Tag Archives: 47

Museum tour

How time passes

We know we’re all getting old – even though we don’t like to admit it – when the aircraft we flew as pilots or worked on as engineers are being put out to pasture and into museums to be restored. Here’s information on a couple of museums that are working on the restoration of aircraft formerly owned and operated by Viking Helicopters Ltd.

  • Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum – Bell 47J-2 serial #1827 CF-PQZ. Plans are to restore this machine to present serial #1839 registration CF-CAF, which was a Canadian Coast Guard machine based in the Atlantic region during service with the Coast Guard. The museum is located at the Halifax International Airport beside the Quality Inn. [The page on the Bell 47J-2 seems to have disappeared.]

If you know of others, let me know and I’ll put them up.

CF-ODM in flight over Newfoundland - 1969

CF-ODM – Newfoundland 1969

The military pedigree of the civilian Hughes 500

The U.S. Department of Defense issued Technical Specification 153 in 1960 for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH, or Loach) capable of performing a wide variety of tasks. Everything from transport, observation, attack, evacuation and escort was covered by this spec.

Hughes OH-6

Hughes OH-6

Surprisingly, a dozen companies took part in the competition. Hiller and Bell ended up as finalists, but Bell was eventually eliminated and Hughes ended up being included. Five flying egg prototypes were requested and delivered by November 1963 when flight testing/trials began. The low per-unit construction cost guaranteed that Hughes would win the competition, but that wasn’t the only factor in the equation.

The OH-6 Cayuse (re-designated by the Army from Hughes 369) set 23 world records in 1966 including those of distance, altitude and speed. Eventually, 1434 were delivered to the U.S. Army by the time the program wrapped up in 1970. In the midst of such a successful run, Hughes went ahead and began development of a civilian Model 500 variant.

Hughes had built four additional prototypes for its own use, and from these the civilian commercial version resulted in 1966 with a 317 shp Allison 250-C18A engine de-rated to 278 horsepower. It was marketed as the Model 500. Later, one of the four prototypes was modified with a 5-bladed main rotor system. Subsequent development resulted in the “D” model, available commercially in 1976.

By the time Viking got its hands on the 500, I had spent a couple of thousand hours flying Model 47s. My favourite was always the light and maneuverable G2. I found the G4 ungainly and “heavy”, even with the powered collective. Given its size compared to the G2, to me it was just one ugly son of a gun. Obviously the G4, with its larger cabin and engine, did a better job of transporting two passengers, but there was just something about it that wouldn’t let it grow on me. Call me old-fashioned if you will.

When 1974 rolled around I was given my 500 endorsement at the Kenora base. I was never so happy to leave behind the plodding world of the 47G-4 and jump into the modern, turbine-engined version of what the helicopter world would turn out to be for all of us involved with Viking Helicopters.

New equipment, old pilots

Somali flag

The flag of Somalia

C-GOED was one of Viking’s ten new 500Cs that the company had acquired in 1974 from Hughes Aircraft. For this contract with Conoco Oil in northern Somalia, it was paired with a second, GOEC. They were both well-maintained by Viking apprentice Ed Pucci and an engineer. A contract pilot named “Tony” Marcantonio had been hired to fly the first Hughes 500C full-time. I would fly the second aircraft.

One of the continuing problems on-site was the extremely erosive sand and dust kicked up by rotor downwash – not a problem for the particle separator-equipped Allison engines. We were going through blades every 150 to 200 hours due to sand erosion.

The Conoco helipad and base camp, Somalia

The Conoco helipad and base camp - Somalia 1975

Normally we’d have two or three passengers on board. Since we weren’t working with maximum gross weights, I attempted to minimize or eliminate the time spent hovering during takeoff and landing and the consequent clouds of dust and sand. That appeared to work for me, and in fact the other pilot on the job commented on my “dustless” technique. Since I thought it was rather basic and obvious, I never did try to explain it to him.

Before I left Ottawa, Larry had asked me to ensure that one of the people that he had sent over wasn’t doing any flying on the Conoco project. He told me that the individual had had a heart attack, and consequently had been hired as an engineer on the project, not as a pilot. The last thing we needed was another incident similar to Doc Demerah’s, who, a few years earlier, had had an in-flight occurrence while flying a Bell 47. Doc hadn’t survived his heart attack; however, a passenger was discovered sitting on a float on the overturned 47 that was found floating on a lake.

I was put in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news for someone who was flying, but shouldn’t have been per the terms of his agreement with the company.

After a day of seeing the man fly, I took him aside and attempted to be diplomatic in my approach. I tried to rationalize that we had two pilots on-site for the contract, both perfectly capable of doing the job. After all, Tony Marcantonio was one of the pilots that had been hired to do the flying. That went over like a lead balloon, and I could tell that he wasn’t going to listen to me.

Finally, I tried suggesting that he could taper off on the flying and slowly let Tony take over full-time, but the individual wasn’t interested in discussing the subject any further. He informed me that he would continue to fly and stubbornly and selfishly continued to disregard his agreement with the company for the duration of the job.


The sun was shining and the sky was blue. There was flying to be done – although not by Tony Marcantonio, who had been hired to do the flying. I guess he was supposed to be a phantom pilot on this contract while his flying duties were being done by another who hadn’t been hired to fly.

I scratched my head over that one. I have often thought the book Catch-22, written by Joseph Heller, was funny, but there’s nothing funnier than real life.

Since there was nothing more I could do about it, I filed it all away for future reference (today, perhaps), and lit another Gitanes.

*     *     *

Ed Godlewski is no longer with us.

From city to bush

Niagara Helicopters would hire many of the graduates of its flight training school to fly tourists over the falls to build flight time. I spent two weeks doing that, and then I was shipped off to Moosonee on James Bay in far northern Ontario, ferrying a Bell 47G4 with Ivan Thomas. We were doing a lot of mining exploration up there at the time. I ended up making quite a few trips “up north” to Moosonee, ferrying equipment back and forth.

Back and forth, back and forth.

A lot of us roamed back and forth over the falls for our entire time at Niagara Helicopters. Those fortunate enough to get to Moosonee got bush flying time in the north.

The company had a house in Moosonee that we used as a bunkhouse. It had three or four bedrooms, and aviators were constantly coming and going to man up the equipment. During freeze-up in the fall, and breakup in the spring, the helicopter was the only access to Moose Factory Island, home to a hospital and nurses’ residence.

Continental Diamond Drilling - South Bluff Creek

Continental Diamond Drilling - South Bluff Creek

Parties were a staple of life in the north, especially where nurses were plentiful–and even where they weren’t. Some of those we attended were on the radar base (it was closed in 1975), since it was easy for us to get to, but occasionally we’d end up on the island at parties thrown by the nurses in their huge residence. The Halloween costume party there in October was the best!

We entertained one or two of  the nurses here at the staff house in Moosonee.

We entertained one or two of the Moose Factory Island nurses at the staff house in Moosonee. Here, Ivan Thomas catches some fresh air and a little bit of sunshine after a long night.

I and some others ended up dating several of the nurses, and we would often surprise them by showing up at the residence at strange hours. We had discovered a boat that we commandeered to do the river crossing in both directions, loaded with nurses, beer and pilots. As long as the boat was back in its rightful place first thing in the morning, no one was the wiser–although we often wondered whose gas it was that we were burning on those surreptitious, dark-of-night crossings.

When the girls had to get back to work, we flew them back, two at a time, in the early morning. The hospital grounds would be abuzz with helicopters landing and taking off in the front yard, nurses deplaning and running in to get changed for work. The doctors and the rest of the staff must have been shaking their heads over that.

Why those sensible young women would spend any time with the crazies in the bunkhouse is beyond me, but they seemed to enjoy our company. Perhaps they were just a little crazy too.

Ivan was Australian. Before he started flying he was a radio operator who had worked in the Antarctic and Macquarie Island before going to Contwoyto Lake in the Territories. How he got to Niagara Helicopters as a student with the rest of us, I have no idea. Being the outgoing person that he was, Ivan got to know everybody. We had some of the liveliest parties in our house thanks to the nurses on the island at the time–and thanks to Ivan too. Ivan retired from flying due to a medical condition. He bought a business that he turned into a very successful operation and then sold it.

Ivan Thomas is no longer with us, having passed away six or seven years ago.

Good fortune prevails

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.

The fan blade that could have - but didn't.

Yes, I kept it. The fan blade that could have - but didn't.

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.

I was lucky that day.

Marcel Payant, Paul Behan, our cook, and Gerry Duykers

Marcel Payant, Paul Behan, our cook, and Jerry Duykers. Gerry was the pilot of the second helicopter on the job, and also an engineer. Marcel was our apprentice engineer.

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.

Earlier posts about our camp cook and my experience encountering a relative on that Nachikapau Lake contract.

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.