Last Friday in April !

Its a Friday !. 

The last Friday in April…

For those of us in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (Canada) it is one of the last opportunities to enjoy winter activities. We have had winter since mid November, but most of that time is has been too friggin cold to actually enjoy being outside.  My cold weather cut off is -25C. Below that temperature, there is no glide on skis, and hands get too cold too easily.

Today, it is +1C. For most of the season, we don’t use the + or -, it is simply understood to be below zero.

The things I’d rather be doing !!

Kite skiing on Yellowknife Bay

Fat Biking on a northern runway. The ice is at least 4′ thick.

Planespotting 101

 

 
 

Planespotting 101:  A beginner’s guide to Yellowknife’s soaring skies

 …knowing your airplanes is not essential to life and death, though it is good for impressing friends…

Stories and photos by Steve Schwarz

 

Article written about northern aviation, and published in  _EDGE

(https://edgenorth.ca/article/planespotting-101)
 

A couple years ago my mom visited Yellowknife. One sunny morning as we walked along McDonald Drive she stopped almost midstride and turned her head slowly skyward. “Mom, are you OK?” I asked. A few seconds later she smiled and said, “That’s a DC-3.” What the…? My mom is a plane spotter! As a child, my mom lived in the Netherlands during World War II. German, Canadian, British and American airplanes were always flying overhead, and knowing how to correctly identify which was which could save your life.

My father too was a plane spotter. I remember as a kid Dad would sometimes tell stories and draw the airplanes he saw as a child during the six years he spent in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp while he lived in Indonesia. I’ve always been interested in planes. I guess it’s in my genes. Often while walking with the kids we will see an airplane, and I will blurt out, “That’s a DHC-5 Buffalo,” or name some other aircraft. Sometimes I can even identify the airplane before we can see it. I am not bionic, it’s more that my eyes and ears have learned to recognize the shapes and sounds made by the different airplanes. Fortunately for us living in Yellowknife, knowing your airplanes is not essential to life and death, though it is good for impressing friends and family. (Right Mom?)

If you want to hone your own planespotting chops, here’s a quick guide to the main features of six unique airplanes common to the Yellowknife area.

How to Plane Spot

The Noorduyn Norseman

This is a Canadian-designed and built single-engine bush plane that first flew in 1935. Nine-hundred were made. Typical of airplanes designed before the Second World War, the fuselage (body) of the Norseman is welded steel tubing covered with fabric, and the wings, except for the flaps and ailerons, are made with wood and covered with fabric. Characteristic features: One engine, high wing, really noisy (deep growl). Often seen on floats on Back Bay (Buffalo Airways). From a distance the Norseman can be confused with the Beaver and Otter.

 

Norseman

 

The Lockheed L-188 Electra

Originally designed for passengers, this four-engine turboprop airplane had a serious design flaw (the wings could tear off in-flight) and by the time the design was modified, faster and quieter jet airplanes were introduced that lured passengers away. The remaining Electras were converted to cargo planes by adding large cargo doors (Buffalo Airways), and some were redesigned as Aurora, the long-range maritime patrol aircraft used by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Characteristic features: The Lockheed L-188 has a long rounded fuselage, the wing is at the bottom of the fuselage, and the four engines ‘sit’ above the wings. Buffalo Airways’ Electras are white, whereas military Auroras are distinguished by the grey color and a long ‘needle’ sticking out from the tail. Although the Electras and Aurora sound very similar to the rumble of the C-130 Hercules, they can easily be distinguished by the shape.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules

This four-engine turboprop transport aircraft was originally designed for military transport use on short gravel runways. The ‘Herc’ was designed in the 1950s and has been upgraded and is still being produced. If you need to fly a fire truck to a remote northern mine – this is the airplane to use (it has happened). First Air has two Hercs based in Yellowknife, and the Royal Canadian Air Force version (painted dark grey) is often seen passing through. Characteristic features: Hercules are big, with a wide fuselage, wing attached to top of fuselage, four engines, large rear cargo door and a high wide tail. With a little bit of practice, you will soon be able to identify that distinctive rumble of the four-turboprops way before you see one.

 

The Herc

 
The de Havilland Canada DHC-7

Popularly known as the Dash 7, this four-engined turboprop plane first flew in 1975. In many ways the Dash 7 – designed to carry 40 passengers a distance of 320 km, and able to use relatively short (2,000-foot) unpaved runways – was envisioned as a big brother to the Twin Otter. Characteristic features: Although there is some resemblance to the Lockheed Electra, Dash 7 can be identified by a long slender rounded fuselage with a pointy nose. The wing is attached to the top of the fuselage and most obvious is the shape of the tail which resembles a capital ‘T’. Air Tindi / Discovery Air operate Dash 7s, some of which are painted red with white dots. Compared to the Hercules, the DHC-7 is quiet, more like the sound of a large ceiling fan running at slow speed.

 

Dash-7

 
The de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo

Initially called Caribou lI, this aircraft was based on a redesign of the DHC-4. First flown in 1964, the DHC-5 is a twin engine turboprop aircraft with a large rear door and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. There are currently two Buffalo aircraft used commercially in Canada, both operated by Summit Air in Yellowknife. The Royal Canadian Air Force version of the DHC-5 is used for search and rescue, and can be distinguished by the orange with red stripe paint scheme. Characteristic features: Although there is some resemblance to the two-engine Dash-8, Buffalos can be distinguished by boxy fuselage, a bulbous nose, and a rear fuselage that ramps upward toward the tail. Similar to the Dash 7, the Buffalo has a distinctive slow propeller sound, like a large ceiling fan turning at slow speed.

 

DHC-5

 
The Short Skyvan

This twin-engine turboprop cargo aircraft, was manufactured in Northern Ireland. Although designed for the same purpose as the Twin Otter, the Skyvan actually resembles a flying railroad boxcar due to its boxy shape and large rear door for efficient loading and unloading of freight. Need to move a mid-size pickup truck? It will fit! Characteristic features: The Skyvan is short and boxy, has two engines and two rudders. Skyvans sound similar to a de Havilland Twin Otter, a noisy high pitch squeal that reminds me of a couple wasps in a beer can.

 
 

Short Skyvan

 

 

 

 

A Brief Guide to Yellowknife’s Aviation History

The first airplanes flew over parts of the Northwest Territories in 1921. Imperial Oil used two Second World War Junkers F 13s to support the oil-staking rush at Fort Norman (now called Tulita). At times, these ‘strange birds’ were riddled with bullets. Starting in the mid-1920s, aircraft were used to deliver mail (letters, fur and general cargo), and for mineral exploration. By airplane, previously unexplored remote areas of the North could now be accessed within a few hours, instead of weeks or months by canoe and dog team. The use of airplanes for mineral exploration led to the discovery of several new deposits, and the NWT’s first mine, Eldorado Mine at Port Radium on Great Slave Lake. Most were canvas-covered, single-engine airplanes made by Fairchild, Stinson, Bellanca, Fokker, and Junkers. They’re long gone now but they’ve been immortalized on Yellowknife buildings and street names (although interestingly, there are no streets called Fokker or Junkers).

A new generation of planes was designed after the Second World War. These all-metal airplanes with enclosed cockpits were better for remote northern areas. De Havilland of Canada produced a series of short takeoff and landing ‘bush’ airplanes with unique mammal names including the Beaver, Otter, Caribou, Buffalo and Twin Otter (initially called King Otter). By far, the most popular bush plane is the Cessna 172. Most likely, if you see a small, single-engine high-wing airplane on skis or floats, it is a Cessna 172. 

The northern skies are still traveled by many converted Second World War vintage airplanes. The Beech-18 is a small, twin-engine bush plane often seen on floats on Yellowknife’s Back Bay. Larger transports include the DC-3, DC-4 and C-46 operated by Buffalo Airways. These airplanes are easy to maintain, cheap, and tough bush planes on gravel runways. More modern twin-engine airplanes include the generically named Dash-8, ATR-72, Do-228, and Skyvan, while modern four-engines are the Dash-7, Lockheed Electra, and Hercules. Many Yellowknifers will recognize the sight and sounds of the bright yellow and red Canadair Cl-215 water bomber, since these were used to help extinguish the fires at the city dump. Finally, although not technically designed as a bush plane, the Boeing 737s used by First Air and Canadian North have been modified with extra-large cargo doors and rock-chip deflectors for use on gravel runways.

Graphic: This is my Right hand – I’ve done things with this hand I can’t talk About !

It started with a a thank you card from a friend for helping her with some house maintenance. I can’t actually remember what i had helped with. At the time, this card seemed reasonably reasonably humorous.  

Little was I to know what was about to happen.

I do recall that I had recently found toy dinosaur (T-Rex) in the park. It sat menacingly on the picnic table where I ate lunch, with its mouth ajar showing all its teeth.   What fun I had with it. Posing it as if it had eaten a piece of my lunch, and even a piece of my plate which had an appropriately sized piece removed.

Ok – Yellowknife !. I know that we are at the end of the road on the edge of the middle of no-where. Where mosquitos are the size of a crow, the fish – northern pike resemble pre-historic sharks, and now these guys pop in for a visit while I am eating my lunch !. Talk about un-invited guests !. Lol. (July 25, 2018)

 

And having a ‘battle’ with a vintage wooden model ship in the garden.

Epic battle: HMS Unicorn (1790) vs T-Rex in my garden (a bed of weeds). Not really what I want to see. #mygardenisabattlefield (June 29, 2018).

 

Be warned – the following images are graphic !

Saturday July 28, 2018. The day my hand got bitten by the dinosaur.  

Nealy completed a small storage shed, and adding trim. I wanted to ‘rip’ a piece of wood to reduce the width. It seemed simpler to hold the circular saw in my left hand and hold the wood with my right hand. Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Part way though the cut the saw blade was pinched by the wood. On table saws there is piece of thin metal behind the blade to prevent pinching.  The blade on circular saws rotates upwards into the uncut wood. Within a blink – the circular saw was suddenly flung backwards towards me. I knew right away that something was wrong.

As the saw moved backwards it ran over my thumb that had slightly crossed over the previously cut wood. 

Blood everywhere. At first i thought that my body had been struck by the blade.   Only my thumb – but how much was gone.  I couldn’t see as blood was everywhere. 

Gone ?. My mind flashed to the thoughts of What can a person do with no thumb ?. No more hobbies, paddling, photography…

I found some rags in the workshop to slow the flow of blood and went in the house.  My the time i got inside the blood had soaked the rags. Tea towels were next.

I was moving all over the house and was leaving a trail of blood. 

Take control of yourself …take control of your self.

Eventually I sat on the floor, closed my eyes and tried to slow my heart rate as each heart beat could be seen by a new drop on the floor.

A few minutes and the decided i had to go to the hospital. I drove myself, and drive a standard. Shifting with the palm of my hand and baby finder.  At emergency ….”Hi – Yes- I cut off my thumb…”

The nurse asked – “Do you have the piece ?”. A minute later i was a calling a friend – “Hey can you do me a favor…”.   Sure enough, he and his six years old son found the piece and delivered it to the hospital. 

Steve and his piece of thumb after being delivered to the hospital.

My luck ran out. The teeth got me. It would have been a good and funny story if the dinosaur in my garden nipped off the tip of my thumb while teasing him with a carrot.
But it wasn’t. Other teeth got me. Damn you circular saw ! (July 29, 2018).

 

First look at the squared off thumb…July 30, 2018.

First look at the squared off thumb…July 30, 2018.

August 12 i flew to the Netherlands on a pre- planned trip.  Had the circular struck bone, the trip would have had to be cancelled.  Missed it by that much…

Yes – I can still hold a camera and drink beer !.

 

Healing. (August 20, 2018).

Paddle boarding. (August 26, 2018).

 

More Healing. (September 14, 2018).

It took approximately 2 months to get full mobility back. The skin grew back, fingerprint too. Now, almost 4 years later, other than being a bit shorter,  and less sensitivity at the tip life is now almost back to normal.