The de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver is a single engined, high wing, propeller-driven, STOL aircraft developed by de Havilland Canada, primarily known as a bush plane. It is used for cargo and passenger hauling, aerial application (crop dusting and aerial topdressing), and has been widely adopted by armed forces as a utility aircraft. The U.S. Army Air Corps purchased several hundred and nine DHC-2s are still in service with the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary (Civil Air Patrol) for search and rescue. A Royal New Zealand Air Force Beaver supported Sir Edmund Hillary's expedition to the South Pole. Over 1,600 Beavers were produced until 1967 when the original line shut down.
Design and development
In the immediate post-war era, de Havilland Canada management turned to the civilian market for continued work, aware that military contracts were unlikely to guarantee business. the company had recently hired Punch Dickins, a famous bush pilot, as Director of Sales, and he began an extensive program of collecting requests from other pilots in order to understand what they needed in a new aircraft. Almost without variation, the pilots asked for tremendous extra power and STOL performance in a design that could be easily fitted with wheels, skis, or floats. When de Havilland engineers noted that this would result in poor cruise performance, one pilot replied "You only have to be faster than a dog sled". Other suggestions were seemingly mundane but important in the bush plane world; for instance, full-sized doors were installed on both sides of the aircraft so it could be easily loaded no matter which side of a dock it tied up on.
de Havilland officially put together a design team on September 17, 1946, consisting of Fred Buller, Dick Hiscocks, Jim Houston and W. Jakimiuk, lead by Phil Garratt. The new aircraft was specifically designed to be all-metal, unlike older designs like the famous Noorduyn Norseman, using “steel from the engine to the firewall, heavy aluminum truss frames with panels and doors throughout the front seat area, lighter trusses toward the rear and all monocoque construction aft”. At the time de Havilland Canada was still a British company, and there were plans to fit the evolving design with a British engine. This limited power, so the wing area was greatly increased in order to maintain STOL performance. When Pratt & Whitney Canada offered to supply war-surplus 450 hp (340 kW) Wasp Jr engines at a low price, the aircraft ended up with extra power as well as the original long wing. The result was unbeatable STOL performance for an aircraft of its size.
After much testing, and with adjustments and improvements, the innovative airplane was ready for the sales circuit. It just needed a proper name. Since de Havilland Canada airplanes were all named after animals, it was decided that the new bush plane was much like the hard-working beaver. The first flight of the DHC-2 Beaver was in Downsview, Ontario by Second World War flying ace Russell Bannock on 16 August 1947. The first production aircraft was delivered to the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, a design partner, in April 1948.
Initial sales were slow, perhaps two or three a month, but as the plane was demonstrated sales started to improve. A key event in the Beaver's history occurred the next year when the US Army started looking for a new utility aircraft to replace their Cessnas. The competition quickly boiled down to the Beaver and the Cessna 195, but the Beaver completely outperformed the 195 and led to orders for hundreds of aircraft. Soon orders increased from around the world. When production finally ceased in 1967, 1,657 DHC-2 Beavers had been built.
The Beaver was designed for flight in rugged and remote areas of the world. Its short takeoff and landing capability made it ideal for areas normally only accessible by canoe or foot. Because it often flies to remote locations, often in cold climates, its oil reservoir filler is located in the cockpit and oil can be filled in flight. A series of upgrades to the basic design were incorporated into the design to further improve it. One major customer introduced the use of flat steps replacing the earlier tubes, a feature that is now almost universal.
In 1987, the Canadian Engineering Centennial Board named the DHC-2 one of the top ten Canadian engineering achievements of the 20th century.
At one point in its production, plans to license and build the type in New Zealand were proposed. Although there have been rumours of Canadian companies manufacturing new Beavers, it remains an out-of-production aircraft. The remaining tooling was purchased by Viking Air of Victoria, Canada, which manufactures replacement parts for most of the early de Havilland line. On 24 February 2006, Viking 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.
In April 2007, Viking stated it may restart production of the DHC-2 Beaver, following strong market demand for the aircraft.
Despite the fact that production ceased in 1967, hundreds of Beavers are still flying—many of them heavily modified to adapt to changes in technology and needs. Kenmore Air of Kenmore, Washington provides Beaver and Otter airframes with zero-hour fatigue-life ratings, and owns dozens of supplemental type certificates (STCs) for aircraft modifications. These modifications are so well-known and desirable in the aviation community, rebuilt Beavers are often called "Kenmore Beavers" or listed as having "Kenmore mods" installed. A 1950s Beaver that originally sold for under US$50,000 can now go for up to US$500,000.
The original Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine of the Beaver is now out of production, so repair parts are getting harder to find. Some aircraft conversion stations have addressed this problem by replacing the piston engine with a turboprop engine such as the PT6. The added power and lighter installed weight, together with greater availability of kerosene fuel instead of high-octane aviation gasoline, make this a desirable modification, but at a high financial cost.
Operators of significant numbers of piston-Beavers in early 2008 include Air Saguenay and Harbor Air (Canada) and Kenmore Air (USA).
Harrison Ford owns a DHC-2 Beaver (N28S), and has called it his favourite among his entire fleet of private aircraft. The United States military continues to operate two DHC-2s at the United States Naval Test Pilot School, where they are used to instruct students in the evaluation of lateral-directional flying qualities and to tow gliders.
The DHC-2 Beaver is sometimes used by skydiving operators due to its good climb rate. When fitted with a roller door that can be opened in flight, it can quickly ferry eight skydivers to 13,000 ft (3,950 m).
Data from Donald 1997, p. 328.
Published - July 2009
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