Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to move stuff around: Spartan Air Services Limited of Ottawa, Ontario, the Ottawa radio station CFRA and Operation High Tower

The Vertol Model 42 of Skyrotors Limited of Arnprior, Ontario, chartered by Spartan Air Services Limited of Ottawa, Ontario, as part of Operation High Tower. Anon., “Operation High Tower.” The Ottawa Citizen, 8 November 1961, 3.

Given how lazy yours truly tends to be, my reading friend, yes, yes, lazy, I admit it, I chose this week’s topic of our blog / bulletin / thingee because it could be put forward in a relatively brief pontification.

Our tale began in the fall of 1961 with a telephone call to John A. “Johnny” Roberts, one of the founders of a firm which, only a few years before, had been one the largest and most active aerial survey and photography firm in Canada, a firm known both locally and globally, Spartan Air Services Limited of Ottawa, Ontario.

The management of the Ottawa radio station CFRA, founded in May 1947, quite possibly the station’s founder himself, Franklin S.F. “Frank” Ryan, had a bit of a problem. It / he very much wanted to erect a 90+ metre (300 feet) radio tower in the Gatineau Hills, near the alpine ski station of Camp Fortune, Québec. Said tower would greatly improve reception in the Ottawa River valley. It would also increase CFRA’s sending range to almost 130 kilometres (80 miles).

And yes, the call sign CFRA seemed to be inspired by the name of the founder of that station, with FR as in “Frank” Ryan, but I digress.

Moving the unwieldy components of said tower by road did not seem possible, however, unless a road got carved up across the wooded and rocky terrain, a costly and time-consuming endeavour to say the least. Might Spartan Air Services be able to help, by airlifting the whole kit and caboodle? CFRA wanted the new tower to be operational before Christmas. Roberts indicated that he would look into this.

Having done so, Roberts soon realised that the helicopters of the firm which might have been able to do the job were in distant Canadian locations. He then asked a colleague, William Norman “Bill” Peppler, to contact the United States Navy (USN) to see if that service would be willing to loan one of its nonrigid airships to the Ottawa firm. Peppler’s suspicion that the answer he would receive would be a polite no proved accurate. This being said (typed?), the USN representative he talked to suggested that Goodyear Aircraft Corporation, the subsidiary of tire manufacturing giant Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company which had produced virtually all the nonrigid airships operated by the USN since the 1910s, might perhaps be able to help.

The Goodyear Aircraft representative Peppler talked to was also very polite. He indicated that the firm’s nonrigid airships were not suitable for the type of work that Spartan Air Services envisioned.

Unwilling to give up and lose the contract, Roberts and / or Peppler kept at it. Either of them managed to charter a Vertol Model 42 twin rotor helicopter owned by Skyrotors Limited of Arnprior, Ontario, a firm founded in August 1961.

Over two days in early November 1961, the chief pilot at Canadian Vertol Aircraft Limited of Arnprior, the Canadian subsidiary of the American firm Vertol Aircraft Corporation, Max N. Nebergall, with fellow pilot Corbitt Thomas “Tom” Cannon, the president of Skyrotors, at his side, airlifted, it was said, approximately 54 000 kilogrammes (120 000 pounds) of crushed stone from Chelsea, Québec, and approximately 68 000 kilogrammes (150 000 pounds) of premixed concrete from Hull, Québec, to the site of the radio tower. Given that the Model 42 had a lifting capability of 2 250 kilogrammes (5 000 pounds), quite a few flights were required.

A construction crew on site unloaded the crushed stone and premixed concrete on a hill top as the helicopter hovered above them. It then used these materials to build the radio tower’s foundations. This team worked for an Ottawa firm, E. Quipp & Company Limited. I kid you not.

And no, yours truly does not know if the crushed stone and premixed concrete were carried inside the helicopter or slung underneath it.

A couple of days later, Nebergall and Cannon airlifted the walls and roof of CFRA’s recently dismantled transmitter building, as well as the sections of the radio tower, located at well known Kilreen Farm, in Nepean Township, near Ottawa. The construction crew at the hill top detached the elements of the transmitter building as the helicopter hovered above them. Whether or not the sections of the radio tower were lowered into position one at a time while the helicopter hovered is unclear.

Two Bell Model 47s operated by Spartan Air Services escorted the Model 42 during this second phase of the operation.

And yes, there is a Model 47, a Bell HTL to be more precise, in the really wig collection of the equally wig Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa. Wig as in amazing, awesome and incredible. Get with it, hombre.

A beaming Ryan was on hand to witness the arrival of the first elements of the transmitter building. Better yet, he seemingly described that arrival in a live broadcast of his very popular daily radio program, The Farmer’s Notebook.

Would you believe that this was the first time a helicopter had been used in a large Ottawa area construction project? It may also have been the first time a helicopter had been used in a large private construction project in Ontario, if not Canada.

Spartan Air Services actually had to submit flight plans to the Department of Transport, the latter making sure that the helicopter skirted all built-up areas when it carried the dismantled transmitter building and the sections of the radio tower. Yours truly wonders if the helicopter also had to skirt all built-up areas when it carried the crushed stone and premixed concrete. It might not have had to do it if these materials were placed inside.

Would you believe that the expression Operation High Tower used to describe this very successful endeavour was seemingly suggested by a construction crew worker? This moniker was seemingly accepted by one and all.

And one more thing before I forget. Operated by Ryan and his spouse, born Kathleen Whitton, Kilreen Farm was a farm locally, regionally, provincially, nationally and internationally known for its Angus and Holstein cattle, Hackney horses and Suffolk sheep, but back to our story.

Incidentally, Operation High Tower was mentioned in the main daily newspapers of the Ottawa region, namely The Ottawa Journal, The Ottawa Citizen and Le Droit.

And that is it for today, unless of course you, my faithful reading friend, wish to read / see a few words on the Model 42 helicopter. Your silence is deafening, my annoying reading friend. Sigh. You have my word. I shall be brief. All right, all right, very brief.

A Piasecki H-21 / CH-21 Work Horse / Shawnee search and rescue helicopter of the United States Air Force (USAF), Alaska, 1957. USAF via Wikimedia.

A Piasecki H-21 / CH-21 Work Horse / Shawnee search and rescue helicopter of the United States Air Force (USAF), Alaska, 1957. USAF via Wikimedia.

The Model 42 was / is civilian version of the Piasecki H-21 / CH-21 Work Horse / Shawnee, a military egg beater / whirlybird often referred to as the “Flying Banana.” Originally designed for use as an Arctic search and rescue helicopter and test flown in April 1952, this rugged and reliable machine eventually served as a transport helicopter with the armed forces of half a dozen countries in North America and Europe, including Canada, which took on strength 20 or so Model 42 and 44s. A few civilian operators in North America and Europe used Model 42s and / or 44s as well. All in all, approximately 705 examples of this family of helicopters were built between 1952 and 1959, by Piasecki Aircraft Corporation / Vertol Aircraft, a new corporate identity adopted in March 1956.

Brief enough for ya? Good.

This writer wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.


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Rénald Fortier