Thunder Bay to Sioux Lookout 2017

Perimeter Dash 8 C-FPPW on arrival at Sioux Lookout on July 19, 2017. Having served frontline commuter airlines since the early 1980s, many Dash 8s have “come home” to serve northern Canada for such carriers as Air Creebec, Air Inuit, First Air, Perimeter and Wasaya.

Having flown to “YQT” Thunder Bay from Toronto on July 19 last year to spend the morning photographing this fascinating airport, it was time to push on. Mid-afternoon I boarded Perimeter’s Dash 8-100 C-FPPW for the 50-minute flight to Sioux Lookout “YXL”. The day remained fine, so it was a pleasant 50-minute trip in 1994-vintage “PPW” (the 390th Dash 8). Formerly N827EX, it served Allegheny Commuter and Piedmont Airlines for many years, before returning to Canada in 2010 for Perimeter of Winnipeg.

Bush pilot, award-winning aviation photographer, and writer/publisher Rich Hulina met me at the terminal. We started by touring around the airport, where there’s lots to see and photograph. Here are a few of my shots taken before we headed to the curling club for burgers and beers.

Since the days of the PA-23 Apache in the 1950s, Piper twins have done monumental work in Canada’s North. Introduced in 1972, the PA-31-350 Chieftain was a 10-seat version (2-foot stretch) of the 1964 8-seat PA-31 Navajo. Visiting YXL on July 19 was 1981 model year Chieftain C-GRWN in the markings of Northern Skies Air Service. “RWN” had come to Canada in 2007 for Sunwest Airlines of Calgary. In 2015 Sunwest posted it for sale by which time the airframe had piled up some 17,000 hours. By 2018 it was listed to Toronto-based FLYGTA Inc. The money-making PA-31 series remains in common use throughout the North.

One of the North’s ubiquitous Pilatus PC-12s taxis out at YXL on July 19. C-FKPA is in the colours of Thunder Bay-based North Star Air. As soon as the PC-12 was introduced to the region c1990, it began taking over from the previous generation of basic backcountry workhorses, especially the Cessna Caravan. About the same size as the Caravan (which North Star also flies), the PC-12 is much faster and is pressurized – a nice feature when on a long run such as Sioux Lookout to Bearskin Lake or maybe all the way over to Moosonee or Timmins.

Another typical daily Sioux Lookout scene shows SkyCare’s Metro II C-GKPX taxiing for takeoff as a Wasaya Beech 1900D arrives. Built in 1978, “KPX” operated throughout the EU until becoming N5470M in the USA in 1997. It came to Canada in 2008. Recently established at YXL with the Chieftain, Merlin and Metro, SkyCare specializes in charters and air ambulance service.

There’s invariably at least one Beaver being serviced at Sioux Lookout. This day, CF-IPL was waiting to be delivered back to base. Beaver No.132, it originally bought in 1951 by Imperial Oil of Toronto. Since 1963 “IPL” has been in the Atikokan area, most recently with Atikokan Aero Service specializing in the summertime sport fishing and wildness trips markets. Across the field you can see the hanger for the locally based Ornge PC-12 air ambulance.

It’s not uncommon on any main northern airfield to find a boneyard of old planes. At YXL the main one sits at the Allen Air hangar. Founded by George Allen offering aircraft maintenance and rebuilding, this is a legendary Sioux Lookout business. Following George’s passing, his son Dave took over the hangar.
Dave George’s business has been aircraft maintenance, but also restoring wrecks and cannibalizing others for useful spare parts. This was part of the scene on July 19 with lots of clapped out Cessnas lying around. However, it isn’t beyond the imagination that the odd one might fly again.

Last summer things were not looking promising ay YXL for SkyCare PA-31 C-GJCX. A 1977 model, “JCX” had been in the UK as G-BEZU with such operators as Oxford Air Training School. Later it was G-HVRD doing charter work with Clasair. It flew the North Atlantic to Canada in 2013. There also were 2-3 old Metros lying in the weeds here. The R-44 helicopter in the distance had just refueled and was continuing its ferry trip to Alberta.

Next morning Rich and I were up at sunrise to start a busy day. The plan was to take Rich’s beautiful Cessna 206 Stationair C-GGRU down to Nestor Falls on Lake-of-the-Woods for a day of knocking around the bushplane scene. Here, Rich pumps in gas at his home dock for the return trip of about 200 nm.

A couple of the local Nestor Falls planes on July 20: Beaver C-GEBL of Northwest Flying Service (NorthwestFlying.com), and Piper CF-FEJ head out on local trips. Beaver No.1068 “EBL” is an ex-US Army L-20A that served in military colours 1957-72. It came to Canada in 1975 and since then has always been in NW Ontario. “FEJ” first appeared on the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register in 1973, the co-owners then being in Lively, near Sudbury.

Rich (right) with Northwest Flying Service owner Shane Pope make plans for our visit.

Shane’s outfit is famous for its two lovely Beech 18s C-FHZA and C-FKL. Here, “NKL” is nearest, as “HZA” is pushed off for an early trip to one of the numerous fishing camps out as far as a hundred miles.

“NKL’s” front office. Then, Beech 18 aficionado Shane Pope just as he gets “NKL” neatly into the air for a short camp trip delivering passengers and supplies.

The setting out at camp where one of Shane’s Beeches is always a welcomed sight.

Rich relaxes in “NKL” on the way back to base. In recent summers he’s enjoyed flying a Beech 18 based at Ear Falls.

Back in the 1950s-60s we schoolboy “airplane photo hounds” rarely would let a Beech go by without snapping off a frame. Searching my files lately, I see that I photographed both “HZA” and “NKL” more than 55 years ago. I came across “NKL” at Rivercrest airstrip near Winnipeg on September 5, 1961; and “HZA” at Toronto Malton Airport on March 4, 1962. At the time, Warren Plummer of Sioux Narrows was using “NKL” to support his pioneer sport fishing camps on Great Bear Lake. “HZA” was then with Cascade Drilling of Calgary. Of course, one could write a book about any such Beech 18. The amazing thing is that in 2018 both Beeches will again be in the water at Nestor Falls.

After our Beech 18 fun at Nestor Falls, Rich and I drove up the road a bit to Todd Lougheed maintenance shop — a go-to place for any Beech fan. Today the fellows were doing maintenance on C-GESW, while C-FEHX and C-FTBX were in outdoor storage, their futures uncertain. Once retired by the RCAF c1965, many Beeches (“EHX” included, ex-RCAF 5181) made their way onto the civil aircraft register, then had long, useful careers. Other Beeches came from the US, as did “ESW” in 1999 and “TBX” in 1966. Geoff Goodall’s Beech 18 website is a key source for quick registration look-ups. Also, Robert Parmerter’s landmark 3-kg book Beech 18: A Civil& Military History is “a must have” for any true fan (available at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum). Besides such basic sources, many other blogs and websites feature Canada’s Beech 18s, a fine example being Michael Prophet’s http://www.michaelprophet.com/News_articles/OntarioBushPlanetrail.html

Various other photo-worthy planes were at Todd’s base on July 20, this fine-looking 1947 Aeronca “Champ” CF-TBY included.

From the Beech 18 haven, we drove over to visit Todd’s dock to have a look at his 1964 Found FBA-2C CF-RXJ. Built in Toronto, “RXJ” has spent its career in NW Ontario, where after 50+ years it still does useful work. Here’s how it typically looks at the dock in summer. Then, a view of the interior, little of which has changed other than some instrumentation. Finally, Rich and Todd discussing the Found, which proved to be such a solid northern workhorse over the decades. Rich sometimes flies Glen Tudhope’s FBA-2C C-FSDC from Hudson, near Sioux Lookout and rates it highly as a basic bushplane.

After snooping around some other local docks, we ended at Dave Beauchene’s always-busy Nestor Falls Fly-In Outposts. In former years this was another good spot for Beech 18s, but Dave ultimately converted to turbine Otters. Here are the fellows in Dave’s giftshop, where we found a copy of Rich’s photo of Dave’s two Otters. See Rich’s book Bush Flying Captured for the best current coverage of aviation in NW Ontario!

Three scenes at Dave’s main dock on July 20. First, his Otters at the dock: C-FODK and C-FSOR. C-FODK had begun in 1953 with the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. It served there to 1984, then went to Huron Air of Armstrong for another long career. However, things came to a messy ending when “ODK” had engine trouble on May 26, 1998 and crashed into the bush. Rebuilt, it came to Nestor Falls in 1999, then was converted along with “SOR” in the 2000s to the Garrett 1000-hp TPE-331 turbine. Next, a typical dock scene with an Otter just back from camp with a load of happy American fishermen. Finally, “SOR” heading out on a trip. “SOR” had begun 1958 with the Indian military, where it served in major shooting wars with China and Pakistan. By 1991 (when it was retired) it had logged nearly 6400 flying hours. Coming back to Canada, it was restored in Saskatoon in 1994, then found its way to Nestor Falls.

Our long, enjoyable day finally over on Lake-of-the-Woods, we got back aboard our lovely Cessna and returned to Sioux Lookout, where I had a flight to catch. Thanking Rich for a great day of meeting people and photographing bushplanes, off I went on Bearskin Flight JV319 (Metro C-GJVW) to Red Lake, a pleasant 30-minute hop. The Metro is basic NW Ontario air transportation and it works! Check in again to see “Part III Red Lake” of last summer’s NW Ontario travels.

Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre

Some years ago the Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre was formed in Thunder Bay. The society’s message is just as you might expect — it brings together people of like mind, whether old timers or “the younger set”. Meetings are held at 905 East Victoria Ave., and there’s a regular newsletter. Check out the website http://www.noahc.org (or … email to noahc@tbaytel.net) and get yourself a membership. You don’t need to be a local to belong, so get on the NOAHC bandwagon — you’ll be happy you did!

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2 responses to “Thunder Bay to Sioux Lookout 2017

  1. Really interesting, Larry. Great pictures and stories. I want your job!!

  2. Thanks, Doug … the job has its days, that’s for sure. Hope your are fine … Larry

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