Jets on training mission
Four CF-18s tour Northern airports

Terry Kruger
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 25/00) - It looked like an airshow manoeuvre, but it was business as usual as pilots of four CF-18 fighter-bombers came in for a landing at Yellowknife airport Thursday.

One by one, the jets peeled out of formation and swung around to land before touching down a few seconds apart. Ground crews gathered outside the armed forces hangar and waited as the twin-engined jets screamed to a halt.

According to Maj. Steve Will, the "overhead brake" is the "quickest way to land."

The jets are based at CFB Cold Lake, Alta. Their visit was part of a tour of Northern airports that took the seven pilots and their ground crew to Inuvik and Fairbanks on Tuesday and Wednesday and off to Whitehorse for a two-day visit today. They also flew around Great Slave Lake to visit other airports in the region.

Accompanying the fighter-bombers was a Challenger jet from CFB Greenwood, N.S. The Challenger was tasked to carry support crew from Cold Lake.

Will, deputy commanding officer of 441 Squadron, said the group's mission was to familiarize new pilots to the terrain and facilities throughout the North. The Cold Lake squadron has 15 CF-18s and 18 pilots.

That includes getting to know the various airport runways in a number of communities, and Forward Operating Locations (FOL) in Inuvik and here in Yellowknife.

"It's good to see them before we have to go up on a dark and stormy night and get it on the ground," said Will.

The FOL are bases that are fully equipped to handle CF-18s and crews if they are needed to be deployed to the North in the event of a military threat. In Nunavut, similar facilities are located in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit.

The visiting CF-18s didn't use the FOL in Inuvik because it takes about a week and $10,000 to get it ready for use.

As well as familiarizing the pilots with flying through Northern terrain, the mission was good for the maintenance personnel to learn to deal with the cold and its affect on the jets.

"It's great for the ground crew because the oil gets thick and the hydraulics get thick," said Will.

He said the trip has been valuable to the pilots, too, as they get in some low-level flying -- 1,000 to 2,000 feet off the ground -- and enjoy some great Northern sights on their flights.

The trip from Inuvik to Fairbanks was particularly rewarding.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime day," explained Will, a veteran of NATO missions over Kosovo. The pilots and their jets enjoyed clear skies, snow covered mountains and even got to see "a few moose along the way."

The trip from Fairbanks to Yellowknife took about a hour and 40 minutes as the jets cruised in formation at between 400 and 500 knots. The jets are capable of a top speed of Mach .92 in their present configuration -- with fuel tanks hung on the wings and belly.

It's expected that a second group of CF-18s will visit the North for a similar tour this summer.