DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the first Norseman, powered by a Wright R-975-E3 Whirlwind, was flight tested on floats on November 14, 1935.
The C-64 Norseman, also known as the Noorduyn Norseman, is a single-engine bush plane designed to fly from unimproved terrain. It is easily identified by its stubby landing gear floats that protrude from the lower fuselage.
Designed by Robert B.C. Noorduyn, the type was produced from 1935 to 1959, originally by Noorduyn Aircraft Ltd. and later by the Canadian Car and Foundry company.
The Norseman was introduced in 1935 and continued in production for nearly 25 years, with over 900 units built. A handful of examples are still in use today, in both commercial and private settings.
Norseman aircraft have been registered and/or operated in 68 nations, as well as being based and flying in the Arctic and Antarctic.
With the experience of working on many ground-breaking designs at Fokker, Bellanca, and Pitcairn-Cierva, Noorduyn decided to create his own design in 1934, the Noorduyn Norseman. Along with his colleague, Walter Clayton, Noorduyn created his original company, Noorduyn Aircraft Limited, in early 1933 in Montreal while a successor company was established in 1935, bearing the name Noorduyn Aviation.
The first Norseman was sold a few months after its test flight and delivered to Dominion Skyways Ltd. on January 18, 1936, registered as “CF-AYO” and named “Arcturus.”
Warner Brothers rented CF-AYO in the summer of 1941 for the filming of “Captains of the Clouds,” starring James Cagney. Most of the aerial photographs were done around North Bay, Ontario, with the CF-AYO aircraft flying under the temporary registration “CF-HGO.” In 1952, CF-AYO was lost in a plane collision in Algonquin Park.
The Norseman quickly established itself as a tough, dependable workhorse with consistent sales. The Norseman Mk I was given to the first aircraft, CF-AYO.
The next aircraft, “CF-BAU,” was designated Norseman Mk II, with minor changes required after certification tests and a new Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp SC-1 engine up-rated from 420 to 450 hp, while the next three aircraft were Norseman Mk IIIs: “CF-AZA” to MacKenzie Air Service, Edmonton, Alberta, “CF-AZE” to Prospector Airways, Clarkson, Ontario, and “CF-AZS.
The Norseman in WWII
On June 26, 1937, “CF-BAU” was upgraded to become the prototype Norseman Mk IV, powered by a Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H-1 engine. The Mk IV became the “definitive” model, although if the Second World War hadn’t intervened, production would have ended with only a few hundred units.
The Norseman aircraft of the United States Army Air Forces were used in North America (mainly Alaska) as well as other theaters of conflict, including Europe, throughout WWII.
The Norseman design was acquired by the Canada Car and Foundry in Fort William, Ontario, in postwar manufacture, and the Norseman Mk V, a civilian counterpart of the wartime Mk IV, was produced. The bigger Norseman Mk VII was conceived and constructed by the “Can Car” firm in order to further exploit the market.
Legacy of the Norseman
On January 19, 1959, the last Noorduyn Norseman was sold and delivered to a commercial customer. A total of 903 Norseman planes (Mk I – Mk V) were built and delivered to commercial and military clients. The number in use worldwide is not known.
The town of Red Lake, Ontario, a jumping-off point for isolated towns in Northwestern Ontario, touts itself as The Norseman Capital of the World, in honor of the Norseman’s role in serving the rural villages of northern Canada.
Featured image: Noorduyn C-64, CF-FQI, Flying Overhead. Photo: By CanadianBushPilot – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7596700