In April of 1968 I trundled off to Niagara Helicopters Ltd., and bunked down at the King Edward Hotel — meals included — in downtown Niagara Falls. It was all part of the flight school’s enrollment.
The “King Eddy” was a grand old hotel in the downtown section of Niagara Falls where the company put us up as part of the freight. During my stay there I spent many memorable hours in the company of the Jack Drake Duo – piano and drums, if I remember right – and the strippers who performed on weekends. In other words, I spent a lot of time in the bar.
The King Eddy’s dining room cook was pretty good. In the three months I was enrolled in Niagara’s 100-hour course, I gained about 12 pounds – not bad for a skinny 20-year-old. The cook had a good-looking daughter who waited tables in the dining room, but damned if she’d let any of us flyboys hook up with her. She watched over that girl with an eagle eye like I had never seen.
I can’t imagine why.
Three short months, $8000
One hundred hours of helicopter flight time was worth eight thousand dollars, not a paltry sum of money back then. I had worked for a number of years, and my family helped out too, so the price wasn’t all that bad. Still, it was expensive, and it had to be paid out over three short months, which was the length of the course.
One of the characters at the school was Bob (for the life of me I can’t remember his last name now). He had something to do with management, although we could never figure out what his background was. I suspect that his main claim to fame was as a drinking partner to the owner of the place. Cigar-smoking Bob was always on the lookout for “dollies”, and he had a never-ending repertoire of stories about his dollies with which he was only too happy to regale us.
Lounge lizards and flight instructors
Not to be outdone in that department, the best flight instructor I ever had – Ben Arnold – would sometimes play the piano in the lounge, and Ben and I would end up drinking for free with his tips. Buster, the night manager, would just shake his head at the two of us.
I wrestled with a Bell 47D, CF-JBQ and its “irreversible” flight controls, and when I took my DOT ride, I had more flight time than the check pilot who gave me the flight test. Today, that would be an impossibility, given the number of highly qualified helicopter pilots who work for Transport Canada. I was happy to have gotten my commercial license – YZC-9789.
Once graduation had come and gone, most of us ended up flying tourists over the falls. The luckier ones ended up at the company’s base in Moosonee on James Bay. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones.