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Introducing the ‘F’ Factor

March 5, 2014  By Rick Adams

The name Petawawa is said to originate from the word biidaawewe in the Algonquin language, roughly translated as “where one hears a noise like this.”

The name Petawawa is said to originate from the word biidaawewe in the Algonquin language, roughly translated as “where one hears a noise like this.” It seems appropriate, then, that the reactivated 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron garrisons at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., the nation’s largest military base and featuring more than 300 square kilometre of the Petawawa Training Area, is adjacent to the Algonquin Provincial Park. The squadron is going to need all that airspace and forested terrain to dissipate the distinctive noise of its new tandem-rotor CH-147F Boeing Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, which generate a sound that has been described as an “enormous jackhammer, a penetrating basso thunder that can be heard miles away, and makes the earth shake when the aircraft passes close by.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your decibel tolerance, the new Chinook Fs will have somewhat limited flying opportunities, given the budget woes in the capital, 170 km downstream along the Ottawa River. Much of the flying and mission training for the CH-147F crews will be conducted in a weapon system trainer (WST) to be delivered by CAE this spring to the 450 squadron’s new home in the southeastern portion of the Mattawa Plain. The WST will be supplemented by a suite of relatively quiet, ground-tethered training aids – a tactical flight training device (TFTD) at Petawawa and a deployable TFTD that can travel to a combat or humanitarian mission theatre, an integrated gunnery trainer, and computer-based CAE Simfinity virtual simulators.

Montreal-based CAE will also provide a tactical control centre, training management information system, and visual databases of various strategic locales, including Petawawa, which are shared with Canada’s CC-130J Super Hercules aircrew training program. CAE won the CH-147F contract in 2010 as an add-on to the Operational Training Systems Provider (OTSP) arrangement, which supports CC-130J training in Trenton, Ont. The OTSP is an omnibus contract, worth more than $600 million thus far, in which CAE serves as prime contractor for training systems and services for Canada’s tactical airlift, medium and heavy helicopters, and potentially other aircraft fleets. Their pan-Canadian team includes Atlantis Systems, Bluedrop Performance Learning, Ngrain and Cascade Aerospace.

Deliveries of the 15 CH-147F aircraft on order began last summer, so 450 squadron pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers have been conducting their interim training at another CAE-supported installation, the Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, in the U.K., where Canadian aircrews also trained for CH-47D missions in Afghanistan. The MSHATF is CAE’s flagship contractor-owned, contractor-operated helicopter training facility with six advanced flight simulators – three Chinooks, two AgustaWestland AW101 Merlins, and a Eurocopter Puma.


“The level of experience the [ex-military] instructors bring to bear in the flying school is phenomenal,” managing director Andrew Naismith told me when I visited Benson recently. Before becoming managing director, Naismith was a CAE customer, leading RAF Chinook squadrons, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the trend of the Royal Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, Japanese Ground Self Defence Force, and others who use the MSHATF is decidedly toward more synthetic training, currently perhaps 50-50 between live and virtual but progressing toward 70 per cent in simulators.

Last year, CAE upgraded the Puma device to the HC2 LEP (life extension program) glass cockpit configuration. The Chinook simulators were also upgraded, including one cockpit, which can be swapped between a Block 5 CH-47D Avionics Control and Management System (ACMS) model and the ACMS Block 6 CH-47F flown by the Dutch. As the Canadian Forces’ reduced-budget strategy shifts to what they term “Adapted Dispersed Operations,” one obvious adaptation is fewer training flights. That leaves simulation to take up the slack plus fill in mission skills gaps that are simply not possible via live flying.

Not only is there less wear-and-tear on the aircraft, but it keeps the noise levels down for the campers and cross-country skiers.

The 450 traces its heritage to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps’ 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon (1 THP) – or “1 Thump,” which flew Voyageur helicopters in the 1960s. Seems appropriate for the new Chinook F squadron, considering the “thump-thump-thump-thump” now heard around Petawawa.

Rick Adams  

Rick Adams is Chief Perspectives Officer of AeroPerspectives, an aviation communications consultancy based in the south of France. He has been writing about technology and training for 30 years. This is his debut column for Helicopters.


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