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Reflections on my tour as a RCEME Army Helicopter Maintenance Officer.

My initial exposure to army aircraft maintenance was the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course (AMOC) Class 4-43 from 8 Jan 1963-16 Apr 1963 at U.S. Army Transportation School Fort Eustis, Virginia. It was a good general course on fixed and rotary aircraft servicing and maintenance. Students included US Army personnel and a variety of foreign students. I also had the opportunity to fly as a passenger in different helicopters.

In Jan 1964 I was posted from the RCEME School in Kingston to the Army Air Maintenance Unit at CJATC for on job training as an aircraft servicing officer. During this period I attended the PFS course at RCAF Station Centralia May1964 -Aug 1964. On return to CJATC I took the L-19 LAPC 39 Sep 1964-Dec 1964 and the BHTU helicopter conversion course Jan 1965-Feb 1965. I enjoyed all three courses.

I was promoted to Capt and posted to 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon RCASC as the senior maintenance officer on 1 May 1965. 1THP was formed in Jan 1964. The first year was largely devoted to individual training obtaining required unit equipment and personnel. The First CH113A 418 was assigned to the RCEME training unit for technician training. CH113A 418 was later returned to flying status.

When I arrived 1 THP was ready for unit field training. Lt Fred Leach was head of the maintenance section with 65 personnel responsible for 1st and 2nd line maintenance. All maintenance shops and equipment were mobile using 21/2 Ton Vans and trailers. I realized that I had a lot more to learn and was looking forward to the challenge. I also realized that we had well trained technicians and NCO’s. I appreciated the assistance Fred Leach and the NCOs provided in this learning process.

Normal maintenance procedures required attention to detail, verifying qualifications and procedures, record keeping and quality of work. When technical problems develop more specific expertise is in trouble shooting is required. An example of these types of problems is;

  • Vibrations- unacceptable vibrations produced by serviceable rotor blades. It is snot readily obvious that a problem can be caused by a combination of three serviceable rotor blades built to tolerance but the tolerance is not always compatible when the three blades are used on the same rotor head.

I became aware that an understanding of all helicopter systems and components was necessary to properly find solutions. I tried to reach this goal. We did encounter maintenance challenges which can be expected in any organization.

I THP was very active in 1965 when I arrived. There was a unit exercise deployment to Camp Shilo, to Gagetown and a fall exercise in Newfoundland as preparation for the 1966 Winter Express exercise in Norway. 1THP also had other missions and unit flying training.

It was necessary to train technicians with essential knowledge in other trades to serve as a Tech Crewman to provide maintenance support for short deployments of single helicopters. These Tech Crewmen performed maintenance inspections, repaired defects within their capability and identified parts and assistance required for more serious repairs. When needed a repair party would be dispatched. It was also necessary to work on the helicopters out doors in all kinds of environments. In the winter of 1965 hangar and shop space at CJATC for 1 THP was very restricted. The maintenance shop vans were located outside in a circle facing out and the center areas covered with canvas . Herman Nelson heaters were used in an effort to provide heat. There was room in a hangar to work on one helicopter. Working on a helicopter outdoors in a winter environment can be challenging but necessary.

I received some CH113A flying during the summer 1965 and commenced the CH113A 2nd pilot course on 24 Sep . On Oct 15 I flew as 2nd pilot to Camp Borden with Capt Wagner and then on to Newfoundland with Maj Reid for a recce for the planned 1 THP exercise. I gained a lot of experience on this trip including helicopter icing. While in Newfoundland a RCAF Search and Rescue Labrador had a failed engine. We picked up the replacement engine and delivered it to them in Deer Lake. Unfortunately, we experienced our own engine failure on departure from Deer Lake and had to call for a replacement. We stayed at Shorts Hotel and enjoyed local hospitality. After the engine was replaced, we flew back to CJATC arriving on Nov 4th 1965.

It was part of my job to do helicopter ground runs, compass swings and maintenance test flights but I also had to meet flying requirements. Thus, I flew as 2nd pilot for both training and some missions.

In early 1966, 1 THP’s CH112 and 3 CH113As were shipped in the hangar of HMCS Provider to Norway for Exercise Winter Express. Also aboard was a number of 1THP vehicles as deck cargo and a few of our technicians. We lost some vehicles due to the north Atlantic weather. No major maintenance problems were encountered on this exercise although the helicopters were kept outside and personnel lived in tents during the bitterly cold Bardufoss weather.

In the summer of 1966 1 THP moved to St Hubert with 6 CH113A’s and a CH112 with 1THP Det and 4 CH113As moved to RCAF Base Namao, Alberta. Maintenance resources were allocated as required with Lt Leach going to Namao and I to St Hubert. In St Hubert we finally had our own hangar and readily made our selves at home. Although the size of the unit changed the nature of the maintenance work remained much the same in support of flying operations.

During winter 1966 we were tasked to conduct a trial on a portable hangar that could be used on deployments. The hangar consisted of a number of large inflatable tubes. The tubes ends were anchored to the ground and when inflated and covered with fabric, they would form a structure similar to a Quonset building. It was a good idea but the tubes continually leaked air requiring a frequent top up. The first snow fall caused the structure to collapse. It was not considered safe to house a helicopter.

In 1967 the Canadian Forces Integration process resulted in our technician strength falling almost 50% and difficulty in obtaining helicopter parts from the logistic system. Serviceability of helicopters was seriously reduced by the lack of trained technicians and replacement parts. We had to resort to a hangar queen concept of robbing parts from unserviceable helicopters meet essential flying requirements. These were the dark days. The situation did improve after about 10 months.

In 1968 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon RCASC’s name was changed to 450 Heavy Transport Helicopter Squadron under command of 10 Tactical Air Group (10 TAG).

In 1968 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon RCASC’s name was changed to 450 Heavy Transport Helicopter Squadron under command of 10 Tactical Air Group (10 TAG)

I was promoted Major on 1 Nov 1968 and remained with 450 Hel Sqn until moving to the CFB ST Hubert Trial Central Maintenance Organization on Feb 1969.

I enjoyed all my postings in my 38 year career but my 4 years with 1 THP/450 Sqn was the by far my favourite. My total flying time on leaving 450 Sgn was 798 hours. Regrettably, It was the end of my flying. Due to circumstances, I became a MOC 41A AERE in the Air Force.

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