Driving and flying Miss Daisy, Part 2

The one and only Helicopter Technik München Skyrider on display at the XXXe Salon international de l’aéronautique et de l’espace, at Le Bourget, Paris, France, in 1973. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTM_Skytrac.

Hello again, my reading friend. As promised in the first part of this article, I am pleased to offer you some Canadian content. At the end of 1979, a virtually unknown company by the name of West German Aircraft Development Corporation founded Manitoba Aircraft Corporation Limited to produce helicopters at Gimli, Manitoba, in the shops formerly occupied by a small aircraft maker, Saunders Aircraft Corporation Limited.

The history of this Canadian company is fascinating to say the least. Let us limit ourselves here to looking at a broad outline. A British-born aeronautical engineer founded Saunders Aircraft in May 1968, in Montréal, Québec. David A. “Dave” Saunders wanted to convert some British-made de Havilland Heron commuter airliners powered by four piston engines into twin engine aircraft fitted with a longer fuselage and United Aircraft of Canada PT6 turboprops – one of the best engines of its type in the world. He then planned to launch the production of a Heron-derived aircraft powered by two PT6s, the ST-28. The prototype of the ST-27, the new designation of the converted Herons, flew in May 1969.

The closing of Canadian Forces Base Gimli, in 1971, changed everything. In an effort to create jobs, the Manitoba Development Corporation offered financial assistance to any company interested in the site. The management of Saunders Aircraft jumped on the occasion. “Dave” Saunders refused this decision and resigned. Over the next months and years, the aircraft maker converted 13 Herons into ST-27s. It also tried to get financial support from the federal government, without much success one must say. The lack of coordination between the ministries left many observers speechless, if not angry. Increasingly worried, the Manitoba government decided, in 1975, that it would no longer inject funds into the program. Saunders Aircraft tried to stay afloat by launching various projects but its efforts to find funding failed. The company ceased operations in December 1975, the month in which the first ST-28 took to the sky. The Manitoba government put Saunders Aircraft into receivership in June 1976, dealing it a fatal blow. But back to our story and Manitoba Aircraft.

The first helicopter that the new company would produce was a West German four seater designed by Helicopter Technik München Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung & Company Anlagen Kommanditgesellschaft. This Skyrider was derived from the Wagner Sky-Trac III, or Skytrac 3 light helicopter test flown around 1965-66. This three seat helicopter was itself derived from a proof of concept prototype whose name remains unknown. The Sky-Trac was also available as a single seat utility vehicle (aerial spraying, casualty evaluation, bulky load lifting, etc.). This Sky-Trac I flew around July 1965. The five-seat Sky-Trac V, whose elegant cabin may have been designed by Doktor-Ingenieur Honoris Causa F. Porsche Aktiengesellschaft, a well known car maker if there was one, did not go beyond the drafting table or scale model stage.

Faced with a market dominated by American, British and French companies, Wagner Helicopter Technik, a company founded by Josef Wagner, completed seven or so Sky-Tracs before it ceased operations. We will come back to this West German businessman a bit later.

As was said (typed?) in the first part of this article, Helicopter Technik München bought the production rights of the Wagner Sky-Trac and Aerocar around 1971. This small West German company hoped to quickly launch production. However, it did not succeed in obtaining the necessary funds. It produced only one Skyrider. The Skyrover, a version powered by a turboshaft engine, a type of turbine engine, was not produced at all. Faced with a market dominated by American, British and French companies, Helicopter Technik München closed its doors around 1975.

On the backburner since that closure, production projects for the Wagner helicopter re-emerged with the start of negotiations with the Canadian and Manitoban governments. The limited number of potential orders in a highly competitive market and the limited amount of money that Manitoba Aircraft was able to attract from private investors meant that the provincial government refused to commit further. Unable to interest the federal government or, more accurately, the Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce, Manitoba Aircraft called it quits before the end of 1981.

A German businessman, Peter Chrobak, bought the production rights of the Sky-Trac and Skyrider in 1992. He sold them in 2014 to Guăngdōng Yī Lì Pŭ Diànqi Gŭfèn Yŏuxìan Gōngsī, a major Chinese home appliance manufacturer interested in diversifying its production. This company, later known as Déào Tōngijòng Hángkōng Gŭfèn Yŏuxìan Gōngsī, wanted to produce piloted and unpiloted helicopters through a subsidiary, Dōngying Wútong Dé Ào Zhishēngjī Yŏuxìan Gōngsī. Yours truly was not able to confirm if production of these helicopters truly began.

It should be noted that a company founded by Josef Wagner in 1947, Wagner Vertriebsges mit beschränkter Haftung, gave birth to Wagner-Gruppe Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, a world leader in the application of liquid and powdered dyes to various surfaces.

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Rénald Fortier