In the summer of 1972 I flew CF-ZVU, a Bell 47G-4a, to Nachikapau Lake in northern Québec, not far from the Ungava. For the most part, it was a mostly uneventful job, with the usual minor mechanical problems encountered during slightly over 300 hours of flight time – until the shit hit the fan.
It was a nice, bright and sunny July 10th in far northern Quebéc near the Ungava, perfect for the gravity survey of the area that we were doing. I had landed on the upwind lip of the low pinnacle, an elevation point known as Checkpoint Ross, so named by Joe Retty for my long-deceased Uncle, Ross Retty. I was planning on doing my takeoff from the same point, but for some unknown reason, I hovered back to the downwind side of the pinnacle and started my takeoff run into the light wind.
I was about a hundred feet into my takeoff run when – whoops!
A loud clang preceded the engine’s instant ground idle mode, followed by the helicopter fluttering back down onto the pinnacle. It rocked back and forth a couple of times on the floats, and ended up generally pointing in the same direction as I had been heading.
Horseshoes are the best shoes
After shutting down and taking a look, I discovered that a blade had separated from the engine fan assembly. It had bounced off of the throttle control arm, subsequently penetrating the oil cooler on the Bell 47. The bent throttle control arm had placed the engine into ground idle.
Normally, I would have taken off from the upwind lip of the pinnacle where I landed. Had I done that this time, I and my passenger would have been inside the ball of miscellaneous aluminum parts that would have rolled down the hillside into the pile of rock and shale at its base.
Our SSB (single-sideband) radios weren’t the most reliable. Mine had been acting up for most of the summer, and had finally stopped working completely. I fiddled with it for a couple of hours, and finally got it repaired long enough to call the base camp, report on our location and status, and order parts.
Fortunately, we had two machines on this job. Later in the day Jerry Duykers, who was also a pilot-engineer, flew down and plucked the two of us off of the pinnacle.
Four days later, Jerry and Marcel Payant, who was an apprentice engineer on that job, installed a new fan, oil cooler and throttle control rod.
I was back in the air.
Later that same summer I had a hydraulic pump failure as well, but that was no big deal. The handling characteristics of the G4a without the pump were rather like going back to flying CF-JBQ, a Bell 47D used as a flight trainer by Niagara Helicopters. JBQ was outfitted with Bell’s “irreversible” flight control system, as were all early Model 47s. Of course, the G4a was minus the 47D’s Franklin engine.