Saltspring man inducted into Aviation Hall of Fame
Jun 20 2012
Nils Christensen after his induction at Canada's Aviation Hall of FamePhotograph by: HANDOUT , .
A Saltspring man who founded Viking Air of North Saanich has been inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Nils Christensen, 90, attended the induction ceremony last Thursday in Montreal, and is off again today to Norway for more honours, courtesy of the Norwegian government.
The Norwegian trip commemorates the 70th anniversary of the country’s 333 Squadron, which sent Mosquito and Catalina aircraft on anti-submarine patrols off the north of Scotland. Christensen was a flight mechanic who worked on Mosquito engines.
He was also the chief engineer on the aircraft in 1945, when it carried the country’s king around Norway to view the devastation left by the war.
Christensen will also receive a lifetime honorary membership at the B.C. Aviation Museum.
It’s been a flurry of excitement for Christensen, who seems to possess the energy of a much younger man.
“I think it’s all pretty special,” said Christensen on Tuesday. “After all, I’m an immigrant and I’m the founder of Viking Air.”
He created the aircraft-maintenance company in 1970 “because I wanted to have my own company repairing and overhauling aircraft and rebuilding aircraft,” said Christensen.
Today, the business, under another owner, has more than 650 employees in Sidney and Calgary.
Much of Viking’s success is due to Christensen acquiring the manufacturing rights from deHavilland to make parts for the Beaver, Otter and Turbo Beaver aircraft, said friend John Latta.
Latta nominated Christensen for Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. “He was persistent to get the certifications from deHavilland, which is really, really difficult to do.”
Christensen’s father, a Norwegian insurance salesman, homesteaded in North Dakota before he returned to Norway to marry and raise a family. Christensen was born Aug. 15, 1921.
Christensen got interested in flying after the Second World War, when he spent a lot of time at sea serving with the Merchant Navy. He worked for a Norwegian airline, starting in 1947, as a flight engineer on the DC3 and DC4 aircraft.
In 1951, he emigrated to Canada, settling at first in Toronto.
Christensen worked as a mechanic and aircraft engineer for deHavilland and then Sault Airways, a bush-plane operation.
The family moved west and in 1956, Christensen became chief of maintenance at the Victoria Flying Club. Three years later, he was among the flight crew aboard three Martin Mars waterbombers operated then by the Forest Industries Flying Tankers.
The two remaining Martin Mars are now owned by Coulson Group of Companies, based in Port Alberni.
He worked for a couple of other airlines before founding Viking Air, which in the beginning had three employees doing maintenance on all types of aircraft.
Christensen has been married to his wife, Sheila, for 65 years. They have three children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.