October 19, 2010
Stuff That Works: The DeHavilland Beaver
By Kirk Deeter
How many products can you think of that were originally designed more than 60 years ago, but are still standards today because nobody has figured out how to make a better alternative? Like M&Ms...or Levi's blue jeans...or Martin acoustic guitars.
In the realm of motorized travel, that's almost unheard of...in aviation, practically unthinkable...but for the fact that the DeHavilland Beaver is still considered by many to be the undisputed king of bush planes.
Originally produced in the 1940s by Canadian manufacturer DeHavilland, the Beaver was only in production until the 1960s. Fewer than 1700 were ever made. And many of them have been reconditioned and are still flying. Granted, the market for planes that can do this job is highly specialized and small, but this plane's design and track record have stood the test of time in the world's toughest flying environments.
The Beaver isn't a fancy aircraft. It's basically a tractor with wings, designed less for cruising speed, and more for its STOL (short take-off and landing) capabilities with heavy loads. There are other great float planes, Cessna 180s and Piper Super Cubs included, but there's just something distinctive and special about the deep grumble of a Beaver's radial engine as it points into the wind.
Those of you who have been to Alaska or Canada fishing likely know exactly what I'm talking about. And those of us who have been lucky enough to fly in Beavers (believe it or not, I typically hate air travel, the Beaver is an exception) not only share a deep respect for the bush pilots who fly them, but also appreciate the unique experience adventuring in these planes can be.
If ever you get a chance to ride in one, even for a short flight, take it. Failing that, if ever you're in a spot where you can just watch these planes take off and land, do it. It's something to behold.