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A Backyard Helicopter

Early in my career, I was working in the Sudbury, Ont. area flying line-cutters. The customer had asked me to stay at a small motel near Capreol, a small community north of Sudbury about 15 miles from the camp.


March 5, 2015
By Fred Jones

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Early in my career, I was working in the Sudbury, Ont. area flying line-cutters. The customer had asked me to stay at a small motel near Capreol, a small community north of Sudbury about 15 miles from the camp.

Each morning, they wanted me to arrive in the camp at 7 a.m., and put the cutters out, and then pick them up at 5 p.m. before returning to Capreol for the night. While the customer had made a reservation at the motel for me, and provided me with instructions how to get there, they hadn’t really provided me with any specific guidance about where the helicopter should be left overnight. 

Fortunately, Capreol is not a big place, and it didn’t take me long to find the motel from the air. As I flew by, I can remember thinking that the other guests in the motel probably wouldn’t thank me for my 6:30 a.m. start each day, so I went about looking for somewhere nearby to stage the helicopter out of. It had to be walking distance from the motel, but it also had to be reasonably secure, so I wouldn’t lose any sleep worrying about the machine.

I spied an isolated farmhouse just off the main road, with a large backyard opening on to one of the farmer’s fields. After doing a bit of a recon, I lined up for the approach to land. I also wondered briefly whether I would be greeted with open arms, or a shotgun. As I idled in their backyard before shutting down, I could see four family members gathering on the back porch of the house. I shut down the machine and quickly walked toward the house, where I introduced myself. I explained my circumstances, and indicated that I was looking for somewhere to park the helicopter each night. I said that I would happily pay them for the opportunity to use their backyard as my private heliport for three weeks.

I was also careful to explain that my departure each morning would have to take place at about 6:30 a.m. They didn’t seem to mind. They absolutely refused to take any money, and they welcomed me like a family member. They invited me in for dinner that night. 

There were two young children in the family – one was an infant girl, and the other was a boy about seven years old, named Jeff. Over the dinner table, he couldn’t stop asking questions. He was so excited at the idea of a helicopter in his back yard, he could barely contain himself.

He absolutely insisted that I provide him with a tour of the machine, that night – which I was happy to do. I explained why we did our DI the night before, and what sort of problems the inspection was intended to identify. I explained to him the importance of keeping the machine clean so that you could see small problems, before they became larger problems. He sat in the front of the helicopter at the controls and his eyes were as big as saucers.

After dinner, I profusely thanked the family and headed for the hotel. The next day there was a little bit of morning fog as I walked up the driveway to the backyard at 6 a.m., but sitting on the stairs of the backyard deck was Jeff, to help me with the pre-flight inspection and see me off. In fact, Jeff was there every morning for three weeks, to help me with the pre-flight.

Jeff was also there when I arrived back at the farm each night to help me put the machine to bed for the night. He learned the names of the different parts of the helicopter, and was quick to tell me if I missed something. He couldn’t get enough.

On the last day of my tour, I offered the family a ride, and Jeff occupied the front seat. The family was grateful, but Jeff was over-the-moon.

We need to take the time to introduce the younger generation to our industry. Its kids like Jeff that are the next generation of helicopter pilots and engineers and operators.

We need to cultivate that passion. I can’t say that I really appreciated the significance of these events at the time, but as I look back, I realize that for many of us, the fuel of our industry is our passion for the business and the people in it.

For many of us, it is our love of flying that got us in to the business and sustains us through the difficult times.


Fred Jones is the president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada and a regular contributor to Helicopters magazine.


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