This aircraft has a place in history as the first new plane ordered by the Canadian Air Force (which became the Royal Canadian Air Force April 1, 1924) and as the first production aircraft built in Canada. The Air Force in these early days carried out what are now regarded as civilian duties of fire detection, fire suppression and photography resulting in the pilots to be described as bush pilots in uniform. These bush operations, however, gave the personnel a variety and depth of experience unmatched in any other Air Force as well as experience in the use of aircraft in new and innovative ways.
The CAF wanted an ideal flying boat for Canadian conditions and outlined their requirements as: an ability to withstand more wear and tear than a wartime machine, ability to land on snow and ice, an efficient hydroplaning bottom, good carrying space, ability to take off from fresh water 3000 ft. above sea level, an oil and water system capable of efficient operation at air temperatures from minus 60F to plus 100F and to be powered by the Rolls Royce Eagle V11 which they had in good supply as an Imperial Gift. In addition to the requirements of the aircraft the government wanted to use its development to create a Canadian aircraft industry. The calling for tenders and the awarding of the contract became a national and international controversy but eventually Canadian Vickers was chosen.
The parent company in England had produced a Viking Mark I in 1919 as their first attempt at designing a water based plane. The prototype crashed December 18, 1919 killing the pilot, Sir John Alcock, of Atlantic crossing fame. Various modifications were made resulting in the Mark IV that went into production in 1921 to 1923. During that period a total of 24 Vikings were sold to the Japanese, French, Argentine and U.S. navies as well as some examples for various military and civilian customers. One of these customers was Laurentide Air Services whih purchased G-CAEB.
This was the design selected by CAF modified to allow pumping out from inside the hull space, bulkheads in the hull, rubber covered fuel lines, dual controls and a radiator which would give exceptionally large cooling in summer and a small amount as required in winter. Vickers agreed to supply eight boats for $150,650 and CAF agreed to allow the first two to be built in England, shipped to Canada and assembled in Montreal. The British built boats which arrived in Canada June 2 had hulls made from a patented mahogany plywood called Securely Cemented Together or SCT while the Canadian hulls were constructed with mahogany strip planking over elm frames. It was discovered that the British boats did not have the ordered bulkheads therefore they were put in place during assembly. In addition wireless was installed as well as an aperture in the port front hull for vertical camera photography.
The first Canadian boat (ES) was accepted June 25 and testing began, resulting in the addition of a bulkhead between the pilot and photographer cockpit, moving the photographer to the starboard side and the fitting of a screen in front of the engine to prevent loose gear from blowing into the propeller. Although the specifications had called for an amphibious plane there is no record of a Viking taking off or landing on wheels; there is a case of the rubber tires on one plane (EW) being replaced with wooden wheels. The water performance was very poor; hard to control taxiing in rough water, difficult to take off on rough water; takeoff too long; often porpoised on landing and very difficult to takeoff on calm water. This last problem was frequently solved by the engineer and navigator moving to the very front of the hull until it started hydroplaning then moving back to the cockpit. In the air it took 40 minutes to labour up to the photographic height of 5000 ft. and at this level its performance was so minimal that on bumpy days it would take minutes to regain altitude lost in a 100-foot bump.
Over the 1923/24 winter the Air Force replaced the Eagle VIII engines with the Eagle IX and the problems caused by lack of power were corrected. Despite its limitations the Viking earned the affections of its crews and for the 1924 season was reported to have proved its air and sea worthiness, to have a wide range of adaptability and usefulness and to have been absolutely reliable. Even the Eagle VIII received and accolade as it was reported that its lack of power was balanced by its sterling dependability. Although the Viking is overshadowed by the Fairchilds and Vedettes it gave excellent service during the pioneer days of the R.C.A.F. and generated an amazing amount of affection among the men who flew and maintained it. In 1928 one detachment of the R.C.A.F. stated that there is no questioning the fact that the Viking has been the most satisfactory type of aircraft used on operations to date.
There was also one civilian Viking IV in Canada. Laurentide Air Services purchased aircraft G-CAEB in June 1922 after which it had an interesting history. Roy Grandy flew the aircraft on a 1400 km flight in 1924 to deliver Treaty Money to aboriginals along the west shore of James Bay, taking several days to complete what had previously required weeks. G-CAEB was also used in 1925 to fly prospectors to various sites in northern British Columbia and Yukon, using Dease Lake as a base, thereby becoming the first aerial mineral exploration in northwest Canada. The aircraft was destroyed in September 1932 when a fuel line broke while airborne. The pilot landed safely in the Strait of Georgia and he and the occupants successfully evacuated the plane.