Episode 39 – Toronto, Part 1: Mecca for Beaver Lovers

9:05 pm Doug

As a pilot, I’ve often wondered what it takes to earn a really cool “handle” like the guys in the1986 movie Top Gun, who went by Maverick, Iceman and Goose. See, I’m originally from California, where what you do is way less cool then how you look and sound while you’re doing it. I mean, come on, if Major Boyington of the Black Sheep Squadron had gone by Gregory instead of “Pappy”, would his legacy have entertained us all in the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep? If a beagle had shot down Manfred von Richthofen, instead of Snoopy shooting down “The Bloody Red Baron”, would the song have become a top 40 hit? I think not.

So it was with no little curiosity that we today met Russ “Buzz” Bannock, the first pilot to fly the legendary Beaver, hoping that he could unlock the mystery of how to procure a cool moniker. At the age of 88, Buzz has not lost a step, and in his articulate yet humble manner enthralled us as he told the story of a life well lived. Born in the northern city of Edmonton in 1919, by 1940 he had received his pilot’s wings in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After serving as an Instructor and Ferry Pilot, Bannock was transferred to RCAF Squadron No. 418, flying intruder missions over Europe with the de Havilland Mosquito Mk VI fighter-bomber. By April 1945, Bannock had destroyed 11 enemy aircraft, damaged 4 more, and destroyed 19 V-1 buzz bombs, leading to the award of the Distinguished Service Order. In 1945, Bannock became Director of Operations, RCAF Overseas Headquarters.

“Buzz” joined de Havilland in 1946, and in 1947 flew the Beaver prototype for the first time. The initial flight went well, until he noticed that the oil pressure had dropped to zero, precipitating a successful “dead stick” landing on the first flight. Not to worry – a quick check revealed an improperly installed valve, and flight testing continued that afternoon.

Note to Doug and Mark: maybe this pilot nickname thing takes a little more “go” then “show”. Hmmm…, I wonder if the USAF is looking for a couple of middle-aged pilots with poor eyesight, slow reflexes, and a little experience bouncing seaplanes though the Arctic.

We spent a good part of the morning touring the hallowed grounds at Downsview, where the first Beavers were built. The original building is still standing, and now houses the Toronto Aerospace Museum. As we walked through this part of aviation history, we could almost hear the sound of the rivet guns popping as the first Beaver was put together in a matter of months. Odd, how back then, without computer aided design, enterprise management software, and the vast resources of the internet, they were able to accomplish in a matter of months what now takes years. When queried about this, Russ opined that in the wake of the huge production rates during the war, the future of de Havilland Canada was anything but assured as they faced the uncertainty of post-war civilian production. This situation focused the talented team to produce a great plane in a very short period of time as a matter of economic survival.

In the afternoon, we were treated to a tour of the Bombardier plant by Mr. Lance Kessler. Bombardier, the successor to de Havilland Canada, continues the legacy by building some of the world’s most respected aircraft, including the popular Dash 8 turboprop, CRJ regional jet, and the Global Express, luxury yacht of the skies. Over the last fifty years, the planes have become bigger, faster, and more comfortable, but common elements still remain from the days of yore. In the final analysis, the 100 MPH Beaver and the 600 MPH Global Express are both constructed from aluminum wings, fuselages, and stabilizers, all held together by thousands of hand driven rivets. Rosie-the-Riveter lives on at Bombardier Aerospace.

The good folks here in Toronto have been very supportive of our little adventure, as underscored by the articles published in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, replete with pictures of us landing in Toronto Harbor. Does this recognition count towards the cool nickname thing?

Our shout-outs today go to Paul Cabot from the Toronto Aerospace Museum for opening up his fine museum, Ken Swartz for putting this whole thing together, and Lance Kessler for an insightful tour of the Bombardier Aerospace Facility.

Much more to tell, but we’ll wrap it up in tomorrow night’s BLOG – Toronto Part II.

Doug & the GAAA Team

3 Responses
  1. Brett B, Toronto, ON :

    Date: September 10, 2008 @ 3:43 am

    I enjoyed reading of your trip in the Toronto G&M and from my office, I can see your a/c on Apron 1 at CYTZ, right next to my own – a C-182 amphib which I took up along a similar arctic route in August …following the Northwest passage between Coppermine and Bathurst Inlet. It was a dream of mine to do this trip; your excellent website is a fun way of re-living the adventure. Further, it seems that you’ve made the right friends in town – Russ Bannock taught me to fly a Beaver …one of the first excercises we practiced was the dead stick landing!!

  2. Delone Krueger :

    Date: September 10, 2008 @ 4:28 am

    Thanks for the wonderful narratives as you make your way on this exciting adventure. It makes it live and looking for the next blog.

    Moses Lake
    C210 Lover

  3. Kerry Sim :

    Date: September 10, 2008 @ 9:25 am

    Doug, I find myself offering a suggestion about your desire to acquire a “handle”. Be careful what you ask for.

    Some years ago I participated in an Air Dash (like a rally)that required participants to fly from Mountainview Ontario to Delta BC in a tailwheel airplane that cruised at 100 mph or less. It took most of us the better part of a week to complete the journey. My trusty steed was a Fleet 80 Canuck – and I acquired a nickname… it was “armpit”… any guesses what inspired the name?

    By the way, I notice you are going to “the Soo” (Sault Ste Marie) then along the Superior shore. Would you waggle your wings as you pass Wawa Ontario – it was just north of there, at Hawk Lake, that I had my first Beaver flying job.


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