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Home Story planespotting: Your guide to watching bushplanes in the Northwest Territories

planespotting: Your guide to watching bushplanes in the Northwest Territories






Up here, where distances are great and roads are rare, bush planes seem as common as birds. With hundreds of aircraft operating in our friendly skies, you’ll have plenty of chances to spot the winged beasts in flight. But not everyone can identify the most prevalent species of bush planes. Here’s a handy birder’s-guide-style primer: 

DeHavilland Beaver

(Hardius workhorsicus)


Physical characteristics:   9.2 metres long, box-shaped body and blunt, pug-like nose; – once described as “a big ol‘ pelican” – slow, cumbersome, but carries its weight in fish.

Voice:   Loud snarl punctuated with piston-like bangs and pings.

Habitat:   Flies anywhere, cruises non-stop for hours.

Population:   1,657 produced (1947-67)

Related species:   Norseman, Turbo Beaver

Notable fact:   The Beaver is named after Canada’s national animal, but the first Canadian-designed DeHavilland was named the Chipmunk. 

Piper Cub

(Bushplaneicus typicalensis)

Physical characteristics:   6.8m long; highly recognizable by its eager, snub nose and open, friendly face, the Cub’s low-hanging belly and stocky legs lend it a slow, sturdy air. 
Voice:   The butterfly of bush planes, it flies nearly silently.
Habitat:   A regular of lakes in the Northwest Territories; congregates around amateur pilots and tour operators. 
Population:   19,888 (produced 1938-1947)
Related species:   Super Cub     
Notable fact:  
The Cub is the most popular training plane.     

DeHavilland Twin Otter

(Enterprisius canadiensis)


Physical characteristics:   15.8 metres long; sleek pointed nose and full bottom-heavy chest; long blunt-tipped wings set toward the centre of the back; plumage variable. 
Voice:   Quiet growl; intermittent low shooshes when propellers reverse direction mid-flight.    
Habitat:   Cold, remote regions.   
Population:   844 (produced 1965-1988, 2008-present)  
Related species:   The single-engine Otter   
Notable fact:   In 2001, when Antarctica’s resident doctor needed a medevac from his -60C winter outpost, the Twin Otter was the only plane rescuers trusted to perform the mission.    



Physical characteristics:   Full, tapered belly resembling a fish; low wings that angle toward a central, three-pronged tail; plumage variable, but Northern species usually have a green mask.  

Voice:   Single persistent howl.   
Habitat:   Well adapted to ice; requires a long landing strip.    
Population:   607 (produced 1936-42, 1950)   
Related species:   None. It’s been said that the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3.    
Notable fact:   Starred in the History Channel’s long-running show Ice Pilots NWT.    

Cessna 185

(Speedy gonzalicus)

Physical characteristics:   7.9m long; feline nose, slender tail; agile, lither, maneuvers well, highly responsive; can fly on floats, wheels or skis.  
Voice:   On take-off, it emits a ping, followed by an uninterrupted, sopund-barrier-breaking screech.    
Habitat:   Wild mountain regions   
Population:   More than 4,400 (produced 1961-1985)
Related species:   Found Bush Hawk
Notable fact:   Founder Clyde Cessna tested all his own prototypes and once leapt from an inverted plane mid-flight. 

Pilatus Porter

(Mountainous goatus)

Physical characteristics:   11m long; box-shaped snout, wiry legs and square wingtips; unattractive but spry.   
Voice:   Noisy growl, similar to the Beaver. 
Habitat:   The Northern Pilatus nests in Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, year-round. 
Population:   562 (produced 1959-present)
Related species:   Helio Courier, Helio Stallion     
Notable fact:   The Pilatus holds the world record for highest landing by a fixed-wing aircraft: In 1960, it touched down on a 5,750-metre mountain peak in Nepal.    

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