De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, a legend in its own lifetime

By Willie Bodenstein

Purpose built as a bush plane the Beaver owes its design to the input of Punch Dickins a legendary Canadian bush pilot and a myriad of others who daily braved the wild inhospitable expanses of the Canadian uncharted North in barely suitable aircraft.

World War II was over and De Havilland realised that few military contracts could be expected and that survival lay in the civilian market. To lead its marketing drive Punch Dickins, known as the 'Flying Knight of the Northland,' was appointed as director of sales. The company had no ready build civilian aircraft and Punch's first task was to identify a gap in the market and so he set about collecting as much data as he could from other bush pilots to understand what they needed in a new aircraft.

The Canadian North had little infrastructure and even fewer airfields and the major mode of transport was the dog sled. So it came as no surprise that one of the major requirements was for a powerful rugged all metal aircraft with short take-off and landing (STOL) capabilities that could be easily fitted with wheels, skis or floats. Other suggestions, although some sounded mundane, but actually made sense were for full size doors on both sides that were to be wide enough to allow a 45 gallon drum to be rolled into aircraft.

During September 1946, de Havilland put together a team to design an aircraft around the data collected by Punch Dickins. The team led by Phil Garratt consisted of Fred Buller, Dick Hiscocks, Jim Houston and Wsiewolod Jakimiuk, who was the designer of the Chipmunk. The product was the Beaver, an all steel aircraft with heavy aluminium truss frames, monocoque construction aft and doors and panels throughout the front seat area. It was envisaged that the DHC-2 (the Beaver) was to be powered by an engine from the de Havilland's British parent company. However, the powerplant offered proved to be of insufficient power and the wing area was increased to maintain STOL capability. Then Pratt & Whitney offered a war-surplus 450 hp (340 kW) Wasp Jr engine and this went on to power the Beaver that now, with sufficient power and the improved wing, had unrivalled performance for an aircraft of its size.

On 16 August 1947, the Beaver had its first flight with WWII flying ace Russell Bannock at the controls. Nine months later in April 1948, the first production aircraft was delivered to the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Initial sales were slow, seldom reaching more than three per month. A demonstration tour was arranged and sales started to increase. Then the US Army entered the market looking for a replacement for its Cessna aircraft. De Havilland jumped at the opportunity and the Beaver beat Cessna's 195 hands down. War broke out in Korea and the orders rolled in. The Beaver originally designed as a civilian Bushplane found itself in uniform and its future was secured. It eventually served with the defence forces of 37 countries.

The United States Army purchased several hundred DHC-2s and the Beaver was deployed by the British Army Air Corps during the Irish troubles in photo-reconnaissance missions. In November 1979, whilst taking valuable photos of an IRA checkpoint, one of the Beavers was hit seven times by machine gun fire near the border with the Republic of Ireland.The border crossing where the action took place is now known by the British Army as 'Beaver Junction.' Both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Finnish Border Guard operated the DHC-2.

Besides its military role, the Beaver served with countless police forces, crop dusting and aerial topdressing and firefighting operators worldwide. The DHC-2 found a ready market with air charter companies, small air taxi operators as well as private individuals and companies both as a float plane and in land based operations. A Royal New Zealand Air Force Beaver supported Sir Edmund Hillary's Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole.

Almost 1,700 Beavers were produced between 1948 and 1967 when the original line was shut down. Hundreds of Beavers are still flying, many of them heavily modified to adapt to changes in technology and needs. Due to its success, the Royal Canadian Mint commemorated the Beaver on a special edition Canadian 'quarter' coin in November 1999. In 1987, the Canadian Engineering Centennial Board named the DHC-2 one of the top ten Canadian engineering achievements of the 20th century.

On 24 February 2006, Viking Air of Victoria, Canada, which manufactures replacement parts for most of the early de Havilland line, purchased the type certificates from Bombardier Aerospace for all the original de Havilland designs. The ownership of the certificates gives Viking the exclusive right to manufacture new Beavers. Viking now sells a remanufactured and rebuilt DHC-2T Turbo Beaver upgraded with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 680 hp (507 kW) turboprop engine.

Classic Aircraft

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