Memorable First Flight
The following paper provides a brief, historical overview of Canadian Army Aviation. The paper was prepared by BGen (Ret'd) LT Rowbottom and LCoI (Ret'd) LM RodenBush and presented to the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, Ottawa, Ontario. The overview is provided as it was presented and is in the main oriented to a chronicle of the aviation relationship to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps.
LCoI (Ret'd) AV Coroy, Chairman, Editorial Board, Canadian Army Aviation Website
Adapted from a presentation given to the Canadian Aviation Historical Society by Brigadier General L. Rowbottom, OMM, CD (Ret’d) and Lieutenant Colonel L. Rodenbush, CD (Ret’d)
The opportunity to talk about Canadian Army aviation with such a distinguished and knowledgeable audience is both a privilege and pleasure. But let us be clear about one thing – a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the late forties, and into the fifties and sixties, when the bulk of the historical aspects of the saga we are going to relate to you took place.
Since the archives were found to be something less than complete regarding the Army’s air conveyance aspirations, the axioms embodied in our presentation have been derived substantially from our memories. Not only are archives lacking in detail, but there is little doubt that even our memories may not be totally accurate. So for this exercise please note that some rewriting of events, or in this case some retelling, is more than likely - all inline with our research, views, and recollections.
In fact there are many paths to travel to explore the history of military aviation in Canada, but they are disjointed and sometimes overgrown. In the early 1900s Canada's military was still part of Imperial defence. Many Canadians had made names for themselves in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) of the British Army and later the Royal Air Force (RAF). But it is only after the start of the Second World War that we can speak of Canadian Army aviation. Even then history shows General McNaughton in 1940 - like Colonel Sam Hughes in 1914 - had no use for Army types flying aeroplanes. So Canadian Army aviation really started in 1944; that was when the "real soldiers" of the Canadian Army began serving both on the ground and in the air. Being "Soldiers who fly" - and staff-trained to boot – we will now give you the aim and scope of what we are going to talk about, and how it will be accomplished.
We will commence with the establishment of flying units under the auspices of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in the latter part of WW II.
In more or less a chronological order we will then convey essential facts and stories, successes as well as some failures that occurred after the second war.
We ask your indulgence if we tend to place emphasis on the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC) contribution to the Canadian Army aviation as a whole. After all we both wore the badge until after unification and have the Corps to thank for the opportunity to fly. There were other Corps involved in the evolution of Canadian Army aviation, but they were represented to a lesser extent than the Gunners and the Service Corps.
We also are going to cover the post-unification period from 1968 until the reintroduction of Wing structure. As many of you will recall 10 Tactical Air Group (10 TAG) was an integral module of Mobile Command. It controlled the CF-5 s, the Reserve Squadrons, fixed-wing transport aircraft, Transport Helicopter Squadrons, and Tactical Helicopters Squadrons. It was de facto under command and in support of Mobile Command and in our opinion continued to be army.
Although the Silver Dart and the Baddeck 1 had flown in Petawawa in August 1909, and the success Royal Flying Corps in the Great War was noteworthy, the Militia was definitely not interested in flying.
By the start of the Second World War Army Co-operation squadrons were a low priority for the under-funded Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Major-General Pearkes VC, Commander 1 Canadian Division, was a supporter of No. 10 (Army Co-operation) Squadron (Auxiliary) - which became 400 Squadron later flying Lysander aircraft in 1941.
General McNaughton was as much against the Canadian Army taking to the Air in 1941 as he had been when he saw the Silver Dart demonstration as a Militia lieutenant in 1909. So it was not until 1943 that General Crerar sanctioned the formation of three Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadrons of the RCAF. The squadrons - 664, 665 and 666 - began commenced standing-up in late 1944, when 664 Squadron started operational flying training on the Auster Mk IV. These three new RCAF squadrons were hybrids. They had Canadian Army pilots, from the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA), Canadian Army administration, and RCAF technical support. Army aviation then, as now, was a cooperative effort combining soldiering skills, combat flying skills, and base and deployed field support skills. The three squadrons were active in 1945, but with VE-Day in May they turned to Occupation Force duties until they were closed out in October of that year.
So another "War to end all Wars" - the second one in thirty years - was over, and Canada took its peace dividend immediately, quickly demobilizing much of the Navy, Army, and Air Force. Records speak of the tremendous mutual respect for each other of the soldiers and airmen who had served together on 664, 665 and 666 Squadrons of the RCAF. In 1947 the much-thinned-down serving former members of those squadrons began training together again, with the same high mutual respect, at the Joint Air School.
The school became Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) located at Rivers, Manitoba in 1949. It kept alive, as best it could, the professional and technical skills and drills, the cooperative inter-service spirit, and the vital joint staff experience that the war had taught. Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and Air Liaison Officers (ALO) trained side-by-side. Land/Air Warfare people lived in the Ground Training Wing; the Air Training Wing had Dakota's and Mustangs (later Flying Boxcars, and Hercules) and T-33s within 408 Squadron. Glider training and parachute training was also conducted at CJATC, as were Air Support Signals and Aerial Photography courses.
But now, let us turn to Army aviation’s post Second World War history – the story of the flying truckers and the flying logisticians of the RCASC. We recognize, of course, the history of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery’s Air Observation Posts, as documented in Colonel David Fromow’s excellent book Canada’s Flying Gunners.
The RCASC was formed and became part of the Canadian Army order of battle in 1901 - a late Boer War clone of the Royal Army Service Corps - supply and transport was their mission.
In the period immediately following the second World War, tactical thinking was concentrating more and more on a nuclear battlefield in which combat arms units would be widely dispersed and, as a result, re-supply distances would be greatly expanded. Increased mechanization of all elements of the Army also caused the projected tonnage of required combat supplies to rise. Corps planners, in the late 1940s concluded that with increased distances and tonnages the system would have to be substantially augmented with both manpower and vehicles or the job could not be done. The solution clearly pointed to supplementing ground and water transport with air vehicles - either aircraft or helicopters or both.
“I have been long of the opinion that instead of the tardy conveyance of ships and chariots man might use the swifter migration of wings, that the fields of air are open to knowledge and that only ignorance and idleness need crawl upon the ground.” - Samuel Johnson 1789.
The first known concrete action toward implementing this Army aviation concept took place in 1952 when the then Director of Supply and Transport, Colonel J.L.Sparling, summoned one Major Harry Brodie to his office and gave him the job of staffing the launch of the RCASC into the new field of transportation - namely by air.
The provision for pilot training was, compared to procuring the equipment, more or less an easy task. Selecting and getting approval to buy aircraft turned out to be a lengthy and time-consuming undertaking.
The RCASC was not the first corps to advocate the growth of army aviation in the 1950s. As has been mentioned the RCA had three squadrons for air observation and light liaison flying during the war. It was fortunate that a pilot training facility associated with this function existed or the RCASC might not have been authorized to begin training its pilots. The Directorate of Supplies and Transport (DST) adopted the existing Army pilot training scheme used by the RCA.
The ab initio phase was conducted at the Brandon Flying Club. The training consisted of the standard Ground School subjects plus seventy-five hours flying instruction on civilian light aircraft – de Havilland Tiger Moths for the first few courses and then Cessna 140s on wheels and skis for later ones.
The Light Aircraft School (LAS) at the CJATC was formed from 444 Squadron in April 1949 to train artillery pilots. It delivered the second phase of training that saw the students awarded their Wings. Earlier courses at the LAS used the British made Auster Mk VI and VII aircraft. One of these was dual configured the other was not. By the mid 1950s the American built Cessna L19 Bird Dog augmented, and then replaced, the Austers as the school’s trainer.
When a pilot had accumulated about three hundred hours of total flying time he went on to Helicopter Conversion Course, run by the CJATC's Helicopter Flight on Sikorsky S-51s otherwise known as the H-5.
There were a couple of changes in the method of training in the sixties. The Brandon Flying Club’s ab initio course was replaced in August 1963 with the RCAF Primary Flying School Basic Course on Chipmunk aircraft at RCAF Station Centralia and later at Camp Borden. The second change took place at about the same time; direct-entry helicopter training conducted by the United States Army. The success of this training dispelled the myth that a pilot required 300 hours of fixed-wing experience before entering the rotary-wing world. The Canadian Army did not continue with helicopter only training as it simply could not afford the expense.
From 1953 until unification in 1968, ninety-nine RASC officers were awarded army pilot wings. That brought the total Canadian Army blue-winged crowd to a rounded two hundred.
Surprisingly perhaps, given the army’s lack of experience in the whole process of aviation, the failure rate of RCASC selected officers for pilot training was relatively low. Records show only five candidates failed to graduate; however, there may well have been a few more washouts that went unrecorded. Only a couple of winged pilots were sufficiently baffled by the rotary machines to not qualify to fly them.
The Army had gotten into the business of helicopters in 1948 when it acquired three Bell 47 machines. These were used for mapping by the Engineers - flown by both Army and Air Force pilots. Later four Sikorsky H-5s were obtained from the RCAF - they had owned eight. These helicopters were based at CJATC were used along with the RCAF for pilot conversion training - eventually all three services used the facility.
The RCASC’s first equipment initiative, dubbed ‘The Flying Truck’ was a project to develop a very basic short take off and landing (STOL) fixed wing aircraft with a two and one-half ton cargo capacity. The belief was that such an aircraft, matching the capacity of the ‘deuce and a half’ truck, would be the ideal vehicle to cover the increased distances on the nuclear battlefield.
Another advantage of this initiative was that Toronto based de Havilland was the world leader in the development of such aircraft so it could be a made in Canada buy.
The story goes that the endeavour was ‘too good to be true’, as de Havilland’s knowledge quickly exceeded the army’s expertise. Although a twin engine aircraft had been envisaged, no requirement for retractable landing gear had been specified - de Havilland quickly pointed out that retractable gear could be included with no adverse effect on other specifications. Naturally, the Army accepted. Next, the company stated that instrumentation for all weather Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flying capability could be included without altering any other requirements. Naturally their proposal accepted. So the DHC108, also known as the DHC 4A, Caribou aircraft was contracted for and constructed.
By now the RCAF were aware of the Army’s plans to acquire airplanes. In the mind of the RCAF, and that of the Department of National Defence (DND), the Caribou was an aircraft and aircraft belonged to the air force. The RCASC was denied the aircraft that it had engendered - and funded - and in 1960 the RCAF took delivery of nine aircraft that it never wanted!
Since the RCAF had shown no interest in the combat re-supply of the Army, the Caribou almost never landed on other than several thousand feet of hard-surfaced runway - except while in service with 115 Air Transport Unit in Egypt.
The Caribou design did fulfill a United States Army requirement and they purchased 159 with delivery starting in December 1962. Later the United States Air Force (USAF) took over the aircraft, and then added more to the fleet in 1967. There were other military operators of the Caribou including Malaysia, India, Australia, and Spain as well as commercial operators around the world.
While awaiting purchase of air vehicles, qualified corps pilots received flying experience in a variety of ways. Co-operation between the Canadian and US Armies continued and many Canadian pilots received conversion to transport helicopters and/or postings to US units that helped prepare them for their aeronautical careers. Commencing in 1955 some trained pilots were sent for conversion on Sikorsky H19 and the newly introduced Sikorsky H34A transport helicopters at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Shortly after, five Service Corps pilots were attached to US Army Units: three to Fort Benning, Georgia, and two to Fort Hood, Texas. The February 1957 attachments were intended to be for six or so months although most lasted for almost three years due to the delay in the Canadian Army helicopter procurement program.
A substantial number of Canadian Army pilots enjoyed training and attachments to the US Army at places like Fort Rucker, Alabama, Fort Bragg in the Carolinas and other bases over the ensuing few years. The knowledge acquired from the US Army experiences was copious. It was not unusual for a pilot to stay current on a half dozen aircraft - both rotary and fixed wing - and most log book totals increased from a few hundred hours upon arrival in the United States to more than two to three thousand hours upon return to Canada. In many instances Canadian pilots took on important leadership roles - Mission Commanders - Chief Instructors - Operations Officers - Maintenance Test Pilots - Demonstration Pilots and were regularly called upon to fly VIPs and ferry aircraft. Most Canadian Army pilots whilst in the US obtained US Army instrument and instructor ratings on both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft.
At about the same time as the US Army postings, other Canadian Army pilots, and indeed helicopter maintenance personnel, did duty with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) at Shearwater.
The senior service at the time was operating an earlier version of the H21, the Piasecki HUP3, the Sikorsky HO4S3, and Bell HTL6. Learning milestones were not the solely the claim of US-based RCASC pilots. In the summer of 1958 Service Corps Lieutenant Barclay was the first non-naval pilot to carry out an air/sea rescue from HMCS Bonaventure. Not to be outdone a Transport Operator, Sergeant Phil Philips, was the first RCASC helicopter technician to serve on board a naval vessel.
When it was finally apparent that the helicopter purchase would be the tandem rotor twin-turbine powered Vertol 107 - designated the CH113A Voyageur by the Canadian Army - the need for tandem-rotor experience was quickly recognized and arranged - once again through US Army friends. This time though it was not the sunny south, but rather Alaska based US Army units that came to the rescue. They were equipped with the Piasecki H21 manufactured by the former Vertol Company - Piasecki Helicopter Company in Philadelphia.
Not all of the Corps’ pilots were employed outside the Canadian Army; some got stuck with postings as Instructor Pilots or staff-pilots at CJATC Rivers. Lastly, many RCASC pilots received non-flying postings in the Canadian Army at large, but continued to increase their experience through continuation flying training. Under this scheme, pilots were authorized to fly 18 hours, per calendar quarter, at either a nearby flying unit or at an approved flying club. These flying clubs were located anywhere from British Columbia to the Aero Club du Liban in Beirut, Lebanon.
There were two groups selected for pilot training that somewhat boosted the Corps’ pilot experience level. Three glider qualified officers were brought into the program. Because their glider training included fixed wing basic training - also at Brandon Flying Club - the ab initio phase wasn’t required for these officers. The second cohort to become Canadian Army pilots had substantially more flying experience. They were part of the aircrew released by the RCAF between 1959 and 1965. Oddly enough, only 22 became part of the Service Corps pilot fraternity. They achieved this on an individual basis rather than a service to service orchestration. Most applied after they left the RCAF and only a few transferred prior to release. Their flying experience gained as former RCAF pilots proved to be a valuable asset to the RCASC program.
The successes in establishing an army aviation element eventually caught the eye and interest of the general officer ranks starting in 1960. Major-General A.E. Wrinch, Adjutant General, was able to convince the Chief of the General Staff to let him proceed on a fixed wing course at Fort Rucker, Alabama. At an early stage in his training while flying solo General Wrinch had the misfortune to ground loop an L19 (reportedly the longest ground loop in post-war US Army flying history). The Chief, upon receiving the notice of the accident sent off a one word telegram to General Wrinch “Clumsy”. No matter, the General graduated and became the first of his rank to wear Army wings.
Shortly thereafter Major-General R.W. (Bob) Moncel, Quarter Master General (QMG) at the time, also took up the challenge. However, he chose to be taught in situ at Ottawa (Rockcliffe Air Base) on an L19E that had been covertly taken out of War Reserve by the Directorate of Land Air Warfare (DLAW) for continuation flying. General Moncel proved not only to be adept at the controls, but equally skilled at learning the non-flying aspects of the army aviation game. After receiving his wings he requested a pilot to serve as his aide and of course to continue giving flying instruction. Another prominent soldier, Major-General J.V. (John Victor) Allard, Vice Chief of the General Staff (VCGS), followed General Moncel’s program.
It was not long before other senior officers got their wings: Colonels Don Rochester; Des Deane-Freeman and Norm Wilson-Smith. They took specially designed senior officer courses at Rivers in 1963. It was held by many in the Army that getting wings to adorn the breasts of senior officers was a major contributing factor in selling the need for Army aircraft to be operated by and for the land forces.
Even though the Corps visionaries had believed aircrew training and equipment purchases would progress more or less in step with each other in reality this did not happen. From the early 1950s through 1959 a number of events slowed the purchase of RCASC air vehicles. First, but not necessarily the most important, was the interest on the part of other land force elements to play their own roles in Army Aviation. This gave cause to consolidate primary responsibilities for Army Aviation in Army Headquarters from DST and D Arty to the Directorate of Land Air Warfare (DLAW). Secondly, and probably the most critical factor, was the debate over inter-service mandates (brought on, in part, by the Caribou acquisition fiasco). Questions gyrated around the policies for the purchase, ownership, maintenance, training, and operation of air vehicles in support of the Army. It was not until the spring of 1959 that the problem, elevated to the Cabinet Defence Committee, was more or less resolved. In brief, the Army would own and operate air vehicles supporting the forward battle zones as Division or Brigade area resources.
Command and control was to be exercised by the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) through established Canadian Army channels. The roles to be carried out by helicopters and light aircraft were also agreed upon.
Over a decade had passed during which flying training was in top gear and the equipment debate was ongoing, yet not one RCASC machine, fixed or rotary-wing, had taken to the air.
The one Hiller CH112 that had flown briefly with 1 Transport Coy in Germany was part of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (RCAC) purchase of twelve Hiller CH112 helicopters - designated Raven - for its reconnaissance squadrons. To say that the Army flying community was becoming frustrated with its lack of aircraft would be an understatement! Regardless of the disillusionment that had crept into the process of procurement of army aircraft, authorities in Ottawa were doing their best to get a helicopter buy project approved by both the National Defence (Defence Procurement) and the Treasury Board hierarchies. It was not until 13 May 1958 that the Chiefs of Staff Committee considered the first major submission concerning Army Aviation. The Army’s wish-list was for: 31 Reconnaissance Helicopters; 31 Cargo Helicopters; 6 de Havilland Beaver L-20s; and 5 Beechcraft L-23s or similar type.
On 28 Nov 1958 a much reduced list of 12 Reconnaissance and 12 Transport Helicopters was forwarded to the Honourable Douglas Scott Harkness, Minister of Defence, for consideration.
A meeting was called in the Ministers Office to go over the Army cargo helicopter submission.
Attending were the three Service Chiefs: Vice Admiral H.G. de Wolf; Lieutenant General G. Walsh; Air Marshall H.Campbell; plus Major-General R. Moncel, the Quarter Master General.
Minister Harkness surprised the Naval and Air Force Chiefs when he came up with the notion that the three services should perhaps all have the same heavy lift machines. The RCAF had already agreed with the Army to a version of the preferred Vertol 107. Air Marshall Campbell was therefore willing, and in fact appeared eager, to endorse the Minister’s idea.
The Naval Chief hesitated. He was obviously not prepared for a debate that involved his services helicopter requirements. However, he acquiesced to the suggestion even though the Navy had set their sights on the Sikorsky S61. After a number of technical questions the Minister approved, in principle the purchase of cargo helicopters for all three services. The Corps was one step closer to having at least twelve cargo helicopters of their choice. Unfortunately, the concurrence by the Naval Chief opened the evaluation process once again.
By late 1962 and early 1963 staff officers were still wrestling with the type selection dilemma, and so it was that an Army team descended upon the short list companies: Sikorsky Helicopters Division of United Aircraft of Baltimore, Maryland and Vertol, (a Division of Boeing), of Morton, Pennsylvania.
Once again the contenders were test flown and reports were written on the flying aspects of the machines - now the well-known Sea King and the Vertol 107. The findings supported the earlier evaluation and decision by the Army to select the Vertol 107 (CH113A Voyageur). The RCAF also reconfirmed their desire for the 107 (CH113 Labrador) although their specifications produced a substantially different machine from the Voyageur. The senior service eventually convinced the government that their needs could only be fulfilled by the Sikorsky S61, dubbed the CHSS2 Sea King.
On 7 Feb 1963 The Minister of Defence Productions, the Honourable Raymond O’Hurley, announced that an order had been placed with the Boeing Company, Morton, Pennsylvania, for twelve CH113A heavy helicopters for the Canadian Army. The Army and the Corps would finally have their transport helicopters - delivery commenced in 1963.
Canadian Army aviation was given a big boost with the formation of 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon, RCASC (1 Tpt Hel Pl, RCASC) in February 1964. The unit was under the operational control (policy, training, trials/tests and military personnel matters) of Army Headquarters and under Western Command for all other functions. Also, as the new unit was located at the CJATC Rivers Camp, the Station Commander was to be kept fully informed concerning the unit's activities.
The platoon's mission statement was to "reach a state of organization and training sufficient to allow it to join a field formation as an operational unit by November 1965." In September, the Commanding Officer Major Harry Reid and Captain Al Schultz, who was the designated acceptance pilot, took part in the Vertol handover ceremony marking delivery of the first helicopter to the Canadian Army.
Following the formation of 1 Tpt Hel Pl, a Transport Helicopter Training Unit (THTU) was established in 1965, also at CJATC. The THTU was short lived being disbanded in the spring of 1966 as excessive to the foreseeable training needs of the forces. Resources were transferred to 1 Tpt Hel Pl RCASC. The Platoon took on the task of conversion and refresher training as well as technician training - this was continued even after integration.
Fighting formations from time immemorial have surrounded themselves with identifying symbols and 1 Tpt Hel Pl was no different. A crest was designed ‘in house’ and was submitted to the Director of History (DHist) under cover of the 1965 Annual Historical Report. The Unit stated that they had adopted a unit crest to be worn on flying clothing and to be placed in decal form on selected unit equipment.
Upon furtherance to the Director Ceremonial the crest caused a bit of a stir. The crest bore the Saint Edward crown that was usually reserved for RCAF squadrons. As such the Queen’s blessing was obligatory before it could be used as the official unit badge. Records indicate that this crest was not approved for use. When the unit became a Canadian Forces (CF) squadron after unification the crest was given its due. The significance of this particular crest is that it provided the basis from which the official crest of 450 Squadron was designed. The official crest also encompassed the 1 Tpt Hel Pl the motto ‘By Air to Battle’.
By the end of 1964, the Platoon had a complement of 12 officers, 2 Warrant Officers (WOs), 35 Non Commission Officers (NCOs) and 35 men. It shortly grew to 100 all ranks making it the largest RCASC platoon.
In 1965 all ranks were told the Platoon would deploy to Germany once it was operationally ready. Many husbands and wives attended night classes to learn German, in anticipation of the event. It never happened, but a cold winter was overlooked for a few months.
Tremendous quantities of soldiers and material were moved by the unit during its existence. The maintenance personnel could manually strip a Voyageur of its six blades in twenty-five minutes. The Platoon’s many and varied tasks took them on field exercises throughout Canada, Norway, and Germany. At a Gagetown concentration the platoon moved more than 5000 tons of cargo and flew 5000 passenger miles with a serviceability rate of 75% something all the more remarkable as the spare parts buy had been absolutely minimal.
Prior to returning home from the Gagetown exercise, the platoon conducted some quickly arranged trials with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Flights were made from HMCS Bonaventure an aircraft carrier, HMCS Assiniboine a destroyer, and HMCS Provider a logistic support ship. During a NATO exercise at Bardufos in northern Norway they had the honour of transporting the Norwegian Monarch, King Olav, from the Bardufos airport to HMCS Provider and return. The unit’s first recorded flight of Royalty - something that the Voyageurs were called upon to do many times in the years following.
Given that the unit had tasks not only out of country, but from coast to coast in Canada, a decision was made to move and split it into two components. The main portion was ordered to Saint-Hubert Quebec in August 1966 and a detachment of three aircraft was formed at Namao Alberta. The western detachment, as it was most often called, was initially commanded by a captain, and the parent element was commanded by a major.
Tasking continued without a pause. Expo 67 saw one Voyageur on a stand-by in the event of trouble during Her Majesty’s visit; fortunately it was not needed. In June of the same year one Voyageur and its crew was dispatched to support the annual Goose Bay re-supply mission; something the RCAF had previously done with Search and Rescue helicopters.
The next major event in the life of the Unit was unification. The Commanding Officer was advised that the unit’s designation would have to be changed to that of an air force squadron. Not anxious to acquiesce to the use of one of the many RCAF Squadron numbers it was argued that a new designation was required. Eventually the powers to be conceded and on 17 April 1968 the number 450 was assigned to the Canadian Forces Heavy Transport Helicopter Squadron (Hvy Transport Hel Sqn) by the Director of Organization (D Org) at CFHQ. It was not until two years later after Royal approbation had been received that it was discovered that 450 had been a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) wartime squadron.
There was one other command, although not designated as a Service Corps one that was only filled by RCASC pilots. It was the Army Headquarters Training and Liaison Flight (AHQ T&L Flt). This unit, established in January 1961, was equipped with four Cessna 182 aircraft assigned the nomenclature L19L. The unit was based at Rockcliffe and later at Uplands. The aircraft was somewhat faster than the Bird Dog and had four seats compared to the Bird Dog’s two. Besides continuation flying training for the ever growing number of Ottawa-based army pilots, the unit provided on demand air transportation for staff – passengers were flown to bases from Manitoba to Halifax. Eventually the unit was disbanded and the aircraft dispersed to various locations – still flown by continuation pilots and still transporting military staff.
A Canadian government and industry driven initiative of marrying the PT-6 into a twin engine - transmission package led to a Bell Helicopter buy of 50 Twin Hueys for use in Mobile Command. By the late 1960s seventy-four Light Observation Helicopters (LOH) had replaced fixed-wing Army aircraft.
The first Tactical Helicopter (Tac Hel) Squadron to be formed was 403. It was equipped with ten single-engine Huey aircraft and trained pilots and technicians at Petawawa. When the Twin Huey arrived the single-engined Hueys became Base Rescue machines.
While the Twin Huey was a utility aircraft the LOH became the replacement in the artillery observation role as well as a reconnaissance vehicle. In addition to 403 Squadron - 400, 401, 408, 422, 430, and 444 Squadrons were reactivated as Tactical Helicopter units in the Canadian Forces. Each of these new Squadrons had a mix of former Army, RCN, and RCAF pilots and ground crew. Within the same time frame the Reconnaissance Squadron of the Lord Strathcona's Horse (LdSH) had taken its light helicopter unit into field operations in Germany, in support of 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1 CMBG) there. Soon afterwards 1 CMBG had its own light helicopter support detachment as well.
During the summer of 1970, 450 Squadron’s title was changed to 450 Transport Helicopter Squadron (450 Tpt Hel Sqn). Its headquarters moved from Saint-Hubert to Canadian Forces Base Ottawa (Uplands) and a Utility Flight of three CH135 Twin Huey helicopters was formed to take care of the ever increasing VIP transportation requests. In addition the squadron was charged with birthing the centralized maintenance organization that would later serve all Mobile Command rotary-wing aircraft.
Under the command of 450 Squadron at CFB Uplands was 1 Aircraft Field Maintenance Squadron (AFMS) - 2 AFMS was under the command of 450 Detachment. This arrangement lasted for eighteen months. during this time the CO 450 Squadron had over forty officer evaluation reports to write or review – making 450 Squadron a sizeable organization by any measure.
In 1973 the CH113A Voyageurs were replaced with CH147 Vertol Chinook medium transport helicopters, and the Utility Flight was disbanded. The Army Voyageurs were reconfigured as Search and Rescue aircraft and were in service until very recently.
In 1979 the Namao Detachment was reorganized and re-designated 447 Medium Transport Helicopter Squadron (447 Med Tpt Hel Sqn).
In 1991, the mighty Chinook was retired from active service and 450 became a Utility Tactical Transport Flight operating six CH135 aircraft. Our Chinooks are now doing service with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The Alberta based 447 Squadron was removed from the order of battle at the same time.
In 1994, with the closing of Canadian Forces Base Uplands, 450 Squadron returned to Saint-Hubert.
The years immediately following unification were interesting ones for 450 Squadron. Some times were very happy like the 1976 Olympics, VIP missions, Search and Rescue flights, and various northern deployments to Frobisher Bay, Yellowknife, Goose Bay, Alert and Eureka. One challenging but unpleasant task was responding to the FLQ crisis.
Without question the declaration of the War Measures Act in 1970 was a significant assignment for 450 Squadron. At 1000 hrs on 13 October 1970, three aircraft were alerted and sent to la Citadelle in Quebec City to ferry soldiers and material to Camp Bouchard north of Montreal. Subsequently in support of the operation (code named Essay) in less than twenty-four hours three aircraft were moved from the detachment in Edmonton to Ottawa. By 17 October1970 five aircraft were located in Ottawa and four were in Saint-Hubert.
Initially the CH113A helicopters were used to deploy troops from Valcartier and Saint-Hubert to various locations in the Montreal area. Some missions involved changing guards at vital points. As of an average of 105 hours of stand-by per week was required of aircrew other rotary resources were tasked to supplement 450 Squadron.
Beginning on 18 October 1970 an Eagle Force utilizing both Voyageur and Huey aircraft supported joint raids by the Quebec Provincial Police and the military. On the same day Prime Minister Trudeau was transported to Montreal for meetings with Quebec government officials and returned to Ottawa. On 20 October 1970, with only the Mission Commander knowing the full details, the Prime Minister, Opposition Leaders, and most of the Cabinet, were flown in three helicopters from the grounds of Rideau Hall to downtown Montreal and back. During the mission the descent to landing and take off in Montreal was made between high-rise buildings to and from a cleared parking lot.
At 1900 hours on 03 December 1970 the kidnappers of Minister Laporte - Paul Rose, Jacques Rose, Francis Simard, and Jacques Lanctot were moved by Voyageur to a waiting Canadian Forces Boeing 707.
In July 1970 His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Charles came to Canada to visit. As part of his time in Ottawa he was taken on a 450 Squadron aircraft on a trip from Rockcliffe to Egansville and return. In the process Prince Charles managed to log fifty minutes at the controls of the Voyageur. This was his first exposure to flying helicopters. The Deputy Commander of the Royal Flight, who was accompanying HRH, was not amused. The RAF had very much wanted the Prince to take his next training on high performance aircraft and not helicopters.
The Squadron provided support for and was involved in a military display at Camp Shilo during the visit of the Royal Family to mark the occasion of 75th anniversary of the founding of Manitoba.
In 1979 the squadron flew a visiting Princess Anne and in 1980 Princess Margaret. Their last service to the Royal Family was in 1991 when Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales and her two sons were flown from Niagara Falls to Toronto.
Shortly after Pierre Elliott Trudeau became Prime Minister his staff, in particular Colin Kenny (now Senator Kenny), were quick to realize the advantages of helicopter transportation. From early 1968 through to the mid-seventies more than 2500 hours of flying time was logged in Voyageur’s by the Prime Minister and members of his office. These tasks occurred anywhere in Canada and utilized both the Western Detachment and the Squadron Headquarters. Most often three Voyageur aircraft were tasked with these ‘Eggshell Missions’ – something that meant the CO or the Detachment Commander had to be personally involved.
The use of helicopters by the Prime Minister opened the door for his Ministers and the Governor General to take advantage of their security and convenience. The volume of transportation requests was such that in 1970 three specially equipped Twin Huey helicopters were added to 450 Squadron as a VIP Flight along with another nine pilots and a dozen or so technicians. The Prime Minister was not taken with these new and expensively outfitted helicopters. He much preferred the Voyageur aircraft and continued to use them. The VIP Flight, under command of a Major, was able to reduce the overall number of Voyageur VIP tasks.
The Squadron, of course, was not solely a convenience for VIPs. On 24 January 1978 the remains of the Soviet satellite Cosmos 954 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over Northern Canada. The 450 Squadron Detachment was tasked to provide air support in the search for radioactive satellite debris that had showered an area roughly bordered by Yellowknife, Fort Smith, and the Thelon River Game Sanctuary Northwest Territories. The Squadron Detachment was at the time of the tasking involved in Exercise Snow Ramble in the Chilcotin Training area of British Columbia. Immediately, one Chinook aircraft (CH147007) was dispatched to Yellowknife. Over the next two months Squadron aircraft, the Detachment supplemented by aircraft and personnel from Ottawa, logged 498.8 flying hours while moving 608,050 pounds of cargo and carrying 450 passengers.
In September 1986 three Chinook were shipped by sea to support Exercise Brave Lion. They flew at least twenty-six consecutive days at wartime flying rates and amassed 276.6 hours – all while attaining a truly remarkable 97.6% serviceability rate throughout the exercise.
The three days from 08 to 10 September 1988 were very special for 450 Squadron. It was on these days that more than six months of planning came together to create the "5+5+20" reunion, which was representative of five wartime years of 450 Squadron RAAF, five years for 1 Tpt Hel Pl RCASC, and twenty years for 450 Squadron of the Canadian Forces. Originally, the event was expected to be the Squadron’s Standard Parade, but the authorities would not allow the RCASC years to count toward the twenty five-year prerequisite for the presentation of a squadron Standard. Nonetheless, the parade and social activities were enjoyed by all - the visiting RAAF veterans and their spouses, ex-members of the Platoon and the Squadron and their families, and visiting dignitaries. The pride and professionalism so often associated with 450 Squadron was evident throughout the reunion.
The five-year wait for the Standard presentation gave just enough time for fund raising and the completion of plans. In some mysterious manner it was determined that 29 March 1993 was the twenty fifth anniversary of the formation of 450 Squadron, by this time designated 450 Tac Hel Squadron, having been divested of transport helicopters and now wholly equipped with Bell CH135 Twin Hueys. To ensure maximum attendance, including once again a representative group from Australia, the three-day event did not take place until June 1994. The Standards Parade was held in sweltering heat on the tarmac of Canadian Forces Base Uplands. His Excellency The Right Honourable Ramon John Hnatyshyn presided over the presentation and consecration of the Standard.
On 22 June 1996, 450 Tac Hel Squadron of the Canadian Forces ceased operations and was removed from the order of battle after thirty-three years of service. Its helicopters and personnel were absorbed into other units with the bulk going to 427 Tac Hel Squadron at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. Squadron artefacts and memorabilia were put on permanent display at the RCAF Museum in Trenton, Ontario.
Of the ninety-nine RCASC officers who wore the light-blue army wings less than half made the voluntary move to the air element at unification. The majority remained land force; mostly serving in the Logistics Branch. Eight corps pilots attended Defence Colleges. One third went to Staff College and a substantial number answered the call of Staff School. Ten ex-RCASC Pilots reached the rank of Colonel; four of whom went on to wear the insignia of a Brigadier General.
We would be remiss in not mentioning the fact that a number of non-Service Corps rotary-wing officers attained general officer rank - the gunners had a number including Lieutenant General Lou Cuppens, a former Chief of the Defence Staff General Ray Henault, a Chief of the Air Staff Lieutenant General Penny, and in NORAD Lieutenant General Rick Findlay.
The following observations were noted in the foregoing text by the undersigned and by Maj (Ret’d) PC (Peter) Dudley, former RCAC Recce Pilot:
1. The statement in the text that Air Support Signal Courses were run at CJATC by GTW is incorrect. No such Courses per se were ever run a such. The role of Air Support Signals could have, however, been included in the syllabi of other Courses run by GTW as part of their Close Air Support lectures.
2. Centralia ab initio flying Courses started in Nov 1959 and not Aug 1963.
3. Col DH Rochester was not on a Senior Officer (Pilot) Course; rather, he was on Light Aircraft Pilot Course 25 which graduated at Rivers MB in the spring of 1959.
4. As stated in the text: “Within the same timeframe………the LdSH took its light helicopter unit into the field in support of 1 CIBG”. This is incorrect as the RCAC Helicopter Troop was deployed to Germany in 1962 with the 8th Hussars as part of 4 CMBG.
LCol (Ret’d) JA (John) Dicker, Co-ordinator, Editorial Board, Canadian Army Aviation Website