Corman Air Park ...  About the Husky Norseman

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What’s a Husky Norseman?

The Husky Norseman is an ultralight utility and training aircraft that was built here at Corman Air Park back in 1988 by a company called Husky Manufacturing Ltd. There were a few single-seat Norseman I models built, but more common is the side-by-side two-place Norseman II. The Norseman was developed from an earlier aircraft called the Sylvaire Bushmaster that was built and sold in Alberta in the mid-80’s.

The designers of the Norseman were no backyard tinkers. The prime mover of Husky Manufacturing was a former Canadian air force engineering test pilot with 30,000 hours stick time on everything from helicopters to CF-104 Starfighters. After retiring from the military he opened a Bushmaster ultralight dealership and flight school. His aircraft supply dried up when the builders of the popular ultralight closed their doors, yet he still had buyers banging on his door looking for Bushmasters. Sensing an opportunity, he decided to take the Bushmaster design, improve it, and go into the manufacturing business himself. He enlisted the help of two other aviation enthusiasts with the appropriate expertise; one was a production engineer at McDonnell Douglas Canada turned ultralight designer who had been involved with the initial development of the Sylvaire Bushmaster. The other had been an engine technician in the Royal Air Force.

Their goal was to create an ultralight aircraft with the appearance and handling of a conventional light aircraft. Toughness and utility were at the top of their design tick list. The aircraft would have conventional 3-axis controls with dual control sticks, a fully-enclosed cabin and rugged bungee-strung steel undercarriage. The Norseman was designed to meet or exceed the requirements of U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations FAR Part 23 certification in the utility category.

The fuselage structure was patterned after the successful Bushmaster design using aircraft aluminum tubing joined with riveted gussets. Steel frame traditionalists scoffed, but the aluminum frame was just as strong as steel and the ductility of aluminum offered the advantage that any damage caused by overstress on the gussets is usually visible, and therefore repairable, before failure. A crack on a welded steel joint is often hard to detect before the joint fails – suddenly. Another key safety feature was a sturdy cockpit-firewall tub of Kevlar-reinforced fiberglass moulded around the base of a sturdy roll cage.

Inside the wing, double Sitka spruce spars combined with a fiberglass D-cell leading edge provided an incredibly strong and rigid airfoil. Foam ribs capped with Fiberglass gave the wing its chord-wise shape. The wings were designed to withstand up to +6/-3 G, however Vern Rees, who was the Husky test pilot at the time, witnessed a load test that went far beyond those limits. The Husky production crew put a wing assembly in a test rack and were piling on sand bags, intent on testing to destruction. They were running out of sandbags when the entire rack holding the test wing crashed to the shop floor because someone had used the wrong type of support bolt. The wing assembly never did reach the point of failure, and when they tallied up the sandbags, it was equivalent to +8G load!

Norseman wing during a static load test supporting a +7G load. The rack holding the test wing failed a few minutes later at +8G, prematurely ending the test.

The Norseman’s conventional handling, along with its sturdy structure made it a great trainer and Husky Manufacturing quickly got the attention of a number of flight training operations, both domestic and foreign, who were interested in replacing aging conventional trainers with the up-and-coming ultralights. The success of the venture seemed assured when they made a large sale of 24 aircraft to the Aeroclub of India - a large national multi-faceted flying organization.

While flying high to places such as India, the Husky builders did not overlook the needs of local fliers. The Norseman’s characteristics made it attractive to farmers who wanted a simple, sturdy, and affordable utility aircraft that they could use to spray their crops or land in a cow pasture.

Despite its auspicious beginnings and the success of the Norseman design, financial difficulties caused Husky Manufacturing to fold. During the short time in production 44 aircraft were built. In what one might reasonably assume is an endorsement of the design, the tooling has since been passed through several different builders’ hands, each of whom built some aircraft. The original Husky Norsemen fly on today in various forms in Western Canada and in India.

When those original Norsemen were rolling off the assembly line at Corman Air Park, Vern Rees was a flight instructor and test pilot for Husky. The Norseman assembly line is long gone and Vern himself has passed on from this life, but today the airport still runs CAVOK Ultralight Flight School and the aircraft of choice for training is still the Husky Norsman and Safe Flight Mountie, see below). When asked why, Vern would simply say, “Because, in twenty years of instructing, I have yet to find a better training aircraft.”

The Norseman airframe has a reputation for toughness and safety, which serves well in the flight school environment. Large tundra tires and rugged steel undercarriage with bungee-style shocks can absorb most of the errors in judgment that novice pilots make while studying the art of landing an aircraft.

If you look under bellies of the planes at Corman today, you’ll see radiators. The original Norsemen rolled out of the assembly shop with air-cooled Rotax 503 engines. In the mid-90’s, after having to walk home one too many times, Rees began converting Norsemen to Subaru auto engines. He found that the four-strokes are far more tolerant of hard-on, hard-off flight school tactics, and shock cooling in winter flying is a non-issue. “Four-strokes fail sometimes too, but they usually give you some warning. A two-stroke typically fails suddenly and completely.”(Vern Rees)

Side-by-side seating for instructing is prefered, and the cabin of the Norseman is a relatively comfortable 42 inches across – wider than some conventional light two-seaters. Two six foot, 200 lb. pilots can fly together without unnecessary intimacy and with more than adequate headroom.

Since 1988, hundreds of new pilots have learned to fly in a Husky Norseman at Corman Air Park. The Norseman’s conventional handling, along with its ruggedness and safety make it perhaps the perfect training aircraft.

What is a Safeflight Mountie?

If you’re poking around Corman Air Park looking at the Norsemen you’ll come across an aircraft that looks like a Norseman, flys like a Norseman, but is not a Norseman. 

IDBG, a Safeflight Mountie, glides in for a landing at Corman Air Park

As described above, the Norseman was inspired by the Sylvaire Bushmaster. Then, Vern Rees modified the Norseman with Subaru engines. The result was pleasing and local buyers have snapped up every plane he had time to convert. However, there are only a limited number of Husky Norsemen available for conversion - there are far more Bushmasters around, both flying and moldering away in barns. So, whenever Vern could get his hands on a Bushmaster project plane, he would strip it down and rebuild it, incorporating both the Bushmaster-to-Norseman mods as well as the Subaru auto-conversion. The converts are effectively equivalent to, and look almost identical to, the Subaru-powered Norsemen. The re-working is done right here at Corman Air Park, under the name Safeflight Aviation Inc. These re-born Bushmasters are registered as Safeflight Mounties.

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