North

Restored 1950s helicopter on display in Yukon, decades after crash

'You can see it must have a story to tell,' says aviation historian Bob Cameron, who spent hundreds of hours putting the machine back together.

'You can see it must have a story to tell,' says aviation historian Bob Cameron

Whitehorse aviation historian Bob Cameron in the Hiller 360 helicopter he spent hundreds of hours restoring. The wreck sat for decades, abandoned on the tundra in northern Yukon. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

More than 400 hours of restoration work have finally paid off for a Yukon aviation historian.

Bob Cameron recently completed work on one of the first and oldest helicopters to fly in the territory, and the machine is now on display in Whitehorse.

It won't be flown again, but it's been restored to the condition it would have been in before it crash-landed near Old Crow, Yukon, almost 70 years ago.

"I didn't have to restore it to like-new condition. Putting it together in beat-up condition is a lot quicker job than restoring to look like new," Cameron said.

Cameron figures he put about 400 hours of work into the restoration. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Hiller 360 was built in 1948 by a California-based company, United Helicopter Inc.

It was built about the same time Bell helicopters started being manufactured. Both companies soon caught the eyes of the U.S. military and were soon adopted for military use.

Cameron says many people are familiar with the early Bell helicopters from M*A*S*H, the long-running television series set during the Korean War.

"This [Hiller 360] … has some similarities in that it has the Plexiglas bubble, it has a tail boom and it seats three across — as did the Bells," said Cameron.

Abandoned for decades

Cameron said his restored Hiller 360 was one of a pair brought to Yukon by Toronto-based Kenting Aviation in the early 1950s for topographical surveys.

Kenting Aviation helicopter pilot Charlie Parkin with the Hiller 360 helicopter north of Mayo, Yukon, on the Federal Government Topographical Survey in 1950. (Yukon Transportation Museum)

In August 1952, just after lifting off, the aircraft lost power because of a faulty fuel pump and had to do an emergency landing on the tundra south of Old Crow.

The helicopter had inflatable rubber pontoons and stuck to the ground, forcing it sideways and destroying its wooden rotors.

The pilot and two surveyors walked away a little shaken, but unhurt. The helicopter, though, was grounded.

"Although it was really quite repairable in those days, there was no way of getting it out," said Cameron.

The wreckage sat abandoned for decades. (Bob Cameron)

It would then sit frozen on the tundra for decades. It was occasionally spotted by other pilots in the area, but nobody would pay the cost to airlift the wreckage out.

But in 2014, Cameron's former employer, Trans North Helicopters, was working near the crash site and donated a free airlift of the helicopter to Eagle Plains, Yukon, on the Dempster Highway.

Cameron is excited to now put it on display at the Yukon Transportation Museum.

"I think we are all very pleased," he said. "The museum staff tell me it garners a lot of interest because simply looking at it, in its condition, you can see it must have a story to tell."

The helicopter is now on display at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

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