Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Beaver, happy birthday to you: An all too brief look at a Canadian icon, the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver bushplane, part 2

The prototype of the Canadian de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver bushplane on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario. CASM, deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver-005.

Hello again, my reading friend, and welcome to this second and final part of our all too brief look at a Canadian icon, the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver bushplane – a part devoted to the very prototype of that machine, the Beaver of the amaaazing Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario.

As was mentioned in the first part of this article, the first Beaver flew for the first time on 16 August 1947, a teeny, tiny bit more than 75 years ago today. The chief test pilot of de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (DHC), of Downsview, Ontario, I think, Russell “Russ” Bannock, was at the controls.

The registration of the aircraft, CF-FHB, recognised the contribution made by Frederick Howard Buller, a DHC engineer mentioned in the first part of this article.

Another test pilot of the firm, a gentleman mentioned in a January 2021 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee in fact, George Arthur Neal, took over to test the Beaver once it was fitted with floats.

In order to boost sales, one or more DHC pilots flew the float-equipped Beaver prototype to British Columbia. Once fitted with skis, the aircraft was demonstrated in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

For some reason or other, DHC chose to sell the Beaver prototype rather than keep it for future testing. The buyer, in May 1948, was Central British Columbia Airways Limited of Prince George, British Columbia.

Interestingly, DHC supplied Central British Columbia Airways with a set of wings in July or August 1948 when it discovered a problem with its welding methods.

In late February 1953, the Beaver hit a snowdrift, in Stewart, British Columbia, when its pilot tried to take off from what turned out to be an unsuitable temporary airstrip. The tail cone, horizontal stabiliser and elevators suffered non negligible damage. Flown to Prince George for repairs, the Beaver was seemingly back in the air by late April.

By then, Central British Columbia Airways had grown quite significantly, through the acquisition of small / relatively small operators like

- Whitehorse Flying Services Limited of… Whitehorse, Yukon,

- Skeena Air Transport Limited of Terrace, British Columbia,

- Port Alberni Airways Limited of… Port Alberni, British Columbia,

- Kamloops Air Services Limited of… Kamloops, British Columbia,

- Associated Air Taxi Limited of Vancouver, British Columbia, and

- Associated Aero Services Limited of Vancouver.

In May or June 1953, Central British Columbia Airways became Pacific Western Airlines Limited of Vancouver.

Pacific Western Airlines lived long and prospered. (Hello, EG!) Indeed, by the mid 1980s, it was the largest airline in Western Canada. It grew larger in February 1987, when its parent corporation, PWA Corporation of Calgary, Alberta, acquired Canadian Pacific Airlines Limited of Vancouver, a case of Jonah swallowing the whale if I may be permitted a colloquialism. Canadian Airlines International Limited of Calgary came into existence in March. The latter grew larger still in January 1989 with the takeover of Wardair Canada Limited of Edmonton.

In turn, Air Canada Incorporated of Montréal, Québec, gradually swallowed Canadian Airlines International in 2002-01, which left Canadian travellers with only one large international air carrier. Oh, joy, but back to the prototype of the Beraver, sorry, Beaver.

In early March 1954, the pilot of the Beaver lost control as he attempted to take off from… Stewart. The aircraft left the temporary airstrip and bumped along rough ground. The rear fuselage suffered heavy damage. Indeed, it was allegedly bent upward at a 45 or so degree angle. Shipped to Vancouver for repairs, the Beaver was seemingly back in the air by late March.

Pacific Western Airlines sold the Beaver to Northward Aviation Limited of Edmonton, Alberta, in March 1962.

Northward Aviation sold the Beaver to B & B Aviation Limited of Edmonton in April 1968. The latter leased the aircraft to

- Laurentian Air Services Limited of Ottawa, in 1968,

- North Canada Air Limited (Norcanair) of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1969-70,

- Gateway Aviation Limited of Richmond, British Columbia, in 1970, and

- Norcanair, in 1971.

B & B Aviation sold the Beaver to Norcanair in April 1972.

Before I forget, in accordance to a change in Canadian aircraft registration rules and regulations, CF-FHB became C-FFHB in February 1975.

In January 1977, a somewhat embarrassed Norcanair apparently informed Transport Canada that the identity plate of the Beaver, a historic item if there was one, had been stolen. DHC readily agreed to supply the firm with a new identity plate.

At some point in 1979, unless it was in 1980, Norcanair as well as the National Museum of Science and Technology, in Ottawa, and / or the National Aeronautical Collection, as the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was known at the time, also in Ottawa, began to discuss the possible sale of the Beaver. Said sale was concluded in July 1980.

That same month, a Norcanair crew / pilot delivered the Beaver to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The aforementioned Neal flew it from there to Ottawa soon after. The chief pilot of the National Aeronautical Collection, a position he occupied until 1991, was quite surprised to discover that the engine of the Beaver was not delivering its full power. The overall condition of the aircraft may, I repeat may, also have come as a bit of a surprise.

The last landing of the first Beaver, a water landing in fact, on the Ottawa river, near the Second World War era hangars which housed the aircraft of the National Aeronautical Collection, proved to be a challenge. The sun was setting at the time and there was barely a ripple on the water.

The Beaver was re-registered as CF-FHB at some point during the summer of 1980.

Displayed in one of the hangars which housed the National Aeronautical Collection, a collection which became in the National Aviation Museum in September 1982 by the way, the Beaver was moved to its current location, in the new main building of that national museum, today’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in 1988. It has been there ever since.

In October 1982, Canada Post Corporation issued a sub-series of 4 bushplanes in its series devoted to aircraft. One of these showed the Beaver of the museum wearing Norcanair’s livery.

The painting used to make that stamp, and all the other stamps in the series for that matter, was / is the work of Robert William Bradford, at the time Acting Director of the National Museum of Science and Technology, now the Canada Museum of Science and Technology, a sister / brother institution of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

That excellent gentleman mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since February 2018 was / is one of the greatest Canadian aviation artists.

Happy birthday dear Beaver!

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Rénald Fortier