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Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM returns to the Yukon Territory

by Murray Lundberg

Dateline: June 21, 2001

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it

Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM in front of the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse -June 2001     Without aircraft, development of the North would have been a great deal more difficult, and life for most people less satisfactory. Possibly as a result, there are a lot of people up here who love aircraft, and when a restored Yukon aircraft toured the territory last week, the response was wonderful.

    Fokker Super Universal S/N 827 came off the production line in January 1929 in Teterboro, New Jersey. One of the first monoplanes (with a single wing), she displayed all of the qualities required in an aircraft that would spend most of its life on very rough airstrips or worse. With a 51-foot (15.3-meter) wingspan and very thick wing root, the Fokker Super Universal was both responsive and stable. One of the features that made it possible to use rough landing spots without knocking the plane apart was an ingenious shock absorber consisting of a length of bungy cord, seen at the top of the strut in the photo below.

Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM in front of the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse -June 2001     A total of 80 Super Universals were eventually built, and they were put into service in every corner of the world, As well as exploration, freight, mail and passenger service, some unique uses were found for the Super Universals' features. In 1929, Goodyear purchased one, becoming the first company in the world to have an aircraft specifically for tire testing.

    The Fokker featured here was purchased new by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (Cominco). Between 1929 and 1934, it was used in the company's mineral exploration program, based at Trail, British Columbia, but working in remote areas throughout Canada on wheels, skis and floats. One of the first missions assigned to CF-AAM was to join in the search for a group of geologists and surveyors working for the North American Mineral Exploration Company. Known as the McAlpine party, the search became one of the largest and most costly in Canadian history. The men were eventually found in the Cambridge Bay area, and AAM helped bring them to safety.

Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM in front of the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse -June 2001     In 1934, a new chapter in AAM's story began. George Simmons, who lived in Carcross, Yukon, ran a fox farm and had the contract to carry the mail from Carcross to Atlin. He used boats and trucks to carry the mail in the summer and dogteams in the winter, but was intrigued by the possibility of using an airplane year-round. He was able to purchase AAM from Cominco, and in October 1934, he and pilot Bob Randall traveled to Trail to pick her up.

    With wheels and skis stashed in the back, AAM lifted off the Columbia River and headed for Carcross as the flagship of Northern Airways Limited. She was immediately put to work hauling mail, freight and passengers to Atlin, Mayo, Fort Selkirk, Dawson City and many remote destinations in the Yukon and northwestern British Columbia.

    Business was good for Northern Airways, and in 1935 Simmons bought another Fokker Super Universal, CF-ARM. That year, the National Geographic Society launched the first mapping expedition into the St. Elias mountains, and air support was provided by AAM, flown by Everett Wasson, and ARM, flown by Bob Randall.

Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM in front of the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse -June 2001     In the late fall of 1936 both Fokkers were badly damaged on Francis Lake when they hit submerged rocks. Over the following winter, though, they were repaired and flown back to Carcross. In August of 1937 AAM was flown to Vancouver, where it was professionally rebuilt, but she had only been back in the Yukon for less than three months when her career came to an end.

    On December 5, 1937, pilot Les Cook attempted to leave Dawson City with six passengers aboard. While attempting to take off, a wheel apparently broke off and the plane crashed into the bush at the end of the runway. There were no serious injuries, but the plane was considered a write-off, and was stripped and left in the brush.

    As the years passed the beautiful yellow and green Fokker became a virtually unrecognizable pile of wreckage, but in 1974, local pilots Bob Cameron and Tony Hanulik, realizing the historic significance of the aircraft, retrieved what remained. After sitting in Cameron's yard with parts of two other Fokkers for a while, though, it also became clear what a massive undertaking a restoration would be, and the Western Canada Aviation Museum was contacted. Cameron told a Whitehorse Star reporter a couple of months ago that "they sent up two Air Force Hercules to fly it out, which tells you something about what they thought of the find."

Crew members talking about Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM during her visit to Carcross, Yukon - June 13, 2001     The museum had no definite plans to restore the plane, however, and it took a chance meeting between Bob Cameron and Clark Seaborn of Calgary to get the project moving. After lengthy negotiations with the museum, an agreement was reached which would allow Seaborn to restore the plane in exchange for the rights to fly it for five years.

    It took 18 years and 10,000 hours of work for Seaborn and aviation engineer Don McLean to rebuild the plane, but on July 24, 1998, CF-AAM took to the air for the first time in 61 years. Although the Pratt & Whitney radial engine looks original, it and the propeller are replacements, and a new Type Certificate was required to get her back in the air.

    In 1999, CF-AAM was flown to the huge Oshkosh air show, where the quality of the workmanship in the restoration won Seaborn and McLean the coveted Judges Choice Award.

Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM taking off from the Carcross airport - June 13, 2001     Among the many flights since the restoration, there have been some particularly significant ones. In Trail, AAM was photographed in front of the same hangar where she sat in the 1930s, and Bob Randall, who at 92 years of age now lives in Victoria, was taken up for another flight. Tourism Yukon sponsored the initiative to bring her back to the Yukon. Between June 7 and June 13, 2001, she was flown over the same routes she had traveled 65 years previously, visiting Whitehorse, Fort Selkirk, Dawson City, Mayo, Atlin and, of course, Carcross.

    On each leg of the Yukon tour, a few envelopes, known as "covers" to collectors, were flown to commemorate AAM's mail delivery role. A cover from the Whitehorse-Fort Selkirk leg is shown below; all seven covers can be seen by clicking here.

Special envelope flown by Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM in the Yukon in June 2001

More CF-AAM Photos
Three photos, including one of her under restoration and a shot of the panel.

The Crash of CF-AAM
The original newspaper report from December 7, 1937. Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM during her visit to Carcross, Yukon - June 13, 2001

Northern Airways, Ltd.
A couple of 1937 newspaper ads for the company.

Western Canada Aviation Museum
The permanent home of CF-AAM.

Fokker Super Universal G-CASK
A painting of G-CASK and sternwheeler "Northland Echo" by Robert Bradford, with the story of their meeting.

Fokker Super Universals in Japan
Two paintings showing Fokker Super Universals built in Japan under license by Nakajima.

A Fokker Super Universal in Antarctica
A photo of the wreckage of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Fokker Virginia on the surface of Lake Aquamarine, Rockefeller Mountains, taken in December 1998.

CF-AAM leaves Carcross late on June 13, 2001 - will she ever be back?
Fokker Super Universal CF-AAM leaves Carcross, Yukon, in June 2001

To Arctic & Northern Aviation

Photographs are © 2001-2018 by Murray Lundberg