!

If there’s one thing a Canadian bush pilot knows, it’s how to fly a plane off an unprepared strip of ground. Indeed, much industry in Canada demands a solution to reach distant and remote locations. Places that have anything but a runway. So, following the close of WWII, de Havilland Canada diverted its attention from military contracts and reassessed the civil market and it’s needs. And they started right there in their back garden; the great Canadian Bush!

AvBuyer  |  16th January 2024
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    De Havilland Aircraft DHC-2 Beaver parked on water


    A research team was assigned to identify the wants and needs of the hard working, hard flying Canadian Bush pilots. And the pilots were keen to share, possibly even relieved that someone wanted to listen! The wish list included first and foremost a rugged new aircraft. Something that could handle the rough and unprepared landscapes they had to operate from. They needed an aircraft that could tolerate the missions of a multipurpose operator trying to earn a buck in the harshest of winters where landing options might be dirt, snow or on water. STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) performance was always going to be high up the list and typically designs to achieve this was undoubtedly going to result in slower cruise performance. de Havilland raised this as a point to consider…. “it just needs to be faster than a dog sled!” one seasoned bush pilot replied. 

    And so it came to pass that in the summer of 1947, a prototype DHC-2 aircraft lifted into the air. A type that was soon to be known as the greatest Bush aircraft ever built. And in 1948, de Havilland’s production line presented and delivered to industry the always impressive and trusted (even some 75 years later) de Havilland Beaver! 

    The aircraft was powered by the Pratt and Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior, a 9- cylinder radial air-cooled engine delivering 450 hp. The installation included a six-gallon engine oil tank, which due to the engine’s short nose installation positioned the oil filler inside the cockpit; just under the control panel, between the pilot and copilot’s feet. Theoretically it could be topped up in flight… although not too many people seem to feel they want to try that!

    Design features included options to have wheels, floats, or skis. Also essential and high up on the list of ‘must haves’ were the large cargo doors; these were stipulated to be located on ‘both sides’ of the aircraft (so it didn’t matter which side of the jetty you parked on when dispatched as a float plane), and a full drooping trailing edge i.e. ‘flaperons’! This meant that as the flaps were lowered, the ailerons drooped as well. A nifty feature to enhance STOL performance. And the flaps had a huge operating range. A hydraulic system was designed so the pilot could select any angle they deemed appropriate. The system would allow deployment all the way down to 58 degrees… although according to the flight manual, the full down position was only to be used for an emergency landing rather than a normal short field approach. 

    “ ..."the airplane that opened the North". And it’s down on record as being in the top ten of Canadian engineering achievements of the 20th century! ” 

    With those two large cargo doors each side, combined with a useful payload of around 2,000 lbs, not to mention the aircraft’s general ruggedness and tough undercarriage; the talented designers and engineers at de Havilland Canada produced a masterpiece that served the industry not just in Canada but worldwide. And whilst it was a design intent for the civilian market, the military were quick to note it’s abilities too, and so the Beaver adorned a camouflage uniform and served in numerous missions on behalf of over 30 overseas militaries, which when added to the civilian overseas market and totaled up, counted the Beaver as operating in 63 countries! 

    In more recent times, further modifications have been engineered, including a turbine engine as well as an electric motor installation. And although production officially finished in 1967 with some 1,650+ aircraft built, there are hundreds still working hard today. The US Air Force still operates several as search and rescue aircraft. 

    In 2008, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a special gold coin honouring the DHC-2 Beaver referring to the aircraft proudly as "the airplane that opened the North". And it’s down on record as being in the top ten of Canadian engineering achievements of the 20th century! 

    And whilst the impressive aircraft never failed to deliver on its promise, there is one pilot who could apply a little extra ‘Force’ and was perhaps more accustomed to a Wookie than a beaver… but nevertheless, screen icon and well respected pilot Mr. Harrison Ford calls out the Beaver as being one of his favourite all time aircraft to fly. 

    Whether you’re a hardened Canadian Bush pilot, a sky dive instructor about to ‘step out’, or the pilot of the Millenium Falcon; It’s clear to see that the Beaver is a very fondly thought of aircraft. It’s operators and pilots alike have more than a few affectionate nicknames for it such as; the flying jeep, the Swiss Army knife of the skies, and the Harley Davidson of the sky. And whilst you might debate on which feels most appropriate to your connection with the aircraft, the one common sentiment that remains regardless… ‘it’s the best darn bush plane ever built!”

    de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver 

    Wingspan: 14.6 m
    MGW: 2,313 kg
    Powerplant: Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior, 450 hp
    VNE: 180 mph (IAS)
    Cruise speed: 130 mph (IAS)
    Service ceiling: 18,000 ft

     

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