Tag Archives: viking

A blast from the past: The old schoolhouse

Viking Helicopters Ltd. – 1969’s first office / component overhaul shop / gunk tank / Shirley’s accounting department, outside of Orleans as it appears on google earth today. The gunk tank was straight through the door, against the far wall. If I remember right, Wulf’s component overhaul room was on the right. I’m sure someone will come along to correct me if I’m wrong.

Wulf’s operation was the first to move to the Bell’s Corner’s building while some of us were still putting a fresh coat of paint on the inside of the new facility (a former cabinet shop).

In 1969 there was a fenced-off apple orchard on the left. It appears as though it may still be there.

The old schoolhouse, St. Joseph Boulevard, Orleans, as it currently stands.

The old schoolhouse, St. Joseph Boulevard, Orleans, as it currently stands. It has come full circle, and is once again a schoolhouse. Thanks to Sue for the update.

And another blast from the past: Viking’s first hangar in 1969. We called it the old barn. It too has survived to this day. It was colder than blazes in that place in the spring of that year, and not so bad on a warm day.

Viking's first hangar. We called it the old barn. You can see why we were all so happy to relocate to Bell's Corners.

Viking’s first hangar. We called it the old barn, because, you guessed it. You can see why we were all so happy to relocate to Bell’s Corners. Again, thanks to Sue.


Marathon and Pukaskwa National Park

Viking Helicopters ended up on the ground floor during the study and early development of the proposed Federal park on the north shore of Lake Superior, south of Marathon. The park’s development offices were located in the small town. At the time, our base in Thunder Bay was an ideal location, and we all spent many hours ferrying back and forth.

Snack time in the north shore hills.

When the weather was good, it was very, very good. Snack time in the north shore hills of Lake Superior – 1976. Last I heard, the gentleman on the left, Greg, now has his own guiding company in Saskatchewan.

Initially, we started with a Bell 47, and later progressed to a Hughes 500 once we managed to convince park management that the 5-place helicopter was a cheaper and speedier option. Always, it seemed as though it took forever for customers to finally do the numbers on their own and accept the larger and faster turbine helicopters. We went through the exact same cost-benefit exercises with Ontario Hydro and the OMNR.

Plenty of fog when the wind would blow out of the south or south-west would sometimes weather us in for days at a time. If you’ve ever been weathered in at Marathon, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The area was finally established as a national park in 1978.Here’s the Parks Canada link to Pukaskwa National Park.

Polar Gas/LGL bird survey – summer 1975

In June I ferried C-FAHG from the Conawapa contract in northern Manitoba to Churchill and across to North Henik Lake. LGL Limited had arranged for us to stay in accommodations provided by the lodge. It was a nice spot, and the cabins, though primitive, were quite the welcome change from tents.

Henik Lake - 1975

Henik Lake, 1975

One of the Polar Gas proposed pipeline routes was to be from the Arctic islands through Spence Bay (now named Taloyoak since 1992) on the Boothia Peninsula and from there south to the northern Manitoba boundary. Our bird survey covered the proposed route to 100 feet in width, if I remember correctly.

The contract called for a survey height above ground at 50 feet. I never considered that a major problem, since the Arctic ground was barren, and lacked trees or any other obstacles. Given the regulatory requirements of today, I strongly suspect that such a low-altitude flight path over uninhabited and structurally deficient terrain (did I mention that it’s treeless?) would provide a company employee with uncountable hours of obtaining flight approvals.

Spence Bay Dewline - 1975. These sites are long gone now.

Spence Bay DEW Line, 1975. These sites are long gone now. White Alice antennae in the foreground were used for communications with each site.

The job ended up being uneventful, although I did fly the proposed route so many times that I could do it without the map.

Spence Bay, 1975. It's called Toyaloak now.

Spence Bay, 1975. It’s called Taloyoak now.

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.

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Wayne Johnson is no longer with us.