Break up has just finished and every traditional hunter and gatherer in town is anxious to head out on the land to get in a few more days of hunting. It is 1982 and a good part of the community has come out onto the high riverbank to look at a rare arrival. News has spread around town that an “Amisk” is coming. This is the Cree word for Beaver. This is a different type of Beaver. It is the famous De Havilland Beaver aircraft flying in to ferry hunters to the far north hunting grounds.
As the pilot flies over he notices the audience that has gathered by the riverside. He flies by once to give everyone a good view of the airplane. A wonderful loud thunder sounds from the single-row, 9-cylinder aircooled radial engine as he flies east towards the bay. He turns slowly, and with the propellers pointed toward the crowd, the plane becomes silent as the pilot slows the 450-horsepower engine and glides in for a landing. The Beaver touches down gracefully and skims the surface but as it slows down and settles in, it begins to push the water. The pilot slowly eases towards the shore and cuts the engine a hundred feet away to coast towards a dock lined with hunters and their gear ready for the ride north.
We are all mesmerized from our place on the high bank. Nobody pays a lot of attention to the hunters who are leaving as we are more interested in Amisk. We all await a look at the pilot. He is revered by us. The centre of attention is the aircraft. We are all envious of the hunters who have the opportunity to board the Beaver. The elders and traditional people in the crowd talk about seeing the Amisk in the remote wilderness. They reminisce about stories of meeting these planes and their pilots in the dead of winter, on lonely rivers or lakes or even way up the coast at the isolated gravel airstrip that was once part of a military base in the middle of Polar Bear Provincial Park.
The Beaver is admired because of the fact it can land just about anywhere and at just about any time of year. People also mention the cousin to the Amisk known as “Ni-Kik,” the Cree word for Otter. The Ni-Kik is mostly known as a more modern twin engine all yellow Ministry of Natural Resources aircraft that arrives at the community airport from time to time.
There are many stories of life-saving flights up the coast in the trusty Beaver. The history of this plane started when the Second World War ended. The De Havilland Company, based in the United Kingdom, had developed a subsidiary company in Canada to design, develop and manufacture aircraft for the war effort. At the end of the war De Havilland Canada began development of a new airplane that would be built to operate in the Canadian wilderness.
Instead of designing an airplane through the input of professionals or engineers, the company consulted pilots from all over the country to ask them what they would like to see in an aircraft for their use in the north. The result was a reliable, single-engine monoplane that could be fitted with wheels, skis or floats. The design of the airplane also featured a capability of short take off and landing even while carrying a heavy load. The plane also had a slow stall speed, meaning it could fly at low speeds and if a pilot were to get into trouble, the plane could be slowed down to a reasonable and safe speed to allow for an emergency or crash landing. This was due to the Beaver’s long wing span and design.
The Beaver’s maiden flight was on August 16, 1947. Since then, over 1,600 aircraft were produced by De Havilland Canada and they were delivered for service in over 60 countries around the world. It was initially used by national government agencies but was later sought after by mining companies and charter operators.
In an aircraft demonstration of the Beaver in Alaska, the US Army agreed to purchase over 900 of the aircraft for their own use. Over half of the original aircraft produced by De Havilland were purchased by the US Army for service in numerous overseas operations. The airplane was recognized by pilots as more of a flying halfton truck that could transport just about anything, anywhere. The plane was known as the “General’s Jeep” due to the fact that the Beaver was used as a personnel transport that could ferry people to rugged and isolated locations.
When the US Army ended their use of the Beaver, the plane was continually used by bush pilots in the north because of its dependability in cold weather and rough conditions. As an example of its dependability, the first original production model from 1947 was still being flown by a northern operator when it was purchased by the Canadian National Aviation Museum in 1980. Pilots love this plane so much that over 400 Beavers are still in operation in Canada, some of which have been converted with new modern turbine engines.
The name “Beaver,” or “Amisk,” is fitting for such a hard-working and industrious machine. Ask any pilot about the Canadian Beaver and he will probably smile and tell you a story.