Hydro One Celebrates 60 Years
By Kenneth Swartz
Helicopter pioneers and pioneering helicopters gathered at Lake Simcoe
Regional Airport on June 26 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of
continuous helicopter operations by Hydro One Networks Inc.
By Kenneth Swartz
Helicopter pioneers and pioneering helicopters gathered at Lake Simcoe Regional Airport on June 26 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of continuous helicopter operations by Hydro One Networks Inc.
|Hydro purchased its first helicopter, a Bell 47, in 1949.
The 250 invited guests included many pioneers from the early years of Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario’s helicopter operations. There were also numerous rotary-wing personalities who have played key roles in the development of the Canadian helicopter industry since the beginning.
Hydro’s new hangar at the airport, officially opened on June 26, was the venue for the anniversary event, appropriately decorated with memorabilia from the electric utility’s rich past.
Outside, guests were thrilled by unique fly-in of 18 helicopters and a demonstration of Hydro’s precision aerial construction work.
The remarkable fly-in – one of the largest in Canada in recent history – included both the oldest and newest helicopters flying in Canadian skies, ranging from a Bell 47D-1 and 47G5A from the 1950s to the third prototype Bell 429 from Mirabel and a recently assembled Eurocopter EC130 from Fort Erie.
Multiple JetRangers, LongRangers, R-44s, AStars and EC 120s and a Bell 222 were also part of the thrilling aerial display.
The flight demonstration featured a Hydro 350B-2 planing a pair of wooden power poles in the ground, offloading two linemen onto the top of the poles during a precision hover, and then slinging a cross-arm into place for the linemen to attach. The final act saw both linemen re-boarding the hovering helicopter and fly away.
Inside the new hangar a 1950s era Bell 47G2 helicopter on loan from Canadore College was juxtaposed with Hydro’s newest Eurocopter 350B-3, which helped underscore the remarkable growth in helicopter capability since 1949.
Both Bell Helicopter and Eurocopter presented Hydro One representatives with plaques in recognition of the 60th anniversary and their role as loyal customers.
|The 60th anniversary flight demonstration featured a Hydro 350B-2 planing a pair of wooden power poles in the ground.
|The fly-in included both the oldest and newest helicopters flying in Canadian skies, ranging from a Bell 47D-1 from the 1950s to the third prototype of Bell’s new 429 and a recently assembled EC130.
|Hydro One’s helicopter support is responsible for inspecting and maintaining the company’s 28,600-kilometre high-voltage transmission system delivering electricity throughout Ontario.
Hydro One Networks Inc. is the oldest civilian helicopter operator in Canada under original ownership and was the first electric utility in North America to purchase a helicopter for transmission line patrols.
Development of the first practical helicopters during the Second World War launched a new era in aviation – vertical flight.
In early 1949, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario (Hydro) charted the services of Bell Model 47B-3 helicopter owned by Kenting Aviation Ltd. of Toronto.
During one experiment, the pilot and line observer inspected 1,050 kilometres of transmission line in 18.5 flying hours from Toronto to Chats Falls on the Ottawa River, and back. This patrol would have required 26 men a total of 600 hours to complete by conventional means in winter conditions. Equally important, the line observer could see defects more easily from the air than from the ground.
The experiments proved so successful, both technically and financially, that Hydro decided to purchase its own helicopter and to operate it itself.
FIRST HELICOPTER DELIVERY – JUNE 1949
Hydro purchased a new $30,000 two-seat Model 47D1, CF-GMQ, from Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and it arrived at Toronto’s Malton Airport on June 15, 1948.
During the pioneering decades of electrification in rural Ontario, transmission line patrols were conducted by rugged outdoorsmen on foot and horse back, and by snowshoe and dogsled during the winter.
The rapid expansion of Ontario Hydro’s generating and transmission capacity in the early 1950s created an increasing requirement for helicopters, pilots and mechanics and remote fuel caches throughout the province.
Five additional Bell 47D1 and 47G helicopters on skid landing gear were delivered through August 1953 to support 11 line patrols flown regularly from Hydro’s main helicopter base at Toronto’s Malton Airport, and three patrols flown by a single Bell 47 based at Fort William. These routine line patrols took between seven to 47 hours to fly and were repeated every four to six weeks.
Hydro was one of the first helicopter operators in the world to operate year round, including the Canadian winter. It engineered some of the first skis (bearpaws) used to support a helicopter on snow, and provided many operational insights to the engineers at Bell Helicopter, which was located practically next door in Niagara Falls, N.Y., in the early 1950s.
While transmission line patrols were the backbone of its early operations, Hydro was an important innovator in the use of helicopters for aerial spraying, water surveys, photography, forest fire suppression, mercy flights, dam site construction, transmission line construction, line stringing and remote cold weather winter operations.
In May 1951, a Hydro Bell 47 helped fight a 40,000-acre forest fire in the Gogama region. And in September 1952, a Bell 47 was used in an eight-day search north of Toronto for the Boyd Gang, a group of notorious bank robbers who had escaped from jail.
On Oct. 15, 1954 Hurricane Hazel pounded the city of Toronto with 110 kilometre-per-hour winds and more than 200 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours. Two Hydro Bell 47 helicopters were called to rescue victims of the massive flooding, the worst experience in the city’s history. Hydro pilots flew 16 to 18 hours a day, rescuing 12 people from the flood waters, recovered 12 bodies, dropped tons of food and clothing to survivors, and flying daily traffic patrols for the police.
In 1959, Hydro became the second customer for a turbine-powered helicopter in Canada with the introduction of a French-built Sud Aviation SE3130 Alouette II for aerial spray work, but its use was short-lived.
By its 12th year, the Hydro fleet had logged some 25,000 flying hours – almost three years in the air – and patrolled more than 1,250,000 circuit miles of transmission lines.
TRANSMISSION LINE CONSTRUCTION
In December 1961, Hydro began using helicopters for all phases of construction of a 50-mile transmission line between the Northern Ontario communities of Manitouwadge and Hornepayne using using Bell 47s, a Sikorsky S-55 and heavy-lift Sikorsky S-58.
The reason for the total reliance on helicopters for this project was that only a small portion of the proposed line’s right-of-way was accessible by road.
The project represented the first major air construction of a transmission line by Hydro. Individual clearing contractors cut a 20-metre-wide strip through the dense bush lying between the two towns. The pre-assembled poles were flown in by the S-58 and the S-55. The conductor stringing followed, using the S-55 and a Bell.
Both wooden pole and metal lines were subsequently built using Hydro helicopters throughout Ontario, saving the millions of dollars in construction costs compared to historic methods.
MODERN TURBINE-POWERED HELICOPTERS
The first light turbine helicopter to enter the fleet was a five-seat Bell 206A JetRanger in 1967. The first Hughes 500C was added in 1971, the first seven-seat Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II in the mid-1980s, the first Eurocopter 350B2 in 1992 and the first Eurocopter 350B3 in December 2007.
Hydro was one of the world’s first customers for the twin-turbine Sikorsky S-58T powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T Twin Pac engine. The introduction of two in the 1970s ushered in a new era of precision “man-on-line” work using a winch to lower repairmen onto transmission lines and towers live with 230,000 volts.
In 1991, Hydro introduced the larger Eurocopter 332C Super Puma for construction work, operating it in Ontario and on sub-contract work overseas.
In fact, Hydro was one of the only civilian organizations in North America to conduct winch operations, outside of the military, for more than three decades until the S-58T was retired in 1991 and the Super Puma retired in 1998.
HYDRO ONE NETWORKS INC.
Hydro One Networks Inc. was born in 1999 when Hydro’s delivery and generation functions were divided into separate companies. Hydro’s longtime hangar at the north end of Lester B. Pearson airport was sold and a new base established at Lake Simcoe Regional Airport.
The helicopter legacy established in 1949 continues into its 60th year with a fleet of eight helicopters – six Eurocopter 350B2/B3s and two Bell 206L-1 – helicopters based at five sites in Ontario: Dryden, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmins and Lake Simcoe Regional Airport.
purchased its first helicopter, a new $30,000 two-seat Model 47D1,
CF-GMQ, from Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, N.Y. It arrived at
Toronto’s Malton Airport on June 15, 1949.