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.