Tag Archives: hydro

Conawapa spring 1975

In early April, 1975, I returned to the birthplace of my Hughes 369 endorsement in Kenora a year earlier. I was taking my check ride with Bruce Dennison. Bruce and I had been students at Niagara Helicopters in 1968. He and his powder-blue Volkswagon had transported four of us to Toronto to do the written part of the flight exam.

We did our autorotations onto the ice-free waters of the Winnipeg River, north of Darlington Bay, and then returned to the Helair hanger on Villeneuve Road. By then I had accumulated slightly over 800 hours of turbine time.

I don’t remember who I replaced when, two days later, I picked up C-FAHG in Gillam for a Manitoba Hydro survey contract. The proposed  Conawapa generating station on the Nelson River was located approximately 18 miles downstream from the Limestone station. Midwest Helicopters was there with a Bell 206.

As always in those huge bush camps, food was plentiful and good. For the most part, the cooks and cookies were happy to have us coming and going during the day, since it gave them someone to talk to on their long shifts. As long as we kept our distance during meal and cleanup times, all of the flight and maintenance crews continued to be welcome in the cook tent. We had the run of the kitchen setup where we could have our fill of of coffee and desserts whenever we wanted.

Wayne Johnson was flying Midwest’s 206. For those of you who don’t know Wayne, he has a routine of hilarious, never-ending stories, some of which he even tells about himself. On one occasion, I was sitting in the kitchen with the party chief when Wayne walked in and sat down with us. Wayne was never one to be shy about trying to get a discussion going, and that day was no exception. Before long, he was ragging me about the lift capacity of the 500s in general, and more specifically about the red and white 500 I was flying.

Being the person that I am, I sat and listened patiently to his tales of misfortune and woe directed at Hughes Aircraft and more specifically at the aircraft I was flying. I took my time finishing my coffee and then told the party chief that I’d be heading to the fuel cache to bring back a couple of drums for the nearby helipad. Twenty or thirty minutes later I walked into the cook shack. Wayne asked why I had made only one trip.

I informed him that I needed only one trip to haul two barrels of fuel. Then I sat down across from the party chief and watched as Wayne got up and walked out of the tent and across to the helipad. When he got there, he started tipping drums to try and determine whether I had actually slung two drums, and if so, whether they were both full.

I had, and they were.

When Wayne walked back into the cook tent he was in a pretty subdued mood, since I had, in the presence of the party chief, just refuted every one of his claims he had made against the 500. Wayne never had anything to say about the relative merits of the 206 versus the Hughes 500 in my presence again.

I learned that Wayne had an incident while slinging and had rolled a 206 onto its side on liftoff. I don’t recall the year. I wanted to find out more about what happened, so I gave him a call. After explaining it to me, he mentioned that he had been wearing a helmet. The helmet had come away with a huge gouge in its side but his head had remained undamaged and intact.

After hearing that, I bought a flight helmet and wore it until I retired from active flying. Although I never needed it, it was attached to me in the event I did, and it certainly reduced the noise contamination that I had previously been subjected to.

Thanks, Wayne.

*     *     *

Wayne Johnson is no longer with us.

Dryden-18 finally winds down

By the time mid-August of 1974 rolled around, the bulk of the helicopter flying operations on Dryden-18 were winding down. Retrieval operations were in full swing, and those of us remaining were anxious to see the end of the operation and depart. Finally, on the 22nd, my wish came true and I was released.

Over the summer I discovered that I had taken quite a liking to flying on fires. The work was challenging but rewarding. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the full-time fire crews who went out and did the difficult work. They were always professional; they were well-trained; they worked hard; they were easy to get along with; they had a great sense of humour. It didn’t get much better than that.

From Thunder Bay I ferried over to Rouyn for a couple of weeks to demo the Hughes 500C for Quebec forestry. I followed that up with some local work out of Thunder Bay, and then did some Hydro flying on the north shore before taking a break and heading overseas.

In all, it was a successful year, not only for me, but for the company too. Larry had gambled on purchasing the new 500s, and the weather and subsequent fire season had rewarded him with a busy summer of fire flying at prime rates for some of the equipment that hadn’t ended up on contracts.

What could be better than that?

Setting poles

Hydro 212 slinging poles

The pole yard on the Pickle Lake line re-build

February of 1974 found me in Central Patricia. Ontario Hydro had hired Viking’s 500 to support their operation replacing poles on the line from Pickle Lake to Red Lake. Much of the right-of-way ran through swamps and bogs, thus the operation couldn’t have been completed in the summer. It was extremely cold, but the ground crew guys out on the line doing the hardest part of the job had no complaints. Theirs was a no-nonsense operation, the kind of which I liked to be a part.

I enjoyed shooting the shit with them in the mornings and evenings when we put the feed bag on. In fact, all of the Ontario Hydro line maintenance personnel that I worked with over the years were beyond reproach. They worked hard, got along well and, like me, enjoyed their job.

Working with the ground crews was the best part of this job.

The crew on the 212 weren’t a friendly bunch. That’s the first time I had ever encountered an attitude such as that. I guess their noses were out of joint because one of their own helicopters wasn’t on the job with them. Either that, or they took some exception to Viking’s line patrol abilities. I suppose whittling down a line patrol from six to eight weeks to a measly two weeks didn’t sit well at the time. In fact, I know it didn’t, and we had plenty of Toronto head-office types on our asses. Fortunately, Hydro’s own field supervisors were behind us 100 per cent – probably another reason the flight crew’s noses were out of joint.

That was one job I was particularly happy to be done with.

Viking Helicopters does it different

In the spring of 1973, Viking Helicopters took over the Ontario Hydro line patrols in northwestern Ontario. Initially we had a running battle with Hydro over how we planned to do the patrols. As a money-making operation, we were unwilling to consider even for a minute the six- to eight-week schedule that Hydro had used. Added bonus: our crews didn’t have to return to Toronto for the weekends.

We launched with a G-2 (which is what Hydro had been using) and became familiar with the routine by getting a couple of patrols under our belt. Immediately, one position was eliminated because, as bush pilots, we had no requirement for the engineer to drive out to the aircraft every day. In any event, we were close to our Thunder Bay operation, and an engineer was never more than a few hours away by charter, if needed. I don’t recall that one ever was, even in the winter.

Then we started to extend the range of the patrols with a Bell 47G-4. The G-4 had a 61 usg capacity and burned 18-20 gph.  Once those flight reports started arriving in Toronto, it became obvious to Hydro’s head office that six weeks or more to do a complete patrol was way out of line. That got things going back east in Toronto, and eventually we became subject to visits by their chief pilot at the time.

Unwilling as we were to let him ride us in the G-4, we brought in a G-2 to facilitate the rides, which is what Hydro had used on their line patrols in the region. The G-2 was, and remains, my favourite helicopter to fly. I remember spending a few hours in the relative luxury of CF-ISH, shepherded along by the Ontario Hydro chief pilot, happily doing autorotations into the right-of-way whenever he chopped the power on me.

None of us ever failed the ride, of course. The frequent rides were done more to mollify the head office types who thought we were stealing jobs and empire away from Toronto. There was a fair bit of justification that had to be done, and one way was to send someone north to challenge our abilities.

Good luck with that.

What couldn’t be challenged was the patrol work we were doing. The patrol was flown with Ontario Hydro employees who did the actual line and right-of-way inspections. They ended up extremely happy at the prospect of now spending a minimal amount of time away from home. Their supervisors were happy that they didn’t have to dedicate an employee for more time than absolutely necessary. In the fight to keep us on the job, those local supervisors turned out to be a valuable ally in our discussions with Toronto.

As part of the proposal, we had obtained the use of the Ontario Hydro hanger in Thunder Bay. This was a great acquisition, just what was needed to pull the base together and turn the operation into something more than another snowbank base. As it turned out, the hanger evolved over the years into quite a convenience for us in northwestern Ontario, and remained in use well into the ’80s. When the 500Ds were added to our fleet, the sliding door was painted to match the distinctive red, green and yellow paint scheme.

Late in 1973, we were saddened by the loss of Don Pawluk, our Thunder Bay base manager. Don was on a line patrol with CF-KAC near Ft. Frances. It was late in the clear, sunny day. Don was flying west into the low sun when he hit an unmarked hydro line crossing overtop the line he was patrolling. Both he and the Ontario Hydro observer were killed. As a result, Ontario Hydro made a concentrated effort to speed up the marking of all of their line crossings, which until then had been moving along at a glacial pace.

Hydro line patrols

Ontario Hydro used a 47G-2 to do their line patrols in northwestern Ontario. The G-2 was chased by a maintenance vehicle with all of the needed tools and gear – depending on the season – for the engineer accompanying the aircraft. While the helicopter could position cross-country, the truck was forced to follow the roads to its destination, sometimes taking two days to catch up. Each day, the helicopter would wait for the truck carrying the engineer to arrive. Without that truck, the helicopter didn’t move.

Beyond the normal weather occurrences over such a diverse area, unique geography combined with the lake effect from Lake Superior could cause an aircraft to be weathered in for days at a time if it overnighted on Superior’s lengthy north shore. This is caused any time the wind blows off the lake from the south or southwest, rolling in fog and low cloud. If conditions are right, that wind can sometimes last for a couple of days, and you can end up weathered in for days at a time on the Wawa-Thunder Bay leg of the hydro patrol. If the scheduled overnight stop was Marathon – and it was – you could almost count on it.

During all of this, the Ontario Hydro pilot and engineer worked only five days a week. On Friday, before every weekend, they would take a commercial flight to get themselves back to their base in Toronto. Depending on the crew’s location when it got close to Friday, it could mean a two-day drive to get to Thunder Bay to catch the Toronto-bound flight. On Monday’s return flight, there would be a two-day drive to get back to the helicopter. Do the math, and out of 14 days, only four or five days at most might be spent actually patrolling the line.

The result? It would take six to eight weeks at a minimum for Ontario Hydro to complete a line patrol tour, which included the area west from Wawa to Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Red Lake and Pickle Lake. In 1973, Ontario Hydro considered that a bare minimum amount of time required to complete a successful patrol of their high voltage lines across the region.

The Bell 47G-2 burned 16 gph U.S. and had a capacity of 42 gallons.