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A Memorable Trip

I was posted to HQ 10 TAG in July 71 as the Deputy Command Instrument Check Pilot. I left 403 Sqn as the last of the Base Rescue crews were trained and all CH-118s (Iroquois) were removed from the Sqn inventory. As a secondary duty in St. Hubert I inherited the coordination of the delivery flights from the Bell factory in Fort Worth, Texas of our new CUH-1N Twin Hueys and the CH-136 Kiowas. The AETE rep at the factory would call me when four aircraft would be ready for pick-up. I, in turn, would communicate with the receiving squadron to arrange for the crewing of the ferry flights. Most of the squadrons had yet to have their full complements of qualified crews so I managed to wrangle cockpit seats on a number of delivery flights.

I had previous delivery experience ferrying two of the new single Hueys to Petawawa in 1968 so I was invited along to help 422 Sqn pick-up four new Twins towards the end of Sep 71. I was Reg McCann’s co-pilot when we delivered 5117 to Gagetown. I had all the paperwork for importing the new machines into Canada, including the import tax payments to Revenue Canada. The military would later be credited the amounts of these cheques.

In the spring of 1972 I completed a CH-136 check-out at 403 Sqn and participated in three Kiowa ferry flights before the year’s end. The first trip was for 408 Sqn in Edmonton. Only seven pilots were available for the four machines, so once again, I negotiated a spot in the formation. I was to be tail-end Charlie with the one aircraft technician as my co-pilot. The Major in charge made it very clear to me that he was the boss and wanted no interference from me, even though I had previously instructed him during his Huey conversion and had three ferry flights under my belt. So all I had to do was meekly tuck in as number four, usually several hundred feet below his cruising altitudes, and become a follower.

Day one included a .5 hr test flight, sign the paperwork and fly over to Greater Southwest Airport for fuel. Bell didn’t deliver the merchandise with full fuel tanks. This part of the trip was 5 ½ hrs basically straight north, flying from Fort Worth to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City and then leg two to Fort Riley, Kansas while skirting around the very busy Wichita Terminal Area. I had installed the left seat cyclic and the young Corporal tech was doing a fine job of flying straight and level.

Our baggage included personal luggage, tech manuals and my nav bag. I thought that with six pilots ahead of me, why burden myself with map reading for three days. About 1:40 hrs into leg 2, I began to have that feeling that all was not well in the navigation department. I had the audacity to enquire about our progress via the FM radio, only to be reprimanded for breaking radio silence. Oh well, six pilots must surely know where to find Fort Riley.

Then suddenly the technician points frantically at the rotor rpm gauge which indicated rapidly decreasing rpm. I knew in an instant that the engine was still burning and the rotors still turning, even though the rpm was supposed to have its own tach/generator. Several other electrical instruments were behaving oddly. Once more I broke the sacred radio silence to report that I had a small electrical problem and without waiting for a reply, shut off the two radios, transponder, anti-collision light, etc., anything to save the battery, which I also turned off.

What a great time to have my maps in the back as time was marching on and Fort Riley was nowhere to be seen. According to my calculations our ETA had come and gone, but still we motored on. I spotted a town along a large east-west highway. Lo and behold the town’s hospital had a heli-pad and windsock. I had had enough. I turned the battery back on to see the bright red ‘low fuel’ light glowing away. How long it was on I did not know, so on went my FM radio and announced I was ‘going to ground’. Again I didn’t wait for a reply, turned everything off again and landed at the hospital. Moments later out rushed the janitor with his large fire bottle, followed closely by a doctor and two nurses with a wheeled stretcher. I quickly sent the Cpl scampering out to announce there was neither emergency, nor patient and that we had just dropped in for a visit. I finished the shut down and arrived on the scene in time for the doctor’s order to put the coffee on, when, you guessed it, the sound of the three other approaching machines filled the air. “More coffee!” orders the good doctor.

I was already inside sipping coffee and chatting with the nurses when six bedraggled 408 Sqn pilots slithered into the room. Not one of them would look me straight in the eyes which told me what I had suspected for the last 30 minutes……..we were lost.

My mighty leader left with the doctor and 15 minutes later returned to announce fuel was on the way from Fort Riley, some 60 miles away. Two hours passed before we were all refuelled, thanked the hospital staff and flew off on a westerly heading for Riley. Thankfully I had saved enough battery juice to start the engine. At Fort Riley we were directed to a transient ramp next to a huge compound of new OH-58As and Huey birds. We learned that the Big Red One Calvary Division was just back from Viet Nam and were in the process of being completely refitted.

It didn’t take my young tech long to find some help and test equipment that showed we had a faulty voltage regulator. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken a call to Material Command in Rockcliffe who would then have to order the replacement part and have it shipped from Bell to Fort Riley. My trusty corporal had a better plan. If I was willing to part with my duty free 40 oz. of Canadian Club, he felt the situation could be rectified before first light. As good as his word, next morning we were all serviceable and ready to go. “How is that possible?” demands our fearless leader. My young co-pilot/tech just smiled and pointed to 1 Air Cav’s unguarded compound and the rows and rows of new helicopters, one having an unserviceable voltage regulator and a weak battery.

Day two was uneventful. We RON’d in Bismarck, North Dakota after 6.3 hrs of flying. Day three we went to Minot, cleared customs procedures in Regina and continued to Saskatoon. As Saskatoon to Edmonton was going to be a stretch, the CO and Ops O of 408 met us in Wainwright with fuel to continue to Namao.

What a trip.