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Viking Outpost’s classic bushplane page 3

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

The King Air pilot noticed two huge airplane tails down the shoreline from Viking’s office and asked if they were Otters. Craig, who’d returned from a 96-mile trip to Orono Lake, a large body of water described in a Viking brochure as “classic walleye and northern habitat,” informed the visitor that Green Airways operated Otters CF-ODJ and CF-LEA. However, instead of the factory-installed R-1340, both had been converted to more powerful 1,000‑hp PZL engines by Airtech in Peterborough, Ontario. A practical modification with new parts available, the conversion was on the horizon at the time of the Carlsons’ search for an aircraft. Turbine Otters came later but even so, Enid stressed that a “million dollar plus” airplane did not fit their plans.

Viking rarely flies more than 300 hours annually and does not operate commercially during winters, although it occasionally places CF-NHH and CF-HVD on skis. Consequently, with no heavy demand for land-based aircraft, a product like the Cessna 208 Caravan, perhaps the most practical turbine seaplane in existence, would have forced the family into off-season work. Thanks to slowdowns in northern mineral exploration and diminished needs to supply remote settlements with anything other than large freighters like HS 748s, such opportunities have become rare.

Beech 18s, the Carlsons claim, rated as “wonderful airplanes” although the twin tail machine suffered poor reputations up to the mid-1980s when operators considered overloads all in a day’s work. A spate of accidents forced Transport Canada to monitor bush operations closely and, as a result, Beech 18s rapidly became valuable commodities with legal loads and properly trained pilots. Economical, fast and able to cruise in high altitude smooth air, pilots and passengers enjoy the comfort. Although tempted at one stage to purchase Green Airways’ Beech 18 CF-GNR, the Carlsons decided to remain open to single-engine aircraft only.

After analysing maintenance, availability and base price, the Carlsons decided on a Norseman as their principal mover. Like anyone searching for the correct balance of distance, cost and condition, they could have made expensive telephone calls and travelled extensively to inspect potential candidates. Instead, they simply stayed home since the annual July Norseman Festival Days in Red Lake drew nearly every flyable “Thunder Chicken,” as Jim Johnson of Northway Aviation called his former Norseman, CF-GUE. Of 920 built nearly a dozen still earned their livings in Northwestern Ontario.

When Robert Noorduyn announced the first Norseman–a 420-hp version registered CF‑AYO–he predicted a basic $23,500 for his 10-passenger cotton-covered airplane. As improvements were made and updated versions flown, prices climbed higher but at the end of the Second World War, Noorduyn ironically found himself in competition with his own product when military organizations around the world offered hundreds for sale. By the 1970s, $60,000 would buy a flyable Norseman but shiny new all-metal Otters and Beavers not long out of the Downsview, Ontario de Havilland plant held much more appeal.

As prices for de Havilland seaplanes skyrocketed, operators began reconsidering Norsemen when specialists like Gordon and Eleanor Hughes of Northland Aircraft Service in Ignace, Ontario began rebuilding tired airframes and expired wooden wings to better-than-new standards. One project happened to be CF-IGX (msn 141), which became the property of James K. Olsen of Lake Winnipegosis in Manitoba. A Mk VI model built June 10, 1943, the aircraft drew admirers wherever it went, particularly at Norseman Festivals. Hugh, who learned many safe flying practices from observing Green Airways and kept his radio on for safety reasons, overheard Olsen broadcasting departure from Howey Bay for Winnipegosis. Returning from camp checks in CF-HVD, he called on 122.8.

“We talked. He had every seat full and enough fuel to get home and I thought, since we might be interested in buying, it’d be nice to get some air-to-air photos,” said Hugh. “We happened to be on the same track, him going, me coming, so I turned around and started after this Norseman but couldn’t catch him. Yet, I’d been passing Green Airways’ Norsemen for years.”

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