The Bush League (1920 - 1939)
Bush planes have played a key role in Canada’s transportation system by helping to open up the northern regions and more remote communities of the country. British Columbia’s rugged West Coast is no exception. Early western airline companies in BC started out with single engine, float equipped aircraft and were vital to the economies of small BC communities accessible only by boat or seaplane. There are a number of examples of early bush planes/seaplanes on display at the BC Aviation Museum.
Eastman “Sea Rover”
Our “Sea Rover” flying boat is the only one to remain of 18 designed and built by Tom Towle and Jim Eastman in Detroit in the late 1920s. The company did not survive the Great Depression. Five “Sea Rovers” ended up in British Columbia serving for many years as utility aircraft in various parts of the province. All five either crashed or were destroyed.
Our survivor was assembled from parts of three of these tough little aircraft. The first came to our attention soon after the Museum was established in 1988. Sections were acquired from Duncan and Fort St. John, BC, and Carcross, Yukon. The fuselage is from Jim Eastman's personal aircraft that sat derelict at Atlin B.C. after Eastman's death. Fort St. John farmer Roy Fedderly purchased the aircraft and, when contacted through Norm Dressler and Peter L'Hirondelle, donated it to the Museum. Restoration was spread over four years under the supervision of Bert Clark, and it was completed in the summer of 1995. Construction is traditional wood & canvas, but with a metal cladding. It has a very early adjustable pitch propeller and the smallest two-row radial engine ever-built; a 165 hp, 6 cylinder Curtis “Challenger”.
Fleet Model 2
Fleet Aircraft was set up in Canada in 1930 by Reuben Fleet of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation to get around import regulations. The Model 2 was a low powered trainer for the civilian and recreational market. Twelve were manufactured for the Canadian market before being succeeded by the Type 7, 600 of which were produced as a military trainer. Total production in North America was 1,250.
The Museum’s example was the 4th of the initial production run. It was delivered in 1930 and spent its nearly 50 year career in northern BC. It was mainly engaged in prospecting, usually operating on floats. Our Fleet was on display at the Royal British Columbia Museum in the late 1970s and was the oldest registered aircraft in Canada when officially retired in 1981. It is now on long-term loan to the BCAM and while not a true “bush plane” it and the “Sea Rover” served the province well in this pioneer role.
The “Norseman” is indeed a true “bush plane”, being the result of research by its constructor, Bob Noorduyn, as to what would be the optimum specifications of an aircraft for Canadian bush conditions. The prototype first flew in November 1935 and 903 were built by the end of the Second World War. Many served in the United States Army Air Force. It was the first Canadian designed and built aircraft sold on the world market, and played a key role in establishing the reputation for excellence and performance enjoyed by Canadian aircraft manufacturers today.
Our “Norseman” started life as a USAAF UC-64A in 1944. It returned to Canada in 1956. It saw a variety of owners, and eventually crashed at a mining site at Bronson Creek, B.C. It was badly damaged by the crash and a curious bear. BCAM bought the aircraft for scrap value and acquired another fuselage from Gimli, Manitoba. With assistance from the Millennium Fund, a lengthy restoration returned the aircraft to airworthy condition. It was rolled out in August 2003 and flew only once, as insurance costs proved to be prohibitive! Our “Norseman” is featured on the BCAM logo.
The Stinson Reliant is undoubtedly one of the prettiest aircraft in the Museum's collection. The SR9-E was built in 1937 and is one of just 43 of that mark constructed. Powered by a 320 horsepower Wright R-760-E2 radial, and with its graceful gull wing and sleek curved windshield the aircraft just begs to be in the air. Various Reliants, in appropriate livery and sometimes on floats, were based at RCAF Station Patricia Bay during WWII and served as communications aircraft. Our Reliant was generously donated to the Museum by Mr. Doug Anderson who had many hours of enjoyment piloting the Reliant across much of North America with extended visits to Ontario, California and appearances at Oshkosh.