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403 Helicopter Squadron Ops, Trg and Pilots

The first photo is of the ‘wolf pack’, although we never used that expression in Petawawa. It simply shows the growth from 10 pilots in early 1968 to nearly 24 by the summer of 1970.

L-R: Lanny Harbord, KC Pettman, Ralph Johnstone, Gord Van Dyke, Denny Hopping, Ron Phillips, Joe Oakley, Marsh Wright, Bert Casselman, Gary Merritt, Ed Booth, Chris Coldwell, John MacGregor, Marty Jacques, Peter Dudley, Don Cockburn, Leo Noiles, Bill Abbott, Pat Thornton, and John Milton (AAC).

The second photo is the first of two courses 403 Squadron ran to train those selected for the newly announced Tactical Helicopter Squadrons, including their nominated Commanding Officers and senior staff.

Back row L-R: Ron Hall, Doug McMillan, Gary Hein, Jim Macfie, Charlie Emond, Cam Mathias, Bert Casselman, John Milton (AAC), Brian Lapeer, George Zvanitajs, Bob Chisholm and Greg Wells.

Middle row: Dan Stovel, Mike Angelsey and Vern Taskey.

Kneeling: Denny Hopping, Mouse Musgrave, Marsh Wright, Bernie LaPointe, Norm Ramsey 422, Paul Argue 408, Peter Harrison 427, JJ Veronneau 430, JP Filteau, Joe Oakley and Pat Thornton.

(The 403 ball caps are worn by the CO, the 2 I/C and three instructors/flight commanders).

Training progressed well from early September until the first week of October when Le Front de libération du Quebec precipitated the three month ‘October Crisis’ by kidnapping a provincial cabinet minister and a British diplomat.

Initially the Squadron deployed all aircraft to St. Hubert. While we technically had enough pilots on strength to man the machines, it was decided to take the students along for the operational experience they would gain being exposed to Op Essay. After the first month the pace of operations slackened and we returned over half of the aircraft and pilots to Petawawa to continue with the course.

For the next two months, each of the three flights of 403 was rotated through St. Hubert bringing along 1/3 of the course candidates as co-pilots. Our CO had enough faith in his captain flight commanders that we were designated the mission commanders for each of our rotations.

Now picture this conflictual situation:

  • Your co-pilots are all course students and not yet qualified on the aircraft;
  • They range in rank from LtCols to Majors to senior Captains for the most part;
  • Each morning, as mission commander, you must attend the ops briefing at FMC HQ where the upcoming daily operations are discussed and planned;
  • The newly appointed Tac Hel Sqn COs rather forcibly insist they attend;
  • Similar to the situation George Zvanitajs found himself during the Saint Lawrence Seaway operation a year earlier, when the briefers had questions regarding the helicopters’ contribution to the daily missions, they would invariably address themselves to the more senior pilots in the flying suits;
  • Imagine the reaction from those in the room when I first stood up saying, for the effect: “these gentlemen beside me are my students, and it is I the helicopter mission commander. Please address your questions and concerns to me”

Good Fun…………………

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  • 1 Air OP Flight Group photos.
    Assistance would be welcome in identifying personnel in these photographs: View Content.

    Compiled by BGen R.G. Heitshu.