By Staff Writer | November 20, 2017
This article was originally published in the February 1968 issue of R&WI and has been edited to comply with current grammar and style guidelines. Check out our special June 2017 50th anniversary edition of the magazine, where we celebrate the past 50 years — and look ahead to the next 50 years — of rotorcraft innovations.
Jack Fleming, of London, Ontario, Canada, went to Providence, Rhode Island, in 1952 to buy a helicopter.
He found a “very used Bell and financed it up to the ears.” In fact, Fleming didn’t even have enough money left to pay the duty fee on the aircraft. Fortunately, he met a fellow Canadian, Ernie Grant, from Fredericton, New Brunswick, who also was in Providence on business.
Fleming bought Grant a cup of coffee and talked him into loaning $1,800 to pay the duty on the helicopter. Thus, Dominion Helicopters Ltd., Canada’s fifth commercial helicopter operation, was born. Fleming was president, and Grant VP.
The young company struggled with financial problems for a while, but in time, the contracts were coming in regularly. Soon more helicopters were needed.
Now Dominion owns 23 helicopters and operates eight others on government contract projects. It employs 80-100 men regularly and grosses about $1.5 million annually. It operates between Winnipeg and Canada’s east cost, and from southern Ontario to the Arctic Islands.
Its helicopters also flew on a pipeline construction project in Jamaica recently.
Headquarters are at King City, near Toronto. From there, Dominion employs its helicopters, pilots and mechanics in a wide variety of roles.
Dominion men and equipment are at work transporting cargo and flying mining exploration missions.
They support fish and game programs under contract to the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. They seek out moose in rivers and streams; the helicopter is ideal for counting and tagging wildlife.
They fly reconnaissance, map-making and information surveys for the Federal Department of Mines and Technical Surveys.
They do agricultural work, such as dusting and reseeding.
A most important service that Dominion offers, and one that it has gained fame for, is firefighting. Working with the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, Dominion has firefighting crews based at several strategic locations in heavily forested northern Ontario.
They move men and equipment into trouble spots within minutes. They haul food and supplies and fuel for pumping equipment. And they rescue and evacuate injured persons to medical facilities.
They fly firefighting experts to the fires, where they can see the overall situation and direct ground crews. Dominion invented an airborne water-bombing device that has proven so successful the company may manufacture it for sale to other operators of firefighting helicopters.
A 75-gallon barrel is suspended beneath the helicopter. It features a trap door in the bottom that opens when the helicopter lowers the barrel into water. When the helicopter lifts the full barrel, the water holds the door closed.
The device is designed so that the pilot can trip a switch that tumbles the barrel, releasing the water. When emptied, the barrel automatically returns to the upright position.
Hovering in low and close to the fire, the helicopter enables the pilot to dump the water right on target.
Canada’s countless rivers, streams and lakes are instant sources for more water. A helicopter can pick up other loads and return to almost any fire within minutes. The helicopter crew either extinguishes the fire or tries to control it until ground parties can be moved in to help.
Fleming praises recent technological developments in rotary-wing aircraft, their improved performance and economy of operation. He said this is why Dominion helicopters are frequently taking over much of the work fixed-wing aircraft used to do.
In reviewing other reasons behind his company’s success, he recalled that present rates ($70-$120/hour) are about half what they were when he got his first contract. “And at that time, we could carry only about one-third of the load we carry now,” he said.
Both Fleming and Grant are enthusiastic about the future. They plan to broaden their services, especially in the heavy construction field. They are eyeing Bell Helicopter’s 10-place 204B for jobs like setting power line poles and towers, ski towers, and hauling other two-ton-loads.
They foresee increased use of helicopters in isolated communities of northern Ontario, where they believe there probably never will be any surface transportation.
Dominion was among the first to order Bell’s turbine-powered JetRanger. The first of three Dominion JetRangers was delivered in early 1967.
In a joint venture with Pegasus Airlifts of Burlington, Ontario, Dominion in 1967 helped to provide what has been described as the most comprehensive helicopter air taxi service ever offered in a metropolitan area. Both firms operated two Bell JetRangers and two Bell 47J-2s at the Canadian International Exposition (Expo ’67) in Montreal, April 28 to October 27.
Operating throughout the Montreal area on a scheduled, fixed-fare basis, the eight helicopters are reported to have flown over 100,000 passengers during Expo ’67. This was the first time that the new-generation, turbine-powered helicopter has been used for such an air taxi operation of such magnitude.