Category Archives: Hughes

The military pedigree of the civilian Hughes 500

The U.S. Department of Defense issued Technical Specification 153 in 1960 for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH, or Loach) capable of performing a wide variety of tasks. Everything from transport, observation, attack, evacuation and escort was covered by this spec.

Hughes OH-6

Hughes OH-6

Surprisingly, a dozen companies took part in the competition. Hiller and Bell ended up as finalists, but Bell was eventually eliminated and Hughes ended up being included. Five flying egg prototypes were requested and delivered by November 1963 when flight testing/trials began. The low per-unit construction cost guaranteed that Hughes would win the competition, but that wasn’t the only factor in the equation.

The OH-6 Cayuse (re-designated by the Army from Hughes 369) set 23 world records in 1966 including those of distance, altitude and speed. Eventually, 1434 were delivered to the U.S. Army by the time the program wrapped up in 1970. In the midst of such a successful run, Hughes went ahead and began development of a civilian Model 500 variant.

Hughes had built four additional prototypes for its own use, and from these the civilian commercial version resulted in 1966 with a 317 shp Allison 250-C18A engine de-rated to 278 horsepower. It was marketed as the Model 500. Later, one of the four prototypes was modified with a 5-bladed main rotor system. Subsequent development resulted in the “D” model, available commercially in 1976.

By the time Viking got its hands on the 500, I had spent a couple of thousand hours flying Model 47s. My favourite was always the light and maneuverable G2. I found the G4 ungainly and “heavy”, even with the powered collective. Given its size compared to the G2, to me it was just one ugly son of a gun. Obviously the G4, with its larger cabin and engine, did a better job of transporting two passengers, but there was just something about it that wouldn’t let it grow on me. Call me old-fashioned if you will.

When 1974 rolled around I was given my 500 endorsement at the Kenora base. I was never so happy to leave behind the plodding world of the 47G-4 and jump into the modern, turbine-engined version of what the helicopter world would turn out to be for all of us involved with Viking Helicopters.

Hughes Tool Company and the 269

The Pink Lady's helicopter

Dini Petty's "Pink Lady" helicopter of Toronto radio station CKEY 590 fame in the early '70s. Dini ended up logging 5,000 hours while reporting traffic. As part of "the show" she wore a pink flight suit.

In 1932 the Hughes Aircraft Company was formed as a division of Hughes Tool, the bread-and-butter business of the Hughes empire. During WWII, the H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” was developed and briefly flown by Howard to demonstrate that it was capable of flight. Notwithstanding that debacle, Hughes Aircraft was a huge manufacturer of aircraft during the second World War.

In 1947, helicopters became a part of Hughes Aircraft. In 1955 the helicopter was split from Hughes Aircraft into the Aircraft Division of the Hughes Tool Company. That same year, development started on the Hughes 269 with a rotor system powered by a horizontally-mounted Lycoming engine and eight belts. It entered production in 1957 and by 1960 it had been upgraded to the 269A. By 1965 it had become the U.S. Army’s primary flight trainer. Eventually, more than 35,000 military pilots were trained in the 269.

In 1983 U.S. production rights were sold to Schweizer in New York, a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft. Civilian production continues to this day.

The Dark Continent

The Dark Continent

I had been flying Model 47s right up until New Year’s Eve, when I dropped off Helair’s flagship, CF-HEL, in Thunder Bay. Five days later, in early January, 1974, I was in Kenora at the Helair facility to obtain my turbine endorsement.

Gerry Ossachuk gave me my check-ride on C-FDNF, a Hughes 369c. After plodding along in Model 47s for thousands of hours, this, for me, was the epitome of modern helicopter transportation – even though my first sighting of a Hughes 500 had been in five years earlier in Uranium City in the fall of 1969. Now that I was actually flying one, I could tell that the piston-engine helicopter era was essentially over. While it would take some time to convince our paying customers to come around, the inevitable was written in the winds of change.

A few days later I was off to Red Lake on a Water Resources job. Two weeks after that I was in Pickle Lake working for Ontario Hydro in support of their 205 slinging poles. Thunder Bay came up in the windscreen too, until I finally ended up in Dryden working for the Ministry of Natural Resources on Dryden 16, and subsequently, Dryden-18, while flying C-GODW, one of Larry’s new yellow and black Hughes 500c turbines. It was a joy to fly, not having those obscene bags hanging off the sides that were so ubiquitous on the 47s.

Over 500 hours later, in December of that same year, I found myself in Nairobi.

Getting there is half the fun

Getting to Nairobi hadn’t been entirely uneventful, and in fact it was a 20-hour marathon of airplanes, airports, taxis and cargo hangers. For amusement on the night flight across the Atlantic, I wandered up to the cockpit of the 747 and spent some time chatting with the pilots. (Try doing that today and you’ll end up in shackles and chains while being deposited at some out-of-the-way airport in the middle of nowhere, beaten with a rubber hose and sent packing to Gitmo.) My first question was ‘where’s the compass’, after which I explained my background. I think they were more interested in my flying career than I was in theirs.

Before I left Ottawa, Larry had asked me to track down some missing parts at Heathrow. As soon as I could, I hired a taxi to haul me around to all of the air freight facilities in an attempt to track down the missing parts. Eventually they were located and late as it was, I headed back to the terminal in an attempt to make my connecting flight to Amsterdam.

Surprised as I was to discover that the DC-9 was still at the gate, I was even more shocked to find that I would be the only passenger on the flight to Amsterdam. The stews were almost as taken aback as I was, and ended up getting a picture of us together, one  lonely passenger surrounded by all of them.

Entebbe in darkest night

At some point in time during the night flight out of Schipol and Frankfurt, and after watching the grass fires below us in the Sudan during my 20 hour marathon from Montreal, one of the pilots announced that the KLM Royal Dutch flight we were on would be stopping in Entebbe, Uganda.

The girl I was sitting with was beside herself when she heard the announcement, and the closer we got to Entebbe, the more agitated she became. She told me that she had specifically checked with KLM to determine if our flight was direct to Nairobi. Assured by the airline that it was, she had purchased her ticket. Now we were doing an unscheduled stop in Uganda – not a particularly appealing destination for an Israeli at that point in time.

Never one to look the other way when a woman was in distress, I suggested that perhaps we could pretend that we were married. After her initial shock at that remark passed, she went along with me. In the event that we became separated, we exchanged passports, and at that point she appeared pleased to learn that I was Canadian. I found a blanket, and from the time we landed until we took off again, the two of us huddled beneath it with only our heads visible.

Why that airplane was going to make an unscheduled stop in Entebbe was a mystery that the two of us discussed at some length. It didn’t help that the airport went into blackout once the aircraft was on the ground. When we finally came to a stop some distance from the terminal building I heard a cargo door open and voices yelling – no big deal, I thought. Obviously there was something on board that needed to be offloaded – in blackest night.

The real shock for the two of us came when the front passenger door opened and a person of obvious African descent boarded the aircraft. When he finally got near our row of seats, we could see that he was carrying a can of insect repellent in each hand. His job was obviously to ensure that no insect of any variety was left alive. After fogging the cabin, he departed the plane and the door was secured. By then, the cargo door had been closed and we were ready for takeoff one last time – once the runway lights were turned on.

Finally, we were headed for Nairobi’s Embakasi Airport.