Bush planes operating from unconventional surfaces hold an undeniable mystique for me. Of these, I have always been particularly enamored with the de Havilland Beaver. Sure, tandem two seat Super Cubs and their modern descendants like the Aviat Husky are very capable in this capacity, as are larger haulers like Cessna's 180, 206, and 208 (Caravan) models. But the Beaver is a beefy, radial-engined workhorse with character that has capably earned its mantle as a superlative bush plane. It is also a little exotic. Although I encounter the other aircraft with some regularity, I have never knowingly crossed paths with a Beaver in the Lower 48, even considering that Harrison Ford famously owns and operates one. Then again, I've never crossed paths with Harrison Ford while flying around, either. By the same argument, I suppose that makes him exotic, too.
And a Beaver on floats? Even better.
Home of the Liquid Sunshine
We spent the first two weeks of July in Alaska, a place that has fittingly become a focal point for backcountry flying. While visiting Ketchikan, I formed a hypothesis about why Beavers seem so rare in the Lower 48. Clearly, Ketchikan is their natural habitat. We saw Beavers everywhere, all of them on floats, and all of them much cooler than my airplane.
Ketchikan is squeezed between mountains and the Tongass Narrows. The only way in or out is by ship or airplane. It is an appropriate place for Beavers to gather.
In additional to its inaccessibility, Ketchikan is also notoriously wet. A "liquid sunshine gauge" on the pier already indicated 14.5 feet of rainfall by early July. The day we were there, I think they picked up another foot.
Despite the low clouds and damp conditions, float-equipped Beavers were quite active during our visit.
Versatile people-movers waiting to leap into the air.
Just look at that face; honest, sturdy, and reliable. That is a trustworthy face.
Though they were in the majority, we did not see Beavers exclusively operating from the Tongass Narrows. For example, we also observed this Cessna 185 land at Ketchikan International Airport.
Not long after, an airliner planted itself at Ketchikan International. Downwind landings? Sure, why not? It's Alaska! Landing downwind is probably the least of your risks.
Ketchikan International even had a seaplane dock with...you guessed it...a Beaver in attendance. The difference in elevation between the parking apron and the runway must make taxiing between them interesting. I wonder if the taxiway has switchbacks?
(It doesn't. It's just long with a gradual slope.)
The Bear and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Beavers come and go around Ketchikan. Naturally, it would have been even more enjoyable for us to fly in one.
I had my fingers crossed for an opportunity near the end of our trip...