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Is there a modern day equivalent or replacement for the Beaver's Payload, STOL and floats capabilities? By replacement, I mean that it can fly into the same airstrips under the same weather with the same load.

Is there any modern (still manufactured) airframe that wouldn't leave a seasoned Beaver bush pilot wishing for their old Beaver back?

In all of the time since that plane was designed, has something else has been designed and continues to be manufactured that can be called an upgrade without getting "bigger"? IE, has:

  • floats
  • a shorter or the same takeoff and landing roll at the Beaver's max useful payload
  • the same or less stall speed with fully extended flaps
  • a same or less wingspan (negotiable if it's within 2 or 3 feet)

The motivation for the question is that less than 10 years ago, I remember a float plane flight out of Juneau, AK that I was on was flown by a Beaver still running a radial engine. I was amazed that something designed so long ago was still apparently considered the "best" option for that carrier. Of course, the Beaver is now one of my favorite airplanes, but I am still amazed by the challenge it must be to find parts and maintain an aircraft of that age in the corrosive saltwater environment of SE Alaska.

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As an ex DeHavilland employee I'll admit I'm a bit biased, but I'd say there isn't really a "direct" replacement so far. Two reasons:

The Beaver was designed in Canada around a bush operator survey. Outside Canada (and to a smaller extent Alaska), "bush operation" generally means remote land operations into dirt strips. In Canada, "bush operation" meant almost exclusively seaplane operations, (and to a lesser extent ski operations in winter). The survey provided the Dehavilland Canada designers with a wish list of features provided by seaplane operators running Norsemans and the like (sadly, helicopters and gravel strips to provide land plane access remote areas have replaced most seaplane use as basic transportation, and today most seaplane operations in Canada and Alaska support the tourist trade).

So, unlike its modern contemporaries, it is specifically designed to operate on floats, and is optimized for being serviced and loaded from a dock. The fuel tanks in the belly, the placement and shape of the main doors, the battery location, etc. Easy to load, easy to service from a dock. The Beaver's modern contemporaries aren't optimized for float operations quite the same way so the "fit" isn't quite as good for a seaplane operator. On the flying side, the very long wings and full span slotted flaps (the ailerons droop with the flaps) allows it haul loads out of very small lakes, with a decent rate of climb.

The other big reason is the engine. The R-985 is one of the only large piston engines over 400 hp that is still commercially viable, that is, it's still feasible to keep running reliably in a commercial operation. A piston engine is far cheaper to operate than a turbine. Bush operators operate on very thin margins and direct operating costs have a direct impact on viability of an operation, so turbines are out of reach for most.

With the Petersen Mogas STC you can run an R-985 on aviation automotive fuel (Mogas) (like all 80 octane engines it's much happier on Mogas than 100LL), and in Canada at least some bush operators do this (the operator I worked for in the early 90s switched to Mogas when the supply of 80 octane in Canada dried up - 80 was still in production in Canada for some time after it disappeared in the US in the 1980s).

Add in the overall reliability of the design and ease of repair, and there you go.

The Beaver is kind of a single engine version of the DC-3. Its combination of features came together so well that after nearly 75 years, it's still the best choice for commercial seaplane operators to use as a business tool to make money. On top of that, it benefited from a large military order by the US Army that took roughly half of total production, 970 units, which has kept up the supply of used aircraft to keep prices in check (the story of the Army's adoption of the Beaver followed a trip to Alaska in the company demonstrator to take some generals fishing, and included a bizarre flyoff against a range of ill-suited contemporaries after US manufacturers complained about foreign sourcing - get the book the DeHavilland Canada Story for an interesting read).

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Define "replacement".

Many operators have simply upgraded Beaver airframes to turboprop powerplants. For example, Kenmore Air Harbor in Washington State has a number of turbine Beavers (and Otters) and this has made the airframes worth keeping up, minimizing the need to literally replace with any other type. They do serve as "replacements" for the original radial-engined models.

That said, there are a number of other options currently manufactured that have similar characteristics and capabilities:

To name a few. These all have similar load capacity, can all be fitted with floats, and most have cabins about the same size as a Beaver's.

Regarding this part of your update to the question…

I am still amazed by the challenge it must be to find parts and maintain an aircraft of that age in the corrosive saltwater environment of SE Alaska.

It is a challenge. But as long as there are companies like Kenmore Air Harbor (notable in the industry for their decades-long on-going commitment to the type), and Viking Air (current holder of the type certificates for the out-of-production de Havilland types), even the radial-engined models can be kept flying. Engine parts are the biggest issue; floats are still in production and a variety of models can be used on the planes, avionics can be upgraded as needed, and airframe parts can be fabricated as needed from raw stock, for the most part, if spares are not readily available for purchase. Viking has a "spares support" business that can provide new parts in many cases.

Converting a Beaver to turboprop greatly simplifies maintenance, by replacing the component with the largest number of hard- or impossible-to-find parts with an in-production powerplant.

Frankly, the age of an aircraft is not nearly the impediment that most people probably think. There are challenges, to be sure. But even as expensive as it can be to keep an aircraft flying, it's even more expensive to buy a whole new one. And because aircraft are maintained to a higher standard in the first place, they can have a much longer life-time than what people outside the aviation industry might expect (cars might typically be operated for a decade, while typical aircraft can be safely operated for half a century or more, no problem). In that environment, there are a number of people and organizations dedicated to providing support for the aging fleet (such as Kenmore and Viking), and for them it's just "business as usual".

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