by Jack Jamieson
May, 1964, Western Wings
When a northern B.C. trucking operator bought a fixed-wing aircraft in 1937, little did he realize that it was the initial step in developing the largest helicopter company in the Yukon Territory. Klondike Helicopters Ltd., however, didn’t get its start under owner Pat Callison until 1957. But the story of this young company is not complete unless the earlier history of flying in the Yukon is examined.
Says Mr. Callison: “I was operating a trucking business in the Deece Lake and Telegraph Creek areas back in ’37 when I first started flying. Well, I had this plane with the trucking operation since 1942. In those days,” Mr. Callison recollects, “There was no Alaska Highway, so we did a lot of flying.”
Fairchild 71s did a lot of flying on that project. Skiis and floats were the main landing equipment. And then in 1947 Callison realized the potential in the charter flying business in the north, so he moved to Dawson City, Yukon and opened Callison’s Flying Services. “I started with one Fairchild. But when I sold the business in 1957 the company had two Cessna 180s and a Beaver,” he said.
Small mail runs and servicing dredges were some of the jobs undertaken by the aircraft line. It was probably one of the instrumental factors causing the end of the working dog teams in the area. The planes could drop in on wood camps along the Klondike River (where the river boats stopped to take on food or fuel) and actually save the water transportation company money.
The big year was 1957. Callison sold his fixed-wing aircraft business and made the big step into the field of choppers. “I bought two Bell G2s and formed the company Klondike Helicopters. That year’s operation was so successful that I got two more Bells the following year.” Two new Hiller 12 Es were added to the fleet in 1960 only to be followed up with two more identical machines in 1962. The fleet today is composed of the eight helicopters and a Cessna 180.
“The Cessna is used for servicing the helicopters,” says Callison. “We visit camps with it, rush parts to downed machines and help make quick moves from one camp to another. My job is taking the parts to the helicopters. Can’t afford to have the machines sit idle on the ground.”
Klondike Helicopters operates out of three Yukon bases: Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake. All overhaul work is done in Whitehorse during the winter period. There are 21 persons on the Klondike Helicopters payroll which includes 18 pilots and engineers, chief engineer Bert Omson, office manager Alex Kapty and Mr. Callison. Klondike is the only helicopter firm based in the Yukon.
Mr. Callison holds a commercial flying license for both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in addition to holding a maintenance license. He spent most of his life in the North. Born in the Dakotas, he came to the Peace River country with his parents in 1913 and has operated trap lines, pack trains and trucking firms. But it’s fairly safe to bet that you’ll never see him away from flying now. It’s in his blood for good.
This article originally appeared in the May, 1964 edition of Western Wings magazine.