Category Archives: Viking Helicopters

Winter hydro line maintenance

As with all of Ontario Hydro’s lines running through the wilderness of Northwestern Ontario, right-of-way maintenance was a major concern. Deadfalls, hangovers, washouts and other problems had to be discovered and repaired. Discovery was done by the line patrol observer. Repair was accomplished by the ground crews.

Most of the rights-of-way were easily accessible by vehicles of one sort or another, especially in winter. The line running east of Marathon was a special case, located as it was overtop some of the most inhospitable, remote and inaccessible terrain on the north shore of Lake Superior. Vehicles wouldn’t work well there, if at all.

Working out of Marathon, the crew would spend the day searching for trees and other hazards that could damage the line. Overhanging trees would be cut down. I flew the crew out to various locations along the line where they would walk it to a pre-arranged pickup point. That wasn’t a big deal, until they started doing it in the winter while wearing show shoes.

Time spent doing something that can be done by air is a complete and utter waste of time. In this case, almost the entire project could have been done by using the helicopter to walk the line. After the first week was over, I sat down with the crew and their foreman and detailed how we could safely accomplish the same thing by actually flying under the line for most of its length.

By using the crew as observers while I flew and hovered under the line searching for problems, I explained that we could land, shut down and have the crew cutting down the trees while I remained on-site. When they were finished, we could continue on to the next location that needed work.

I explained

  • the cost savings on meals and hotels;
  • crew availability for other work (as it existed this was currently a three-week or longer job);
  • the fact that the crew could be home to their families much sooner than if they spent the time actually walking the line on foot;
  • there were still some areas that would need foot patrols, but that could be incorporated into the flying line-walk on an as-needed basis.

When the crew returned on Monday, it was obvious that they had been told to go ahead and and evaluate whether it could be done safely. The foreman and one lineman climbed aboard and I flew them out to let them see for themselves. Convinced that it could be done, I returned and picked up the remainder of the crew with their saws, axes and lunches, and away we went. We were finished in a week.

Eventually, the line walking was completed in the fall of the year, before the snow arrived. It went even faster then. And so it went, from then on, until I left in 1981.

The line crews that worked the north shore were a great bunch of guys to work with. They were professional, safe, easy to get along with and the enjoyed a good joke too. I wonder where they all are now.

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.

1975 pay scale

I discovered this in my log book, so I thought I’d post it to remind us all what we were worth almost 37 years ago. I suspect that there were variations to these rates. Given Larry’s sense of humour, note the date, although the date probably has more to do with the fiscal year’s bedginning.

In the days of the old school house by Orleans, Shirley used to keep it all straight. By the time we moved to/from Bells Corners to Carleton Place, the outfit had a bunch of bean counters. I think Shirley ran it all better back in the old days, but obviously she couldn’t do everything once the massive growth began. I can’t imagine how anyone was able to keep a handle on the monster in the late ’70s.

Some of us negotiated very different rates for overseas work.

I have no idea what the pay scale was for engineers.

Does anyone have any pilot or engineer rate sheets for other years?

Does anyone have any current rates they’d like to share?

Viking's 1975 pay scale

Viking’s African adventures began in 1973

The Kenya Gazette

The Kenya Gazette provided notice of application

From The Kenya Gazette, 13 April, 1973, page 483, Gazette Notice 1164:

Pursuant to the provisions of regulations 6 and 7 of the East African Licensing of Air Services Regulations, 1965, notice is given that Viking Helicopters Limited [ … ] has applied to the East African Civil Aviation Board for a licence to airlift within Tanzania employees of Terra Surveys Limited together with their equipment and provisions, to be engaged in surveys to be operated by the said Terra Surveys Limited in Tanzania, with two Hughes 500 C types of helicopters, for a period of one (1) year.

Dated at Arusha this 30th day of March, 1973.

On the same day on page 482, Gazette Notice 1163, Terra Surveys Limited applied for a licence to operate

Aerial survey in an area situated in Tanzania between latitudes 2° 30’ and 12° 00’, and longitudes 29° 00’ and 40° 30’ with one DC3 type of aircraft,

for a period of one (1) year.

On July 20th, 1973 in The Kenya Gazette, notification was posted that both licenses were granted as applied for.


Burning out

Link to Part 2 – We need more fire!

I did a lot of aerial ignition flying on Dryden-18. Much of it was successful. Some of it wasn’t. Large burnouts the likes of which we were doing were unheard of in previous years. The helicopter allowed for huge acreages to be ignited such that the scope and scale of the burnout operation was completely new to all of us. It turned out to be a learning experience for everyone.

OAID machine

OAID machine

Today a drip torch slung under the helicopter is used in aerial ignition operations. It wasn’t always so. In the 70s and into the 80s we used the specialized piece of equipment pictured at right. It was called the OAID or Ontario Aerial Ignition Device. To get it to do its job, half of a ping-pong ball was filled with potassium permanganate and then glued to the other half. Then,

  • the filled balls were fed into a hopper and driven down to the needles;
  • the needles punctured the balls and injected anti-freeze ;
  • the balls were ejected from the machine and fell to the ground, where they ignited as a consequence of the chemical reaction–if everything went as planned;
  • depending on the concentration of anti-freeze, the length of time from injection to ignition could be varied to some extent;
  • end results varied depending on the moisture levels in the fuel and air humidity.

Wouldn’t you say that the flying drip torch is a definite improvement over all of that?

The machine worked great in theory, but the bugs were still being worked out of the system when we went to use it. The machine was subject to jamming, which led to potassium and anti-freeze getting caught up in the injectors with the possibility of igniting on-board the helicopter. The operator kept a fire extinguisher nearby for just such an event. In case that didn’t work, plan B was to cut the straps holding the machine and kick it out the door. Neither Plan A nor Plan B was required.

The results of a good day using the OAID machine

Successful results after a good day with the OAID machine.

When the equipment worked, it worked very well. Fuel conditions had to be right, however. If they weren’t, you could end up with hundreds of small fires in the burnout area, which then had to be put out while we waited for the right fuel conditions to occur. We got that figured out and prior to proceeding with the large burns we did test burns in small areas.

Blowdown and prolonged drought also helped to contribute to some of the aerial ignition failures. However, those weren’t the biggest problems we faced when trying to do burnout operations.

Link to Part 2 – We need more fire!