'Buffalo Joe' McBryan adds unique WWII biplane to his fleet

'I have no logical reason to own it or want it,' says Buffalo Joe of his new WWII-era, open cockpit biplane. 'That fine line between want and need. I crossed the line and now I have the airplane.'

'Much the same as riding a motorcycle,' says Buffalo Joe of 1941 open cockpit aircraft

'Buffalo Joe' McBryan with his Second World War-era biplane on Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife. He carries 'a smidgen' of the previous owner's ashes in the back 'so for his family, he'll continue to fly with it.' (Pat Kane/CBC)

It's a bird... it's a plane... OK it's just a plane. But "Buffalo Joe" McBryan's latest addition to his fleet is not your typical northern aircraft.

McBryan, the founder of Buffalo Airways from TV's Ice Pilots NWT, has gotten his hands on a Second World War-era biplane that features two sets of wings and an open cockpit. But it's also a float plane, with one large float under the fuselage and two smaller support floats under the wings.

"It's a Navy trainer, built in 1941 in naval yards in Pennsylvania," McBryan says. "What makes it a unique airplane is because you don't very often get a biplane on floats."

He's counted only about a dozen of the aircraft in the world, and none in northern Canada. McBryan suspects Yellowknife hasn't seen a biplane on floats since the 1950s.

'You don't very often get a biplane on floats,' McBryan says. (submitted by Mikey McBryan)

'Recreational' flying only

Buffalo's flagship aircraft are the Second World War-era DC-3s and DC-4s it uses for passenger and cargo flights. This one, McBryan says, will be used for "recreational" flying.

"I have no logical reason to own it or want it," he says matter-of-factly. "That fine line between want and need. I crossed the line and now I have the airplane."

He says the previous owner took people for rides on the weekends.

"I thought, well if he can have it and give people rides for 25 years, I'll probably keep it for 25 years and do rides too," he says.

McBryan says flying an aircraft with one float has taken some getting used to since he's used to the usual two floats.

Buffalo Airways founder "Buffalo Joe" McBryan flies by Yellowknife's government dock. He spoke with The Trailbreaker 0:23

"It takes a lot more balancing of the airplane than it does with an ordinary float plane," he says. "This is like always skating with one skate on, or two feet in one boot."

'Sort of free in the wind'

With the float underneath his feet, McBryan can't see it when he's flying, which also makes it more challenging.

"When you come in to land you just hope it's still there."

But the biplane's open cockpit is what really attracted him to the aircraft.

"It's much the same as riding a motorcycle. You're sort of free in the wind and away from the elements of the earth. So yeah, it's kind of neat to float around."

As he flies the northern skies, he'll also give a nod to the historic plane's previous owner.

"I carry a smidgen of his ashes in the back of the airplane, so for his family, he'll continue to fly with it."

With files from Pat Kane


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