Photos © Ruud Leeuw

Skytrucks at Gimli

First Nation Transport at Gimli

Holidays during 2007 enabled me to visit one of the last remaining locations from where Curtiss C-46 Commando's make a living: Gimli in Manitoba, Canada.
The C-46 is a vintage WW2 workhorse and archetypical skytruck, hauling cargo to unimproved airports, serving remote communities in northern parts of the central provinces of Canada.
Previously I had seen Curtiss Commando's at work with Everts Air Cargo in Anchorage,Alaska and Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and now I had an opportunity to see one at work with FNT.
I was met by FNT's head honcho (or in his words: the 'Accountable Manager') Fred Petrie, who filled me in on the company's present status and outlook.

FNT Inc First Nations Transportation Inc (FNT) is not your run of the mill cargo airline, a fact which made my visit the more interesting.
The company was founded in 2003 and continued where companies such as (Northland) Air Manitoba (ceased operations in 1994, after its AoC was withdrawn due to safety issues) and Commando Air Transport (which ceased operations in 2001, also its AoC withdrawn, and allegedly safety issues were the cause again) had left off.
A cautious start was made with one aircraft and upon my visit in Sep.2007 the company had grown to be the proud owner of 2 Curtiss C-46 Commando's and 2 Douglas DC-3's.
After a discreet start where FNT's aircraft carried no markings other than the compulsory tailnumber, the aircraft now adorn the company titles and slogan 'Serving the North', showing selfconfidence and a here-to-stay attitude.

CF-QHY in repair When I arrived in Gimli (map) I obviousky looked for the airport sign, but this led me to Gimli Business Park, not Gimli Airport... Because there is no air traffic control here, and no rescue and firefighting services, etc it isn't an airport in a strict sense. But it does have runways and hangars and in one (I did not see any signs for FNT) I found the people I was looking for.
And I was immediately confronted with FNT's latest addition: the former Sioux Narrows Airways / Plummer Lodge DC-3 CF-QHY (c/n 14560/26005).
While the engines were recently overhauled and testflown, soon after take off on its first commercial flight for FNT no.2 engine packed in... So this issue is now being adressed and hopefully 'QHY will join the operation in earnest!
Below you will find more photos of CF-QHY, meanwhile here is some history on this vintage propliner-
This airframe was first produced by Douglas Aircraft Company as c/n 14560 but due duplication of serials it was reserialled c/n 26005 and delivered as 43-48744 on 16Sep44 to the USAAF. It was transferred as 977 to RCAF 3 TC Dakota 4ST on 21Sep44, operated though a series of units & locations.
Its tailnumber changed to 12958, with the Canadian Armed Forces, and served with 402 CFTSD at Saskatoon (asper 26Jun70).
It took on a civilian identity, first with Bradley Air Services of Carp,Ont. (15Oct71) but CF-QHY soon changed hands to one M. Carter of Hay River, NWT (registered 14Aug72). In 1975 it went to Northwest Territorial Airways, but returned as C-FQHY to former owner M. Carter of Hay River in 1977.
...
no.2 engine removed
The culprit, back to overhaul
...
Sioux Narrows A/W Ltd (of Winnipeg, Manitoba) had it registered to its name on 08Feb79. It seems to have been leased or bought by Contact Airways Ltd of Ft. McMurray,Alberta in April 1980, but it soon went back to Sioux Narrows A/W in March 1981.
During the 1990s it seems to have been leased to Point's North Air Services of Saskatchewan; this company made sad headlines when DC-3 C-FNTF of theirs went down near Ennadai Lake (Nunavut) in March 2000, with both 2 crew killed; the aircraft carried freight for a fishing camp that was being built at Ennadai Lake and the crash happened when it tried to land.
...
The cabin, will remain empty for a while
Cockpit of CF-QHY

Routemap of the previous operator. CF-QHY was registered to Plummer's Arctic Lodges of Great Bear Lake from Feb02 until 2005, but I think Sioux Narrows A/W and Plummer's Lodges are one and the same. In fact, through all of this latter period this DC-3 may have been stored at Selkirk, as Plummer's (which exploits 3 hunting/fishing lodges in northern Canada) found replacing the DC-3 by 2 turbine-reconfigured DHC-3 Otters more economical and stored 'QHY there at some point.

The map of CF-QHY's former operator still adorns the bulkhead.

Upon the demise of FNT Inc., CF-QHY was registered again to Sioux Narrows (Winnipeg,MAN) on 29DEC09.

Source of the above (except my own records): The DC-3, the First Seventy Years, by J.Gradidge / Air-Britain, 2006

My visit to Gimli took place on the afternoon of 27Sep and morning of 28Sep. On the 27th Douglas C-47B CF-FTR (c/n 16095/32843) was away and on the 28th it should have been away too... Except it had returned that morning because it could not land at its destination, due to low visibility. So it sat at Gimli, fully loaded, waiting for a weather update.
It gave me a chance to look at this 'Gooney Bird' in some detail.

Notice the cargo stored outside, labelled YIV: Island Lake Airport (map, upper right hand corner) which serves Island Lake (see Wikipedia) with a population of 59 !
These air routes dry up during winter time, as these communities are served through ice roads and air transport cannot compete with surface transport in terms of economics.
CF-FTR is ready to go
YIV is island Lake Airport
Cargo ready to go

CF-FTR has cargo loaded WAS, but this must be an inhouse FNT designation as 'CWAS' refers to Pam Rocks in B.C. !
Airports in Manitoba.
Fred Petrie explained: "WAS is the community of Wassagamack (many spellings...) that does not have an airport; the ground handler at YIV transfers the goods by boat, a little over an hour for the crossing on a good day." Thanks again, Fred !
A full load for CF-FTR
Due to the rising cargofloor it is hard work to move the cargo forward, if you haven't got one of these!

FNT aims for one C-46 and one DC-3 in production plus to have one of each standby in case one is unable to operate a scheduled flight. This because almost all business comes from The North West Company (dba Northern Stores), flying supplies to stores in remote communities, so aircraft availability should not be a problem.

Cockpit of CF-FTR
Closer look into the cockpit

A word of history on CF-FTR:
C/n 16095 was first assigned, but reserialled to 32843 and as 44-76511 delivered on 17Mar45 to the USAAF, transferred as KN417 to RAF Montreal on 19Mar45.
It served with various units, first with 525 Sqdn (08Apr45), then 238 Sqdn, 22MU (12Nov47) and was struck off charge on 05Sep50.
CF-GBH was its first civilian identity, for Babb (Canada) Ltd (for whom it was ferried from Cairo, Egypt) in 1951.
But it returned to military service, as 10916, for the RCAF (Dakota 4MFP) on 05Jun52. It also served with ADC 104 Flt at St.Hubert (28Jan53), later also with other units at Trenton, Rockcliffe, Vancouver, Cold Lake and Saskatoon.
As N6677 it was registered to Priority Air Transport System Inc. of Redwood City,CA who had bought it on 07Aug68. In Apr70 it went to World Weather Inc. where it had a spray gear fitted during Nov. 1969.
CF-CTA became its new tailnumber for North Canada Air Ltd of Prince Albert,Sas (registered 21Mar72), which was revised to C-FCTA during 1978.
Back it went to the USA, registered as N142JR for Jarex Corp (of Columbus,OH), who bought this DC-3 on 22Oct85. It went to Rhoades Int'l Inc on 17Mar87 and was found stored at Columbus during May 2001. It was registered to J&T Aircraft Leasing LLC of Columbus,OH on 08Nov03 but this was cancelled on 23Aug05: its flying days looked over...!
But then it was registered on 15Jun06 to TAC Air Services of Gimli,Man. and a new lease on life got under way... It was registered to FNT on 28Nov06 [TAC Air is FNT's Approved Maintenance Organization - AMO].
[Source: DC-3, the First Seventy Years by J.Gradidge / Air-Britain 2006]

UPDATE:
CF-FTR was registered on 22Dec10 to Buffalo Airways of Hay River & Yellowknife,NWT.
And on 08Jun16 as N144WC to Basler Turbo Conversions LLC !

Curtiss C-46F Commando C-GTPO is still in "Buffalo" Joe McBryan's Buffalo Airways livery...
Worse, it is presently grounded due to a destructive storm (a tornado was even suggested..) hurling GTPO against a fence, causing damage to the tailsection (some of the buildings also show damage by this storm) of this green 'skymonster'.
The hangar FNT presently holds office in, doing aircraft repairs, receiving / palletizing / storing cargo, cannot accommodate the Curtiss Commando. Plans call for erecting a building on an available lot to rectify this.

A word of history on this venerable skytruck...
C/n (a.k.a. 'msn') 22556 was delivered to the USAAF as 44-78733 in Aug45.
Its civilian career started a lease to Flying Tiger Line (in 1950, registered N1258N) but Wings Incorporated of Fairbanks, AK actually bought it in 1957.
Wien Alaska (also of Fairbanks,AK) leased it that same year, but fate struck a mighty blow when the gear was inadvertently retracted on ground, still in 1957. Don't know how long it was crippled, but it was returned to Wings Incorporated on 07Jul64.

A few years later, in May69, F.A. Conner of Miami,FL bought it. Ownership changed again in Sep70 when it was bought by Shamrock Airlines.
Next was Plymouth Leasing Company of Plymouth,MI, in 1974 and Ortner Air Services operated it on a lease that year. Next it was leased to Zantop in 1975 and Trans Continental Airlines subleased it, in 1976.
Atkins Aviation purchased N1258N in Mar85 and in May85 reregistered it to N519AC.

C-GTPO was first assigned to Northland Air Manitoba, on Apr86 and in Aug93 Buffalo Airways of Hay River,NWT became the proud owner of GTPO, operating it until 2003 (when Joe McBryan decided to terminate operations with the C-46, until he changed his mind and kept C-GPNR and C-FAVO).
FNT First Nations Transportation Inc Winnipeg, Manitoba, is registered as owner since of 07Oct04.
Sources:
http://flythebush.blogspot.com/2005 (archive) and Piston Engine Airliner Production List by TAHS, 2002

C-GTPO was seen back in action in May 2008 at Red Sucker Lake, photos on upaero.com

The open door invites a visit
Passengers?
These faces look familiar...
Goofy and Donald go along for the ride
Cavernous cabin of the C-46
Bulkhead of GTPO
Step into the office for a good view
Cockpit of GTPO
Michael Korolyk wrote me the following in Jan.2009:
"I worked for Air Manitoba and Buffalo Airways in the early 1990's.
A couple of guys and myself were the ones that pulled C-GTPO out of the bush in Pickle Lake,Ontario in the summer of 1993, when Buffalo first bought it.
It had a collapsed left main from going off the runway. it was ferried to Seattle for permanent repairs, then began service in Yellowknife.
C-GTXW was the first airplane I ever flew on: Winnipeg to St.Teresa Point in the winter of 1991. Nothing like looking back from the co-pilots seat on a C-46 during a moonlit night with the rumble from those double row Wasps!!
C-GIBX had a sister ship, C-GIXZ, which crashed in Africa after an engine failure on take off.
AIR MANITOBA had 6 C-46s in total, C-GIBX, C-GTXW, C-GIXZ, C-GTPO, C-FAVO and C-FFNC.
FNC was bought by Everts Air Cargo in Alaska, after it had a left engine boost pump fire during its time with Air Manitoba. It was still hauling fuel today the last I heard.
TXW and FNC were my favorites. They were slightly quicker than the rest due to very little fuselage dents and wing nicks. TXW could maintain 190 knots while fully loaded, and TPO and IBX did about 170.
Great airplanes, nothing built today can come close to replacing them."
Michael.
C-GTPO awaits more flying days
Big Props: GTPO and CF-OOW
C-GTPO was registered to Buffalo Airways again on 17Nov2010.
Update 2016: C-GTPO is being made airworthy, in hangar (YZF?); image dated 21Oct16 on Instagram.
Here's the history of C-46 C-GTPO cn 22556 (by Oct.2016) I found on Planelogger.com
History of C-46 C-GTPO

Gimli 'business park'

CF-OOW stored at Gimli This is CF-OOW, which looks a bit down on its luck. FNT leased this Douglas C-47A (c/n 13342) last year, but since Dec06 it has been left here, grounded, by Enterprise Airlines (these days known as Triumph Airlines) of Oshawa,Ont. Note that the righthand mainwheel has been taken off and the enginecover on no.1 has been blown off.
On Sulako's Blog I found some photos of what must have been a flight for FNT.
A closer look into the history of this Charlie Forty-Seven:
C/n 13342 was produced by the Douglas Aircraft Company and as 42-93431 delivered in May44. It was transferred as 970 to the RCAF, initially to 3 TC on 01jun44.
It served with various units and was reserialled 12954 in June1970 and served with 402 CFTSD at Saskatoon (04mar71)
It took on a civilian identity as CF-OOW for Atlas Aviation Ltd, which bought it on 10Sep71. A few years later it moved to Air Dale Ltd, of Sault Ste.Marie (21Feb76). The exotic tailnumber 8P-OOW was assigned for Tropical Air Svce (registered in Nov79), but as C-FOOW it returned to Air Dale Ltd on 21Feb80.
Great Northern Freight Forwarding of Ocala,FL registered it on 15Dec88, but this must have been under the Canadian registration.
Enterprise Air became owner on 21Feb96, which changed it name to Triumph Airways Ltd and as such registration was revised on 23Jun05 CF-OOW / C-FOOW.
Standby... more or less A closer look into the history of this 'Charlie Forty-Seven':
C/n 13342 was produced by the Douglas Aircraft Company and as 42-93431 delivered in May44. It was transferred as 970 to the RCAF, initially to 3 TC on 01jun44.
It served with various units and was reserialled 12954 in June 1970 and served with 402 CFTSD at Saskatoon (04mar71)
Left behind by Triump Airways It took on a civilian identity as CF-OOW for Atlas Aviation Ltd, which bought it on 10Sep71. A few years later it moved to Air Dale Ltd, of Sault Ste.Marie (21Feb76). The exotic tailnumber 8P-OOW was assigned for Tropical Air Service (registered in Nov79), but as C-FOOW it returned to Air Dale Ltd on 21Feb80.
Great Northern Freight Forwarding of Ocala,FL registered it on 15Dec88, but this must have been under the Canadian registration.
Enterprise Air became owner on 21Feb96, which changed it name to Triumph Airways Ltd and as such registration was revised on 23Jun05 CF-OOW / C-FOOW.
Source of the above : The DC-3, the First Seventy Years, by J.Gradidge / Air-Britain, 2006

 

A Saunders ST-28 (C-GYAP, c/n 101) sits here, probably hasn't flown at any time, certainly never will...
The Saunders ST-27 regional airliner was build in the 1970s by the Canadian Saunders Aircraft Company in Gimli, Manitoba, Designed as a conversion of the earlier de Havilland Heron, the ST-27 was the most radical DH Heron conversion program, featuring two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprops and a stretched fuselage. Despite its promise as a regional airliner, the project collapsed when Manitoba government funding was withdrawn.
Source: Wikipedia
Saunders ST-28
Saunders ST-28
With only meagre sales success and with old Herons becoming more expensive, the company decided to manufacture a new version based on the original ST-27. The first ST-28 was manufactured at the Gimli, Manitoba factory using new jigs and tooling supplied by Hawker Siddeley Aviation. Although superficially similar to the earlier ST-27, the new aircraft benefited from the experiences flying the earlier airliner in regular service. Larger cabin windows, an increased rudder size, four-bladed propellers and a host of other enhancements were incorporated in the ST-28. The first flight of the prototype, C-FYBM-X took place on 18 July 1974.
While testing was taking place towards an American certification, the Saunders company had plans for series production but no firm orders and a tremendous drain on available funding. The precarious financial situation eventually led to a review by the Manitoba government and the withdrawal of funding in 1976. The company was forced to windup operations and sold all assets and rights to Air Otonobee, one of the primary operators of the earlier ST-27. By the early 1980s, the sturdy airliners began to fade from service with the last ST-27 being retired during this period. [Source: Wikipedia]

C-GYAP is now owned by the Western Canada Aviation Museum, which hasn't the place to put it on display in their museum in Winnipeg. (In 2017 confirmed as still in storage, no planes for restoration yet).

 

Back to the flying birds...
C-GIBX coming in to land
Touchdown at Gimli !
Could walk right to the runway edge...
I was pleased to see Curtiss C-46F Commando C-GIBX (c/n 22472) running the show here, as in 2005 I'd read a report it was awaiting new engines; however these engines are now running up hours and I was told GTPO was soon to become operational again and GIBX was to become the back up plane.

Here is some history on this former USAF to workhorse, delivered in 1945 as 44-78649.
It was first registered civilian as N74171 and flew for Pan American World Airways from Sep48 - Jan53. Transocean Air Lines bought it on 29Jul55, Aviation Finance Inc purchased N74171 on 11Sep61, Ortner Air Service leased it at first in 1961, but decided to buy it later (07Jan63).
Active Air became the owner on 27Aug75 and C-46 Parts Inc bought it on 15Nov75. But it remained an aircraft insteda of just parts, as Ferrer Aviation became owner on 14Feb79.

Then this C-46 moved to Canada as C-GIBX for Northland Air Manitoba Ltd of Winnipeg (1985-1988). Then GIBX moved to Nunasi-Northland Airlines in Aug88, leasing it back to Northland Air Manitoba in Nov89, and then bought by Air Manitoba Ltd in 1994... though I would imagine these companies all had something to do with each other...?
For a brief spell it moved abroad, to Kenya, as 5Y-IBX for Relief Air Transport (Aug94 - Mar96, returned to Air Manitoba from lease).
Most recently Commando Air Transport Inc. of Gimli was registered as owner (bought Nov96) which lasted until 2003, when apparently CAT was shut down among some controversy...?).
And now we find C-GIBX still going strong with FNT First Nations Transportation Inc (headquarters in Winnipeg), registered 01Sep04.
[Source: Piston Engine Airliner Production / TAHS 2002 & http://flythebush.blogspot.com/2005 (archive)
note the damaged building
Being prepared for another flight

 

Meanwhile, things were stirring with CF-FTR...
The open no.1 engine was no cause of concern, it seems the engine seemed a little off at that earlier take off, but with the weather clearing at its destination, departure was imminent.
A peak in the innards of no.1... A look at the map with some destinations marked.
Island Lake, Red Sucker Lake, Sandy Lake and Red Lake were just a few that were mentioned.

A good book to read about commercial flying in these parts, is "My Life in the North" by Jack Lamb (of Lambair), published in 2002 by Jack Lamb.

 

Meanwhile, loading had started on C-GIBX...

C-GIBX on Airliners.net
and a take off on YouTube

 

C-46 C-GIBX was registered to SASCO Ltd of Libau,MAN on 23Dec2009.

 

With CF-FTR departed (no photos, sorry, as I was filming at the time) and C-GIBX being loaded up, it was time for me to move on again.
Many thanks to Fred Petrie, for making time available to show me around and share thoughts on the future of these skytrucks at Gimli.
Website of FNT First Nations Transportation: www.fntinc.ca

Another FNT YouTube video..

 

Unfortunately, FNT ran into regulatory problems and had to cease operations..

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION First Nations Transportation banned from flying - 20 people laid off while airline fights suspension
By: Lindsey Wiebe - 9/JUL/2009
A Gimli-based airline has been grounded and more than 20 employees laid off after Transport Canada suspended the company's air operator certificate last week.
First Nations Transportation serves eight remote communities on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, including St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill First Nations, which are also major shareholders. The freight company runs an estimated 10 flights per week to deliver 68,000 kilograms of supplies.

General manager Fred Petrie said Transport Canada suspended the aircraft operator certificate July 2 over alleged 'deficiencies in our documentation'. Petrie said he expects to have those issues cleared up by next week. But he said First Nations Transportation will be grounded for the summer over a new government requirement that planes be equipped with "collision avoidance systems," a type of safety equipment. The requirement was announced in 2007 and took effect July 1, Transport Canada said. Petrie said he initially thought his older planes weren't included, but later learned otherwise. A request for more time was denied, and it will take until August to get the new equipment.
"We're working diligently to meet Transport Canada's requirements," Petrie said. "We're working very hard to save the company at all."

Transport Canada spokeswoman Andrea Rudniski said the department suspended First Nations Transportation's certificate after a recent inspection and the company's 'history of non-compliance'. She said an inspection in January found 'deficiencies' in the company's operational control system, which makes sure a company follows day-to-day safety requirements in areas such as training and dispatching.
First Nations Transportation addressed those issues and was allowed to fly again, she said, but an inspection in June found deficiencies in the same area, as well as in its quality-assurance program.
"The safety deficiencies in both systems were quite significant, which resulted in our suspension," she said.
Rudniski said she couldn't discuss specifics of the suspension since the company can appeal it.
She said hypothetical deficiencies could include failing to keep records of training or aircraft maintenance.
Petrie said his planes, a 1940s Curtiss C-46 Commando and a trio of DC-3s, might be older, but are still safe. They're the only aircraft that can handle the short gravel runways in remote communities, he said. The planes are worth $250,000 each, but he said the new equipment will cost upwards of $100,000 per plane.
Even if the company comes up with a plan to tackle the problems that led to the suspension, the planes won't be able to fly again without the new safety equipment or submitting a new request for an exemption, Rudniski said.
An earlier request was rejected because it didn't meet the criteria, including an outline of how the company would mitigate safety risks, she said.

First Nations Transportation does most of its business with the North West Company, which owns the Northern Stores that sell groceries in some northern communities. A spokesman said the stores are using another carrier and it's business as usual.
Petrie said his company has appealed the January suspension, and is awaiting information from Transport Canada requested in February.
"It's all been very high-handed and unreasonable," said Petrie, who thinks cash penalties are tough enough. "There are other ways to do things without putting people out of business."
Petrie said he has hired consultants to examine the company's regulatory compliance. The company might take legal action against the transportation department, depending on the findings.
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/first-nations-transportation-banned-from-flying-50347287.html

DC-3 CF-QHY was promptly offered for sale in July 2009:
Time on the airframe: 19665.6 hrs, while the LH engine has 662.3 hrs (TBO by FNT is 1300 hours), the prop has 1386.5 hrs (with 2600 TBO). The hours for the RH engine are 527.0 and the prop 1305.1

They (QHY, OOW, FTR, GTPO, GIBX) were all still there on June 14 2010, see images on my page Photos by Friends & Guest (26)

 

Gimli remembered
I found it rather ironic that while F.N.T. has gone under, their C-46 C-GIBX surfaces in this 'Springtime 2010' clothes collection... The text on 'Pall Mall PME Legends'-clothing (shirts, sweaters, jackets) is always a
mix of Propliner names, locations, aircraft types, sometimes mixed to resemble an operator but
not quite exactly the same.

www.pme-legend.com

 


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