An Ode to the Beaver, the Greatest Bush Plane Ever Built

Beaver aircraft on dock with Alaskan mountain range in the distance
Bush pilots love the Beaver's oversize cargo doors and controls when flying with mittens in cold temps.Chuck Thompson

The sound of a Beaver flying away after you’ve been dropped in the bush has been called the loneliest sound in the world. “There’s no sound like it,” says pilot Ian Shipmaker. “It means, ‘Now I’m really alone.’ ” But it can also be one of the most liberating, especially if you’re embarking on one of these remote trips.

 

 

From the cockpit of the Beaver operated by Tweedsmuir Air Services out of Nimpo Lake, British Columbia, Shipmaker has given that anxious thrill to countless adventurers. Founded in 1953 by bush pilot Bob Stewart, Stewart’s Lodge and adjunct Tweedsmuir Air operate what owner Duncan Stewart (Bob’s son) believes may be the oldest Beaver in regular service and the one with the most flight hours. Built in 1949, and with more than 41,000 hours of service, its serial number is 55, meaning it was the 55th ever constructed.

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Between 1947 and ’67, de Havilland Canada built 1,692 Beavers, called “the airplane that opened the North.” There are competing claims to any “oldest Beaver” assertion. On permanent display at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, restored Beaver CF-OBS (serial number 2) is “the oldest production Beaver in flying condition.” But at Stewart’s Lodge, some 250 miles north of Vancouver, you can still charter a Beaver for fishing, hunting or hiking excursions, or a scenic flight over wilderness so rugged it stood in for the Himalayas in the film Seven Years in Tibet.

Beavers gained cult status for being designed around the needs of pilots, not engineers or marketing suits. After World War II, de Havilland solicited bush flyers’ feedback for its new plane. The result was features unique to the Beaver, including oversize controls making it easier to fly while wearing mittens; cargo doors large enough to accommodate dogsleds and 55-gallon oil drums; ability to land on wheels, floats or skis; and enhanced short takeoff and landing (STOL) power. Pairing a Pratt & Whitney 450-horsepower engine with an impressive 48-foot wingspan, de Havilland created a powerful beast that isn’t fast or nimble but can get in and out of remote lakes and primitive landing strips in almost any weather.

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Can’t make it to Nimpo Lake? Operators like Bent Prop Flying Service in Idaho and Alaska, and Crystal Creek Lodge in Alaska, also fly Beavers.

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