Eye in the sky at Exercise ARCTIC BISON 2017

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Article / April 6, 2017 / Project number: w-ar-17-eye-in-the-sky-ex-bison

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By Corporal Natasha Tersigni, 38 Canadian Brigade Group Public Affairs

It is an opportunity that comes around only once per year for Canadian Army (CA) Reservists – to augment their training using a CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft during Exercise ARCTIC BISON 2017 (Ex AB17).

During Ex AB17, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Yellowknife 440 ‘Vampire’ Transport Squadron brought their plane and crew to Gimli to participate in the biannual winter exercise. The unique experience allowed the soldiers on the ground to learn how they can be supported by the aircraft and the logistical abilities the plane can provide in a domestic operation.

The highly adaptable Twin Otter is used by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) for northern operations. Along with search and rescue missions, the plane is used for transport and logistical support. With the ability to land on skis in the winter and use tundra tires (large soft tires suited for rough terrain) in the summer, the Twin Otter is a rugged aircraft that operates in some of the harshest weather conditions on the planet.

On Ex AB17, the aircraft crew’s role was to provide essential assistance to troops on the ground.

“Our primary role within CAF is transportation and supply, so it fits with this exercise. The 440 Squadron’s principal customer is the 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. We will take them out in the northern areas so they can do patrols on their sleds, very similar to how we provide support during these Brigade winter exercises,” said Captain Andrew Oakes who is the Aircraft Commander of the Twin Otter.

Soldiers on the ice built a runway for the Twin Otter to land on as part of their training for this exercise, but with the mild temperatures, the Twin Otter saw challenges in providing all the support and tasks that were planned.

“When the weather is warmer than -5 Celsius, the snow gets sticky and it is not ideal. The temperature got on the plus side during the exercise. If the aircraft normally takes 2,000 feet [610 metres] to take off on the ice, it will take four to five times that when you are up in the mild temperatures,” explained Oakes.

“Had the weather and visibility cooperated fully, we would have ideally taken troops and supplies in and out of their bivouac sites on Lake Winnipeg.”

Towards the end of the week, the temperatures dropped to appropriate levels and soldiers had the opportunity to see the Twin Otter in action. Aerial reconnaissances provided a bird’s eye view of Lake Winnipeg, which was helpful in planning safe routes for troops traveling on the ice. On the final day of the exercise, the aircraft crew conducted training with the ARCG in casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) and resupply. In domestic operations, having the aircraft land on the lake would be integral to transportation in an emergency situation or routine re-supply trips.

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