Vintage Bellanca Photographs

This feature from Vanity Fair highlights several of the "New Light Planes" from 1931. Aircraft that are within the financial reach of pilots of ordinary financial means and piloting skills. Overhead is a Curtiss-Wright "Junior" followed by an American Eaglet "230" and a Buhl "Bull Pup".

The image caption reads, "... Down Below, a Bellanca "Airbus" has just swaggered to earth with its Curtiss-Wright "Cyclone", 575 h.p. motor, bearing a party of enthusiastic spectators to the sport of kings..."

This advertisement from Fortune magazine was in their April 31, 1931 issue.

This is a picture of CF-BTW in 1944. The following comments are from Doug Fawcett who sent me this photograph which he took. In a letter he included, Mr. Fawcett wrote:

"...I worked for Canadian Pacific Air Lines from March 1942 until September 1982. During 1944, 1945 and part of 1946 I was stationed at Fort Smith in Canada's Northwest Territories. I remember CF-BTW quite well. At that time it was based at Yellowknife and used to operate from there to Fort Smith, landing on the Slave River, before Yellowknife had an airport. The mainline flights from Edmonton used to terminate at Smith and passengers etc., for Yellowknife were transferred to BTW.

According to the history of CPAL, CF-BTW was classified as a Bellanca 66-75 Aircruiser and was built in 1938. It was originally purchased by Mackenzie Air Services and was transferred to Canadian Pacific Air Lines in 1943.

It was sold to Central Northern Airways in Manitoba on 19 May 1947.

We operated BTW on floats in the summer and skiis in the winter.

I am enclosing a picture I took of BTW at Fort Smith in the winter of 1944, while it was undergoing a changeover from wheels to skiis..."

Here it is...vintage 1939 travel accomodations. Behind the rearmost seats, a lavatory with porcelain fixtures. The Aircruiser could seat up to 15 passengers and included such creature comforts as a fresh air vent above each seat as well as individual heating vents.

Here's why they called it the flying W.

and Reminiscences

I flew the aircraft with Central Northern Airways which later became TransAir Ltd. It was later sold to Hooker. This was the last Aircruiser in service and I flew it from 1955 to 1961 and have about 500 hours on it on both floats and skiis. The airplane was built very solid and with the wheel ski set up you could operate on rough conditions that most other aircraft could not handle. The same thing applied to the float set-up. I guess due to the older design the aircraft was heavier on the controls than any of the other bush planes, but it was much larger.

BTW had a Pratt & Whitney Hornet engine of 875 horsepower, 2 wing tanks of 125 imperial gallons each. Our average payload was 3,000 to 3,500 pounds. Type of loads varied from mining equipment to fish, tourists, etc. I have had over 3,000 pounds of dynamite on one load and on another, a 3,200 pound generator that could not be broken down I flew in to a mine site.

This was on floats so we had to make a ramp out of timbers to go from the dock to the cabin. It then took 6 men to winch it into the aircraft. With all this weight at the back we almost sank the airplane. The floats had no spreader bars and it was a long way from the cabin to the floats so we carried a folding set of stairs in the cabin.

As standard equipment we always carried a 200 pound emergency ration box, plus an axe,ropes, paddles, and in winter, wing covers, engine covers, snow shoes, and 3 blow pots to heat the engine and also always our sleeping bag.

I was based at Lynn Lake for 2 years and flew BTW in the winter and a (Conso?) PBY in the summer. Lynn Lake is about 600 miles north of Winnipeg and in the winter the days are very short and cold (-30F to -50F degrees). By the time you got the engine heated, all the covers off and the aircraft loaded, you felt you had already done a day's work. Even in cold weather you could have slush form under the deep snow. Once when on a fish haul I could not get airborne due to deep snow and slush underneath. I tried to taxi back to the camp and got stuck in the slush that was over the stub wing. We had to use dog teams to haul 3,000 pounds of fish back to camp a mile away. It took hours to dig the airplane out and cut poles to make a ramp to taxi out. I had to stay at the camp overnite and leave early the next morning.

The aircraft had no flaps and inside a standard type yoke with a large round central control wheel (like a truck) and throttle quadrant on the left pilot panel. The elevator trim was a large crank on the ceiling like a Norseman flap handle, 125 turns, if I remember.

I do not agree that the Bellanca was tricky on floats, in fact, I thought it was beautiful on floats. You usually needed a bit more room to dock and take off due to the size and weight but it handled well.

Bill Eaton, Winnipeg, MB

I recall your asking about dog teams when we were stuck in the slush. Commercial fishing is big business in the north and in the 50's and 60's, native fishermen did not have power toboggans so they all used dog teams.

Bill Eaton, Winnipeg, MB

The one in your color picture I believe was owned by MacKenzie Air Services and flown by Leigh Brintnell (standing in foreground) and Stan MacMillan. Nice old aircraft. I knew Leigh Brintnell very well when I worked in Edmonton in 1960 to '62. He had lots of old pictures and movies of bush flying in the '20s and '30s. He and his wife took delivery of an Aircruiser and ferried it North on their wedding trip! He really loved that airplane.

Don Macaulay

Last November, in 1998, I contacted Mr. Leroy Trenton, who was a MSGT in the USAAC. In 1937 and 38, he flew as a mechanic on the Bellanca's as well as the then newer, DC-2 and DC-3.

He told me how the pilots liked flying the Bellanca's, they felt the planes were easy to fly and often would give the wheel to the mechanic to fly while the pilot napped.

Most times the planes transported spare engines as cargo, though they also flew passengers and other cargo as well. He reports having memories of few problems with the engines or any other mechanical problems.

He was stationed at Duncan Field, now a part of Kelly AFB.

My name is Wayne Allen. During the middle sixties I worked for Hooker Air Service out of Pickle Lake, Ontario for a short while. During this time Hooker bought BTW and I did maintenance on it with my brother who was the chief engineer at the time. As I went back to school that fall my lasting impressions of the aircraft were its unique shape and size for a fabric plane.

Wayne Allen, Hanmer, Ont.

He wrote in another letter:

About winter operations; it was used a few seasons with TransAir but the engine was just too unreliable and it was just not worth it to be forced down in winter for engine repairs. It used to blow cylinders often! Also there wasn't enough winter work. It could all be done by Noorduyn Norsemen.
In summer this was just a spare aircraft. Used as loads for it came up. When I was flying it I also flew a Norseman or Cessna 180 regularly so BTW only accounted for about 1/2 of my summer flying time. We used it mostly for fish haul and mail runs, also bulky loads that wouldn't fit any any other aircraft. Like 16 foot drywall, septic tanks, telephone base panels, etc., etc. Most of the trips were out of Pickle Lake, north within 200 miles of Pickle Lake. Home Base was Sioux Lookout.

The 3d Transport Squadron operated 2 C-27's. The third one crashed in East Texas on the way home from Barksdale, La. The pilot bailed out and as you can see the aircraft made nearly a perfect wheels up landing.(Photocopy shows an upright fuselage with the wings laying alongside; the wings had been twisted around so that the upper wing surface was on the ground and the bottom of the stub wing was up at the top of the fuselage. One of the wheel pants is in the foreground nearby. Impressive considering it was a pilotless landing)

In my opinion the pilot could have landed the C-27 after he had an engine failure, but he chose to jump. The C-27 was a very good airplane and was flown for several years in Central and South America. The C-27 was replaced by the C-33, Douglas, in 1936.

Lt. Col. Lucas J. Ashcroft, San Antonio, TX

The following is a description of what was probably the C-27's typical duties:

I joined the 3rd Transport Squadron on 10/10/39 and the C-27's were already gone by then. We had Douglas C-33's and C-39's then and the Squadron seemed to stay busy hauling overhauled engines from the San Antonio Air Depot to Air Bases everywhere and packing up engines in need of overhaul and bringing them back to the depot. Of course they hauled a lot of other items other than engines... An interesting sidelight to the C-27 would be the history of many of the pilots flying it the C-33 and the C-39. A lof of them were enlisted men, some only privates.
Actually, they were officers in the Air Corps Reserve, but the number of officers on active duty were so limited by the military budgets, that they enlisted as privates or some other enlisted ranks, and were able to continue their flying in military aircraft. Sometimes we would have an Aircraft Commander who was a private with a captain or major as co-pilot. Most of the enlisted pilots were Tech or Master Sergeants by WW II and some of them wound up as high ranking officers.
Len Blaylock, Major USAF Retired.