The first bush planes in Canada were war surplus HS-2L biplane flying boats, which were restricted to use in the short summer months. Something better was needed, a high wing monoplane capable of operating on wheels, floats or skis. Luckily for our northern explorers, Anthony Fokker had just the aircraft – the Fokker Universal.
During the 1920s, the Dutchman’s business flourished. A Fokker Universal was the first aircraft to fly over the North Pole with Admiral Byrd in 1926. Six Fokker Universals were also purchased by the Canadian Department of Marine and Fisheries in April 1927 for use by the 1927-28 Hudson Strait expedition, which examined ice conditions leading into Hudson Bay. One of those Fokkers was G-CAHE.
Upon completion of the northern expedition, G-CAHE was stored, then purchased by Maritime and Newfoundland Airways in 1931. One of its pilots, Z. L. Leigh, flew freight, including rum, from North Sydney to the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. When this business venture failed, Leigh helped form a new company, Explorers Air Transport Ltd., and moved G-CAHE to Cooking Lake, Alberta, along with one other Fokker Universal. Although work was hard to come by, Leigh did use the Fokker for a mercy flight from Fort McMurray to Cooking Lake with a very pregnant woman aboard. Her child was delivered ten minutes after landing.
G-CAHE was then sold to United Air Transport, Grant McConachie’s fledgling company, in 1933. When McConachie took possession of the aircraft on a lake near Prince George, it was in poor shape. He operated the Fokker Universal for four years, using it to haul fish and miners, before selling it to George Dalziel, who in turn sold it to Peace River Airways in 1938. The following September, G-CAHE crashed after snagging telephone cables at Peace River.
The aircraft was never the same after the accident and was ferried back to Cooking Lake in 1940 and left to deteriorate. Eventually, the remains of G-CAHE were removed to a warehouse in Edmonton, and then donated to the Alberta Aviation Museum. Today, the remaining pieces are on exhibit portraying a northern crash site.