Tag Archives: pilots

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.

1974 On hire

The sleepy forest fire season in northwestern Ontario finally kicked in with a vengeance, when, after a long spell of drought, dry lightning ran through the district. Dryden-16 was ignited not far from the Federal Government’s Experimental Lakes Area at Hayes Lake. Given the values associated with this operation (at the time about a million dollars), maximum resources were committed to the fire. An understandably nervous Experimental Lakes management official was somewhat mollified by the size and subsequent success of this fire control effort.

Initially, we were doing so much flying on 16 that Marc Pigeon and I were unable to get back to town, and we ended up staying overnight at the Experimental Lakes site. Through the kindness of staff and summer students, we managed to get clean clothes to wear when we were unable to return to town for six or seven nights.

By June 30, fire crews were just beginning to get a handle on Dryden-16 when word of a nearby new blaze was radioed to us. Given the proximity of the existing suppression operation, we were the first to attempt an initial attack on Dryden-18; however, wind, drought conditions and blowdown prevailed, and before long we had another large fire on our hands.

This new start in blowdown served to fan the flames of Dryden-16. The two fires joined, and what control success we had on 16 was now to be the beginnings of a monster–although we didn’t know that at the time. That would be no disappointment for the company, since the appropriate pickle jar was quickly filling with much-needed cash at short-term hire rates to finance the equipment Viking had purchased.

Even Viking's 204 ended up on Dryden-18 with Harv Easton doing the flying.

Even Viking's 204 ended up on Dryden-18 with Harv Easton doing the flying.

As the days progressed and drought and wind prevailed over the long term, it became obvious that additional resources were required beyond what was available within the province. Helicopters, fixed-wing air attack aircraft, and crews were all brought in from other jurisdictions to help in the suppression efforts.

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.

A mule crew replaces three helicopters

I don’t envy anyone on this 1985 ESSO/GSI contract in southeast Turkey who had to work with flying aluminum scrap, and pilots who appeared to be inexperienced. Scroll about a third of the way down the link page for details about the helicopter operation – or lack of one. Even now I’m embarrassed to read about this flying circus and how it turned into a nightmare.


Viking helicopters supplied three machines. They were Lamas, which are good for high altitude work. Two of the machines were shipped from the Sudan. Viking’s two machines were clapped out pieces of junk. The HF radios didn’t work and they were constantly in the shop.

There was a lot of playing and not a very professional manner among the Viking guys. The chief pilot was a Canadian who came up from Sudan. He was a hot dog. While practicing using the long line, he banged the 55 gallon drum full of jet fuel into the ground a couple of times on the first day. Just as I began to think it was just one of those things that could happen to anybody, he hit a power line while sightseeing down a river.

Replaced by a mule crew

Here’s what happened after the pilot of the second aircraft forgot about a power cable that he had been working under all morning and was subsequently killed when he flew into it:

It wasn’t long until ESSO grounded the remaining helicopter, and converted the operation from a helicopter crew to a mule crew.

Replaced by a mule crew. How appropriate. And how embarrassing. What’s truly unfortunate is that it took so long for the contractor to replace the Viking operation with a smarter ass. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when someone had to explain how that happened, but I’d bet no one was told the true story.

I can’t imagine having ESSO as a customer and allowing what happened to even begin to go on. It would appear that no one on the international side of things had any idea about how to conduct a brewery piss-up – let alone an international flight operation – from hiring to staffing to managing.

Oh well, it’s all over now but for the memories – both good and bad.

Revolution in the desert

The camp water truck

The camp water truck. Water was about half a day's drive away. It wasn't the cleanest, but filters were used - I think.

Locals were hired to do the grunt work on the helipad. They rolled fuel drums around, tipped them up and down, pumped the fuel and generally kept the pads free of the detritus of the camp. We prized the good workers, of course. The not-so-good had to be re-trained almost every day on how to open a fuel drum – not an entirely complicated task. I figured they were playing games, but what could I do? We were contributing to the local economy by creating jobs.

Or something.

I always tried to praise the better workers on the helipad and thank them for doing such a great job. I figured that if I was in that same position, I’d like to get a little feedback for the job I did, menial as it was. They were making a contribution to the flight operation by doing all the heavy lifting for us. Back in Canada I rarely had anyone to lift fuel drums for me, and so I let my appreciation be known to these guys.

Revolution in the camp

The pilot-who-wasn’t took it upon himself to pay the better workers out of his own pocket for their contribution to the smooth running of his helipad operation. It didn’t take long before the slackers learned about the surplus of shillings being flung about the helipad. They demanded that they be rewarded as well, even though their performance was subpar. What was obvious to them was that they were doing exactly the same job as everyone else – even though they didn’t do it very well – and they should be rewarded just like the reliable workers.

The poor camp boss had a revolution on his hands for a couple of days, but he finally got it resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. That was the end of payment for better services. What he did to quiet the lads down is unknown, but the pilot-that-wasn’t that came up with that idea ended up being suitably chastised.