Tour of the USFS seaplane base at Ely, Minnesota

This is a very interesting video about the only seaplane base operated by the U.S. Forest Service. It was uploaded to YouTube by David Quam and features USFS Pilot Dean Lee who does an excellent job of patiently describing the de Havilland Beaver DHC-2, three of which are seen at the base: N131Z, N132Z, and N133Z. Mr. Lee says in the video that the USFS purchased them new from de Havilland. FAA registration records shows that they were manufactured between 1956 and 1959.

Mr. Lee explained in the video that the Beavers can scoop water into a 125-gallon tank and drop it on fires. They are also used for wildlife radio tracking, search and rescue, recon, medivac, cargo, and “body hauling”.

While working on the Section 33 Fire in Voyageurs National Park north of Ely in August of 2004 we used one of the USFS Beavers for suppression and recon.

Havilland Beaver Voyageurs National Park
A U.S. Forest Service de Havilland Beaver preparing for a recon flight over the Section 33 Fire in Voyageurs National Park, August 11, 2004. The red object under the belly of the aircraft that looks like a bomb or torpedo is the 125-gallon water tank used to suppress wildfires. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Float planes are very useful in the parts of Minnesota that have as much water as dry land.

Section 33 Fire in Voyageurs National Park
A portion of the Section 33 Fire in Voyageurs National Park, August 11, 2004. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mathew.

3 thoughts on “Tour of the USFS seaplane base at Ely, Minnesota”

  1. Very good article. I got a chance to meet Dean years ago and even got a chance to fly with him over the BWCAW. All the pilots I met there were/are great guys. I just love those old planes….

  2. Thanks for this article – it brought back a lot of memories. I have a photo of 191Z and 192Z pinned to the bulletin board in my office. The photo is from 1976 when a hard ground helicopter guy from R2 went to the Boundary Waters with the only helicopter on skid gear. Thirty two days later some of the best memories were of hours spent tagging along in 91Z doing recons and delivering pump gas. Spinning cookies in a Beaver to develop a chop on a tiny lake so you could get the floats off the water seemed like the old days of falling off the cliff so you could get translational lift in a helicopter. The photo is from a resort-sited seaplane/motor boat base I managed for a couple weeks on one of several large fires that year in the BWCA (before it was a wilderness). I think 191Z’s pilot’s name was Tony.

  3. I had the great pleasure of working with these three Outstanding Pilots for Nine Years while I work on the Superior NF 1999 to 2009 , These guys are the Best IMHO. It is a one of a kind operation in the USFS, My Hat is Off to Dean Lee, Wayne Erickson and Pat Loe ….. Thanks for the walk down Memory lane ……..

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