Category Archives: Hughes

The 500 lives on


Some designs are just too good to die. The Hughes 369, or the OH-6 Cayuse when in uniform, is one of them. After 50 years of production, the “Little Bird” as it is known in Spec Ops circles, has reached a new level of capability with the AH-6i, which may soon get its baptism by fire at the hands of Saudi pilots in the skies above Yemen.

Where’s the Viking Cargo Pod? They’ve got everything else under the sun hanging off of the experimental AH-6i.

Head on over to jalopnik to check out the video.

The Hughes 500D makes inroads

Over three summers in 1974, ’75, and ’76, thanks to some pretty bad forest fire seasons, Viking Helicopters was able to make major inroads into the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and their Northwestern Ontario fire program in both Dryden and Thunder Bay. It didn’t happen overnight, of course, but eventually, the Ministry all but abandoned the piston-powered Bell 47s in favour of light turbine helicopters, including both Bell and Hughes.

One thing in particular with the Bell 47 stands out. The Ministry at one time owned a bellows tank that could be strapped between the floats of the 47G-4. It would need occasional patching, but even so, the Northwestern Region’s Thunder Bay Fire Centre was very proud of its acquisition. Yes, that’s right. The OMNR owned the monstrosity. That bellows tank leaned against a wall in our Thunder Bay hangar for quite some time.

When the contract for a turbine helicopter to be based out of Thunder Bay for the 1977 fire season was put out to bid, Larry offered one of his newly-acquired Hughes 500Ds for the job. Viking Helicopters won the bid. At the time, the D model was lacking the cargo pod.  A prototype was shipped out with flat doors, and I ended up doing the certification test flights. Much later, after additional wind tunnel testing, the cargo pod was outfitted with more aerodynamic doors to replace the flat doors on three sides.

I recall a telephone conversation I had with Larry prior to the start of the contract. He took the time to explain the financial risk he had taken in acquiring the D models. It was to be a make-it-or-break-it proposition that first summer on the fire contract with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the new helicopter. It was a breakthrough contract for the company.

I worked C-GYTX to the best of my abilities on that contract over four summers. The first summer, in cooperation with the NCR fire crews, we worked up standard equipment loading patterns for initial attack for the 500D. We practiced deplaning in the hover and hover unloading and loading. The crews familiarized themselves with the cargo hook obscured by the pod. With practice, hooking up turned out to be no problem.

Later, those initial attack standard load patterns were developed for the larger helicopters, mainly the Bell 204, 205 and 212, with standard loading as well. I believed at the time, and still do, that standard loading during initial attack presents a safer and more efficient way for a pilot to manage his aircraft.

That first summer, I took a lot of good-natured verbal abuse from the fire crews about the red, green and yellow stripes on the helicopter. I had to admit that I couldn’t see the colours from the inside, and that got a few laughs.

We had a very successful four summers flying on that fire contract before I left the company five years later to pursue other interests I had acquired from my experiences working for Viking Helicopters.

Quite a few years later, I learned that the cargo pod certification was amended to limit some airspeeds, and I wondered if the aerodynamic door fittings had anything to do with the changes to the certification.

Airworthiness Directive Schedule
MD Helicopters 369, 500N and Kawasaki Hughes 369

DCA/HU369/60  External Cargo Container Kit – Placard

Applicability:  Model 369D, 369E, 369F, 369HE and 369HS equipped with Gajon Associates Ltd
(Viking Helicopters Limited) STC No. SH1134EA external cargo container kit (baggage pod).

Requirement:  To prevent hazardous yaw oscillations during descents which could result in loss of control of the helicopter install a placard on the instrument panel as close as practicable to the airspeed indicator and in clear view of the pilot that reads:-

Vne 90 KIAS IN POWERED DESCENT ( more than 1000 fpm) OR IN AUTOROTATION (FAA AD 93-07-10 refers)
Compliance:  Within next 50 hours TIS.
Effective Date:  3 September 1993

Where’s an oven when you need one?

TV Dinners were a lifesaver.

TV Dinners were a lifesaver.

On Dryden-18 it was unusual for some of us to eat in the base camp kitchen on a regular basis. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were reserved for those who could make the kitchen during scheduled hours. For the rest of us, it was catch as catch can.

Never fear, though, for Swanson TV Dinners weren’t only for watching TV in the living room. We ate them as a substitute for the real meal deals offered up in the base camp kitchen at Pine Beach.

Where’s the oven, you ask?

The oven was right inside the clamshell doors on the Hughes 500, where temperatures were warm enough to heat the eye-catching, silver-plated connoisseur’s delight. After a suitable amount of time had passed and following much anticipation, the meal was removed from the oven, steaming hot and ready to be consumed. The foil was carefully peeled back and a veritable feast presented itself to the hungry, deserving pilot. Added bonus: once the tasty entrée was consumed, there were no dishes to do.

Who knew that the Hughes 500 could be such a kitchen magician?

Occasionally we would compare the benefits of our choice for the day. If someone’s meal looked better, it would result in a mad dash to the grocery store once we got back to town. Personally, I preferred to have my dinner thawed overnight before inserting it into the clamshell oven. It heated much faster and could be consumed earlier in the day. One could keep a stash in a cooler just off the helipad, thus allowing for a delicious selection to choose from throughout the day.

Tasty and ready to eat

If you think the colour in these images is off, you should have seen the colour of the food in those trays once the aluminum foil was peeled back.

For you youngsters out there, the aluminum tray was replaced in 1986 with plastic/polyethylene in order to transition to microwave cooking. And for you purists, dessert was dropped in 2001.

Swanson's finest

Difficult as it may be to believe today, this little beauty was much in demand by some of us on the flight line during Dryden-18 in 1974.

Getting some quiet time in the cockpit

The events of last week brought to mind this old girl from a different era:

How do you quiet a noisy one-man band? You put five on the main, four on the tail, install a muffler, add forward-looking infrared and Loran-C just for spite—and get it all operational in 1972, albeit for a limited time and in a limited place—for a single mission. Who else but Hughes aircraft could do that? No one.

(Air & Space Magazine link updated September 2017)

Read the story in a March, 2008 article in Air & Space Magazine.

Hughes 500P Quiet One courtesy of Air & Space Magazine, March 2008

Hughes 500P Quiet One courtesy of Air & Space Magazine, March 2008