Article: Radium Airline a Vital Artery for Northern Mines

  • Radium Airline-640x250
    September, 1952, Canadian Aviation Magazine

    Air transport linking two of the world’s foremost radium properties with their supply base at Edmonton is the function of the Aviation Division of Eldorado Mining & Refining (1944) Ltd. The story of the radium flights goes back many years, to the days when the float-shod Bellanca “Silver Radium Express” plied the air route to Great Bear Lake. Since the war, however, the Radium Express has assumed the character of a well-managed airline.

    Engaged solely in providing winged transportation for the Eldorado projects, the Aviation Division has the economic advantage of a near 100% load factor and high utilization. Operating on wheels, with landing strips at the respective properties, two Douglas DC-3’s and a Curtiss C-46F Commando carry most of the freight and passenger traffic for Eldorado’s airline.

    The Edmonton to Port Radium route extends 1,000 miles, with airstrips at McMurray, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and the northern terminus Sawmill Bay. The latter airstrip, 35 miles from the mine, is used in summer and is linked to the Port Radium mine by truck and barge. As soon as the ice is thick enough in fall, an airstrip is cleared on the lake ice at Port Radium. This leaves a break-up (mid-June to mid-July) and a freeze-up period (Oct. 21 to Dec. 8) when wheel operation is grounded.

    Scheduled trips on the Great Bear run average four weekly in summer, six weekly in winter. The schedules were tossed out of the window last winter, however, after burning of the Port Radium mill in October had caused a transportation crisis. Personnel and material for the new mill construction were rushed to the mine.

    The air service to the relatively new radium property at Beaverlodge in northern Saskatchewan was pioneered in January, 1948, when Alf Caywood, division chief and his chief pilot, George Frank, flew a ski-shod DC-3 to the area. The original plan was to land on Lake Athabaska and relay cargo by dog sled for the remaining 10 miles. It was found possible to land on the ice of Martin Lake, however, and deliver the goods directly. A small caterpillar tractor was then flown from Port Radium to level an ice runway, and the Beaverlodge air service was ready to go.

    For the first year, the entire Beaverlodge operation was sustained by air transport alone. Now the heavy cargo for this as well as for the Port Radium mine is carried by the steel barges, tugs and tractor trains of Northern Transportation Co. Ltd. threading a vast inland waterway.

    Canadian Aviation’s representative flew over the route from Edmonton to Sawmill Bay in an Eldorado DC-3. Flying time for the 1,000-mile run was 11 hrs., 15 min., elapsed time 14 hours. The Curtiss Commando, the largest aircraft in the Eldorado fleet has an all-up weight of 48,000 lb. Payload is 14,000 lb. The aircraft is licensed to carry up to 62 passengers, but Eldorado provides seating for 34. The Commando does most of the flying on the 500-mile run to Beaverlodge, with two return trips a day on the schedule.

    The Aviation Division was organized in 1944 by Alf Caywood, who continues to direct its operations as division manager. C. G. MacPherson is supervisor of maintenance, with George F. Frank, chief pilot; Ernest Bjorge, chief air engineer. In addition to the DC-3’s and Commando, Eldorado has a Fairchild 24 and a Norseman.

    This article originally appeared in the September, 1952 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.

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