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:-
BAGGAGE POD INSTALLED
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