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A Dash of Maple (Leaf)
November 15, 2004, by Bill Cawthon
When I began writing these columns, I wasn't very familiar with the Herpa Wings models. In fact, it wasn't until my eighth column, "Boeing's 717-200 - The Successful Survivor," that I wrote about an airliner and its Wings model. That first mention went to Wings No. 512251, a 717-200 decorated for Olympic Aviation, the first European carrier to buy the plane.
Another Olympic model, Wings No. 510080, is my inspiration this time. It is a limited edition 1:500 replica of Olympic Airlines' SX-BIR; a 1993 de Havilland Dash 8-102 with special graphics honoring the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Following some wise advice from Promotex webmaster Bill Brillinger, I ordered this model when it was announced and I'm glad I did. No. 510080 was very popular. Even though it was just released, it is already sold out at Herpa and at Promotex Online.
When I received my model, I got curious and decided to learn more about not just this plane, but about the Dash 8-100.
SX-BIR is one of five Dash 8-100s leased to in 2003 to Olympic Aviation. Following a major restructuring, the new Olympic Airlines took over on December 12, 2003 and four of the Dash 8s were put into service flying the Greek island routes. By the way, those Boeing 717s I wrote about in June 2001 were not picked up by the new company as they did not fit their plans.
The Dash 8 was developed by de Havilland Canada, usually called DHC. DHC was incorporated on March 5, 1928 and opened its first factory in Downsview, Toronto, Ontario. It was a subsidiary of the British company Geoffrey de Havilland founded in 1920. The English government wanted Canada to have a reliable air force, so from 1928 through World War II, DHC built the various versions of the Moth airplanes designed by its parent company, but modified for Canadian conditions.
After the end of the war, the Royal Air Force needed a new trainer to replace the old Tiger Moth, but de Havilland was busy with other projects, so it handed development of the new two-seat plane off to DHC. Aircraft designer W. J. Jakimuk, who had left his native Poland before the war, was given primary responsibility for the new plane.
The DHC-1 Chipmunk flew for the first time on May 22, 1946. The little plane had an all-metal body and a 145 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine that gave it a top speed of about 138 mph. The Chipmunk was a popular plane, with total production of 1231 aircraft produced by DHC and de Havilland in England. Sixty more Chipmunks were built under license in Portugal.
Although some Chipmunks were adapted for civilian use, DHC wanted a plane it could sell to non-military customers. It saw an opportunity in the rugged conditions of Canada's northern territories, where aircraft are an important mode of transportation. After surveying veteran bush pilots to learn what they wanted, DHC produced the DHC-2 Beaver, one of the best-known back-country airplanes ever made.
The Beaver was a single-engine plane with an overhead wing. Able to take off and land on short, unimproved runways, and available as a seaplane, it was ideally suited to a variety of tasks. It could carry up to six people or a fair amount of cargo.
The first flight took place on August 16, 1947 and the Beaver received certification in March 1948. From 1948 to 1968, 1,692 Beavers were built, making it the most successful plane in DHC history. Though intended for civilian use; the military liked the Beaver, too. The largest single customer was the United States Army, which bought over half the planes produced.
For all its strengths, the Beaver had one weakness: its limited payload. Many of the customers DHC needed to reach wanted a larger plane. In early 1951, de Havilland Canada began working on a larger version of the Beaver. Dubbed the "King Beaver," the plane shared the DHC-2's configuration but in a much large size. The new plane's wingspan was more than ten feet wider than the Beaver's and the fuselage was seven feet longer. Most importantly, the maximum takeoff weight was now four tons.
While it was in development, the King Beaver became the DHC-3 Otter. The Otter made its first flight on December 12, 1951. Certification followed in November 1952 and a run of 460 Otters got underway.
As with the original Beaver, DHC's best customer for the Otter was the U.S. Army. The Otter was also purchased by the military services of Australia, Canada and India.
Since the U.S. Army was such a good customer, DHC began developing a new aircraft specifically designed to meet the Army's requirements for a STOL tactical airplane to deliver troops and supplies to evacuate casualties.
De Havilland's response was the DHC-4 Caribou, a twin-engine plane capable of carrying 30 soldiers or four tons of cargo. A prototype made its maiden flight on July 30, 1958. The Army was favorably impressed and ordered five demonstrators. After the successful completion of military testing and evaluation, the Army designated the plane as the AC-1 and went on to buy 159 of them, the largest fleet of Caribous. In 1967, the Army transferred its fixed-wing aircraft to the U.S. Air Force, which called the Caribou the C-7.
Both American and Australian Caribous saw lots of action during the Vietnam War. In fact, they were used by both sides, as the North Vietnamese flew captured C-7s. After the war, the captured planes remained in service with the Vietnamese military until the late 1970s.
With the loss of the lucrative sales to the U.S. Army, de Havilland Canada began looking for another new opportunity. It came with the first fuel crisis of the 1970s, when shortages and high prices created a market for a small STOL civilian airliner for commuter flights serving small airports. With financial backing from the Canadian government, DHC began development of the DHC-7, a 50-passenger regional airliner with four turboprops and an advanced wing design that allowed the plane to take off, fully loaded, from a 3,000-foot runway.
Though there were earlier flights of development aircraft, the first real DHC-7, or Dash 7, took to the air on March 3, 1977. It received certification on May 2, 1977 and began flying for Rocky Mountain Airways on February 3, 1978.
Unfortunately, the circumstances that drove the development of the Dash 7 lasted only a short while after the plane went into service. As the fuel crises of the 1970s began to fade, so did the need for an STOL airliner. The Dash 7 had a production run of just 111 aircraft, including passenger and freighter versions, from 1977 to 1988. Of that number, 100 were built by the end of 1984. By the time the last Dash 7 was delivered to Tyrolean Airways in 1989, the program was over $100 million in the red.
In 1980, DHC began to work on a smaller regional airliner that would carry 30 to 40 passengers instead of the 54 needed to fill the Dash 7. The new plane had the Dash 7's STOL capabilities, but it didn't have those four fuel-hungry engines. The Dash 8-100 got by with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW120 turboprops.
The Dash 8 made its maiden flight on June 29, 1983. The Canadian government certified the Dash 8-100 on September 28, 1984 and less than three months later, the first one entered commercial passenger service with norOntair, a Canadian carrier.
In 1988, de Havilland Canada was acquired by Boeing and the company's name was changed to Boeing Canada, de Havilland Division. Over the next four years, Boeing poured over a billion dollars into the operation, but even with the financial help of the Canadian government, the American aerospace giant was unable to turn its Canadian subsidiary around. In 1992, Boeing sold de Havilland to Bombardier, the giant Canadian transportation company that got its start building snowmobiles. Bombardier had already resuscitated Canadair and was looking for another aircraft company to build short-haul airplanes.
Even while de Havilland was being bought and sold, development continued. The Dash 8-100 was followed by the Dash 8-100A, which offered more headroom and improved propellers in 1990 and the Dash 8-100B in 1992. The Dash 8-100B got an engine upgrade to the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW121, which permitted more rapid climb. Today, with a computer-controlled noise suppression system and a new interior added in 1998, the plane is sold as the Bombardier Q100.
As happens with most successful aircraft, the Dash 8 series has grown. Even before Boeing came calling, DHC had begun development of a stretched version of the Dash 8 that could carry fifty passengers while still needing only two engines. On May 15, 1987, the new Dash 8-300 flew for the first time. Following Canadian certification in February 1989, the first Dash 8-300 was delivered to Time Air. To accommodate the extra length and weight, the Dash 8-300 uses the more powerful Pratt & Whitney PW123 engines. In 1998, the Dash 8-300 got the same noise reduction and interior upgrades as the Dash 8-100 and was renamed the Q300.
There was one more change after Bombardier took over in 1992. The Dash 8-200 was designed to meet the need for a plane which shared the compact dimensions of the Dash 8-100, but had offered more speed and payload weight. Its more powerful PW123 engines, shared with the Dash 8-300, permitted a 35 mph increase in cruising speed and higher maximum takeoff weight, while preserving the Dash 8-100s ability to use a runway as short as 2,700 feet. Bombardier Aerospace began delivering the Dash 8-200 in April 1995. The Dash 8-200 was also upgraded in 1998 and renamed the Q200.
The newest member of the Dash 8 family is the Dash 8-Q400. Unlike other variants, the Q400 is almost a whole new design. With new avionics, a new wing and tail, and Pratt & Whitney PW150A turboprops driving six-blade propellers, the Q400 is designed to carry up to 70 passengers on short trips of 300 miles or less. Development work had already begun before Bombardier bought de Havilland, but the new owners made some changes and the program was officially kicked off in June 1995. The first Q400 was rolled out on November 21, 1997 and made its first flight on January 31 of the next year. In February 2000, SAS was the first to put the Q400 into revenue service. As of the end of July 2004, a total of 82 Q400s had been delivered.
Over the past twenty years, the little plane from the land of the maple leaf has become the world's most popular regional airliner. More than 650 Dash 8s of varying sizes have been produced and they have been purchased by 65 airlines.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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