Tag Archives: Spartan Air Services

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.

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.

The new breed of bush pilots

This article was written some time in early 1977. I have no other details. The picture accompanying the newspaper article shows Larry standing in front of a hovering 500D. The black and white image of the Spartan Uplands facility was not part of the story. I included it because several of Viking’s employees had backgrounds at Spartan Air Services.

Keep in mind that all of the values mentioned in the article are in 1977 dollars.


The legends of the bush pilots of the 1920s and 1930s are being augmented by the exploits of a new breed of pilots who can literally land on a dime.

These men don’t fly conventional aircraft but use helicopters in some of the more remote areas of the world.

“Our crews live in unusual situations, a tent or igloo or mud shack,” says Larry Camphaug, president of Ottawa’s Viking Helicopters Ltd.

Until April 17, the firm, which also runs a traffic spotting service for a local radio station, had maintained a rather low profile. An international incident in Ethiopia changed that.

On that day, Bill Waugh, a Viking pilot with the World Health Organization (WHO) was captured and held for ransom by Ethiopian insurgents. The 42-year-old pilot was released unharmed a couple of days later even though the ransom had not been paid.

Camphaug said Waugh sweet-talked his way out of the rebel camp and is still working in Ethiopia.

Smallpox project

Viking pilots and machines have been instrumental in the program to eradicate smallpox in Ethiopia, one of the last areas in the world where the disease is a big problem.

Viking has been working with W.H.O. since 1974. Because Ethiopia is mountainous and has few good roads or air strips to service the interior, there has been a role for the machine Camphaug says “can take you places no other vehicle can go.” Whenever a smallpox case is reported, Viking pilots fly vaccine to the affected village and then assist in quarantine and surveillance. Surveillance in Ethiopia will continue for two years after the last reported case has been treated.

If this were a commercial project Camphaug says, Viking would likely be out of Ethiopia by now because of the danger of operating in the violence-wracked country.

With projects like this, pilots and companies have to balance risks against the end goal. Camphaug says pilots working in the program with dedicated people from all over the world can easily get “hyped up” and committed to its success.

River blindness project

Viking is involved in another African project. Nine company helicopters and short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) airplanes are spraying the Volta River system in nine West African countries.

The program is part of a 20-year $120 million multilateral campaign against onchocerciasis or river blindness, a disease transmitted by blackflies that lay their eggs in rivers.

In the Volta basin nearly one million people have river blindness and of these 70,000 are totally blind.

Viking got the contract after competing with helicopter firms from the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Poland, France and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, back in Canada

While the African business is glamorous, half of Viking’s activity is in Canada, for the government and mining companies. Sales were about $6 million last year and are expected to reach $8 million for 1977.

Technical facility, Spartan Uplands Airport, circa 1951. Right-click and select View Image to see it full-size.

Camphaug says the African ventures are important for Viking’s profitability, enabling men and machine to keep working 12 months of the year.

Camphaug originally got into the helicopter business when he was 22. He joined Spartan Air Services in 1952 when he finished a tour of duty with the Royal Canadian Navy.

When Spartan folded in the late 1960s, Camphaug and partner Pete Peterson bought three old helicopters and the Spartan licences.

Peterson has since retired and his interest was purchased by Gerry McMahon of Toronto in 1972.

Now only Okanagan Helicopters in British Columbia is bigger in Canada and Camphaug says Viking has a lager chunk of the international market.

Viking operates about 50 helicopters with 125 employees in Carleton Place and Bells Corners, just outside Ottawa. The company also maintains bases at Thompson, Man., Toronto, Thunder Bay, Kenora and Dryden, Ont., and Corner Brook, Nfld.

Camphaug says that the helicopter business is capital-intensive and risky. A small Hughes 500D helicopter, the latest model, sells for $200,000 and a heavy-lift helicopter can cost $700,000.

Because of the investment in training and machines Viking’s rental rates are steep. A Hughes 500D and pilot cost $300 an hour; a heaver helicopter capable of carrying 12 passengers rents for $700 and hour.

All of the values mentioned in the article are in 1977 dollars.

Here’s a link to an article in the Ottawa Citizen dated April 11, 1957. Two entire newspaper pages are dedicated to Spartan Air Services and their operations (pages 21 and 22).