Waco (pronounced “Wah-co”) YKC-S CF-AYS was produced by the Weaver Aircraft Company in Lorain. Ohio. One of the smaller bush-planes to fly in north-western Canada, it is a good example of a sesquiplane – a type of biplane where the lower wing is significantly smaller than the upper (the term itself meaning “one-and-a-half wings”). While maintaining the structural strength of the conventional biplane, the sesquiplane design can reduce weight and drag. In the case of CF-AYS, the lower wing is not only of an unequal span to the upper but the two wings are staggered with the leading edge of the upper ahead of the lower. A practical advantage of this “positive stagger” was better downward visibility for the pilot. However, from a bush-flying perspective, one drawback of the sesquiplane was the potential for the lower wing to be damaged during landing on rough terrain.
Built in 1935, CF-AYS was part of the Waco “Custom Cabin” series of single-engine, fabric-covered biplanes featuring an enclosed cockpit and four-to-five seat cabin. The internal fuselage structure was welded steel tubing, a design typical of this period. The wings were made primarily of wood (spruce). Although it served with several different owners, the Waco will be displayed as part of the “Northern Connections” exhibition in the colours of Central Northern Airways (C.N.A.). During its service with this Winnipeg-based company, the primary role of CF-AYS would have been freighting passengers and equipment into the mining districts of north-central Manitoba and north-western Ontario.
Apart from its regular duties, CF-AYS has a connection to what at the time was the largest aerial search in Canadian aviation history – “Operation Attaché”. On September 12, 1948, a United States Navy twin-engined Beechcraft C-45 went missing on a planned 450-mile flight from Churchill to The Pas. Among the five men on board were two senior naval officers from the British and American embassies in Ottawa. The massive search that followed included up to 40 Canadian and American military planes from across North America. On September 21st, CF-AYS was chartered by the Winnipeg Tribune to fly a reporter and photographer from the Central Northern Airways base at Lac du Bonnet to the tiny hamlet of Skownan, Manitoba, on Waterhen Lake, 30 miles northeast of Lake Winnipegosis. An Indigenous trapper camping about 25 miles east of Skownan had reported seeing an airplane in apparent difficulty on the same day the Beechcraft went missing. As part of the search effort, northern residents had been notified by radio to be on the lookout for the lost plane. Some of these broadcasts were made in Cree.
Upon arrival, pilot Roy Brown and reporter Don Aiken interviewed trapper John Whitford. The story was published in the Tribune complete with two pictures of CF-AYS moored at Skownan taken by photographer Gordon Aikman. Although search officials determined that the machine Whitford had seen could not have been the missing plane, “Operation Attaché” came to a happy ending on September 24th. The Beechcraft was located by RCAF search planes near High Rock Lake, Saskatchewan, more than 50 degrees and two hundred miles off course. Poor weather conditions along the route between Churchill and The Pas and a faulty compass led to the pilots becoming lost and running low on fuel. Although largely undamaged thanks to a skilful forced landing, the plane was abandoned to the muskeg. More importantly, all five crew and passengers were rescued and found to be in good health. A story in the December 1, 1948, edition of Macleans magazine cited “Operation Attaché” as one of several recent events that had established the activities of RCAF Search and Rescue units “in the public mind.”