Category Archives: Helair

Conawapa spring 1975

In early April, 1975, I returned to the birthplace of my Hughes 369 endorsement in Kenora a year earlier. I was taking my check ride with Bruce Dennison. Bruce and I had been students at Niagara Helicopters in 1968. He and his powder-blue Volkswagon had transported four of us to Toronto to do the written part of the flight exam.

We did our autorotations onto the ice-free waters of the Winnipeg River, north of Darlington Bay, and then returned to the Helair hanger on Villeneuve Road. By then I had accumulated slightly over 800 hours of turbine time.

I don’t remember who I replaced when, two days later, I picked up C-FAHG in Gillam for a Manitoba Hydro survey contract. The proposed  Conawapa generating station on the Nelson River was located approximately 18 miles downstream from the Limestone station. Midwest Helicopters was there with a Bell 206.

As always in those huge bush camps, food was plentiful and good. For the most part, the cooks and cookies were happy to have us coming and going during the day, since it gave them someone to talk to on their long shifts. As long as we kept our distance during meal and cleanup times, all of the flight and maintenance crews continued to be welcome in the cook tent. We had the run of the kitchen setup where we could have our fill of of coffee and desserts whenever we wanted.

Wayne Johnson was flying Midwest’s 206. For those of you who don’t know Wayne, he has a routine of hilarious, never-ending stories, some of which he even tells about himself. On one occasion, I was sitting in the kitchen with the party chief when Wayne walked in and sat down with us. Wayne was never one to be shy about trying to get a discussion going, and that day was no exception. Before long, he was ragging me about the lift capacity of the 500s in general, and more specifically about the red and white 500 I was flying.

Being the person that I am, I sat and listened patiently to his tales of misfortune and woe directed at Hughes Aircraft and more specifically at the aircraft I was flying. I took my time finishing my coffee and then told the party chief that I’d be heading to the fuel cache to bring back a couple of drums for the nearby helipad. Twenty or thirty minutes later I walked into the cook shack. Wayne asked why I had made only one trip.

I informed him that I needed only one trip to haul two barrels of fuel. Then I sat down across from the party chief and watched as Wayne got up and walked out of the tent and across to the helipad. When he got there, he started tipping drums to try and determine whether I had actually slung two drums, and if so, whether they were both full.

I had, and they were.

When Wayne walked back into the cook tent he was in a pretty subdued mood, since I had, in the presence of the party chief, just refuted every one of his claims he had made against the 500. Wayne never had anything to say about the relative merits of the 206 versus the Hughes 500 in my presence again.

I learned that Wayne had an incident while slinging and had rolled a 206 onto its side on liftoff. I don’t recall the year. I wanted to find out more about what happened, so I gave him a call. After explaining it to me, he mentioned that he had been wearing a helmet. The helmet had come away with a huge gouge in its side but his head had remained undamaged and intact.

After hearing that, I bought a flight helmet and wore it until I retired from active flying. Although I never needed it, it was attached to me in the event I did, and it certainly reduced the noise contamination that I had previously been subjected to.

Thanks, Wayne.

*     *     *

Wayne Johnson is no longer with us.

Pete Peterson: A Flying Story

Pete Peterson has been a part of the Canadian helicopter scene for many years, but did you know that he began his aviation career as a young teenager, eventually flying Corsairs off carriers in the second World War as a U.S. Marine? His military flying career took him to Saipan, the Philippines, and China, where he flew patrols from Peking (now Beijing) along the Great Wall in support of General Chang Kai-Shek.

Post-war, he married a Canadian girl, but as an active reservist, Pete was called to serve again in Korea. This time he was off to helicopter training in the Kaman, Bell 47 and Piasaki. Once that was complete, the First Marine Division put him in a tent camp on the south end of the DMZ and gave him a Sikorsky S-55 with which he performed casualty evacs to a Navy hospital ship, troop supply and other missions.

In 1955, newly-discharged from the Marines and with 500 hours of helicopter flight time, Pete found a job with the helicopter division of Spartan Air Services in Ottawa, and thus began Pete’s new life in Canada and his devotion to commercial helicopter operations in this country. In his book, A Flying Story, now available for download, he writes about

  • his first commercial job towing a bird in New Brunswick, quite a feat considering the underpowered nature of the 47 at the time;
  • being in the Arctic barrenlands in summer and winter;
  • flying on forest fires in the early ’60s for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests with a Bell 47D complete with untrained fire personnel recruited from beer parlors and logging camps;
  • tagging moose with the tagger stretched out on the Bell 47 float rack;
  • working on the Mid-Canada Line with the Vertol H-21, among many other experiences.

Along the way we get engine failures, engineering advancements and an amazing story of early helicopter use in Canada, all accompanied by a ton of photographs. Ed Godlewski, Tom Murray, Phil Istance, Larry Camphaug and many, many others are mentioned throughout the book for their tireless devotion and endless contributions to helicopter aviation in Canada.

Pete also fills us in about the beginning of his company, Helair Ltd. and its location at his home on the shores of Lake of the Woods, west of Kenora. The Helair operation eventually ended up moving to north of Kenora, where he built a hanger and an operation that at the time would have been the envy of any operator in the country.

If you haven’t already heard about it, you can learn the story of how he and Larry Camphaug came up with the name for the company they started near Ottawa. From a simple beginning in an old school house close by Orleans to being a provider of helicopters across Canada and around the world, Viking Helicopters Ltd. became one of Canada’s largest helicopter companies in the ’70s. A Flying Story details many of the prominent events in the company’s history.

Pete’s last flight was at age 75, but I’ll let him tell you about that adventure.

Pete Peterson: A Flying Story, 183 pages. In .pdf format. With plenty of pictures accompanying the publication.

 

Review written by website author.

Click on the link and the download will begin immediately. It’s a lengthy download, 45mb in size. Depending on your connection speed, it could take up to five minutes.

Note: If you don’t have a .pdf viewer already installed, I recommend the free Foxit .pdf viewer. Of course, the old standby Adobe Reader is also available, as well as many others.

Site information

In August of 2009 when Helicopter Highlights – Hurry up and wait went online, I was expecting to put up six or eight posts about Viking Helicopters and some pictures from a few jobs that I had been on and call it a day. Then the search engines locked on and began providing the site with hits, and that encouraged the addition of more material. Little did I imagine that this site would be filling a huge void concerning Viking Helicopters Ltd., Mercury Aviation Ltd. and Helair Ltd.

From the very beginning, the response has been tremendous:

  • hits are coming from around the world;
  • the site has tens of thousands of hits, not including bots and crawlers;
  • some are reading the entire site from start to finish;
  • some are subscribing to the RSS feed to get updates as they are posted;
  • the return rate is very high;
  • the most popular days for viewing appear to be Monday and Friday. It looks like boredom strikes on those two days.

Four visitors, Brian Camphaug, Bill McKeever, Rick Tyefisher and Al Nelson (formerly of Midwest Helicopters), have submitted many of the images in the photo gallery, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their efforts at contributing to the site’s success. If the number of image downloads is any indication, the gallery has made the site extremely popular.

When I learned that Pete Peterson had written a book about his experiences in the helicopter industry, I approached him about writing a review and posting a link to his story and he agreed. Many of you who have downloaded and read the book have no doubt been amazed at the amount of information Pete has made available, not only about the early days of helicopter aviation in Canada, but also about Spartan Air Services, the start of Viking Helicopters Ltd., Helair Ltd., Helitac and much more.

A request for information

I’m looking for information on VikingAmerica Helicopters. At least one 500C in 1979/80 was registered to that company south of the border. The aircraft returned to Canada and was flown by Bill McKeever in B.C. See the sidebar for more information.

Looking for contributors

I’d like to widen the scope of the site. Should any of you be interested in submitting articles or photographs, many visitors would be enthusiastic readers and viewers. I’m sure there must be more of you out there with a good yarn to tell. How about it?

The downside? None!

A very few keep returning on a daily basis to download the same images over and over and over again, thus consuming valuable bandwidth. However, that’s a small price to pay for the popularity of the site to date. Even my images from Niagara Helicopters are being copied. I’m still scratching my head over that one.

The reality: there really is no downside to operating this site. I’m extremely happy that the information is getting out for all to see and enjoy. I hope I’ve been able to provide a few laughs too.

A huge thanks to everyone

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of you who have contributed to Helicopter Highlights and the many who come to view it. You’re all helping to make Helicopter Highlights – Hurry up and wait an extremely popular and well-read site on the Viking Helicopters that we all knew and enjoyed working for. I hope that all of you will continue to return and enjoy the contributions on a regular basis as they are posted.

Thanks for contributing, and thanks for coming by.

Comedy of errors

Further to my story about Bill McKeever’s first post-endorsement flight on the turbine-equipped 500, I have my own to tell about my first job with the 500, so I went back to my log book for another look.

Thanks for reminding me about all of this, Bill.

Jerry Ossachuk sent me off in C-FDNF with my brand-new turbine endorsement to pick up two Water Resources employees who needed to check some levels at a couple of their northern sites. It was an extremely cold January day in Northwestern Ontario when I loaded up in Red Lake for the flight to Windigo.

That night I removed the battery before putting the 500 to bed. As luck would have it, it was clear and around -40C outside and cold as hell in the cabin since the heater had gone out during the night. Pre-heating the engine had to be done with the naptha lantern because the two incompetents hadn’t bothered to bring a generator that worked.

It had gotten so cold in the cabin overnight that the battery wasn’t capable of bringing the engine up to a suitable ignition rpm. I scratched my head for a bit, and then retrieved the spare battery. This time I placed it inside the clamshell doors with the naptha lantern to heat everything up one more time. I waited an hour.

We were good to go after that, and subsequently finished the job the next day. Unfortunately, because of the extent of the flying required to shut the systems down and retrieve all of the equipment that had been spotted out at their various sites, I was low on turbine fuel for the return flight to Red Lake. It became apparent that the amount of flying to be done was under-estimated.

Before leaving Kenora, Jerry had warned me that there was a limited amount of turbo fuel remaining on-site at Windigo. Since this was to be the last trip for the winter, no additional fuel had been spotted. There was some quantity of 80/87 if it became necessary to use it to get back to Red Lake, but I had hoped that I could get along without it.

It was not to be.

I emptied the 45-gallon drum of what was left of the remaining 80/87 for the return trip to Red Lake, but I knew I didn’t have enough to get us there. Fortunately, there was a lodge about three-quarters of the way en route. I radioed Jerry in Kenora to tell him that I’d be stopping at the lodge for fuel, and he dispatched a Cessna from Red Lake to drop a couple of tens.

I was cutting it pretty close when the low fuel light illuminated during my approach to the lodge. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with that turn of events, but I had fuel waiting, so it was back to Red Lake to chalk one up to luck.

While I hadn’t run out of fuel in the air, I had cut it pretty fine to my way of thinking. Had the fuel light illuminated any earlier, the three of us would have been shut down on a frozen lake minus the turbine fuel that had been landed at the lodge.

I learned from that experience, and I never let that happen again. While circumstance had been beyond my control that time, in future I always made certain that there was sufficient fuel to do the job, whether it was a day trip or a summer-long contract.

In fact, because of that, I annoyed more than one party chief in the Arctic who would want to “do some work on the way before we go to the fuel cache to fill up”. Yeah, that’ll work all right, especially if the fuel cache isn’t where it’s supposed to be. I’ve experienced that too, but I always had the fuel remaining to find it. Others didn’t, and I vaguely recall one who ran low on fuel before finding that same mislocated cache for the first time. Fortunately, all the bugs had been worked out of the ssb radios by then and his worked well enough to make the call for assistance.

Keep in mind that this was well before the advent of the gps. While the fixed-wing pilots were pretty good at putting out the fuel caches in winter and making their locations known on the maps, it was never an exact science. Occasionally a cache wasn’t where it was marked once the snow and ice melted in the spring, when its true location became apparent.

Checking my log book…

Thanks to Bill McKeever there are some new pictures here. During our email exchange he reminded me of something that I had completely forgotten over the intervening decades, so I took a look at my log book.

Back in early February of 1976 Bill was doing a job near Chapleau with CF-HEL, Helair Limited’s Bell 47 flagship. The Lycoming engine had started making metal and was declared unserviceable. Consequently Bill needed his survey crews retrieved from the bush.

GGNY in the Arctic west of Baker Lake

C-GGNY in its original C18 colours. It later became a favourite of mine in the yellow and black paint scheme. It was converted, with a beefed-up transmission and C20 engine.

After ferrying the 2:40 from Thunder Bay to Chapleau, I turned GGNY over to Bill to go out and pick up his crews. I don’t recall the circumstances now, but in the email he mentioned that he had a total of five hours of brand-new flight time on the 500 – which was coincidentally just enough required for his type endorsement.

Well, I sort of figured that Bill should fly GGNY to pick up the crews, since he knew where they were, so I generously offered to let him build up his time in the 500. Good of me, wouldn’t you say?

The weather wasn’t the greatest, but Bill was familiar with the area and knew where his crews were, so I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. He torched up and did the deed, allowing his training, experience and recent endorsement to kick in and he retrieved his crews without incident.

Two days later, after spoiling Bill by letting him fly GGNY to spot his crews, I ferried back to Thunder Bay via an overnight in Wawa. I don’t recall what aircraft replaced HEL.

I have my own story to tell about my first job following the coveted turbine endorsement.