Tag Archives: Training

CF-ODM

Early in 1969, Viking Helicopters Ltd. was born in “the old schoolhouse” just west of Orleans, Ontario using the licence that formerly belonged to Spartan Air Services. Larry Camphaug, Ray Coursol, John Juke and Gerry O’Neil, together with the indomitable Wulf doing transmission overhauls, were already hard at work as part of Mercury Aviation Limited’s employees.

CF-ODM in the Bushplane Museum in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario - 2009

CF-ODM in the Bushplane Museum in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario – 2009

Larry had started Mercury Aviation as a helicopter overhaul company a few years earlier. Component overhauls were the bread and butter of the business in those early days. His “hanger” was an old barn just a short drive away to the west where the airframe overhauls were done.

Larry hired me as a pilot, but early service put me in the position of apprentice engineer, so off I went to buy the basic tools I needed based on the advice of Gerry O’Neil and others.

I worked in the schoolhouse, supervised by the full-time engineers. The schoolhouse was next to an apple orchard. Later on, I’d occasionally climb the fence and steal apples. I was told that there were dogs guarding the orchard, but I never saw any.

A pilot finally does some work pumping the float

A pilot finally does some work pumping the float at the Universal Hanger in Gander.

The barn, just down the road, was where the former Bell 47D, CF-ODM, now converted to a Bell 47G-2, was being overhauled. As a young apprentice engineer, I helped Gerry O’Neil and John Kowalski in the overhaul process. I don’t know if they wanted to get me out of the schoolhouse due to my incompetence or whether I had “graduated”. In any case, I learned a lot in that barn, well-taught by Gerry and John.

From time to time, the bunch of us would drive over to the Orleans Hotel for a beer, beans and bread lunch. Sometimes, on Friday’s extended lunch, we would shut the place down, thanks to the fine looking French-Canadian girls who slung beer in the joint. It was all their fault.

Or, quite possibly not.

Beans, beer & bank robbers

During one of these expeditions to the hotel, we noticed a car parked in the middle of the road. We later found out that the vehicle had been used in a bank robbery that day. Little did we know. We were all too concentrated on our drive to lunch to notice.

Lorne Ward was an apprentice engineer. He too came over from Niagara Helicopters. He flew out to Newfoundland and accompanied me that summer. Here it looks at though he needs some refreshment.

Lorne was an apprentice engineer. He too came over from Niagara Helicopters in 1969. He flew out to Newfoundland and accompanied me that summer. Here, it looks at though he’s taking a refreshing pause. Lorne became an engineer, and later, a pilot.

Once the overhaul was completed, I did the test flights and subsequent ferry flight east to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where I landed on the fantail of the M.V. William Carson for the crossing to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland. The helicopter had been wet-leased to Universal Helicopters for the summer.

I had an amazing time traversing the entire province in the three months and 170-odd hours I flew her. Not noted for many warm, sunny days, Newfoundland had one of the brightest and warmest summers on record. For a young aviator in the second year of his career, that eventful summer was an adventure not to be forgotten.

CF-ODM with Universal-EPA floats. We were wet-leased to Universal Helicopters

CF-ODM with Universal-EPA floats. We were wet-leased to Universal Helicopters. Eastern Provincial Airways had just bought Universal from Gary Fields.

In all, my flying career was extremely successful, thanks not only to Larry, but to the many others I encountered over the life of my flying career. The engineers and apprentice engineers who kept our equipment airworthy and safe did a marvelous job under difficult circumstances, in isolated places, all around the world.

Thank you to each and every one of you.

John Juke left us in 2011.

Flight school

The venerable old King Edward Hotel in Niagara Falls. It has subsequently been destroyed.

The venerable old King Edward Hotel in Niagara Falls. It has subsequently been destroyed.

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

Two earstwhile students whiling away the hours in the King Eddy.

Two earstwhile students whiling away the hours in the King Eddy - Bruce Dennison, right, and Don, upper left.

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

Martin Sokoloski and Ian Wright

Marty and Ian make plans for some of us to "shuffle off to Buffalo" for some well-deserved R&R. On one trip, we almost ended up in jail, but that's a story for another time.

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.