Pistons pump and the whirling propeller spur the loud 1959 engine of a De Havilland Beaver to life, an icon of the Courtenay Airpark.
The smooth, nine-cylinder engine propels the red float plane through the water before lifting onto one float and into the sky at a slow but steady speed, for a cruise over Comox Valley.
The views from above are breathtaking on a sunny spring day, with glistening blue water and green forests surrounding the area and Comox Lake looking more inviting than the water temperature suggests in late May.
It is an aircraft that is not commonly seen, an antique that has been well preserved. According to the aircraft’s owner, Dave Bazett, the Beaver was originally built and sent to the U.S. Army. Over 1,600 examples were built, and the army bought around 800 of the planes, according to Bazett.
“So, they were used in Korea and Vietnam. They called it the “general’s Jeep” because they used them for getting out of short strips in the jungle,” said Bazett.
Following the war, Bazett says there was civilian demand for bush planes and De Havilland went to bush pilots, asking what they wanted.
“They wanted something that had lots of power, short take-off and landing, tough, could operate off skis, floats and wheels,” said Bazett. “For example, you could add oil in-flight because the oil filler is inside the cabin.”
Bazett says he has owned a few other planes and when this one came up for sale, he had to buy it as it was in very good condition.
“Airplanes are constantly maintained so it’s not like a car where you just use it until it dies,” said Bazett. “They’re maintained pretty rigorously; I’ve had the engine sent off to Oklahoma to be rebuilt a couple years ago.”
Today Bazett flies the aircraft regularly for work as a land surveyor. He had it converted to floats to suit his needs flying into remote locations, and for some photography.
Newer planes may be available, but for Bazett, it’s piece of history that shows what can be done when you engineer something to last.
“They’re quite an amazing airplane. They’re really well designed and you really feel at one with them,” said Bazett.
“It’s certainly different than a lot of things we see today that have a five- or 10-year life. This is over 60 years old and it’s still going strong. It just shows that you can build things to last, and you don’t have to keep recycling.”
In the cockpit, the aircraft flies smoothly and purrs at around 1,800 rpm as though it was new. Despite some upgrades to digital gauges, it is much the same as it was when it was built and provides a great view of the beautiful valley it now calls home.
Bazett adds the luxury of having the Courtenay Airpark is a great asset for the city.
“This is why I live here, it’s a pretty unique spot on the coast. There are not too many places where right close to the downtown you can have an airport facility like this close to town,” he said.