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A Flight On the Historic De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver

By Jan Koppen
June 4, 2007

Jan Koppen, one of our more prolific writers, returns with a review of his flight on this rugged vintage seaplane, and of his interview with the pilot.

British Columbia, Canada - Land of the De Havilland Beaver

While relaxing on a boat ramp, gazing out over the waters of the Pacific coast, I was approached by a local boatsman.

“How are you doing today? Do you want to go whale watching?"

I hesitated because I get seasick very quickly.

“Not by boat, but by seaplane!” he said. “In fact, onboard a vintage De Havilland Canada Beaver floatplane, operated by Vancouver Island-based Tofino Air.”

As a dedicated supporter of the round engines and seaplane operations, I decided to go out to sea. At the cost of CAN $80, I was set for the afternoon whale watching flight!

Photo © Jan Koppen

Literally at the end of the road, Tofino is located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, and is a pretty fishing village at the tip of Esowista Peninsula, near the entrance to Clayoquot Sound center. Once a timber and fishing town, Tofino has become a favored destination for Northwest and European travelers alike and is a rapidly growing tourist destination. It boasts miles of sandy beaches to the south, islands of old-growth cedar, migrating gray whales, hot springs, sea lions, and has a moderate climate. Tofino’s docks bustle with local fishermen and act as launching points for sea kayaking, whale watching, wildlife, hot springs and cultural tours.

The Beaver

Some of the worst flying conditions found anywhere in the world exist over the densely forested terrain Northwest Canada. It takes an exceptionally rugged aircraft to operate safely and reliably in these conditions. One such airplane is the De Havilland Canada Beaver. The versatile all-metal Beaver made its inaugural flight in August 1947, and since that time more than 1,650 have been constructed. The last Beaver came off the line in 1967. The Beaver sports a thick wing for maximum lift, a sturdy structure, and a powerful, reliable 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engine. Operators in over 60 countries have made the “Beaver” name synonymous with the Canadian reputation for hard working, rugged dependability. Today, more than 400 Beavers still work in Canada—their capabilities are hard to equal, thus ensuring their continued use well into the years to come.

Photo © Jan Koppen

Tofino Air

Tofino Air operates four of the legendary Beavers on tours around Vancouver Island. Tofino Air offers scheduled, charter, and scenic flights. The company serves the Sunshing Coast, the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Scenic flights will take one to the nearby glaciers, the untouched wilderness, pristine valleys, crystal clear waterfalls, coastal caves, beaches and more. Whale watching is an important part of the scenic tours. Atleo River Airlines, which also operates the Beaver and a Cessna 180 on floats is also based in Tofino, and is Tofino Air’s main competitor.

Photo © Jan Koppen

Some lessons

My pilot for this flight used to be a former Canada 3000, Airbus 330, pilot. Jay started his career with Tofino Air on the Cessna 180 and DHC-2 Beaver and worked his way up flying the big jets with Canada 3000. Unfortunately, after the September 11 catastrophe, Canada 3000 ran into major difficulties and shut down operations, and Jay returned to his former employer, Tofino Air. Jay was kind enough to explain the start up procedures and flying characteristics of the Beaver to me.

“To start the De Havilland Beaver with the Pratt & Whitney R-985 motor, you start by using the primer, which is located just by the doorway. Use approximately 4 to 5 strokes of the primer and put the mixture lever to rich. Master switch on and then you engage the starter switch. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 blades and then turn the mags on. With a little noise and smoke it should start! Left of the mixture levers is the throttle and on the left side is the prop-lever. When you start it up, you must make sure the oil temperature is 40?C, as warming up is the most critical part of the 985 radial air-cooled engine.”

“Which flap settings does you use on the Beaver?”

“The flap setting we use in most cases, in both landing and take-off, is the take-off setting. The flaps are selected with the selection valve and are moved using a hydraulic pump with a little arm to the right side of the pilot. When the flap indicator moves down to the take-off position, if you look out the window, you will see both flaps and ailerons come down. We have slotted ailerons for more lift on take-off.”

“What are the mandatory power settings?”

“For taxiing around only, I use about 600 to 700 RPMs. For the take-off you will set the manifold pressure to 36 ½ inches and that will give you approximately 2300 RPM. The initial power reduction for normal climb is 30 inches MP and 2000 RPM. For cruising we use 28 inches MP and 1800 RPM. In the pattern, before landing, I bring the power to 20 inches or less and bring the propeller back as well to 1700 RPM to smooth her out. You select the carbkey to hot to eliminate any icing in the carburetor. Do your pattern at around 105 miles per hour, which is your flap speed. As you turn the base, start putting flaps down for approach at 80 and touch down at 70 to 65 miles per hour.”

Photo © Jan Koppen

“What kind of fuel does the Beaver take?”

“For this particular plane we use 100 low lead. We are certified to use Mo-gas, as we use to call it, which has a minimum of 80 to 87 octane. We have three tanks in the aircraft, the front, middle (or center), and rear tank. They each carry 29, 29 and 21, with a total of 79 imperial gallons. We burn about 20 imperial gallons per hour. The av-gas is a CAN 1.05 the liter.”

“An interesting thing about the De Havilland Beaver is its oil-reservoir. Even with the engine running you can check or add oil if you want as the filling cap is situated on the right side of the instrument console.”

“What about communications and navigations?”

“Look out the window! It’s strictly VFR. We do have a GPS on the Beaver because it’s a handy and inexpensive navigation aid. There’s no air traffic control—we use the broadcast philosophy—just before take-off and landing we broadcast our intentions on the local frequency, and people in the air know there’s conflicting traffic.”

“What is the difference between landing a Beaver on wheels vs. floats?”

“Float landings are generally a flatter approach, and you’re not looking for an aiming point—just a smooth touchdown in smooth water, whereas on a defined runway you pitch the hachmark for a touch down point.”

“How do you steer a Beaver on floats?”

“For steering you use the rudders. The foot pedals are connected to both the air-rudders and water-rudders. Before you take-off you pull the water rudder up, using the water pull-up cable, and leave it retracted in up-position for flight. Keep in mind, on the water there are no brakes! You have to make sure that you have enough room to maneuver. It’s a fluid medium so you can’t stop or do hard turns—it all depends on the wind and tide.”

“What types of aircraft have you flown, and which is your favorite?"

“I flew 180’s, Beavers, Cessna Caravans, etc. The one I like the most is the Boeing 727. She flies high, goes fast and drinks a lot of gas! Of the propellers, the Beaver. It’s a marvelous airplane for our type of flying. Low level, low speed and even when the visibility is poor you can slow it down to 80 miles per hour and still maneuver quite well.”

“What is the difference between flying the big jets and the Beaver?”

“You are not really flying big jets, you manage them. The Beaver you fly!”

Photo © Jan Koppen

Flying Time!

“Strap in and enjoy the ride.” Jay passed out earplugs instead of peanuts, but I refused. I wanted to enjoy the full roar of the Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engine. Start-up, followed by a short taxi and off we went!

Photo © Jan Koppen

After the take off run we made a right turn over Browning Passage. Our in-flight entertainment was outside our window. Our route led southeast from Tofino along the inland waterways of the Tofino Inlet. Below us we saw a salmon factory, some dilapidated wooden houses and a winding country road. Bustling marine traffic links the peninsula with other small settlements. Flying low over picture-postcard landscapes, we see views you can only imagine when flying at 30,000 feet. Whether in sunshine or misty drizzle, the Vancouver Island coast is dazzling. We passed over Kennedy Lake towards the small village of Ucluelet and back. Evergreen forests lead from water’s edge to snow-capped peaks. Searching for gray whales off the shores of Long Beach, I suddenly spotted a pod of whales, and tapped Jay on the shoulder, passing him a note. Immediately he diverted the Beaver for a better view.

All too soon, Tofino showed up on the horizon and with a gentle right base leg we prepared our final approach, only to be followed by a textbook water landing.

As we were taxiing back to our parking spot, I reflected on what a great afternoon it had been and how lucky I had been to be able to fly such an historic airliner. I just hope that radial-engine classics like the Beaver will continue to meet the challenges of British Colombia's unique operating conditions. Nobody knows how long the sturdy Beaver will remain in service, so if you want to fly one, now’s the time—otherwise you may miss out on a very enjoyable experience.

Photo © Jan Koppen

I would like to thank Jay for his kind assistance during my stay at Tofino and Micheal S. Prophet for his help preparing this article.

Written by
Jan Koppen

Jan Koppen lives near Amsterdam's Schipol airport and has been an aviation enthusiast since childhood. Currently, he works for KLM Cargo as a Duty Manager in KLM's Operations Control Centre.

5 User Comments:
Username: N243NW [User Info]
Posted 2007-06-06 08:53:07 and read 32768 times.

What a well-written article, Jan! Reminds me of the few weeks I spend each summer with the Beavers and Otters in northern Ontario. It's just a shame that these airplanes are being seen less and less frequently with radials still attached to the front.

Username: CanadianNorth [User Info]
Posted 2007-06-08 01:58:22 and read 32768 times.

Excellent article, excellent aircraft! It's great to have the chance to fly in planes such as the Beaver, which I think is pretty much the stereotypical "bush plane" in areas as beautiful as western Canada...

Username: Hsw3rd [User Info]
Posted 2007-06-13 06:41:15 and read 32768 times.

Mr. Koppen is a great writer. I'm a DL 767 pilot with hundreds of Beaver hours in B.C. and I still loved every word of his article. Thanks for sharing!

Username: Xaphan [User Info]
Posted 2007-06-14 20:56:38 and read 32768 times.

I can well remember my first seaplane flight. It was in a Republic Seabee on the Ohio River at the Louisville, Kentucky waterfront in the very early 1950s. My father took me up on a sightseeing flight over the area, which was quite exciting. I can still remember how roomy the Seabee was, and the fabulous visibility it offered.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article on the DH Beaver! I can't imagine a more beautiful setting for such an adventure.

Username: Jcamilo [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-01 09:34:14 and read 32768 times.


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