Category Archives: People

Thanks for the memories

I’m saddened to learn that Jim Hawes passed away. When I met him in 1971, Jim was an engineer with Midwest. At the time, I was a lowly apprentice. Jim later went on to own Custom Helicopters.

Occasionally, when I rode east, I’d stop in for a visit at the hangar and we’d share some laughs and tall tales while reminiscing over the experiences we had and the people we knew from “back in the old days”. Both he and I always spoke kindly of them all, and we did so with huge grins on our faces.

Thanks for the memories, Jim. It was great to have known you.

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.

Dryden-18 finally winds down

By the time mid-August of 1974 rolled around, the bulk of the helicopter flying operations on Dryden-18 were winding down. Retrieval operations were in full swing, and those of us remaining were anxious to see the end of the operation and depart. Finally, on the 22nd, my wish came true and I was released.

Over the summer I discovered that I had taken quite a liking to flying on fires. The work was challenging but rewarding. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the full-time fire crews who went out and did the difficult work. They were always professional; they were well-trained; they worked hard; they were easy to get along with; they had a great sense of humour. It didn’t get much better than that.

From Thunder Bay I ferried over to Rouyn for a couple of weeks to demo the Hughes 500C for Quebec forestry. I followed that up with some local work out of Thunder Bay, and then did some Hydro flying on the north shore before taking a break and heading overseas.

In all, it was a successful year, not only for me, but for the company too. Larry had gambled on purchasing the new 500s, and the weather and subsequent fire season had rewarded him with a busy summer of fire flying at prime rates for some of the equipment that hadn’t ended up on contracts.

What could be better than that?

More fire than we bargained for

The volatility of the aerial ignition chemicals we were handling shouldn’t be underestimated. Consequently, we tried to take what we thought was great care with the details:

  • we worked in a separate area on the flight line when we were handling the balls and the chemical;
  • anti-freeze and the final product were never carried together until loaded on board;
  • the balls were carried on board GODW in metal garbage cans with the lids secured;
  • we swept out the aircraft at the end of a run to get rid of any stray potassium that may have gotten caught up in the slipstream.

For the most part, our care and caution was rewarded without incident. However…

On one occasion, Sonny was standing beside GODW while loading a batch of green garbage bags filled with ping-pong balls into metal garbage cans. He picked up a bag and it immediately burst into flames while he was still holding on to it. When Sonny proceeded to depart the area in a hasty feets don’t fail me now manner, the flaming bag was deposited next to a drum of turbo fuel.

I would have been right behind him, but discretion being the better part of valour, instead I reached into GODW, grabbed the fire extinguisher and used it to good purpose. Why the spontaneous combustion occurred was anyone’s guess, but obviously our careful handling of the two chemicals was brought into question. No doubt some anti-freeze had gotten into the mix somewhere towards the end of the line.

The very next day all of the helipads on the base camp flight line were equipped with large extinguishers. No further incidents occurred.