Bush Flying

 In Canada, the word "bush" has been used since the 19th century to describe the hostile environment beyond the clearings and settlements.

Northern Bush Plane
Aircraft provide recreational access to the North as well as supplies and medical transport (courtesy Government of the NWT).
Noorduyn Norseman
The first Canadian-designed bush plane, the Noorduyn Norseman (courtesy Canadian Aviation Museum).

Bush Flying

In Canada, the word "bush" has been used since the 19th century to describe the hostile environment beyond the clearings and settlements. In bush flying it has been used to refer to flying in adverse, if not hostile, conditions in the remote expanses beyond the ribbon of settlement in southern Canada, into the "bush" of the Canadian SHIELD and the barren Arctic. By the end of WWI most of southern Canada had been linked by railways, but the North remained as inaccessible as ever by land. Its innumerable lakes and rivers did, however, provide alighting areas for water-based aircraft in summer and ski-equipped aircraft in winter.

Winter flying began in 1917-18 and the first winter bush flying in Canada was undertaken by Fairchild Aerial Surveys (of Canada). In 1926 H.A. "Doc" Oaks flew supplies from Hudson, Ont, to Narrow Lake, Ont, on Dec 27 for Bathurst Mines. Under Oaks's directions, methods of engine heating and maintenance in difficult winter conditions were developed. The Elliot Brothers of Sioux Lookout, Ont, are credited with the development of special skis for landing on snow or ice. Early navigation was basically by recognition as pilots followed the course of rivers.

Bush flying began as aerial reconnaissance for spotting forest fires. Laurentide and other paper companies hired ex-RNAS pilot, Stuart GRAHAM, in 1919 to fly forest-fire patrols over the St Maurice R valley. Using 2 war-surplus Curtiss HS-2L flying boats, Laurentide extended their patrols from Lake-of-the-Woods to James Bay.

These early operations were succeeded by a general air service, Laurentide Air Service Ltd, which carried out operations in both Québec and Ontario, including the first regular Canadian air-mail, passenger and freight service from Haileybury, Ont, to Rouyn, Qué (1924). Laurentide ceased operation in 1925 and from then to 1927 the major bush-flying organization in Canada was the Ontario Provincial Air Service, established in 1924 and devoted almost entirely to forestry operations.

The usefulness of aircraft in northern mining operations was demonstrated after the gold strike in the Red Lk district of northwestern Ontario (1925). Patricia Airways and Exploration Ltd carried passengers, freight and mail to the remote area. In 1928 Northern Aerial Mineral Exploration began prospecting by air vast areas of Ungava and the Yukon.

Western Canada Airways (renamed Canadian Airways 1930) was formed in 1926 by James A. RICHARDSON, a wealthy Winnipeg grain merchant. One of WCA's pilots, Leigh BRINTNELL, set out from Winnipeg in 1929, dropped off prospector Gilbert LABINE at Great Bear Lk, flew on to Aklavik, across the Richardson Mts to Whitehorse and Prince George, then to Edmonton and back to Winnipeg - some 15 000 km. (In 1930 LaBine found pitchblende, striking it rich.)

By Jan 1929, WCA had established a regular air service down the Mackenzie R from Ft McMurray. One of the most dramatic events of the late 1920s was the flight of 2 aircraft, led by Lt-Col C.D.H. MacAlpine, N from Churchill, Man. The planes got stranded on Queen Maude Gulf. With the help of local Inuit, the men made their way safely overland to Cambridge Bay.

In 1930 an expedition piloted by Walter Gilbert flew up the Boothia Pen and found a cairn containing artifacts of the FRANKLIN EXPEDITION. Bush pilots made major surveys of the proposed route of the Hudson Bay Ry in 1926, and in 1927, 7 aircraft were ferried to Southampton I in the Arctic to gather information on the navigation of Hudson Str.

The use of bush flying in the development of mining continued even through the Great Depression. By the mid-1930s more freight was being moved by air in Canada than in all the rest of the world combined. The scale of bush flying was greatly expanded during the development of iron ore reserves in Québec and Labrador. Hollinger Ungava Transport (HUT) hauled fuel, food, disassembled bulldozers and even cement for dams in the late 1940s. With up to 96 aircraft arrivals per day, HUT carried 170 000 passengers in 10 000 flights before the project ended.

In the mid-1950s, Maritime Central Airlines made some 28 000 flights in 29 months during construction of the DEW line across northern Canada. More recently, the James Bay Project depended entirely on bush planes in its early stages, while massive Hercules transports delivered huge loads of food, fuel and equipment.

Bush flying transformed the North. It became possible by the 1930s to charter an aircraft and fly almost anywhere. Aircraft services became available to trappers and missionaries as well as to geologists and surveyors. Moreover, victims of accidents or illness could be brought out quickly for medical attention.

The first such incident occurred on 28 Aug 1920, when J.W. Thompson was flown out for a mastoid operation from Moose Factory on James Bay to Cochrane, Ont, by W.R. Maxwell in a Curtiss HS-2L. By the late 1920s and through the 1930s such flights were common; the longest such flight occurred from 27 Nov to 20 Dec 1939, when W.E. Catton flew a Junkers W-34 from Winnipeg to Repulse Bay, NWT, and returned to bring out a man with frozen, gangrenous hands.

In the postwar period, air strips have been built in the larger northern settlements, HELICOPTERS have been introduced, and good radio and navigation facilities have been established along with up-to-date weather information services. All this has greatly changed northern Canada and bush flying, but aircraft equipped with floats or skis continue to serve all those who live and work in remote areas. See also NOORDUYN NORSEMAN; DE HAVILLAND BEAVER; DE HAVILLAND OTTER.

External Links