HAY RIVER, N.W.T.–Holy crap, I’m in the Northwest Territories! On location to check out Ice Pilots NWT, a reality show not unlike American Chopper or Ice Road Drivers coming next Wednesday, Nov. 18, to History Television. About to jump into a DC-3 for the ride back to Yellowknife. Minus 14 C yesterday. “Buffalo” Joe McBryan’s fleet of DC-3s and -4s are awesome.
UPDATE: Almost got bumped from that flight–imagine getting bumped from a flight from Hay River, pop. 3600! The WWII-era DC-3 holds 28 passengers and it was a full run this chilly morning–28 passengers and one dog.
They had to pull two smaller seats from a Twin Otter and snap them in near the back cargo door just to get myself and Vancouver-based publicist Andrew Poon on the plane. Everything at Buffalo Airlines is done on the fly.
Flight attendant Audrey Marchand–Buffalo Air pilot Scotty Blue (far right with Buffalo Air GM Mikey McBryan)affectionately calls her “The Midget”–offered cookies and beverages. When it gets too hot near the back of the coach in mid flight, she helpfully opens the cargo door a crack! These planes are not pressurized, and neither is the staff.
I’ve got a story up on the CP wire you can read here on the legendary family behind Buffalo Airlines, led by “Buffalo” Joe McBryan, the 65-year-old owner and, on this morning, chief pilot.
When we land in Yellowknife, dawn is just breaking at 8:15 in the morning and it is damn cold outside. Scotty walks us past the main Buffalo hanger and around the corner so we can see the plane he normally flies take off–a hulking Curtis Commando C-46, fully loaded with cargo and bound for towns around Great Bear Lake.
The behemoth takes “Low Lead,” a lower-level leaded fuel that is getting sparser to find by the day even in these parts. Billowing gasps of grey smoke blast from the two 2000 horsepower engines as they lurch into action. On a clear day you can see bright oranges flames leap out, says Scotty.
Visibility is poor on this foggy morning–near the half-mile threshold, so watching it take off is a challenge from about that distance, but there it is low off the runway, streaking away like a ghost ship from another time.
There is no mistaking the sound, however, as the whir of the two propellers approach the Mach-1 mark. It is a drone you don’t hear much around airports anymore, perfectly described later by Buffalo Joe as the sound of “a thousand Harleys at a Montreal Harley funeral.”
Buffalo Joe is full of sayings like that. Listen for them yourselves when Ice Pilots NWT takes off next Wednesday at 10 p.m. on History Television.

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