Tag Archives: engineers

Thanks for the memories

I’m saddened to learn that Jim Hawes passed away. When I met him in 1971, Jim was an engineer with Midwest. At the time, I was a lowly apprentice. Jim later went on to own Custom Helicopters.

Occasionally, when I rode east, I’d stop in for a visit at the hangar and we’d share some laughs and tall tales while reminiscing over the experiences we had and the people we knew from “back in the old days”. Both he and I always spoke kindly of them all, and we did so with huge grins on our faces.

Thanks for the memories, Jim. It was great to have known you.

Pete Peterson: A Flying Story

Pete Peterson has been a part of the Canadian helicopter scene for many years, but did you know that he began his aviation career as a young teenager, eventually flying Corsairs off carriers in the second World War as a U.S. Marine? His military flying career took him to Saipan, the Philippines, and China, where he flew patrols from Peking (now Beijing) along the Great Wall in support of General Chang Kai-Shek.

Post-war, he married a Canadian girl, but as an active reservist, Pete was called to serve again in Korea. This time he was off to helicopter training in the Kaman, Bell 47 and Piasaki. Once that was complete, the First Marine Division put him in a tent camp on the south end of the DMZ and gave him a Sikorsky S-55 with which he performed casualty evacs to a Navy hospital ship, troop supply and other missions.

In 1955, newly-discharged from the Marines and with 500 hours of helicopter flight time, Pete found a job with the helicopter division of Spartan Air Services in Ottawa, and thus began Pete’s new life in Canada and his devotion to commercial helicopter operations in this country. In his book, A Flying Story, now available for download, he writes about

  • his first commercial job towing a bird in New Brunswick, quite a feat considering the underpowered nature of the 47 at the time;
  • being in the Arctic barrenlands in summer and winter;
  • flying on forest fires in the early ’60s for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests with a Bell 47D complete with untrained fire personnel recruited from beer parlors and logging camps;
  • tagging moose with the tagger stretched out on the Bell 47 float rack;
  • working on the Mid-Canada Line with the Vertol H-21, among many other experiences.

Along the way we get engine failures, engineering advancements and an amazing story of early helicopter use in Canada, all accompanied by a ton of photographs. Ed Godlewski, Tom Murray, Phil Istance, Larry Camphaug and many, many others are mentioned throughout the book for their tireless devotion and endless contributions to helicopter aviation in Canada.

Pete also fills us in about the beginning of his company, Helair Ltd. and its location at his home on the shores of Lake of the Woods, west of Kenora. The Helair operation eventually ended up moving to north of Kenora, where he built a hanger and an operation that at the time would have been the envy of any operator in the country.

If you haven’t already heard about it, you can learn the story of how he and Larry Camphaug came up with the name for the company they started near Ottawa. From a simple beginning in an old school house close by Orleans to being a provider of helicopters across Canada and around the world, Viking Helicopters Ltd. became one of Canada’s largest helicopter companies in the ’70s. A Flying Story details many of the prominent events in the company’s history.

Pete’s last flight was at age 75, but I’ll let him tell you about that adventure.

Pete Peterson: A Flying Story, 183 pages. In .pdf format. With plenty of pictures accompanying the publication.


Review written by website author.

Click on the link and the download will begin immediately. It’s a lengthy download, 45mb in size. Depending on your connection speed, it could take up to five minutes.

Note: If you don’t have a .pdf viewer already installed, I recommend the free Foxit .pdf viewer. Of course, the old standby Adobe Reader is also available, as well as many others.

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.

Meanwhile, back in Moosonee…

Moosonee in the fall of 1968 was quite a busy place for helicopters heading south. We crossed paths with Okanagan, MidWest Helicopters and Skyrotors, respectively. Bruce McPherson (now deceased) was the engineer on the Midwest S55. Jack McCormack was piloting the Vertol.

It was an occasion, so we had some of our nurses over to join us in the festivities. Or perhaps the nurses were spending the weekend. Whatever.

Here, the Okanagan and MidWest S55s land for an overnight or two before heading home.

Here, the Okanagan and MidWest S55s land for an overnight or two before heading home.

The Skyrotors Vertol was piloted by Jack McCormack

The Skyrotors Vertol was piloted by Jack McCormack. Here, Ian Wright does a visual.

Jack McCormack greases the head on the Vertol.

Jack McCormack greases the head on the Vertol. Jack was kind enough to invite me on a flight as co-pilot. Talk about shake, rattle and roll in that baby. Much later, Jack worked for Viking Helicopters.


Ivan Thomas shows some Niagara hospitality to bob Fideldy with beer and roll-your-owns.

Ivan Thomas shows some Niagara hospitality to Bob Fideldy with beer and roll-your-owns.

Bob Fideldy, Bruce McPherson and Chuck (who was always on the phone) while one of our nurses looks on.

Bob Fideldy, Bruce McPherson and Chuck (who was always on the phone) while Sandie, one of our nurses, looks on.


Stories need telling

I posted this on a message board and then thought I’d expand on it a bit, so here it is, modified slightly with a bit of editing for clarity. My original was in response to someone who suggested that some stories shouldn’t be told. Of course, I took exception, as evidenced by my follow-up post, edited below.

Again — Maybe some stories don’t need to be told???

Actually, the stories do need to be told.

A lot of the stories are the background and history of some great helicopter companies that operated in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that are no longer around today. They and their employees pioneered inventions, techniques, operating standards and working conditions, some of which weren’t perhaps the greatest.

Some of the engineers went on to the early DOT and helped to eliminate hazardous and dangerous working conditions. Some pilots became fantastic flight instructors who had learned the hard way what worked and what didn’t work in a bush or mountain environment. They then did their best to pass on their accumulated first-hand experience and knowledge to student pilots. Many of us were trained by those guys and we’re alive today because of them.

I know for a fact I am.

The old apprentice engineer method would never have survived for so long had not experienced, dedicated maintenance people passed on the kind of knowledge that could never be picked up by attending a classroom and reading a book. Tom Murray comes immediately to mind, as do Ray Coursol, John Juke and Lloyd Mackenzie. Those are only a few of the ones I knew, but there are many, many others all across the country. Those days are long gone now, but such people all helped to make the business what it is today.

Midwest S55 landing at Moosonee - 1968

Midwest S55 landing at Moosonee – 1968

Here’s one example of a company: Midwest Helicopters. That was a pretty good outfit during its heyday. There were some fantastic employees, great engineers, a couple of real characters (I’m reminded of Klaus Lebrandt, Bill Henderson), and a few who didn’t matter, but that’s all water under the bridge now since the company has long disappeared. I’d like to see a website dedicated to that outfit. And I don’t mean the “we were a great company and some fools ruined it all for the rest of us” kind of website. I mean one that tells the stories. Those are much more interesting than “I’d better not tell this story about Fred or Ted or Bruce. He’s gone now and can’t refute it.” The people and the stories are what made the outfit interesting.

Top floor on the barge at Norway House - 1971

More nurses. Top floor on the barge at Norway House – 1971. Ken Fraser (in the blue cap) was the Admiral of the Fleet. It was all good fun.

Another example is Skyrotors. It’s heyday was during the Mid-Canada Line construction, but it operated into the early ’70s under Tom Cannon in Arnprior. Tom was a real character all by himself, and I’m sure there are many stories to be told about him, but he and his company are long gone now, and many of the former employees are getting on too, just like the rest of us.

There are many just like Midwest and Skyrotors – small, independent, localized for the most part – who were great to work for once you got past the somewhat “unusual” characters who managed or who worked for them. Still, that too is what made those companies what they were.

That doesn’t mean that we should go out and name names, but it does mean that if the story gets told in a responsible way, those who were there will recognize and remember, and those who weren’t will scratch their heads and wonder how the hell THAT happened. The rest of us will get a good laugh and perhaps remember some of the minor characters who played a role in it all.

Remembering the good times along with the bad, combined with the loss of those we worked with and knew and liked, is part of the history of the helicopter business in Canada. It’s a tough business, and it was especially so in those early years. I don’t think that telling the odd story, whether names are used or not, is a bad thing. It’s all in the presentation, and hopefully it will lead to a laugh and another story about somebody else we all knew and liked.

On the other hand, derogatory speculation is not a good thing. If you weren’t there, shut up and listen to the stories of the people who were. If you live long enough, grasshopper, you’ll have your own stories to tell, and you can twist those any way you choose when your time comes.