In the air with Canadian Forces Special Operations

Ravage

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Tactical helicopter aviators from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (SOAS) have just returned from a major exercise in Kamloops, British Columbia proving once and for all that life in the Canadian Forces can change on a dime. Until last February Maj Travis (last name protected), Aviation Detachment Commander for the exercise, was a 1 Wing Air Force pilot supporting Land Force and routine Air Force missions with the CH-146 Griffon helicopter. Although his job as a tactical helicopter pilot was always to fly missions in support of the Army, among other things, this is different.

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A CH-146 Griffon Helicopter from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS) transports soldiers for insertion in a field near Kamloops, BC as part of an exercise designed to train and select candidates for the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR).

Maj Travis still flies a helicopter, still wears a flying suit, and still calls himself a pilot, however he no longer "flies" for the Air Force on a day-to-day basis. He and his colleagues from 427 SOAS are now under OPERATIONAL COMMAND (OPCOM) of the newly created Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).

"We still fly missions for the Army, Air Force, and other governmental departments, but our bread and butter is to provide agile and flexible aviation support to CANSOFCOM." The Air Force still has residual Command and Control responsibilities such as Flight Safety, aircrew flying training, aircraft maintenance procedures and other "core" Air Force responsibilities, but everything else is being directed by CANSOFCOM.

The exercise in Kamloops was the first opportunity for everyone to test their new roles and responsibilities in a truly joint operating environment, and so far it’s been an exciting ride.

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Troops from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) rappel from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS) during a training exercise near Kamloops, BC.

“It’s great. It’s what I signed up for,” says Maj Travis of the invigorating night flights, the troop insertions, the get-in-and-get-out as fast as possible pace of operations, and the “bunking” with the Army in tents and eating rations, for example. Tactical helicopter squadrons have done this kind of training for years, however, under CANSOFCOM, operations are more apt to be about combating terrorism and supporting our special forces than peacekeeping.

“One of the things that’s changed for us is our maneuvers have to be much more exact, much more tactically precise,” says Maj Travis. “If we’re extracting troops in a hostile environment, for example, where we have to get in and get out in a hurry, precision is everything or lives could be lost.”

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A CH-146 Griffon Helicopter from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS) extracts troops from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) near Kamloops, BC

427 SOAS is based out of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa and began to operate under CANSOFCOM last February. Training for the squadron is ongoing as its role and mandate continues to evolve under the “new Canadian Forces.”

CANSOFCOM is the new CF organization that will be capable of responding to terrorism and threats to Canadians and Canadian interests around the world. It is composed of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment and 427 SOAS in Petawawa, the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Company in Trenton, and Joint Task Force 2.
 
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