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Viking Outpost’s classic bushplane page 4

Story and photos by Robert S. Grant

Later, veteran pilot Joe Sinkowski accompanied the Carlsons to inspect and fly CF-IGX. Having flown nearly a dozen Norsemen in his career, Sinkowski understood the type well and found himself greatly surprised at the short takeoff run in spite of a seven-passenger load. Hugh, riding in the right seat, remembered Sinkowski’s amazement.

“Joe was used to heavier Norsemen, where you hold the control column right into your belly, trim all the way back, then trim all the way forward and then trim to neutral,” he recalled. “Well, on this big airplane, he just opened that throttle up and it started to hop and got on the step and wanted to go and we were gone.”

Impressed, the Carlsons gave serious consideration to the “nice, shiny and tight” airplane but coincidentally another Northland Aircraft restoration became available. A former USAAF airplane, CF-FQI had flown with numerous owners, all in Quebec. Lighter than most Norsemen, the empty weight totalled under 4,200 pounds and gross came out at 7,540 pounds on Edo 55-7170A floats. The legal useful load of 2,600 pounds tipped the scales in CF-FQI’s favour, as well as a modified door through which 4 x 8 plywood sheets and 15-foot lumber fit.

On May 14, 1993, ownership of CF-FQI passed from Vincent Coriville of Montreal to Viking Outpost Cabins. For $132,000, the Carlsons owned what they considered an ideal utility transport. Fully loaded in cool temperatures, indicated airspeed averages 125 mph, and on hot days with heavy loads, CF-FQI flies at 115 mph. No de Havilland Beaver or Otter can match such performance, and as predicted during Enid’s research, the “Great White Bird,” as local Cree residents called the massive airplane, has upheld its reputation for low maintenance.

Enid understood the practice of maintenance shops to charge hourly rates. Experienced AMEs in Red Lake, where more Norsemen congregate than anywhere else in the world, had explained that Mr. Noorduyn’s product was “built to be maintained”–most sections could easily be reached without the time-consuming bother of dismantling the airframe. Norsemen bushplanes did not enter the market to be adapted to wilderness usage; rather, designers primarily targeted bush operators who would rarely have fully staffed hangars and spares inventories within reach.

“The Norseman’s assembled from quickly repairable tubing that makes for an extremely tough airplane,” said Enid. “With a good preventive maintenance program and the best AME around, you’re set to push a Norseman into the water at break-up, fly hard all summer long with little work and then pull it out for inspections at freeze-up when the tourists have gone home.”

Unlike some seaplanes, reaching the engine components presents little problem. A firewall door may be opened from the cockpit to adjust the carburetor and magnetos. Maintenance staff no longer need be “double jointed and loaded with mirrors.” In one instance, a Winnipeg-based technician arrived in Red Lake to install new radios in CF-FQI. Perplexed at the Norseman since his experience had been confined to Perimeter Aviation’s Fairchild Metros and Beech King Airs, he sought some way to install wires behind the instrument panel and began dismantling it. A sharp, “Oh, jeez, don’t do that,” stopped him and Hugh quickly unlatched another cover beneath the windshield. “You could take all the instruments out with a pipe wrench if you had to,” he said.

As for a demonstration of strength, local residents remember June 24, 1983 when Norseman CF-GTN (msn 325) departed a fishing camp to Wendigo Lake, 82 miles northwest of Pickle Lake. The pilot levelled at 500 feet and relaxed for a low-level cruise across scenic lake country until the engine decided to end the tour when fuel ran dry in one wing tank. He landed straight ahead but instead of a gently rippled water surface, his touchdown area consisted of several acres of spruce trees. In spite of three gasoline drums in the passenger compartment and the shuddering, banging and sudden stoppage of several tons of airplane, the aircraft did not disintegrate into showers of splinters and tubing. The only injuries occurred when the pilot raised blisters on his hands while chopping a landing spot for the rescue helicopter. Experts considered CF-GTN a write-off but entrepreneur and Norseman guru Donald Graham salvaged the relatively intact airframe and engine for rebuild.

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