Our Flight In A DHC-2 DeHaviland Beaver
Currier’s Flying Service sits at the southwest corner of Moosehead Lake in Greenville Junction, Maine. It is owned and operated by Roger Currier who has been flying for most of his life. In addition to flying, Roger has an added passion. He restores antique airplanes.
Chris and I took a walk down to the dock where Roger ties his three float planes one morning. It only took me a minute to recognize the Beaver.
According to Roger Currier, his restored 1954 DeHaviland Beaver is the only one in commercial operation in the Northeast. Most of the Beavers still in service today are in Canada and Alaska.
The Beaver has become an aviation icon among bush pilots. Old-timers can become misty-eyed when remembering their days flying a Beaver.
The Beaver was first built in 1947 and was produced up until 1967. Over the years 1,657 were manufactured and many are still flying today.
The aircraft was built with a stock nine cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engine, the roar of which evokes memories of a bygone day. The engine produces 450 hp and depending on the interior configuration, the Beaver can carry from six to eight passengers with a useful load of 2100 pounds.
In its day, and still today the Beaver is a no-nonsense bush plane, both functional and rugged.
We had to fly in the Beaver. We walked up to the office and asked if it would be possible.
“Come back at 1 o’clock,” the woman said. “Roger will be here then.”
When we returned a couple of other people were there looking for a plane ride. That spread the cost and Roger was more than willing to take us up in the Beaver.
Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in Maine. It is approximately 40 miles long and 10 miles wide with a coastline of over 400 miles and more than 80 islands. It was from Greenville in West Central Maine in 1846 that Henry David Thoreau began the first of his three journies into the Manie Woods.
It was a beautiful day and the plan was to fly to the northeast up to Lobster Lake and then back down the west side of Moosehead Lake. We piled into the plane.
The interior was wide and well worn. There was plenty of leg room as the aircraft was configured to carry six people. The cockpit had single controls with all the instrumentation on the left side. Sitting in the water on floats it was impossible to see out the front. Chris and I were sitting just behind Roger.
Before starting the big radial, Roger announced that not only was it going to be loud, but that not all cylinders would fire at once.
“It may be a second or two before they all get going,” he smiled clearly in love with his plane.
Roger Currier restored his 1954 Beaver and being a federally licensed aircraft mechanic, does all his own maintenance. He says the airframe has about 17,000 hours on it.
With a chug-chug-chug-chug, followed by an increasing crescendo of rapid chugs each of the nine cylinders on the big radial engine lit off. A puff of smoke blew past my window. The last radial I was in was an old Beach 18 twin back in the 70’s. This was a treat.
Roger eased the throttle forward and the big engine smoothed out. It was louder than most single engine aircraft, but what a sweet sound.
We taxied out onto the lake and he nosed the Beaver to the north. When everything was ready he looked back with a smile and nodded. We were ready to go. Slowly he put the power to the 450 hp engine and we began to plow through the water. It didn’t take long before he had the plane on the step and we were skimming across the lake. He pulled back on the yoke and when she was ready; the 1954 Beaver broke free of the surface and took to the air.
It was too loud to talk with the engine at full power. As soon as he could, Roger throttled back and we began a slow climb to the northwest.
We cut across Harfords Point headed for Sugar Island, the largest island on the lake. Roger had set the altimeter at zero on the lake surface, by the time we crossed Sugar Island we were level at 1500 feet and the Beaver was cruising along.
Roger pointed out Beaver Cove and Lily Bay off to the east. We flew up Spencer Bay, across Spencer Pond. Off to the east we could see Little Spencer and Big Spencer Mountains. Far off to the east was the unmistakable outline of Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain.
At the top of Spencer Pond Roger turned between Little Spencer and Lobster Mountain. Ahead we could see Lobster Lake, one of the prettiest lakes in Maine and named thusly because of its lobster shape. We flew out over Lobster Lake to the west of Big Island. The shore to the northwest was all sandy beach, unusual for Maine and one of the attractions of the lake. Many people will paddle down the West Branch of the Penobscot into Lobster Lake to camp and enjoy the sandy beaches and surrounding mountain scenery.
Turning to the west at the top of the lake we headed out over Halfway Branch a tributary of the West Branch. Roger spotted a moose below browsing in the stream. He put the plane into a 60 degree bank and we circled above as the moose ignored us and casually continued to eat.
We picked up the big lake again over Northeast Cove near Northeast Carry, where for years paddlers would land to carry across to the West Branch. We cruised across the lake to the western shore and Roger nosed the Beaver south.
We flew just to the east of the Moose Brook Islands and to the east of Farm Island. Roger headed for the eastern side of Mt. Kineo. He dropped down below the top of the mountain as we slipped by the 700 foot high rock cliff. The lake here is about 250 feet deep, making the shear rock face nearly 1000 feet above the lake bottom.
Native Americans once traveled great distances to Mt. Kineo to acquire its rhyolite, rock. The mountain is a peculiar geological formation of flint known as siliceous slate, or hornstone. It is the country’s largest known mass of this rock, once used by the Native Americans to craft arrowheads, hatchets, chisels, and other tools and weapons.
We cruised past Rockwood to the west and the mouth of the Moose River, then to the East Outlet of the Kennebec River. We stayed near the western shore until we were once again above Harford’s Point. From here Roger made a wide sweeping turn over downtown Greenville, Maine, no doubt a little advertising.
We descended to the east of Greenville and slipped back onto the lake just inside West Cove. As the Beaver slowed, Roger taxied toward his dock.
He pulled back the mixture and the big radial engine chugged to a stop. The airplane drifted toward the dock, slipping alongside and to a stop perfectly. Roger jumped from the float to the dock and tied it off.
Chris and I hung around for a bit and talked with Roger. It turned out that we had friends in common. Once the weather on Moosehead gets too cold to operate, he heads south down to Lake Ossipee, New Hampshire for the winter.
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