Article: Keeping the Boats Afloat

  • Grumman Goose in Flight over Kenora-RAMWCCopyright
    February, 1979, Canadian Aviation
    by Phil Hanson

    —Writer Phil Hanson dropped in on Viking Air, where repairing and converting flying boats is a much-in-demand business.

    Nils Christensen’s Viking Air at Victoria International Airport is not your ordinary repair shop. It is one of the few places left that specializes in the repair, overhaul, and rebuild of Grumman Goose flying boats, as supply of the boats, many of them 40 years old, slowly dwindles and demand stays as high as ever.

    “It’s a certain breed of people working on these aircraft,” said Christiansen during a tour of his elaborately equipped, 50,000-square-foot hangar. “They’re different altogether. Real airplanes are not the same as the flying boats. You have to know where to look for corrosion, how to grease them, how to preserve them.” The people at Viking Air do know and they get work from all over North America. Sooner or later, most Geese and Widgeons will pay a visit to this company.

    “Close to seventy-five per cent of our business is Grumman work, the rest is general, Beavers or whatever,” said Christensen. “We do a lot of work on Beaver amphibians. We try to help as many operators out as possible by overhauling the undercarriage.”

    More than half of the company’s work comes from the U.S. and Christensen is frequently on the phone to Alaska, a haven for Grumman marine aircraft and Beavers. “We have customers from all over the U.S.,” he said. “We never advertise, they just hear about us by word of mouth. Most people like our work, although it’s impossible to satisfy everybody.”

    When Viking Air gets its collective hands on a Goose, it likes to do a complete rebuild, a job that might take between 7,000 and 10,000 hours and cost the customer some $200,000. For that, he gets what amounts to a new aircraft with all of the latest modifications from picture windows and a lengthened cabin to the Goodyear or Cleveland wheels and brakes. A less extensive overhaul, stripping, corrosion removal and paint job takes around 5,000 hours.

    Viking Air has also obtained all rights to the McKinnon Goose and Widgeon conversions, a whole host of modifications covered by type certificates and STCs that fill several ring-binders in Christensen’s plain office.

    “Angus McKinnon retired, he’s over 70, and sold to me everything he had to do with aircraft,” said the president of Viking Air. This represents a complete turn of the wheel for Christensen. In 1967 he left Fairey Aviation at Victoria to join McKinnon’s Canadian operation–in what is now Viking’s hangar–as foreman. The company converted about three Geese to turbine power and about four Widgeons into Super Widgeon configuration before “the bottom dropped out of the Turbo-Goose business.”

    McKinnon retreated to its Sandy, Oregon, headquarters and Christensen bought the Victoria branch in the Fall of 1970, re-naming it Viking Air. He had two men on the floor and his wife in the office. Now he has 25 people in the main shop and six in Viking Shell, a fuel dealership and pilot’s lounge.

    Christensen came to Canada to serve at Little Norway during the Second World War, during which conflict he also served as an air gunner/flight engineer on Catalinas with 333 Norwegian Squadron. After the war he worked with Braathens SAFE and came back to Canada in 1951 working with de Havilland on ASR Lancaster conversions. This was followed by stints at Sault Airways, the Victoria Flying Club and six years with Forest Industries’ Flying Tankers as a flight engineer and superintendent of maintenance on the Martin Mars, leaving in the Fall of 1965 to join Fairey Aviation.

    Grumman Goose Take off-RAMWCCopyright

    This article originally appeared in the February, 1979, edition of Canadian Aviation magazine. The two photos are of Grumman Goose flying boats and are from our library and archives. The colour photo is of a Grumman Goose flying boat over Kenora, Ontario.

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