Canadian Buffalo Airways has been in the business of providing scheduled and chartered passenger and freight service for over 40 years. Buffalo mostly operates in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Buffalo’s fleet consists of vintage piston powered war planes like the DC-3 , DC-4 and C-46 Commando. For the fire fighting contracts the PBY-5 and CL-215 was added. Latest addition to the fleet is the turboprop powered L-188 Electra.
Buffalo Airways is a family-run airline based in locationHay River, NWT Canada. Established in 1970 by Joe McBryan, also known as “Buffalo Joe”. It operates both scheduled and charter passenger and cargo flights. Fire fighting and fuel services are part of the service as well.
Buffalo operates mostly piston powered planes which are ideal for the typical Buffalo freight operations. Lots of charters are flown to the north supplying the isolated mining and oil facilities which can only be reached by plane using gravel and ice landing strips.
While Buffalo was originally based in Hay River, locationYellow Knife is the main base of operation. Yellow Knife has a large, 20.000 square ft., hanger and storage area for spare parts. Hay River is the main tanker base, for fire fighting and the tankers (DC-4s) are stored here off season. There’s also a hanger in locationRed Deer, Alberta. This is used for seasonal heavy maintenance. Buffalo does all of it’s own maintenance and uses several aircraft for spare parts. Most of these aircraft are former Buffalo aircraft now stored next to the hangar in Yellow Knife, Red Deer and Hay River.
Freight is handled through their own courier services called Buffalo Air Express. BAE supplies services through the NWT and Alberta. In association with Global Interline Network they can ship around the world. Besides Yellow Knife and Alberta there’s also a base in Edmonton.
In 1980 Joe McBryan went bankrupt, as did most of the Northwest Territories’ mining operations he served. He had to sell the fleet holding on to one DC-3 to start over. As diamond discoveries in the region began to add up, Joe was able to expand the fleet.
Daily passenger flights
Departs daily (mon-fri) from Hay River at 7:30am. Saturday at 8 am.
Departs daily (mon-fri) from Yellow Knife at 5pm. Sunday at 4:30 pm.
CF-SAN Norseman V
Nowadays Buffalo is holding on, despite the financial crisis. Thanks to regular services and charter operations to remote locations the company survived.
What the future holds is unsure. With a decreasing supply of avgas, it’s getting harder to operate the aging piston powered planes, with no real turboprop alternatives to operate the gravel and ice strips in the north. New government regulations for fire fighting now demands the use of turboprop powered aircraft rather than piston powered. For that reason Buffalo acquired a third L-188 to be used as an air tanker.
Sched & Valley run
Buffalo operates two regular services called the “Sched” and “Valley run”. The Sched is a daily scheduled passenger service between Yellow Knife and Hay River. It’s one of the last DC-3 passenger routes in the world and still flown by Joe himself.
Another regular service is the Valley run. This is a contract for food and mail delivery along the Mackenzie Valley and it’s isolated communities. When the ice roads are closed, the only way in is by air.
A typical, eight hour, valley run takes from Yellow Knife to locationDeline, locationNorman Wells, locationFort Good Hope and finally locationTulita on the way back to Yellow Knife. The piston powered aircraft use Avgas which is hard to get. Avgas is only available in Norman Wells during the winter months when the ice roads are open. The valley run is flown by the C-46 Commando or DC-4, the only aircraft in the fleet capable to transport large amount of cargo to the short gravel strips along the valley.
During the fire fighter season, Buffalo also provides fire fighting services. DC-4s are used to drop fire retardant. CL-215s are used to drop water. The CL-215 is specially designed to scoop water from a nearby lake and drop it direct on the fire. 6 CL-215s are now in service with Buffalo, some of them flying in a orange green c/s for the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador. From the original 8, two aircraft were sold to Turkey, during the financial crisis. One was sold to South Korea.
In the past the Canso PBY-5 was also used, but nowadays a single Canso remains in storage at Hay River, which will probably never fly again. In 2011 a L-188 Electra was acquired and refitted as an air tanker.
Buffalo operates smaller Beechcraft aircraft to carry an Air Attack Officer. They provide instructions for the tankers, where to drop their load.
C-GWCB, Beech 95
C-FCGH, Beech 65
C-GBAU Beech D55
In April 2017 the first two Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss were added to the fleet, after Buffalo signed a contract with the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Enter the Orion
After financial problems and later bankruptcy of US firefighting company Aero Union, 8 of its P-3 Orion’s were put on sale. Buffalo managed to buy Tanker 22 (N922AU) in March 2014. With modernization underway of its fleet this is a big step forward for Buffalo Airways in closing firefighting contracts in the years to come.
In 2018 the Orion was still at McClellan Air Field, Sacramento CA, being prepared by Airstrike Air Tankers for the 2019 US fire season.
Today no Orion’s are listed in the Canadian civil registry, so its most likely Tanker 22 will remain with its US registration and also be based in the US.
To provide long haul services, Buffalo acquired two L-188 Electra’s. The Electra offers a Boeing 737 like capacity of 33,000 lbs of cargo. It’s also possible to carry 6 – 8 containers.
In August 2010 a third Electra was added to the fleet. C-FIJX had been stored at Coventry, UK for eight years, still wearing it’s former Reeve Aleutian c/s. The former N178RV was flown to Canada jokingly wearing Reeve Illusion titles.
Ice pilots NWT
Buffalo Airways and it’s employees feature in the reality series called Ice Pilots NWT. The series originally aired November 2009 on Canadian History Television. The series is now in it’s 4th season.
The series not only follow the McBryan’s (Joe, his sons Mikey and Rod), but also the pilots, rampies and people of the courier service.
In season one, chief pilot Arnie Schreder (died 5 May 2012) is followed on its journey delivering two CL-215’s to Turkey. The two water bombers (C-FTXB now TC-TKJ and C-GFNF) were flown to Turkey during the winter with a dangerous transatlantic crossing. During the crossing one of the planes had to return to Santa Maria (Azores) with engine problems. Later on in Turkey one aircraft (C-FTXB) crash-landed at Ankara airport during a training mission.
Season 4 featured the crash landing of Electra C-FBAQ at Yellow Knife, more on this in the aircraft losses section.
To support the TV series Buffalo also started a clothing line called BuffaloAirWear .com
Buffalo enters the jet age
On 25 March 2022, Mikey McBryan announced in a open-in-new Youtube video the purchase of a Boeing 737-300 Freighter. A big step for buffalo, but inevitable now the avgas will be banned in most Canadian airports.
The aircraft shown in the clip is former Swiftair EC-LJI, now registered 2-ESKA. The aircraft is (only) 25 years old and started as N323P with Piedmont Airlines in 1986. From 1989 it operated with USAir and US Airways. It was converted to a cargo only configuration in 2006 and moved to TNT Airways as OO-TNI. After being stored from 2016 its now being readied at Bournemouth, UK to be ferried to Canada.
As noted in January 2013 (Update November 2018)
|DC-3 / C-47
||C-FLFR, C-GJKM, C-GPNR, C-GWIR, C-GWZS, C-FCUE
Stored for parts C-FDTH, C-FDTB, C-FFAY, C-FYQG, CF-VQV
|C-FDTB: transport canada c/s
C-GPNR: this was the First aircraft bought by “Buffalo” Joe McBryan
C-FYQG (Nunasi Central c/s) parts Red Deer
CF-VQV (Arctic Outpost Camps c/s) parts Red Deer
||C-FAVO, C-GTPO, C-GTXW
||C-GTPO (22556) was sold in 2004 and later stored at Gimli, Manitoba still in basis Buffalo colours. The aircraft returned to Buffalo late 2010.
|DC-4 / C-54
||C-FBAJ, C-FBAP, C-FIQM, C-GBAJ, C-GBNV, C-GCTF
Stored for parts C-FBAA, C-GPSH, C-GXKN, C-FBAK, C-FBAM, C-GQIC, N62342
|C-GCTF tanker 58
C-GPSH with new nose after crash stored at Hay River
C-FBAK tanker 13
C-FBAP tanker 15 red white c/s
C-FIQM tanker 57
C-FBAJ tanker 02
C-GBAJ tanker 14 red white c/s
C-GBNV tanker 56
C-GCTF tanker 58
N62342 stored at Hay River for parts. Metal no titles.
||Tanker 22, located at McClellan Air Field, Sacramento CA
||C-FIJX, C-FIJV, C-GLBA, C-FBAQ, C-GZFE, C-GXFC
||C-FIJX was converted to tanker by Air Spray in Red Deer. FIJX is now in new Buffalo colors (based on previous Reeve colors) as tanker 416. The aircraft was acquired from Reeve Aleutian in 2010. ex N2RK and N178RV
C-FIJV stored at Red Deer, missing parts. ex N4HG, Reeve Aleutian c/s.
C-GZFE and C-GXFC acquired from Atlantic Airlines April 2013. Still in Atlantic c/s with Buffalo titles.
||C-FAYN, C-FAYU, C-GBPD, C-GBYU, C-GCSX, C-GDHN, C-GDKW
||C-FAYN, Government of Newfoundland & Labrador 282 orange green c/s. On loan to Turkey.
C-FAYU, Government of Newfoundland & Labrador 283 orange green c/s, On loan to Turkey.
C-GBPD, Northern Territories. 291 yellow red c/s
C-GBYU, Northern Territories. 290 yellow red c/s
C-GCSX, Northern Territories. 295 yellow red c/s
C-GDHN, Northern Territories. 296 yellow red c/s
C-GDKW, Government of Newfoundland & Labrador 280 orange green c/s
||C-FBNT, Government of the Northwest Territories c/s, Tanker 40
C-FNNT, Government of the Northwest Territories c/s, Tanker 41
||CF-AUW tanker 708 / Stored at Hay River
|Beechcraft King Air (BE90)
||C-FCGE, C-FCGH, C-FCGI
||C-FCGI without engines in Yellow Knife.
|Beechcraft Baron (BE55)
|Beechcraft Travel Air (BE95)
||C-GIWJ, C-GWCB, C-GYFM
Buffalo’s own maintenance facility’s are at Red Deer and Yellowknife, with the largest hanger at Yellowknife.
At Red Deer there also a CV-240 (C-GTFC) stored. It’s in Trans Fair c/s and used for parts. Engines are now missing.
Like Yellowknife, the backlot at Reed Deer also has some aircraft used for parts.
C-GWCB, Beech 95
Buffalo's own flying School uses a R22 C-FNEO and Aeronca Champion C-FNPJ. In 2008 a Bell 206 in full Buffalo c/s was seen. Current state of this helicopter is unknown.
During the financial crisis, Buffalo sold three CL-215s. Two to Turkey and one to South Korean. Both sales are covered in the TV series.
C-FTXB (298) to become TC-TKJ and C-GFNF (299) to become TC-TKM. C-GDKY (281) to Korea as HL2036, still in orange green c/s
C-54D, C-GBPA tanker 16, stored in Hay River. Seen back in business after many years at Yellowknife, Sold in 2012 as N55CW.
PBY-5A C-FNJE, In 2001,while fighting fires in the Inuvik, NWT area, it started taking on water while loading and sank in about 100 feet of water. It was floated to the surface and pulled to the north east shore of Sitidgi Lake where the engines were removed and salvaged. The Canso is now in Fairview, Alberta for restoration. Check http://www.savethecanso.com for status updates and the salvation of this flying boat.
PBY-5A C-FPQM, Retired in august 2003. Sold in 2006, last seen in Gander, Newfoundland in 2007
Aircraft losses and incidents
|26 june 1994, C-FROD
||The DC-3 was on finals for runway 31 at Fort Simpson, NWT when a forced landing on a gravel road was carried out. The aircraft struck trees next to the road. Probable cause according to the investigation report: "The flight was commenced with a fuel quantity below the minimum requirements, resulting in loss of engine power because of fuel exhaustion." Aircraft was written off. No fatalities.
||After a break failure ran off the runway at the Diavik diamond Mine. There was minor damage to the prop.
|28 august 2002, C-GQIC
||C-54 written off at Diavik diamond Mine. The DC-4 struck the approach lights and touched down about three feet short of the threshold of runway 10 at the Diavik airport. The aircraft spun around, the right wing separated and fire erupted in the wreckage which came to rest on the runway about 1000 feet from the threshold. The crew evacuated with minor injuries. Wreck now lays at Hay River.
|2 Augustus 2003, C-GBSK
||C-54 was written off at Ulu mine strip, NT. No fatalities. the aircraft, with 45 drums of diesel fuel, landed short of the runway threshold, collapsing the landing gear. The wings separated from the fuselage and caught fire, and the fuselage veered off the right hand side of the runway.
|5 January 2006, C-GXKN
||Fire in engine 2 short after take-off at Norman Wells. The crew decided to make an off-field forced landing, but fortunately the fire extinguished. They made an emergency landing at Norman Wells on two engines. The aircraft was later scraped, and stored for parts at Hay River.
|29 December 2006, C-GPSH
||This C-54 Ran off the runway at Carat Lake, NU. Repaired at Carat Lake with the nose of the C-GXKN. Flown back to Yellowknife in August 2007.
|5 March 2012, C-FBAQ
||During a flight from Goose Lake to Yellowknife, the right main landing gear did not retract fully. The crew did several attempts to fix the problem during flight, without any success. An attempt was made to bumb the gear lose during a touch and go at Yellowknife, also without any luck. The decision was made to crash-land the plan on runway 34. During the belly landing the aircraft skittered of the runway and came to rest in the field next to the runway, with damage to the right engines. Two month later the FBAQ was fixed and flying again.
|9 November 2012, C-GTXW
||The commanders starboard landing gear collapsed during landing roll-out at Yellow Knife. Damaging starboard engine and wing. Closer inspection revealed that a hammer was forgotten in the wheel well, which caused the landing gear not to lock. The aircraft is repaired and flying again.
|25 September 2015, C-GTXW
||The Curtis was en-route from Yellow Knife to Norman Wells when engine problems occurred. An emergency landing, with gear up, was elected at Deline. The aircraft veered off the runway and was severely damaged. No one was injured, but the aircraft is likely to be considered a loss.