Canadian helicopter pilots aim to make history

Avatar for Ben ForrestBy Ben Forrest | March 8, 2017

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 52 seconds.

When Bob Dengler took delivery of the first Bell 429 Global Ranger in Canada back in 2010, he began thinking of using the aircraft to circumnavigate the globe.

Bell 429 in flight
The pilots will fly a Bell 429 Global Ranger around the top of the Northern Hemisphere. Kalee Appleton Photo

Dengler, now 76 and retired from a successful career as a mining contractor, was upgrading from the Bell 206L-4 LongRanger he had flown since 2007, and he was impressed with the Canadian-built 429.

“It is such a fantastic helicopter, the 429,” said Dengler, who lives in Aurora, Ont., and is founder of Dynatec Mining Services.

“It’s a twin engine, it’s very fast, tremendous capability, and I’ve kind of wanted to do this, literally since the day I got the helicopter.”

Dengler planned to join his son Steven and Bruce Laurin, a former Bell test pilot, for a round-the-world journey. It’s believed they would have become the first Canadians to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter.

But Laurin passed away suddenly in September of  last year, and Dengler had to take chemotherapy in the fall of 2016.

Steven Dengler, left stands with his father Bob and retired Bell Helicopter test pilot Rob Dugal MacDuff.
Steven Dengler, left stands with his father Bob and retired Bell Helicopter test pilot Rob Dugal MacDuff. C150 Global Odyssey Photo

Steven and his wife Bruna stepped up, redoubling their efforts and putting in many long days to keep the trip on track. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Steven. “We weren’t going to let anything stand in our way.”

Their dedication paid off. “My chemotherapy is all over and I’m back to normal,” said Bob. “We’re on track for having everything ready to go for the first of July.”

Today at HAI Heli-Expo in Dallas, Texas, the Denglers will announce plans for the C150 Global Odyssey, a journey that will see them circumnavigate the top of the Northern Hemisphere, with stops in every Canadian provincial and territorial capital.

The announcement is scheduled for 12 p.m. local time at the Bell Helicopter booth (Hall F, Booth 11249).

The journey coincides with the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, and will draw attention to many important events in Canadian history, including the country’s first airplane flight, the first transatlantic radio transmission, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“Our country is such a wonderful place that’s done so many amazing things, and it’s not always top of mind,” said Steven, 48, a renowned financial technology innovator, investor and startup mentor who is co-founder of XE, the currency conversion site and app.

“We’re a large country geographically, but we’re a pretty small one in terms of population – but we punch way above our weight, and it’s really worth remembering that,” he said.

“We think that a flight like this … can help people remember, both inside of Canada and around the world, that Canada’s a pretty important player on the international stage.”

Joining the Denglers will be Rob ‘Dugal’ MacDuff, a retired Bell Helicopter test pilot and close friend of Laurin’s.

“It’s an honour thing,” said MacDuff, who test-flew 12 different Bell models during his 20-year career with the company.

“Somebody had to take Bruce’s place that has all this experience like Bruce and I have. I’ve flown all over the world and the 429, I’m very, very familiar with it.”

The journey is a registered not-for-profit, raising money for True Patriot Love, a national charity that helps Canadian military and veteran families. It will also raise money for the Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation in Newmarket, Ont., home of a leading-edge regional cancer program.

“True Patriot Love is a charity that I embrace,” said MacDuff. “If you’re responsible in this world today, you have to try to support stuff that you feel is a good thing.”

The C150 Global Odyssey begins July 1 in Vaughan, Ont., near Toronto. Their first stop will be the nation’s capital, Ottawa, for an official sendoff reception. They will then fly east to Montreal followed by stops in Canada’s Maritime provinces.

The journey moves from there to northern Labrador, Nunavut, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and back to Ont., before finishing up at the Bell helicopter plant in Mirabel, Que.

Canadian astronaut Dr. Dave Williams and Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur are both scheduled to join up for portions of the journey. In total, the global odyssey is expected to last between 35 and 45 days.

“I know it won’t be an easy trip,” said Lafleur, who won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s and has been a helicopter pilot since 1995.

“As soon as they go across the country, it’s going to be something very special for them. And for me to be just a little bit, being part of it, I’m very excited about it.”

Lafleur is scheduled to join the trip from Ottawa to either Halifax, Nova Scotia, or Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. He may rejoin when the 429 touches down in Anchorage, Alaska.

“I’m sure I’m going to have some times to fly it [the 429],” he said. “So I’m looking forward to that.”

Bob and Steve believe this may be the first father/son circumnavigation of the world by any aircraft, though that detail could not be confirmed before press time.  In any case,  the trip already has special significance to them as father and son. They have always had busy careers, and both say that while planning this trip they’ve likely spent more time together in the last year than in the previous 10 years.

“There’s a confluence of events that really are all kind of once-in-a-lifetime things,” said Steven. “But I think the biggest personal draw for me is the chance to do this with my father.”

As for the task itself – an ambitious journey that will take the three core pilots across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Canadian Arctic – no one seems daunted by it.

“Not a bit,” said Bob Dengler, summing up a sentiment the other pilots share. “My life has been full of adventures. I’ve worked all through the Arctic. I’ve travelled to over 100 countries in the world …. You go to these different places and you face all sorts of unknowns and you deal with them.

“And I guess that was my life, was — I learned how to deal with adversity, and you just deal with it. You find your way around it. So doing something like this is just another adventure.”

The Denglers plan to track the C150 Global Odyssey online, posting live updates through the handle ‘c150go’ on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. More information can be found on the journey’s official website,

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