Article by Rich Thistle ©
Straining at the Leash by Rich Thistle ©
Do Canadians have an identity crisis? Does living next door to the world's most dominant "popular" culture seem so overpowering as to doom us to a perpetual search for the "elusive" Canadian character? Are we essentially different from our numerous neighbors to the south? In our attempt to find and accentuate the differences, I think we overlook the obvious.

I'm not afraid to say it. I am a proud Canadian. But -I've said this before- we could learn a lot from our American cousins about establishing, nurturing, and celebrating national identity. Think, for example, of Canada's wartime accomplishments. As an aviation artist some of my work focuses attention on these amazing achievements. But that's certainly not the extent of Canada's contributions.

Canadians do have a lot to be proud of. In fact, in relation to the relatively small size of our population, we probably have more serious accomplishments under our belts than any other country in the world. We simply must learn to recognize what others already do. We have an innovative and productive country, with a fine history of achievement, and a promising future.

Some postulate we are a product of our northern environment. There are even some theories which suggest the great success of Canadian invention and innovation has sprung from the adversity of our climate. Rather than lolling on the beach, we spend the long dark days of our notoriously nasty winters in intellectual exploration, incubating the world's next great invention. Personally, I think it makes good sense. The long list of Canadian inventions and ground-breaking innovations attests to this.

In fact, much of what we have achieved as a country may well be a product of the great northern vastness which is a dominant part of the Canadian identity. Certainly, our contributions to transportation have been born more out of the necessity of coping with Canada's great and often unfriendly distances than anything else. Consequently, that a Canadian company should be responsible for the world's first successful STOL aircraft should come as no great surprise.

In the later stages of WWII, a de Havilland design, the D.H.6 trainer, had been Canadianized and a prototype constructed in an experimental shop of Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. Test flown in 1917, this sole example was the first British type to be licence-built in Canada. De Havilland Aircraft of Canada was incorporated in March, 1928 to undertake the sales and service roles for its British parent company in Canada. By the mid-thirties, the Canadian D.H.82A Tiger Moth became the first production de Havilland aircraft to be manufactured in Canada. Of course, this Canadian-built primary trainer has taken its rightful place beside another de Havilland Canada wartime success, the D.H.98 Mosquito, as high points in the history of Canadian aviation.

By the end of WWII, plans were already afoot at de Havilland Aircraft of Canada to design and produce a new elementary trainer, and the DHC 1 Chipmunk became its first indigenous product. But, to design and build a successful replacement for the bush aircraft of the immediate pre-war period was still a DHC goal. Canadian aircraft operators and pilots were polled for their ideas, and, by 1946, with the Chipmunk project well under way, attention turned to preliminary design work for the new aircraft. The name of Canada's national symbol, the hard-working beaver was selected early in the project.

Designed as an aerial truck, one of the primary requirements would stem from the Canadian fact that many lakes and strips required an aircraft of exceptional short take-off and landing capabilities. It is generally conceded that the concept of STOL originated with the Beaver. With half-ton load capability, the fuselage configuration met the collective requirements of polled operators and pilots. A combination of rectangular cross-section and four doors created a useful and flexible freight space. There was accommodation for the pilot and three passengers with space for an additional three in a rear hammock seat. All passenger seats were easily removable.

The all-metal stressed-skin, high-wing design included a high-aspect, single-spar, single-strut-braced wing with slotted flaps augmented by drooping ailerons. The undercarriage was rugged. The Beaver could operate on wheel, ski, or float landing gear. All controls were kept very simple, including hand-pumped flaps hydraulics. The placement of the fuel tanks under a strong, load-bearing floor, alleviated problems of over-the -wing fueling.
Beaver Meadow by Rich Thistle ©
The original design had called for the application of de Havilland's 295/350 hp Gypsy Queen engine. Fortuitously, Pratt and Whitney's 450 hp Wasp Junior radial piston engine was chosen instead. The resulting increase in power was the edge the Beaver needed. Its STOL characteristics were enhanced as the power of the Wasp improved the performance of the flaps, and, since it was the fine STOL performance of the Beaver which eventually made it the most numerous of all Canadian-designed aircraft, the application of the Wasp Junior cannot be over-estimated in evaluating this Canadian aviation success story.

The Beaver was at the cutting edge of small transport and utility aircraft design, and, in the capable hands of Canada's top night-fighter ace of WWII, Russ Bannock, de Havilland Canada's chief test pilot, the Beaver prototype took to the air on August 16, 1947. A winner from the start, it was to become the yardstick of its class. It was to be operated in many roles by 62 countries. In the end, 1,657 Beaver 1's were produced.

Pivotal to the eventual success of the Beaver was to be Bannock's demonstration of the DHC-2 to the American military which led directly to the American purchase of over half the total production of DHC 2's as L-20A's. Britain also took delivery of 46 aircraft which were designated Beaver AL Mk.1. Seeing service in many air forces and in all regions of the world, including polar, the Beaver lived up to every expectation.

Now, almost fifty years later, the Beaver remains an ongoing Canadian success story. Many former military aircraft have been purchased, overhauled and put into civil use. More Beavers than ever are on the Canadian civil registration. It is truly an aircraft of which Canadians can be proud.

BEAVER MEADOW and STRAINING AT THE LEASH are two of four Beavers I have painted so far. Not meant to represent any specific aircraft, they simply depict the enduring success of an icon of the Canadian aviation scene, and symbolizes the natural place of the DHC-2 Beaver in the Canadian landscape.

  • original painting available