July, 1981, Canadian Aviation
Aviation historical enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that the sole flyable Bellanca Aircruiser, CF-BTW, has been restored and is awaiting reassembly.
The American-built “Flying W”, imported from the Philippines, arrived in Canada to fly for McKenzie Air Service in January, 1941. A series of owners – Canadian Pacific Airlines, Central Northern Airways, Transair, Hooker Air Services – eventually led the 15-place bushplane to a hangar at Gimli, Manitoba where it now rests comfortably as the property of Barney Lamm, a prominent aviation figure.
Lamm, owner of Ontario Central Airways, firmly believes the airplane should stay in Canada. “We get calls from all over, including overseas,” he said, “but BTW is not for sale – although I have considered a trade for a Twin Otter. As an indication of its value – the original 1941 purchase price of an Aircruiser was $44,000.”
Tentative plans include final assembly by pioneer/engineer George Fournier, once described by aviation historian P. Gardiner, as “…the man who knows Bellancas best.” Fournier has spent several winters providing the airplane, now the largest single-engine flying freighter in Canada, with a new skin.
Originally designed as luxury liners complete with spacious lavatories and all facilities, only 23 of the big Bellancas were built before production ended in 1938. Five which actually saw service in Canada were considered ideal for hauling outsized loads, weighing, as one source claimed, up to 4,500 pounds with half fuel. Transair, which operated BTW until 1956, reported flights out of short lakes with 3,000 pounds. At one time, Northwest Industries of Edmonton had considered putting the Flying W back in production after the Second World War.
“You could walk horses right in,” recalls George Fournier, who first saw the type in 1938. “There was even a hitching ring to tie them to.” (The ring is still installed.)
The Bellancas, whose lineage dates to 1925, were built in two variants. BTW, often erroneously called an Airbus, is actually an Aircruiser. There was only one Airbus in Canada and it crashed in March, 1938 near Lac du Bonnet. The Airbus had all-wood wings and lesser horsepower, but the Aircruiser had metal ribs, wooden spars, and a more powerful engine. The remains of another Flying W, CF-AWR, is owned by the Western Canada Aviation Museum, which intends to have the airplane rebuilt as a static display. It has not been decided whether Fournier will do the restoration.
Although BTW, s/n 721, will definitely fly in 1981, chances are the venerable freighter will never again be called upon to lift its max take-off weight of 11,400 pounds. “She’ll probably be hauling passengers this year out of Gimli,” smiled Robert Kortz, OCA aircraft engineer. “There are no intentions to work her as the bushplane she once was.”
When BTW is ready to go, one side of the fuselage will be painted in the colours of Hooker Air Service, the last airline to fly it as general freighter and fish hauler. The other side will carry the names of every person who ever flew the aircraft or who played an important part in keeping it airborne. (George Fournier’s name will be placed in the most prominent position.)
“It is important that those who developed the north with such historic bushplanes should be remembered,” concluded Barney Lamm.
This article originally appeared in the July, 1981 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.