A Niche to be Filled
Dutch born Robert B.C. Noorduyn had been working for Fokker in Holland when, in 1921, he was sent by the company to America to open a manufacturing facility. It was in America that he designed the Fokker Universal, which saw extensive use in Canada’s northern bush. in 1929, Noorduyn was employed by Bellanca where he designed that company’s Skyrocket aircraft which also saw significant use in bush flying.
It was through designing those aircraft that Noorduyn acquired knowledge of what qualities were desirable and required in an aircraft used in harsh northern climates. In 1934, he took it upon himself to design an aircraft specifically targeted to Canadian bush flyers which could be profitably operated and effectively maintained using the existing bush flying skill set.
The new aircraft design incorporated fully interchangeable wheel, ski and float landing gear set ups from the very beginning; there would be no improvising in the field or major redesign work required to make this aircraft ready for almost any landing area the bush could throw at it. The aircraft also featured a heated cockpit and spacious cabin with room for eight passengers.
The Norseman, as the new aircraft was called, became a watershed event for bush flying when it was introduced in the mid 1930s. Up to that point in time, bush pilots had become accustomed to improvising and adapting less than optimal aircraft to the demanding environs of Canada’s north. The Norseman was truly the first purpose designed bush plane in history; it was the full bush flying package, direct from the factory.
Like so many aircraft of the period, the Norseman found itself drawn into military service in the Second World War. Hundreds of Norseman Mk.IV were ordered between the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Army Air Force for use as transports and trainers.
Many of the qualities built into the aircraft to optimize it for bush flying proved to be very popular and appreciated by it’s military operators.
Back to the Bush
In the years following the war the Norseman went back to doing what it did best, bush flying. In the immediate post war years Norseman production was in the hands of Canadian Car and Foundry and it was through them that the Mk.V, a civilian version of the wartime Mk.IV, was introduced.
Noorduyn eventually bought back the construction jigs from Canadian Car and Foundry in the 1950s. Production of the Norseman ended in 1959 with slightly over 900 built.
The Norseman remained a stalwart of the bush for many years and saw much use flying outdoors enthusiasts into very remote and much sought after camping and fishing sites that could be accessed no other way but by floatplane.
The Norseman Today
Of the 900 or so Norsman built, less than thirty are still known to be airworthy and in active service or in the hands of private pilots according to information I could find.
Happily, the town of Red Lake, in Ontario, Canada keeps the spirit of this great bush plane alive through the annual Norseman Floatplane Festival every July:
A wealth of historical information and Norseman photographs can be found here: