Bits and Pieces
Jack Hardock: Portrait of a Canadian Flyer
By Robert Fridman, EAA 764645
The Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw (also known by its Sikorsky model number, S-55)
Reprinted with permission from Waypoints, the newsletter of EAA Chapter 1410, High River, Alberta, Canada
Jack Hardock was born in Winnipeg and raised in Northern Ontario. He joined the Canadian Navy in 1951, choosing as his trade aircraft engine man or fitter over airframe rigger, ordnance,or electronics. “I saw the aircraft maintenance as a bigger challenge than flying because you had to keep up with new systems and materials,” he says, “and there was always something new to learn. We worked in Harvards, Beech 18s, TBM Avengers, and Sea Furys.” Spending a year and a half on the Canadian carrier HMCS Magnificent (known as “the Maggie” to her crew), he toured Bermuda, the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific West Coast to Vancouver. Jack recalls his life at sea. Read more
“The launch deck was 900 feet long, and we needed 30 knots of wind over the deck to launch the 20,000-pound Sea Furys,” he says. “They could fly on their own, but the big TBMs needed a catapult launch. It was exciting with lots of noise.” Leaving the Navy in 1957, he applied for work with Spartan Air Services out of Ottawa as a fixed wing engineer. While there were no openings for fixed wing, he was asked if he was willing to learn about helicopters.
After agreeing, he took courses for the Bell 47 and Vertol H-21. “That started my career into helicopter maintenance,” says Jack. “You needed training and a certificate for each type, and my first “R” license on the Bell 47 was only the first on a list a foot long!” In 1963 Jack was the first engineer in Western Canada certified for work on the Bell 204 heavy turbine helicopter.
He became part of the Golden Age of Flying in Canada’s last frontier. It was a time of exploration for minerals and oil, building and resupplying the Distant Early Warning and Mid-Canada radar lines and general development for every kind of exploration and development.
In January of 1966, he was hired as Bow Helicopter’s chief engineer (known as the chief wrench to those in the trade) working out of Calgary. The demand for his expertise in the maintenance of various helicopters took him to almost every corner of the flying frontier.
“The geologists – we called them rock doctors or just plain rock pickers – and builders of the Mid-Canada radar line used Vertol 21s,” he says, “and those machines needed 6 hours of maintenance for every hour of flying or the aircraft lets you down. We worked those machines all up and down through the Great Whale River and the Atlantic coast in Northern Labrador.”
With Kenting Helicopters, the work took him from Northern Quebec to La Ronge into the Yukon and up to Resolute in the High Arctic. Everywhere, the living conditions could only be described by today’s standards as primitive. Jack says he never wants to set foot in another tent again, and his idea of a holiday is definitely not a camping trip! “We lived in tents – that was the standard accommodations everywhere from the Yukon to Hudson Bay. One summer, as part of a seismic crew, we were camped on the ice 25 miles offshore from Moose Factory, and I really didn’t sleep well considering the number of polar bears constantly prowling the ice looking for food at that time of year.
“To make matters even worse, we were camped near a huge pile of ice driven up against the coast so the pilots could use it for a landmark to find home base, and this ice moaned and groaned as the tide came in and out. That was more than just a little unsettling.” On yet another expedition, Jack and the pilot were sleeping in the cargo bay of a Sikorsky S-55 when they were awakened by something rocking the machine and prying at the cargo bay door. When they discovered it was a full-sized polar bear, they scrambled up the steps of the narrow passage into the cockpit and fired the machine up in record time.
The Piasecki H-21 Workhorse/Shawnee, also known as the “Flying Banana.” Courtesy: Wikipedia
As Jack recalls, “the S-55 is that big helicopter that the Air Museum has sitting outside. And it had a big round P&W 1340 engine that really didn’t like being put to full power until it was fully warmed up, but we figured that was the lesser of the two evils. We had that machine in the air in under two minutes.” It wasn’t until after they were in the air that they began wondering if they had brought the bear with them!
Both men and machines were tested to the limits during those years when operating limits were still being developed. “I was part of the first airborne seismic drilling operation in Canada flying the Bell 204 turbine in the High Arctic and Ellesmere Island,” he says. “We ended up at a place called Ellef Ringnes that is at about the same latitude as Alert, and on a good day you could see the coast of Russia. The accommodations there were 8 x 8 x 20 fiberglass boxes that were slung in from Inuvik because they were too big to fit in a Hercules.
“The 204 could haul 4,000 pounds on the hook, and to avoid an extra fueling stop the pilots would push the aircraft to its takeoff limit and sometimes beyond. Because it was usually about minus 30, it was easy to overtorque the engines to near catastrophic failures of the gears in transmissions.”
In 1969 Jack left the North and returned to Field Aviation in Calgary to set up a major rebuild factory including “holding fixtures” to repair heavy crash-damaged Bell 204s and 206s. Business was brisk as a result of the kind of work and working conditions these
aircraft were being used for in the North.
After two years at Field, he left to establish his own business. “I was tired of working all over the country,” says Jack. “After a time, the thrill of seeing strange places wears off, and one motel or tent seems to look the same as every other one. And I felt I had reached the end of what I could do, and I went out on my own to establish Western Rotorcraft, building a hangar with a partner – hangar number 60 at the Calgary International.”
For 22 years, Western Rotorcraft was involved in every aspect of both rotary and fixed wing aircraft overhaul and maintenance ranging from major rebuilds, mods, import-export, and regular maintenance. “We were to a point we could start with almost nothing and rebuild a machine into an airworthy aircraft,” he says.
Back in 1965, Jack got his pilot’s license as much out of necessity as anything. “I was rebuilding Super Cubs in my spare time. But I couldn’t test-fly the thing, so I decided to get my license.” That experience gave him a unique perspective as he could now understand the pilot’s concerns as well as those of the maintenance engineer’s. In later years he owned a Bonanza and an immaculate Comanche 260.
Reaching the age when most people think about retiring, Jack simply chose to “back away a bit” and take life a little easier, working on contracts and special projects.
Today he laughs, “My work has come full circle. I started working on piston-powered Bell 47s, and last summer I was called by an outfit to look after their Robertson R44 machines because I was one of the few people around today with a lot of time on piston-powered helicopters.
“As much as I may try, if you’re in the flying business, you can’t avoid traveling and spending time away from home. A few summers ago I had a contract for work in Yemen, and I thought I had seen everything until I went there. I guess you’re just never too old to learn or see something new.”
Jack brings with him not only a wealth of experience from the Golden Age of Flying in Canada’s last frontier and strange far-off places around the world, but a unique sense of humor and practical outlook toward everything he does.