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17 December 1939: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan agreement signed

Seventy-two years ago today, representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan agreement.  This agreement committed the countries to training 50,000 airmen per annum until the conclusion of the Second World War—the goal was roughly 22,000 aircrew per year from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand.  Under the plan, the aircrews would receive introductory air training with their home air forces, then travel to Canada for advanced flight training.  More than 130,000 Allied airmen—pilots, navigators, bombardiers, wireless operators, gunners and flight engineers—had received training in Canada by war’s end.

Here are some photos of BCATP activity drawn from LIFE magazine’s online archive:

An aerial view of RCAF Station Trenton. 1939. (John Phillips / LIFE magazine)

Instructor teaching a bombing course at RCAF Station Trenton. 1939. (John Phillips / LIFE magazine)

Cadet screwing the fuse into a bomb, RCAF Station Trenton. 1939. (John Phillips / LIFE magazine)

Squadron Leader W. I. Riddell, walking and chatting with four flight instructors. RCAF Station Trenton, 1939. (John Phillips / LIFE magazine)

Mechanics checking a Fairy Battle Bomber outside of its hangar at RCAF Station Trenton. 1939. (John Phillips / LIFE magazine)

A landed Harvard trainer aircraft after night flying training. RCAF Station Trenton, 1939. (John Phillips / LIFE magazine)

CF Operation Mobile air evacuation

A series of photographs documenting the CF air component’s contribution to Op Mobile, via Combat Camera.

Members of the Canadian Forces Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team (OLRT) arrive at Malta International Airport on Monday, 28 February 2011, aboard a CC-130J Hercules aircraft as part of the multinational effort to assist in the departure of stranded Canadians and other foreign nationals from Libya. About 30 Canadian Forces members with expertise ranging from aircrew to medical and logistics are involved in daily flights into Libya by CC-177 Globemaster and CC-130J Hercules aircraft. (Major Jason Proulx, DND/CF)

A CC-130J Hercules aircraft flies over Libya during Operation MOBILE. 2 March 2011. (Master Corporal Shilo Adamson, DND/CF)

A close look at the approach plate indicates that they are on approach to Runway 27 at Tripoli International Airport (HLLT).  Here’s a closeup from another image from the same flight, along with my admittedly ancient chart for Tripoli’s Rwy 27 ILS approach.

Gary Wallace, Migration Integrity Officer at Canadian Boarder Service Agency (CBSA), welcomes entitled persons onboard the CC-130J Hercules at the Tripoli International Airport in Libya during operation MOBILE. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

Sergeant Stephen Miller, Load Master, hands passports back to the entitled persons after boarding the CC-130J Hercules in Libya during Operation MOBILE. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

Passengers disembark a CC-130J Hercules aircraft during Operation MOBILE. Malta International Airport, Luqa, Malta. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

Ambassador Sandra McCardell, Canada’s Ambassador to Libya, Colonel Tony DeJacolyn, Commander of Joint Task Force Malta, and Major Bill Swales, Task Force Surgeon, discuss the locations of entitled persons throughout Libya. Valletta, Malta. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

I am a little curious about the maps in the last photo.  The map closest to the camera depicts the location of CF air and naval assets around the islands of Malta.  The far map is Libya, but it is difficult to read except for a half-dozen notations.  I’ve done my best to reproduce it here.

Presumably the red- and black-outlined areas depict government- and rebel-held areas within Libya, though the resolution is not great enough to see what all those small notes actually say.  What is clear are the large notations and numbers, which indicate 29 CEPs in-country as of March 4th.  CEP is the acronym for Canadian Entitled Persons, the “entitled persons” being individuals who are entitled to ask their government to help them leave a foreign country on the taxpayer dime when a crisis arises.  Wait, isn’t everybody entitled to have the government spring to their rescue when a crisis arises?  Theoretically, yes, but CEPs are those that the government considers it more or less mandatory to evacuate; the evacuation of everyone else happens on a “best effort” basis.  If non-CEPs make it out too, that’s great; but if not, oh well.

In the case of Canada, CEPs are typically citizens working abroad (including diplomats and embassy staff), dual citizens, and others with a legal right of residence in Canada.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) will actually define who is (and is not) a CEP at the beginning of the government’s crisis response, so that definition is somewhat flexible; it can expand or contract depending on the scope of the crisis, the number of people requiring evacuation, and the amount of resources on hand.

RAF civilian extractions from Libya

Nili nomen roboris omen
(The name of the Nile is an omen of our strength)

Last weekend, the United Kingdom mounted a combined-arms effort to evacuate citizens stranded at remote oil fields in the Libyan desert. As order broke down in Libya, Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) teams arrived in-country via commercial flights, disguised as ordinary business travellers.  Moving into the eastern Libyan desert, they reconnoitred the situation at oil facilities near Nafoora, Amal and Waha, and marshalled a hundred-odd civilians toward a pair of airfields controlled by rebels.  A trio of C-130s from No. 47 Squadron were summoned, entered Libyan airspace (without knowledge or authorization from either rebels or the Gaddafi government) and plucked the evacuees out of the desert.  Then the C-130s went back and did it again the following day.

The 3-minute video below was taken from the Sunday operation.  It depicts a Hercules transport departing Malta, flying in formation with other C-130s, overflying an airfield (identified in other videos as HLZA Zillah/Zella 74), arriving at the airfield, loading passengers—with engines running, a normal combat loading precaution—and the subsequent flight back to Malta.

In combined Royal Air Force and Special Forces operations, C-130 Hercules aircraft flew into Libya to recover UK citizens stranded at remote oil installations.

The first operation, which took place on Saturday, recovered around 170 people from desert locations south of Benghazi. About 70 of these were British. The second operation into the eastern Libyan desert on Sunday rescued nearly 200 stranded civilians, of which about 20 were UK nationals.

— “Prime Minister praises military effort in Libyan evacuations.”  Ministry of Defence | News, 28 February 2011.

The effort was not without some difficulty; some airfields had been blocked off by rebel forces and could not any landings.  Rebels also misidentified one aircraft as a Libyan government plane and fired upon it; one bullet penetrated the cockpit but fortunately did not wound anyone.

[BBC’s Frank Gardner] said an insurgent group on the ground which fired at the aircraft had mistaken it for a Gaddafi regime plane. They have since apologised for the incident.

Some of those rescued described the moment the Hercules was shot at, forcing it to abandon a landing.

One British oil worker said: “The aircraft took two hits on the right hand side of the fuselage, you just heard ‘bang bang’ as the rounds actually struck.”

Another said after failing to land at two blocked off fields, the Hercules was trying again at a third when the firing started, forcing them to abort.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that one of its C130 aircraft appeared to have suffered “minor damage consistent with small arms fire”, adding that “there were no injuries to passengers or crew and the aircraft returned safely to Malta”.

One round bounced off the pilot’s helmet but he was unscathed during Sunday’s rescue of oil workers.

— “Libya unrest: UK rescue plane had a ‘narrow escape’.”  BBC News, 28 February 2011. [Emphasis mine]

Identifying the airfields involved in the extraction effort is not so easy.  MoD has been somewhat tight-lipped about the exact airfields it utilised, and media reports generally do not name the fields, either.  A report in the Daily Telegraph lists oil facilities that the SAS and SBS teams investigated, but they do not specify the airfields involved.

The extraction teams flew into to the desert oil facility of Nafora before splitting up and heading to Amal and Wafa.

They then collected around 150 oil workers and escorted them towards two airfields south of the rebel held city of Benghazi.

The airfields had already been secured by militia opposed to Colonel Gaddafi and private security personnel working for the large number of international oil companies operating in the region.

On Saturday afternoon, without the permission of the Libyan authorities and in broad daylight, two specially equipped Hercules C130 transport planes took off from Luqa Airport in Malta for the 40 minute flight across the southern Mediterranean.

— Evans, Martin and Andrew Hough.  “Libya: special forces come under fire during rescue of stranded civilians.” Daily Telegraph, 28 February 2011.

I am a little doubtful that Wafa is the actual town/facility name, because Nafoora and Amal are in the eastern Libyan desert, while the Wafa oil field is hundreds of miles away on the other side of the country—along the Tunisian border.  With apologies to the Telegraph, I consider it far more likely that the third site was actually Waha (not Wafa); it’s only a hundred-odd miles away from Nafoora, is accessible via roads from there, and could be reached in the same day with a borrowed vehicle.  It would be impossible to reach the western Wafa facility from Nafoora, except via aircraft.

I’m afraid I also have to quibble with the given flight time of 40 minutes from Malta to the destination airfields.  Amal’s airport is the closest of the three potential sites listed by the Telegraph, and it is still over 500 nautical miles distant from Malta International Airport in Luqa.  By way of comparison, a turbofan-powered Boeing 737 can fly from Toronto to Montreal in about 40 minutes at 0.74 Mach, and the distance between those two cities is only 274 nautical miles.  According to USAF’s air mobility planning document, a turboprop-powered C-130 travelling at its normal cruise speed (and accounting for slower speeds during takeoff, climb, descent and landing phases of flight) will average just 242 knots over 500 nautical miles.  This would give a C-130 a travel time of at least two hours to either Nafoora or Amal.

I’ve illustrated the potential destinations and flight times in the graphic below.  I’ve also included all of Libya’s oil concessions (territories leased to Libyan or foreign petroleum companies for exploration and exploitation of oil fields) and known oil fields; this helps give us an idea of where the most petroleum-related activity is taking place, and subsequently where the most foreigners are likely to be.

Libyan oil fields, oil concessions, and potential extraction airfields used by 47 Sqn on February 26th and 27th, 2011. (Click image to enlarge)

If you’re curious as to what the airfields look like, they have asphalt-surfaced runways with lengths between 5,700 and 9,900 feet, and a minimum of ground equipment and support facilities.  Here they are—and you can, of course, click the images to enlarge them.

HLNR Nafoora/Nafurah 1

Latitude: 29°12’47″N (29.213194)
Longitude: 21°35’32″E (21.592356)
Elevation: 122 ft (37 m)
Runways: 1
Longest: 9910 × 148 ft (3021 × 45 m), paved

 

HLAM Amal V12

Latitude: 29°28’46″N (29.479500)
Longitude: 21°07’21″E (21.122442)
Elevation: 145 ft (44 m)
Runways: 3
Longest: 5700 × 95 ft (1737 × 29 m), paved

 

HLWA Waha/Warehouse 59A

Latitude: 28°19’21″N (28.322383)
Longitude: 19°55’48″E (19.930050)
Elevation: 488 ft (149 m)
Runways: 2
Longest: 6918 × 94 ft (2109 × 28.5 m), paved

 

HLZA Zillah/Zella 74

Latitude: 28°35’24″N (28.589878)
Longitude: 17°17’38″E (17.293858)
Elevation: 1085 ft (331 m)
Runways: 2
Longest: 7050 × 95 ft (2149 × 29 m), paved

 

(Undesignated) Wafa

Latitude: 28°53’29.55″N
Longitude: 10°04’48.55″E
Elevation: 2185 ft (666 m)
Runways: 1
Longest: Unknown, presumed paved

This is the outlier, the undesignated airfield near the Wafa oil field.  It doesn’t appear to have any assigned ICAO code and isn’t listed in the aviation databases I have access to.  I can only assume it is a private airfield for use of the relevant petroleum companies, and the airfield data has not yet made its way into general circulation.

_____________________________________________

Brigadier James Bashall

Well done to No. 47 Squadron, as well as the SAS and SBS men that they support.  Britain has at least retained some idea of what an air force is for, and how it might be used in non-permissive scenarios.  A British general, Brigadier James Bashall, chairs the ponderously-named multinational force—the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation Coordination Cell—that coordinates international military extractions through the British High Commission in Malta.

Canadian policymakers (and the general public from which they are drawn) are much more timid creatures, less willing to hazard our military aircraft on the unauthorised aerial intrusions for which they are designed.  So our own evacuation efforts are dependent on the approval of Gaddafi’s bureaucracy and have had somewhat mixed luck, with a chartered aircraft being sent away empty, one C-17 initially being denied landing rights in Libya, and a C-130 being turned around midway to Tripoli due to lack of ramp space.

The Canadian aerial contingent in Malta consists of four CF aircraft (two C-17s and two C-130Js) who are tasked with assisting the evacuation of non-combatants from Libya via Operation Mobile.  The first Canadian evacuation flight was made by a C-17 from Trenton’s 429 Sqn on Saturday, February 26th; it flew 24 Canadians, 12 citizens of the United Kingdom and 3 Australian diplomats from Tripoli International Airport to safety in Malta.

The commander of the Canadian NEO mission in Malta, Lt-Col. Anthony DeJacolyn, has ruled out the possibility of non-permissive entry into Libyan airspace (on the orders of his political masters, of course), so in essence Canadian forces will fly when and where Gaddafi gives them leave to do so.

OTTAWA — The Canadian military has no plans to conduct extraction raids into Libya and citizens who want out of the chaotic North African nation should make their way to embarkation points, the commander of the mission said Friday.

The perils of such complex special-forces operations were highlighted this week with the capture of three Dutch marines, who were apparently trying to rescue evacuees in a region under the control of forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Intense negotiations for their release were said to be going on in Tripoli on Friday while Libyan state television showed images of the trio, one of whom appears to be a woman.

…Meanwhile in Malta, Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Tony DeJacolyn said, “There are no current plans to extract Canadians.”

“The current concept of operations is to move Canadian entitled persons and instruct them to move to points of exit, whether it be by sea or air.”

…The air force has been flying missions, but getting landing permission is a nightmare because there is no electronic link with Tripoli. All requests for landing rights are faxed and often there are few people at the other end to collect the documents.

— Brewster, Murray.  “CF rules out raids in Libyan evacuation mission; waits for orders on aid.” Canadian Press via Macleans, 4 march 2011.

The idea that our air force should seek permission from a tyrant’s collapsing bureaucracy is a farce. But this is Canada, so we pay for our men and women in uniform to be better-dressed surrogates for Air Canada and WestJet, rather than a force that can go into hostile environments and remove Canadians (and allies) at the decision of the Dominion government.  As the SAS, SBS and RAF have demonstrated, this is not a lack of equipment or capability; it is simply a failure of political will.  I’ll be sure to remember that at the polling station, next time the opportunity comes around.

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths

Surviving wing tips of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow, Storage Wing, Canadian Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Flickr: DSC_4420, originally uploaded by GRB_Ott.

We have all heard the Avro Arrow mythology promulgated for the public.  That the Canadian division of UK-owned A.V. Roe and Company was contracted to provide a supersonic delta-winged interceptor; that an interceptor of unprecedented capabilities was built, and flight tests begun; but then the American military-industrial complex and unconscionable perfidy from the Prime Minister of the day (John Diefenbaker) conspired to kill the wonder jet so that money would be made, political ambitions furthered, et cetera.  The power of the mythos is such that a 1997 made-for-television movie featuring Dan Akroyd was crafted with this storyline.

Problem is, the tragic fable is almost entirely false.

In the Spring 2010 edition of Airforce magazine, Colonel Layne Larsen, CD (Ret.) has penned a thorough takedown of the Arrow mythology.  The colonel goes to no small pains to debunk the three main myths of the Arrow legend:

  • That PM Diefenbaker’s short-sightedness or incompetence killed the Arrow program
  • That Diefenbaker ordered the destruction of all program materials to prevent it from ever being resurrected.
  • That the Arrow was so far ahead of its time, we would still be flying them today; also that we would not have bothered to buy four other fleets of foreign-designed aircraft (CF-101 Voodoo, CF-116 Freedom Fighter, CF-104 Starfighter, CF-188 Hornet).

[Point of clarification: There are two similarly named publications; Air Force magazine—often mentioned in this space—is the journal of the US Air Force Association, while Airforce magazine is the journal of the Air Force Association of Canada.]

I’ll try and summarise Colonel Larsen’s article here, but you’d be well-advised to pick up the magazine and read it, if you want the facts in greater detail.

Myth 1: Diefenbaker’s short-sightedness or incompetence killed the Arrow program

Although PM Diefenbaker made the official announcement on February 20th, 1959, the federal Cabinet made the decision, and it came after five months of deliberation—which was in fact initiated by a recommendation from the service chiefs of the Canadian military.  The minutes of that August 1958 Cabinet meeting are available at DFAIT’s website, and they clearly indicate that the program costs had escalated to the point where “the Chiefs of Staff felt that, to meet the modest requirement of manned aircraft presently considered advisable, it would be more economical to procure a fully developed interceptor of comparable performance in the U.S.”  In other words, the RCAF didn’t want the Arrow, and had already determined that its support and logistics costs outweighed its potential military value.

For what it’s worth, I have read elsewhere that the previous St. Laurent government had also decided it would kill the Arrow, had it been returned to office in the 1957 federal election.

Myth 2: Diefenbaker ordered the destruction of program materials to prevent it from being resurrected

Documents declassified in 1990 indicate that the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshall Hugh Campbell, was the source of this direction.  Normally the Department of Defence Production (DDP) had six months to dispose of program materials to other government departments, research centres, and scrap.  A memo from G/C Ray Footit (signing for CAS) to DDP ordered that everything was to be cut up before being sold as scrap, and that no major components were to be sold as intact entities.

Myth 3: The Arrow was extremely advanced for its time, we’d still be flying them, and would not have bothered to buy other fighters.

The best way to answer this is to use Col. Larsen’s chart that accompanies the article.  It compares performance data from several aircraft designs of the time.

(click to enlarge)

The Arrow doesn’t lead the pack.  It has good top speed and an acceptable service ceiling, but a thoroughly mediocre radius of action.  Radius of action being the distance an aircraft can travel from its base and return, without refueling (this figure also includes a measly five minutes of combat engagement).  The Arrow would have been the last to achieve IOC—whereas the very similar Convair F-106 had comparable speed, a slightly higher service ceiling, almost twice the radius of action, was available four years earlier, and was several times cheaper ($2 million per F-106 versus $8-10 million per CF-105.)

The F-106, incidentally, remained the backbone of USAF’s interceptor fleet until replaced by the F-15 Eagle.

As Col. Larsen makes clear, the Arrow died because of multiple factors.  The RCAF had already accrued some bad experiences with the Avro-built CF-100, and they didn’t like the support they were getting from the company on that product.  The RCAF’s senior brass very much doubted whether Avro could build an even more complex aircraft and still make it reliable and easy to maintain.

Unfortunately, Avro’s CF-105 prototypes were not built with ease of maintenance in mind; in one case it would take 70 hours to inspect a part whose inspection interval was only 50 hours.  In other words, every two days’ flying time you had to ground the plane for three days in order to inspect the part.  And that’s for a brand-new airplane, where most things should not be breaking too often.  Imagine what would happen once that airframe had been in service for 10, 15 or 20 years.  The Arrow would have been a ramp queen par excellence.

Worst of all, in just four years the Arrow’s program budget nearly doubled (going from $261 million to $400 million) while completing only five percent of the scheduled flight tests, and the radar/fire control system had yet to be installed, let alone tested.  In 11 months the Arrow racked up only 80 hours of flight test time, while the F-106 managed to conduct 1,000 hours of flight testing in a year.

All our national myth-making aside, when you add up all the things that went wrong, the Arrow was a weapon system doomed from the start.

Thanks to Colonel Larsen for his bracing deconstruction of the Arrow mythos; if this is a subject that interests you, you ought to pick up the magazine and give it a read.

The CF-105 Arrow, as seen on Flickr

arrows2 (43), originally uploaded by Magnumcharger.

CF Photo Unit, Ottawa. 4 Oct 1957. 3/4 front right view of a Canadian-built CF105 (201) Avro Arrow interceptor sitting on the tarmac of DeHavilland’s hangar in Downsview (Toronto), ON.

PL107100, originally uploaded by Magnumcharger.

Prototype Arrow RL-201 landing followed by a CF-100 Canuck chase plane.

Avro CF-105 Arrow, originally uploaded by EyeNo.

Aircraft RL-201 exiting the runway at Malton Airport (YYZ) due to a landing gear failure. 11 June 1958. The undercarriage did not fully extend and lock, so when the test pilot applied the brakes, the left gear gave way and the aircraft skidded off the runway.

Arrow in Trouble!!, originally uploaded by Never Was An Arrow II.

Take up our quarrel with the foe

The Company regrets to note the closure of Canada’s foremost milblog, The Torch.

In the Canadian media hothouse—and its even more stultifying coverage of military matters—you tend to hear from the same four or five voices all the time. Veteran journalists who have spent decades building a particular spin and brand; spokesmen for “non-partisan” institutes whose entire raison d’être is campaigning for the reduction of Canadian military spending; and my personal favorite (in the years before Lewis Mackenzie and Rick Hillier rose to prominence) the administrative and logistics colonels our national broadcasters would chuck onto our television screens in times of crisis, billing the rear echelon types as tactical and operational experts.

The Torch was a much-needed antidote to all of that, and was the most interesting and well-rounded of all Canadian military blogs.  In their honour, the Company is pleased to present “The Black Bear”—the traditional march out/return to barracks tune of many Scottish regiments.  This version (embedding disabled, sorry) is a massed band variant from the 2007 Québec City Military Tattoo.

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