There is a plane that lands at the Hay River airport on a regular basis that looks like it could have been built 10 or 15 years ago, its shiny paint glistening in the afternoon light.
Part of Buffalo Airways’ World War II-era aircraft fleet, the DC-3 C-GWZS is unique because it managed to evade anti-aircraft guns and other artillery on June 6, 1944, the day Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France.
Manufactured in 1942, the plane flew as part of the Royal Air Force KG330 squadron that went to Normandy, and flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force after 1946.
Upon closer inspection, the plane’s exterior looks flawless. The propellers, wings and tail are in excellent shape, but once you step inside and notice the antiquated decor, it suddenly hits you. Young soldiers were jumping out of this plane almost 70 years ago, some of them to die before they even hit the ground.
Christine Povey, Buffalo’s only female pilot, became aware of the C-GWZS’ history last summer when Buffalo did tours around Yellowknife for visitors to the city.
“We mentioned that it was part of the 11th wave of airplanes to hit the beaches at Normandy on D-Day,” she said.
She added that because of the hustle and bustle of getting to destinations on time, it’s not always made a point to remind passengers of the plane’s history.
“It’s really neat when you sit back and think about it. This plane actually flew soldiers in World War II,” she said. “It’s a shame that we’ve lost that element. We don’t really have the opportunity to explain the history to the passengers unless someone comes up and asks us about it.”
Povey began working for the company last August and has been a pilot for more than five years.
She said the learning curve on the C-GWZS is fairly steep.
“Normally you train on a single-engine plane and then you upgrade to a twin-engine, which is only marginally bigger,” she said. “All of a sudden you’re piloting a 30,000-pound airplane with 26 passengers in the back. In that regard, it’s night and day. But at the end of the day, flying is flying. If you’ve learned well, then you apply the basics and the fundamentals.”
Povey said the difference with flying this plane is that everything is done by hand, a far cry from the technologically-advanced planes used by major airlines.
“We’re constantly on the watch, adjusting certain things during the flight, and every plane has its own quirks,” she said. “Some of these planes are temperamental. They’ve seen better days.”
Povey said she has to be ready for anything and her captain expects her to be able to adjust to any situation.
— Myles Dolphin