A lovely Air Ontario Dash 8-300 departs London, Ontario on June 3, 1993, likely headed
for Toronto YYZ. Delivered in March 1991, some 27 years later “JVV” is still hard at work.
Books galore have been written about Canada’s astounding contributions in aviation dating way back to the Silver Dart of 1909, then progressing to the Vedette, Norseman, North Star, Beaver, Husky and Arrow to today’s incomparable CSeries (recently rebranded as the Airbus A220). Armchair fans and “experts” all have a list of favorites. Debates on the topic can get heated. But it’s mainly great fun, right.
One of my great Canadian aviation heroes is the late R.H. “Bob” Fowler. Having earned his wings during the war, Bob flew the B-25 Mitchell on such bloody operations as Market-Garden. Bob ended as a senior test pilot with de Havilland Aircraft of Canada. There he few all the types from the 1950s into the 1980s. A pilot of such incredible experience usually ends with a special place for one particular type. I asked Bob one day what his was, figuring it would be something like the P-38 or Sea Hornet, which he had flown doing photo survey after the war, or maybe the impressive Buffalo. No, by far Bob’s favourite airplane was the DHC-8 — the “Dash 8”.
On June 20, 1983 Bob, his great pal, Mick Saunders (a wartime Typhoon pilot) and flight test engineers Don Brand and Geoff Pyne crewed the first Dash 8 C-GDNK on it inaugural flight from Downsview airfield in Toronto. Having evolved from the (perhaps) overly specialized) Dash 7, the Dash 8 was to become one of the world’s top commuter airliners. With more than a 1200 delivered by now, after 35 years many of the earliest Dash 8-100s are still giving solid service around the world, and the series remains in production as the incomparable Q400.
It may seem surprising, but the Dash 8-100 now is reaching the end of its frontline years with several leading commuter airlines. In a recent case, on July 4 , 2018 Piedmont Airlines recorded its last of hundreds of thousands of Dash 8 flights. What’s the story about this great US airline? Check out Piedmont’s website for the details, but for our purposes I’ll quote a few points from the company’s own history that tie in to the Dash 8:
The 1980s were a decade of dramatic growth and change for us. The addition of new equipment transformed the airline into a modern regional carrier. The first significant change occurred in 1983, when Piedmont Aviation agreed to purchase Henson and our company became known as Henson, the Piedmont Regional Airline. The next year, eight de Havilland Dash 8 aircraft were purchased. Through subsequent re-orders for the Dash 8, we have become the world’s largest operator of that highly efficient, passenger-friendly aircraft. In 1985, we boarded our five-millionth passenger… By the end of 1987, the route structure touched 38 cities in ten states plus the Bahamas. In 1989, Piedmont merged into USAir and Henson planes were repainted to reflect the new identity of USAir Express. In 1993, Henson was renamed Piedmont Airlines in order to preserve the Piedmont identity within the USAir Group family. In 1997, USAir itself underwent a name change, becoming US Airways.
That year the company’s fleet totalled 37 Dash 8-100s plus 10 Dash 8-200s. Twenty-one years later the 37 -100s remained in service along with 50 -300s. At the same time, US Airways Express was flying 187 Canadair/Bombardier regional jets, so what a relationship between this star of an American commuter airline and the Canadian economy! I think you will enjoy this nostalgic video about US Airways Express and the Dash 8. This is what I call a heartfelt tribute to one of the world’s greatest commuter planes. Have a look here: https://youtu.be/I3KNEhAbbyo
Next, you can flip through my own little album of Dash 8 photos. In scouring my collection taken over the decades, I was surprised at the depth of coverage. It seems that wherever I travelled since the mid-1980s, there often was a Dash 8 involved (I’ve roughly arranged these shots from west to east).
I grabbed this quick shot of Air BC 38-seat Dash 8- 100 No.807 at CFB Comox on a perfect April 15, 1991. “807” had just delivered its passengers from Vancouver, a scenic 30-minute hop across Georgia Strait. Notice the Dash 8’s pure aesthetics as far as airplane good looks go. This particular week I was on the BC coast gathering material for what eventually would become my 1997 book, Air Transport in Canada. A highlight during this Comox visit was a famil flight with 424 Squadron aboard DHC-5 Buffalo ‘456.
On April 4, 1990 I flew across to Comox from Vancouver to spend a few days with the Snowbirds. Heading back east on April 9, I crossed back to Vancouver on a TimeAir Short 360. Walking through the “YVR” terminal after arrival, I spotted Dash 8-300 C-GTAG (the 200th Dash 8) on the ramp. Built in 1990, at age 28 “TAG” still is on the go carrying the travelling public and making lots of money for current owner, JAZZ. For June 2018 alone, “TAG” completed 242 flights (8 per day), covering 56,485 miles (90,750 km). Cities served included Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Kamloops and Vancouver.
Having flown to Vancouver from Toronto on July 31, 1993 aboard a Canada 3000 757, I had to wait a while for my Air BC flight to Prince Rupert. In the process, I spent an hour or so taking landing shots. Several gorgeous Dash 8s came by, including Horizon’s N823PH. It would serve Seattle-based Horizon from 1988 into Y2K, when Bombardier took it back, perhaps as a trade-in. Next, it migrated to the Caribbean to fly for Air Jamaica Express as 6Y-JMZ, then in 2009 moved Africa, becoming 5Y-EMD. On arrival from Nairobi at Moba, DRC on January 13, 2010, “EMD” had a very hard landing and was written off. Happily, no one was injured.
While waiting at Edmonton “Muni” for a flight to Yellowknifeon June 25, 1993, I photographed Dash 8-100 C-GABH. Delivered new to Air BC in 1990, “ABH” next served Air Nova of Halifax 1999-2001, when Air Canada amalgamated several regional carriers under its new commuter brand – JAZZ. “ABH” was parked in 2005, then re-appeared later that year in North Caribou Flying Service colours. After several more productive years in the BC market, in 2011 it crossed the Pacific to start yet another career, this time in Papua New Guinea. Note the Air BC Jetstream in the background. This was the period of airline deregulation in North America that saw new carriers appearing, and modern commuter planes replacing the traditional old Beech 18s, DC- 3s, etc. that had been serving Canada’s smaller markets for far too long.
A handsome pair of TimeAir Dash 8-300s on the tarmac at Calgary on April 7, 1991. I had just flown in from Toronto on a CAIL 767 and was headed to Edmonton to spend a week with 447 Squadron (Chinooks).
Every part of Canada has enjoyed Dash 8 service and talk about lucky for Canada. Here TimeAir’s C-GHTA waits at Saskatoon on a frigid winter’s afternoon January 8, 1993. At the time I was en route to Prince Alberta to interview the folks at Athabasca Airways, who recently had upgraded to the spiffy Beech 1900D. In you’re plane spotting around BC and Alberta this summer, you could be seeing a lot of “HTA” in the colours of Air Canada JAZZ.
The Canadian military could not find much of a role for the Dash 8. This is an old state of affairs. In the 1940-50s the DND couldn’t find or make a role for the Beaver, and later couldn’t use the Caribou or Twin Otter other than in token numbers. With the Dash 8, two early examples joined the Canadian Forces in 1987 as utility planes based at Lahr, West Germany. Here is 142802 there on June 2, 1991. It was disposed of in 2002 and today is C-GSUR doing maritime surveillance with Transport Canada.
Air Ontario’s Dash 8-100 C-FGRC at Sault Ste. Marie on July 23, 1992. Right into the early 1970s such Northern Ontario cities had limited air service. One or two Viscount flights daily was about the max. Then, competition heated up with deregulation and there was overkill, as any airline with a 737 wanting into the Soo, Thunder Bay, even Dryden, anything to complete with Air Canada’s DC-9 skeds. But for these big jets there wasn’t the demand. Fortunately, fuel still was cheap. Then along came the Dash 8 and “problem solved” with the right size of airplane plus the ideal capacity, performance and economic specs. At its peak, Air Ontario was run by James Plaxton of London and the Deluce family of White River (Delplax Holdings Ltd.). They quickly identified the Dash 8 as the way to go for their Ontario-wide network, replacing an uneconomic fleet of Convair 580s. By 1990 Air Ontario had something like 27 Dash 8s and was building up a solid business at Toronto Island Airport with some 60 scheduled flights daily. In 1985 49% of Air Ontario was sold to Air Canada (Delplax kept 51%). Eventually, Air Ontario went outright to Air Canada, so the original Dash 8s today flit around in JAZZ or Air Canada Express colours. First delivered to Air Ontario in 1990, “GRC” remains in the JAZZ fleet. What was I doing in the Soo the day I saw “GRC”? I was travelling from Toronto to Red Lake with as many stops as I could arrange: Toronto-Soo-Thunder Bay-Winnipeg-Red Lake. I was on Brasilias to Winnipeg, then took a Beech 1900C to Red Lake.
Air Ontario Dash 8s on the ramp during the company’s heyday there in the 1980s. When Air Canada bought out Air Ontario, it let the Island Airport business die. However, Air Ontario’s original boldness in developing a thriving Ontario network in its early years, provided a solid foundation for what followed in the 2000s – the world class Porter Airlines network founded by the Deluces using the amazing Q400 (i.e. the Dash 8-400).
Every Air Ontario passenger (and all who fly Porter today) revelled at the sight of Toronto’s landmark skyline each time they departed from or arrived at Toronto Island in a Dash 8.
Had the burgeoning US commuter airlines not seen the Dash 8 as “the” way to go for the future, the whole project would have fizzled. But early on de Havilland salesmen were able to sell American carriers on their new product and close the vital deals. Dick Henson took this Dash 8-100 serial No.176 N975HA in October 1989. Henson soon had a large Dash 8 fleet with nowhere to go but up – which happened. N975HA served Henson and Piedmont into 2015, when it parked. In 2017 it was sold to Avmac in Calgary, perhaps to be parted out. I wonder how many airframe hours this Dash 8 had piled up and how many cycles (landings and takeoffs). Here is N975HA at Baltimore on December 11, 1989. I was on a trip that week to Norfolk to spend a few days with the great RCAF legend, J.C. “Big Joe” McCarthy of Dam Buster raid renown. However, I didn’t fly once on the Dash 8 on this trip. My transportation was via 727, F.28, Jetstream and Short 360.
My very first Dash 8 flight was aboard this Eastern Metro Express example on October 22, 1986. Mike Valenti and I had just spent a fantastic few days with Canada’s ace CF-18 team competing at Tyndall AFB in
Florida for the William Tell Trophy. The party was over and we were headed home. This new Dash 8 took us from Panama City to Atlanta, where we connected back to Toronto. This carrier disappeared when “big” Eastern Airlines folded in 1991. In taking this quickie shot, I failed to include the registration, so don’t know which particular Dash 8 this is, other than fleet No.7.
Again while working towards Air Transport in Canada, in 1992 I made a trip down Quebec’s famous Côte Nord, working out of Sept-Îles for a few days. On November 18 I photographed Air Alliance Dash 8-100 C-GJMO there. Having begun in 1987 with Air Ontario, “JMO” moved the following year to Air Alliance, later was with Air Nova, and most recently has been in JAZZ colours … 31 years of steady service.
On November 28, 1990 I was aboard CanForces C-130 130325 returning from Honduras. The crew had a Twin Huey to deliver for CFB Gagetown, so had to go in to Fredericton on the way to Trenton to make the drop-off. We landed late at night in very claggy weather. While waiting for fuel, I snapped off a few time exposures. I was happy to catch these Dash 8s “being put to bed” after their day’s work. Nearest is Air Atlantic’s C-FDNF fleet No.153. In Y2K “DNG” migrated to BC operator Central Mountain Air.
In the 1970s air transportation really started improving in northern Canada. The Twin Otter and HS748 revolutionized things, finally edging the DC-3 out of its hallowed place. Formed in 1982 with backing from Austin Airways (recently acquired by the Deluce family), Air Creebec brought modern service at last to the many small Cree Indian communities in James Bay Quebec. Even better, in the early 1990s the Dash 8 arrived. Here an Air Creebec Dash 8-100 starts up at Waskaganish. That day I was doing the rounds in Air Creebec 748 C-GGNZ from Timmins to six Cree centres and back one town at a time. Six hours on the flight deck with pilots Marc Boisvert and Bruce Godby. Although the 748 was a fine airplane for this region, the Dash 8 was the icing on the cake. Today, it brings top daily service to all of Quebec’s James Bay centres.