Category Archives: People

We need more fire!

Link to Part 1 – Burning out

Burnout results

After some experimenting with the OAID machine and after obtaining some success igniting small test acreages, demand for existing stocks of the chemical and the ping-pong balls we needed was dwindling fast. We required ping-pong balls and potassium permanganate in massive quantities, much beyond the capabilities of the commercial supplier who couldn’t keep up with demand. To tackle aerial ignition on the scale that was required, a huge manufacturing capability was needed to supply the materials in their final form.

Consequently, the Ministry began scouting around for a building to contain manufacturing operations. The only viable location was the Dryden arena, an old wooden building. Certainly, the timber in the building was extremely dry because of its age, and this was a concern due to the fire hazard of the potassium. Approval was quickly obtained, workers were hired, chemical was delivered, and ping pong ball halves were assembled with the required amount of chemical. Throughout it all, the arena remained standing.

Sonny, with fingernails finally free of potassium, and a pilot clocking hectic hours

Sonny, with fingernails finally free of potassium, and a pilot clocking hectic hours

The ping-pong balls arrived at the base camp in huge green garbage bags. The bags were transferred to metal garbage cans to contain the balls and then loaded into the back of the helicopter. Our thinking was that the metal cans would prevent the balls from contacting the anti-freeze floating around in the slipstream.

During the ignition operation the Burn Boss sat in the front. Sonny Lengyl was the OAID operator in the back of the helicopter. When the hopper was reloaded with balls there was all kinds of loose potassium floating around. Anti-freeze flowed freely in the slipstream and got all over the hands of the operator. When the anti-freeze got under Sonny’s fingers it mixed with potassium permanganate. The smell of smoke wound its way into the front of the helicopter. I thought we were on fire, but it was only Sonny. I landed, he managed to get his fingers under control and we carried on with the burn.

It all seemed like good fun at the time.

Viking Helicopters does it different

In the spring of 1973, Viking Helicopters took over the Ontario Hydro line patrols in northwestern Ontario. Initially we had a running battle with Hydro over how we planned to do the patrols. As a money-making operation, we were unwilling to consider even for a minute the six- to eight-week schedule that Hydro had used. Added bonus: our crews didn’t have to return to Toronto for the weekends.

We launched with a G-2 (which is what Hydro had been using) and became familiar with the routine by getting a couple of patrols under our belt. Immediately, one position was eliminated because, as bush pilots, we had no requirement for the engineer to drive out to the aircraft every day. In any event, we were close to our Thunder Bay operation, and an engineer was never more than a few hours away by charter, if needed. I don’t recall that one ever was, even in the winter.

Then we started to extend the range of the patrols with a Bell 47G-4. The G-4 had a 61 usg capacity and burned 18-20 gph.  Once those flight reports started arriving in Toronto, it became obvious to Hydro’s head office that six weeks or more to do a complete patrol was way out of line. That got things going back east in Toronto, and eventually we became subject to visits by their chief pilot at the time.

Unwilling as we were to let him ride us in the G-4, we brought in a G-2 to facilitate the rides, which is what Hydro had used on their line patrols in the region. The G-2 was, and remains, my favourite helicopter to fly. I remember spending a few hours in the relative luxury of CF-ISH, shepherded along by the Ontario Hydro chief pilot, happily doing autorotations into the right-of-way whenever he chopped the power on me.

None of us ever failed the ride, of course. The frequent rides were done more to mollify the head office types who thought we were stealing jobs and empire away from Toronto. There was a fair bit of justification that had to be done, and one way was to send someone north to challenge our abilities.

Good luck with that.

What couldn’t be challenged was the patrol work we were doing. The patrol was flown with Ontario Hydro employees who did the actual line and right-of-way inspections. They ended up extremely happy at the prospect of now spending a minimal amount of time away from home. Their supervisors were happy that they didn’t have to dedicate an employee for more time than absolutely necessary. In the fight to keep us on the job, those local supervisors turned out to be a valuable ally in our discussions with Toronto.

As part of the proposal, we had obtained the use of the Ontario Hydro hanger in Thunder Bay. This was a great acquisition, just what was needed to pull the base together and turn the operation into something more than another snowbank base. As it turned out, the hanger evolved over the years into quite a convenience for us in northwestern Ontario, and remained in use well into the ’80s. When the 500Ds were added to our fleet, the sliding door was painted to match the distinctive red, green and yellow paint scheme.

Late in 1973, we were saddened by the loss of Don Pawluk, our Thunder Bay base manager. Don was on a line patrol with CF-KAC near Ft. Frances. It was late in the clear, sunny day. Don was flying west into the low sun when he hit an unmarked hydro line crossing overtop the line he was patrolling. Both he and the Ontario Hydro observer were killed. As a result, Ontario Hydro made a concentrated effort to speed up the marking of all of their line crossings, which until then had been moving along at a glacial pace.

Accounting 101

On a day when Larry and I were sitting around shooting the breeze (which didn’t happen all that often, I might add), I remember laughing as he told me about his pickle jar theory of accounting. I had never heard of it, so I asked the obvious question.

“It’s simple,” he explained, grinning. “You take two big pickle jars. One is for the money coming in, and the second is for the money going out. As long as there’s more money in the pickle jar for the money coming in, everything is fine.”

To this day I smile when I remember his joking explanation, and I myself have since used his pickle jar analogy more than a few times when making light of a financial situation.

Back in my flight training days, we discovered another use for the pickle jar.

Norway House hoedown

Aerotrades HelicoptersEarly in 1972, I headed up to northern Manitoba to do some winter work for Aerotrades Helicopters and Joe Kreke. When I checked into the Playgreen Inn in Norway House, there was but one room remaining. Happy as I was to have a room, little did I know but there was a reason for that vacancy.

At the time, Never Ending Love for You (with apologies for the link, it’s the only one I could find with the music) was a huge hit with the locals. It blared from the bar’s jukebox night and day. Since I was the happy resident of the room above the bar, it would be the last music I heard before I went to sleep, and, because someone lit up the jukebox at 6 a.m., it was the first music of the day. Even today I can remember the words and the beat as it was played from dawn to dusk over and over again in the hotel bar.

If I recall correctly, this was a winter road survey contract, which would eventually lead to the construction of 392, the road to Snow Lake. I spent some time at Footprint River, where the camp was located, and then did some flying around the Rat River area. What I remember the most is that it was cold. Very cold.

When the 50-hour came due (or perhaps the 100-hour; I don’t remember), one of the brothers flew himself north in a Cessna and taxied up to the the helicopter. The oil was drained onto the ice, the logbook was signed, and then he was gone. That was the quickest 50-hour (100-hour?) I ever experienced. With a maintenance program like that, I figured that wasn’t the outfit for me, and after the end of the job at 30 hours, I decided that it was time to depart for greener pastures once again.

Joe was kind enough to fly me south to Winnipeg in his twin. I got to do the low-level flying in bad weather, dodging towers while he did paperwork. Yes, the ceiling was that low, and we were VFR.

Did I mention that by then I had logged a grand total of five hours in a Cessna 150? I never did put the free twin time in my book.

Joe is no longer with us, having departed in a 204 while attempting an external load operation with improper nylon lanyards.

Rossville, Norway House

Rossville, Norway House in warmer times

Rossville, Norway House

The Gander Airport blues

The bar at the Gander International Airport, 1969

The bar at the Gander International Airport – 1969

While Lorne and I were out in Newfoundland with CF-ODM, we would occasionally manage to sample the night life in the various towns we were in. After ending up in Gander, we hit the highlights and then proceeded to the bar in the Gander International Airport. If you had a ticket on an international flight, the airport bar was a welcome place, 24 hours a day. Otherwise, beyond normal operating hours, it was no ticket, no laundry.

Don’t ask me why we relocated to that deserted place, but obviously we felt it was necessary at the time. For some obscure reason, one of the locals had followed us out to the airport. Given our condition, I’m sure he had good reason for not taking kindly to mainlanders. Discretion being the better part of valour, we took it upon ourselves to find a way into the bar and hope to avoid a parking-lot melee before we ran out of expense account funds.

Lorne and I already knew that we couldn’t sit in the bar without an international ticket. After a lengthy discussion, it became up to me to venture out into the blackest night, wander across the tarmac to the helicopter and collect the journey log. Lorne remained behind to hold the fort in the departure lounge.

When I finally located the terminal building (there must have been a heavy fog that night), I let the bartender have a look at the log book. Accompanied by a convincing story about how we would be departing for Ireland in the next week, weather permitting, the barkeep graciously allowed us into seats at his most coveted bar. Need I add that both Lorne and I congratulated ourselves on the initiative we showed in coming up with that bit of blarney?

There was no way in hell that the local was going to be allowed into the bar. After cooling his heels in the departure area for what seemed like an eternity, he eventually got bored with himself and left.

For the remainder of the summer in Gander (and we returned many times), we were allowed to partake of the after-hour airport amenities, including bar service. Not once were we questioned about the practicality of crossing the north Atlantic in a Bell 47.