My last 47 contract

An unforgettable summer

In the spring of 1973 I was still flying Bell 47s. I had a grand total of 1,400 hours of flight time and was raring to go on summer contracts. That summer it would be with the Ontario Department of Mines and their Ignace-Armstrong project, so named for the two geological regions the geologists and summer students would be investigating.

Keith Lengyel (now deceased) was my apprentice engineer on this job. Keith and I got along well, and we had quite a few laughs along the way for the length of this summer contract.

The entire geological crew in 1973, plus a couple of mine officials. They got to tour the mine; the lowly aviator  didn’t have clearance into the place and had to wait outside.

In May I started the contract in Mine Centre with CF-KAC, a Bell 47G-4a. Float-equipped 47s were still all the rage, but on this contract it was a necessity for the huge number of water landings we would be doing for the duration of the contract.

The boots

The boots. I missed those boots for quite a while.

The contract was a typical rock doctor survey, where the geologist would step out of the helicopter, hammer away at a rock, pick up a sample and then get back in to be flown to the next nearby sample site. All day we were up and down, up and down, until we needed to return for fuel, or to park it and have lunch.

June saw us in Ignace for that portion of the survey. Not entirely roughing it, the entire crew, including Keith and myself, were put up at the Lone Pine Motel, located on McNamara Lake. It was a cozy little spot, at that time isolated yet still part of the nearby community.

In a day she got over the jitters.

In a day she got over the jitters.

One of the summer geologists hadn’t yet done any helicopter flying, and when she and the party chief climbed into the helicopter, I could tell by her pale complexion that she was extremely nervous. Not only was it her first flight, but the boss was along to make sure she was doing everything in an appropriate manner. Later in that first day she overcame her initial nervousness got her flying legs for the duration. In the fall she went on to a Baltimore university to do research.

The Ignace survey crew were a great bunch of people, but regrettably I had to move on to the next site on Pakashkan Lake. This was another great base location for the contract. The lodge building was almost brand new and the cabins were in pretty good shape too.

Wabakimi Provincial Park

The dark green at the centre is the original park, established in 1983.

Our cook was another story. Breakfast usually wasn’t too bad if she hadn’t started drinking yet, but you could never count on it. It was a guessing game for all of  us to figure out what condition her condition was in before we got into the dining room for breakfast. By noon she would always be in the bag.

While at Pakashkan, KAC came due for a 1,200 hour overhaul. I slipped into our hanger at Thunder Bay on July 8. The overhaul and subsequent test flights were uneventful, and I was able to return to Pakashkan late on the 10th.

The Thunder Bay hanger in 1973

The Thunder Bay hanger in 1973. Later, when we acquired the 500Ds with their unique paint scheme, the door was painted to match.

Later in the month, we spent a couple of days at Kabitotikwia (Kab) Lake and the lodge there.

John's five dollar house

John was our cook at Almas Bay, and he was pretty good at it. He was very proud of  his five dollar house, so I let him take me for a visit. John could also play a pretty mean harmonica.

Our final location was west of Armstrong on Smoothrock Lake. The cabin at Almas Bay wasn’t in the best of shape, but I had a tent, so I wasn’t as bad off as the guys staying in the dilapidated shack.

The contract wrapped up on September 13. I had flown slightly over 500 hours. Looking back, I can say that working on this flying job was one of the most memorable and enjoyable I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Special people, the weather, the locations, and the flying requirements all helped in making the summer of 1973 one I will not forget.

Ten years later, in 1983, our survey area west of Armstrong was turned into the huge Wabakimi Provincial Park by the Ontario government. In 1997, it’s area was expanded six times, to what you see now in the map, above.

One of the student geologists was Rob B. A few years ago on television I saw him at a UBC event. It was a competition to see who could fly the farthest off of the end of the pier. As always, Rob appeared to be having a good time.

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