Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

Glimpses of Canadian History : Email:

De Havilland’s “Beaver” Bush Plane

The DHC2-Beaver: A Canadian Aviation Engineering Success

Nicknamed “Workhorse of the North”, the versatile and ruggedly functional DHC2-Beaver made history as an essential part of aircraft fleets in Canada and the world.

Whether flying deep into the wilds of mountainous Alaska, across stretches of the Canadian Territories, or hauling American cargo and soldiers into the Korean war theatre, de Havilland’s Beaver was capable of the mission. A small aircraft that held six passengers plus the pilot, the Beaver had maximum flexibility, able to carry people, military supplies or quantities of freight as needed. For its exceptional capabilities, it was nicknamed “Workhorse of the North.”

The de Havilland Canada company engineers found that a bush plane would be a great option to offer in their aircraft line, something useful for Canada’s north. They concluded that the design needed to be tough, something like a “half-ton truck,” said Fred Hotson in his book, The De Havilland Canada Story. Being wise businessmen, the head of sales, A. MacDonald, sent out a letter with a questionnaire to prospective customers, asking what their specialized needs would be for a higher-payload, single-engine bush plane, specifically for northern regions.

First Beaver Delivered 1948

The early design crew of Fred Buller, Dick Hiscocks, Jim Houston and W. Jakimiuk, lead by Phil Garratt, was in place by September 17, 1946. They chose a strong airframe construction: “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”. 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 DHC2-Beaver went into limited production. The first plane was delivered to the government department of Lands and Forests on April 26, 1948.

A success in northern areas, the Beaver was able to fly to remote villages and desolate, secluded vicinities, over thick, snowy forests and following rushing river canyons, something other transporters could not easily manage. A year later, the United States Air Force was looking for a bush plane. At that time using Cessnas, the USAF needed something that could carry a thousand pounds and still have unique flexibilities. The military was won over during a fishing expedition in which a full load of people and fishing gear managed to land and take off on a river in Alaska without so much as a blink.

Beaver: “the Flying Jeep”

Prepared to order almost two dozen Beavers, the American sale was held off due to the aircraft’s manufacture in a foreign country – Canada. After participating in, and winning, several competitions with other aircraft, the Beaver became part of the United States military fleet. Its new nickname was “the flying jeep”, and it was able to handle the “thousands of medical evacuations, hauled supplies of all kinds, “ and it “transported ammunition to the troops in action” plus much more.

The original Beaver had a wingspan of 48 feet and an overall length of 30 feet. Its basic operational weight was 3000 pounds with a maximum takeoff and landing weight of 5100 pounds. With a two-bladed propeller, the engine was a P&W R985 Wasp Junior SB-3 with 450-horsepower. The upgraded Turbo Beaver contained a 550-horsepower engine with a 3-blade propeller. It had a slightly larger cabin, at 11 ½ feet versus 9 feet for the original plane, and was almost five feet longer in overall length.

Superior Performance in Small Airplane

A trusted, reliable airplane, the Beaver was and still is loved by pilots, whether with wheels, floats or skis. One Beaver pilot, Frank Roberts from Campbell River, BC, said in The Immortal Beaver by author Sean Rossiter, “With a Beaver you can get into tighter spots, smaller bays, higher lakes because of the performance. It’s a great old pickup truck.” Beavers have hauled almost everything, from military troops and supplies to food, medicine, lumber, and almost anything else one could imagine.

While de Havilland’s later owners stopped manufacture of the Beaver in the mid-1960s, the small plane is still sought-after around the world. Refitted with new parts and updated systems, Beavers still command top resale dollar. Initially selling for $30,000 brand new, the plane now commands up to $400,000 on the market.

From 1947 to 1967, de Havilland Canada built nearly 1,700 of the extraordinary Beaver aircraft, according to EXN’s FlightDeck. The bush planes were purchased by countries as far away as New Zealand, the Philipines and Finland, just to name a few. In November 1999, the Royal Canadian Mint commemorated the Beaver’s place in Canadian history with a coin entitled, “The Airplane Opens the North.”


The De Havilland Canada Story, Fred W. Hotson, CANAV Books, Toronto 1983.

The Immortal Beaver: The World’s Greatest Bush Plane, Sean Rossiter, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver 1996.

This Canadian History article first appeared on                                                ©  Susanna McLeod

Comments are closed.