417 Squadron gains valuable mountain flying experience
Jeff Gaye – The Courier
417 Combat Support Squadron (CSS) spent two weeks training out of an airport in Penticton, B.C., in March.
“It was essentially two weeks of dedicated mountain flying training, because our area of operations goes into the Rocky Mountains,” said 417 Squadron’s Commanding Officer Major Alexia Shore. “We have to keep currency in that, unlike other CSS units who don’t operate in the mountainous areas. Every six months, we have to fly in a designated mountain area, and conduct an approach to a mountain top.”
For each of the two weeks, the squadron trained three of its CH-146 Griffon helicopter pilots. One flight engineer and three technicians supported the flying each week.
“Mountain flying is particularly dangerous due to what can be really strong winds, and the mountain illusions. There is a tendency when flying towards mountains to think that a flat mountain top is the horizon. So it’s really easy to fly towards it with the nose up, and lose air speed. If you’re not cross-checking and looking at your instruments, you can get into a bad situation,” Maj Shore said.
Mountainous terrain also offers fewer level spots for a helicopter to land. When 417 Squadron is on a search and rescue (SAR) mission, it’s important for the pilots, flight engineer and the SAR technicians to find landing spots.
“Looking out for suitable landing areas is definitely something that our guys practice,” Maj Shore said. “There are pinnacles or shoulders or little ledges on the mountain side, so there’s a whole bunch of different areas you can land in.”
The squadron spent more than two months deployed to B.C. last summer to help with wildfires. While air and ground crews gained considerable experience flying in the mountains, Maj Shore said experienced pilots must always keep their training current. She noted that 417 Squadron has received new members since they returned from B.C. last September.
“It was important to get them exposure to flying around in the mountains before actually having a search and rescue call out, or going back to deal with a forest fire in really challenging conditions where there’s heavy smoke and visibility is reduced. So it was really good to get them exposure in a stable training environment before tensions are high with smoky conditions, or if you’re out looking for a real plane crash,” she said.
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