Further to my story about Bill McKeever’s first post-endorsement flight on the turbine-equipped 500, I have my own to tell about my first job with the 500, so I went back to my log book for another look.
Thanks for reminding me about all of this, Bill.
Jerry Ossachuk sent me off in C-FDNF with my brand-new turbine endorsement to pick up two Water Resources employees who needed to check some levels at a couple of their northern sites. It was an extremely cold January day in Northwestern Ontario when I loaded up in Red Lake for the flight to Windigo.
That night I removed the battery before putting the 500 to bed. As luck would have it, it was clear and around -40C outside and cold as hell in the cabin since the heater had gone out during the night. Pre-heating the engine had to be done with the naptha lantern because the two incompetents hadn’t bothered to bring a generator that worked.
It had gotten so cold in the cabin overnight that the battery wasn’t capable of bringing the engine up to a suitable ignition rpm. I scratched my head for a bit, and then retrieved the spare battery. This time I placed it inside the clamshell doors with the naptha lantern to heat everything up one more time. I waited an hour.
We were good to go after that, and subsequently finished the job the next day. Unfortunately, because of the extent of the flying required to shut the systems down and retrieve all of the equipment that had been spotted out at their various sites, I was low on turbine fuel for the return flight to Red Lake. It became apparent that the amount of flying to be done was under-estimated.
Before leaving Kenora, Jerry had warned me that there was a limited amount of turbo fuel remaining on-site at Windigo. Since this was to be the last trip for the winter, no additional fuel had been spotted. There was some quantity of 80/87 if it became necessary to use it to get back to Red Lake, but I had hoped that I could get along without it.
It was not to be.
I emptied the 45-gallon drum of what was left of the remaining 80/87 for the return trip to Red Lake, but I knew I didn’t have enough to get us there. Fortunately, there was a lodge about three-quarters of the way en route. I radioed Jerry in Kenora to tell him that I’d be stopping at the lodge for fuel, and he dispatched a Cessna from Red Lake to drop a couple of tens.
I was cutting it pretty close when the low fuel light illuminated during my approach to the lodge. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with that turn of events, but I had fuel waiting, so it was back to Red Lake to chalk one up to luck.
While I hadn’t run out of fuel in the air, I had cut it pretty fine to my way of thinking. Had the fuel light illuminated any earlier, the three of us would have been shut down on a frozen lake minus the turbine fuel that had been landed at the lodge.
I learned from that experience, and I never let that happen again. While circumstance had been beyond my control that time, in future I always made certain that there was sufficient fuel to do the job, whether it was a day trip or a summer-long contract.
In fact, because of that, I annoyed more than one party chief in the Arctic who would want to “do some work on the way before we go to the fuel cache to fill up”. Yeah, that’ll work all right, especially if the fuel cache isn’t where it’s supposed to be. I’ve experienced that too, but I always had the fuel remaining to find it. Others didn’t, and I vaguely recall one who ran low on fuel before finding that same mislocated cache for the first time. Fortunately, all the bugs had been worked out of the ssb radios by then and his worked well enough to make the call for assistance.
Keep in mind that this was well before the advent of the gps. While the fixed-wing pilots were pretty good at putting out the fuel caches in winter and making their locations known on the maps, it was never an exact science. Occasionally a cache wasn’t where it was marked once the snow and ice melted in the spring, when its true location became apparent.