Tag Archives: 500

1974 On spec

Larry Camphaug’s purchase of ten Hughes 500C turbine helicopters in early 1974 was a tremendous risk. If there were no contracts for the equipment, one of the pickle jars would be empty, and he certainly knew which pickle jar that would be. Reference the pickle-jar theory of accounting here.

I knocked around Northwestern Ontario doing odd jobs in a variety of equipment prior to picking up one of the new 500s in Thunder Bay–C-GODW–in its snappy yellow and black paint scheme. Larry had chosen registrations for five of these to mirror the C-F registrations of Ontario’s Otter fleet. Along with that familiar black and yellow paint, what wasn’t to like about these new turbine helicopters? Certainly the Ministry of Natural Resources could at least take a look while it was sitting on their tarmac.

Looking didn’t cost anything.

Viking Helicopters was attempting to encourage Ontario’s MNR to do some charter work, hoping for a month or two of minimums during 1974’s beginning fire season. In mid-June I ferried GODW around to several of the forestry bases in northwestern Ontario to let them have a look and to evaluate the load capacity and the numbers. Of course, should the call come in, we would be sitting on their tarmac, only a load away from servicing the next fire.

Pickings were pretty slim. The fire hazard was low. The Ministry wasn’t interested in doing any chartering when the risk was non-existent. I think they were a bit reluctant at the time to hire a helicopter on skids, but that would soon change. I did a bit of flying out of Dryden for them, but nothing too extravagant. In fact, I remember thinking they were throwing us a bone just to keep us happy and quiet.

Then, a couple of weeks later, everything went to hell in a handbasket.

Site information

In August of 2009 when Helicopter Highlights – Hurry up and wait went online, I was expecting to put up six or eight posts about Viking Helicopters and some pictures from a few jobs that I had been on and call it a day. Then the search engines locked on and began providing the site with hits, and that encouraged the addition of more material. Little did I imagine that this site would be filling a huge void concerning Viking Helicopters Ltd., Mercury Aviation Ltd. and Helair Ltd.

From the very beginning, the response has been tremendous:

  • hits are coming from around the world;
  • the site has tens of thousands of hits, not including bots and crawlers;
  • some are reading the entire site from start to finish;
  • some are subscribing to the RSS feed to get updates as they are posted;
  • the return rate is very high;
  • the most popular days for viewing appear to be Monday and Friday. It looks like boredom strikes on those two days.

Four visitors, Brian Camphaug, Bill McKeever, Rick Tyefisher and Al Nelson (formerly of Midwest Helicopters), have submitted many of the images in the photo gallery, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their efforts at contributing to the site’s success. If the number of image downloads is any indication, the gallery has made the site extremely popular.

When I learned that Pete Peterson had written a book about his experiences in the helicopter industry, I approached him about writing a review and posting a link to his story and he agreed. Many of you who have downloaded and read the book have no doubt been amazed at the amount of information Pete has made available, not only about the early days of helicopter aviation in Canada, but also about Spartan Air Services, the start of Viking Helicopters Ltd., Helair Ltd., Helitac and much more.

A request for information

I’m looking for information on VikingAmerica Helicopters. At least one 500C in 1979/80 was registered to that company south of the border. The aircraft returned to Canada and was flown by Bill McKeever in B.C. See the sidebar for more information.

Looking for contributors

I’d like to widen the scope of the site. Should any of you be interested in submitting articles or photographs, many visitors would be enthusiastic readers and viewers. I’m sure there must be more of you out there with a good yarn to tell. How about it?

The downside? None!

A very few keep returning on a daily basis to download the same images over and over and over again, thus consuming valuable bandwidth. However, that’s a small price to pay for the popularity of the site to date. Even my images from Niagara Helicopters are being copied. I’m still scratching my head over that one.

The reality: there really is no downside to operating this site. I’m extremely happy that the information is getting out for all to see and enjoy. I hope I’ve been able to provide a few laughs too.

A huge thanks to everyone

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of you who have contributed to Helicopter Highlights and the many who come to view it. You’re all helping to make Helicopter Highlights – Hurry up and wait an extremely popular and well-read site on the Viking Helicopters that we all knew and enjoyed working for. I hope that all of you will continue to return and enjoy the contributions on a regular basis as they are posted.

Thanks for contributing, and thanks for coming by.

Comedy of errors

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.

Checking my log book…

Thanks to Bill McKeever there are some new pictures here. During our email exchange he reminded me of something that I had completely forgotten over the intervening decades, so I took a look at my log book.

Back in early February of 1976 Bill was doing a job near Chapleau with CF-HEL, Helair Limited’s Bell 47 flagship. The Lycoming engine had started making metal and was declared unserviceable. Consequently Bill needed his survey crews retrieved from the bush.

GGNY in the Arctic west of Baker Lake

C-GGNY in its original C18 colours. It later became a favourite of mine in the yellow and black paint scheme. It was converted, with a beefed-up transmission and C20 engine.

After ferrying the 2:40 from Thunder Bay to Chapleau, I turned GGNY over to Bill to go out and pick up his crews. I don’t recall the circumstances now, but in the email he mentioned that he had a total of five hours of brand-new flight time on the 500 – which was coincidentally just enough required for his type endorsement.

Well, I sort of figured that Bill should fly GGNY to pick up the crews, since he knew where they were, so I generously offered to let him build up his time in the 500. Good of me, wouldn’t you say?

The weather wasn’t the greatest, but Bill was familiar with the area and knew where his crews were, so I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. He torched up and did the deed, allowing his training, experience and recent endorsement to kick in and he retrieved his crews without incident.

Two days later, after spoiling Bill by letting him fly GGNY to spot his crews, I ferried back to Thunder Bay via an overnight in Wawa. I don’t recall what aircraft replaced HEL.

I have my own story to tell about my first job following the coveted turbine endorsement.

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.