In the spring of 1968 I was fresh out of Niagara Helicopters Ltd. and its flight training school. I had graduated to flying tourists over the falls – a great first job for a couple of weeks at least. Fortunately, I ended up ferrying equipment back and forth to Moosonee. Eventually, I spent a couple of hundred hours there doing mining camp supply. In November, after freeze-up, I was out of a job. That wasn’t entirely unexpected, given the nature of Niagara’s business. I was happy to have accumulated the flight time in that northern environment.
My first “real” flying job
A boring winter spent doing nothing encouraged me to hop into a car with Mike Hogan, a fellow graduate of Niagara, and we both headed to Ottawa. We had picked up a lead from Pete Peterson of Helair Ltd. in Kenora about a new company just beginning – much like both Mike and myself. I ended up getting hired by Larry Camphaug and Viking Helicopters Ltd. in Orleans, just east of Ottawa. Mike went with J. J. Cossette, in Quebec, flying his private Bell 47.
During my career with Viking Helicopters and its owner Larry Camphaug I had the time of my life. I have many happy memories of the pilots and engineers that I worked with over the years. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the engineers, our equipment was top-notch. In the field, we received support above and beyond the call of duty from head office. If the parts didn’t get to us in a reasonable amount of time, we were really out in the boondocks, past the edge of the earth.
As a part of the benefits package, I received free travel and living expenses to experience parts of Canada and the world that most people only get to see in front of a television or movie screen, or read about in a book. When passing through somewhere new, time permitting, I always took in the local colour because I knew that I wouldn’t be back to that part of the world again, especially on my own dime.
After Viking, what?
For the most part, outside of some freelance winter flying, I stayed with Viking Helicopters until 1981, when I retired from active flying. Although I stayed involved in aviation, actual flying was replaced with flying a desk for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in Thunder Bay. I ended up being responsible for the Regional Fire Centre’s helicopter program in its entirety, from training fire crews in helicopter safety, training loadmasters, writing operations manuals, budgeting, flight crew requirements, flight and duty time limits, acquiring aircraft during fire emergencies, etc. Upon leaving that position, Ontario’s Provincial Fire Centre took over the task on a province-wide basis.
From Thunder Bay, I went to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, Inc. (CIFFC) in Winnipeg. I got to experience a whole new-to-me world of fixed-wing air tankers, bird dog aircraft, and Air Attack Officers.
One of the difficulties of working on a national level with the various forest fire control agencies was the differing standards and requirements in existence within each of the agencies. One of my responsibilities was to effect an exchange standard that would ensure that when fire control agencies or companies move fire fighting aircraft around the country – be they air tankers or helicopters – the requirements were to be similar in order that the flight crews could more easily integrate their equipment into the area in a safe and efficient manner. Getting all of the provinces to come on board for that lightbulb moment was a job in itself.
In 2000 I retired from CIFFC and moved to southern California for six years where I did something that I really wanted to do all year long: I rode motorcycles. And worked in a bike shop.
Why this site now?
Over the years I became nostalgic for the old company that I knew as Viking Helicopters. I couldn’t find anything on the web that said anything about the company in a substantive manner, other than some .pdf files in newspaper archives. They were pretty bland and flat, not really interesting in themselves, other than from a historical point of view.
Thus, this site.
Obviously, it’s slanted to what I saw, did and experienced over the years that I worked for the company, but I hope that won’t take away from your own experiences. My hope is that if you were a former Viking employee you’ll come by for a look and spend some time reading and perhaps talking about your own memories right here or in the comments on the blog articles.
To that end, should you have something you wish to say, a story you’d like to tell, or a memory you want to share, the forums are here. If you’d like to write something on the blog, you’re more than welcome to submit your story. Or stories. You’ll get your own byline if you wish. In particular, photographs are most welcome, and will get accreditation.
Anonymous submissions are also accepted. After all, if we can’t tell a good story, what’s the point of it all?