This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Canadian Army pilots, crew and personnel who served Canada in Canadian Army aviation units in both war and peace. The site also records the aircraft we flew, our organizations, training and employment during our 32 year history. The story has its roots in World War I, extending to World War II and the Korean War; and finally it’s growth as tactical aviation support to the army during the Cold War era. The unification of the forces in the early 1970s started the disbandment of tactical army aviation units and the transition of some elements to the air force.
The story about Canadian Army Aviation is not well recorded in any media. This website is designed to capture as much of the history and stories of the intrepid aviators and crew, many of who were pioneers in the development and employment of our tactical aviation assets. The Artillery and Army Service Corps managed to record aspects of their history. Their chapters are incomplete. Also, no publication adequately records Armoured Corps air reconnaissance or the employment of pilots and crew from other Army Corps and Regiments. This website aspires to capture the activities of all crewman, observers, drivers, communicators, mechanics, photographers and cooks to mention some of those who served to enable the air crew to carry out their missions. Importantly, the period of Army Aviation was marked by an era of close camaraderie between individuals, units, flight and ground crews who served their nation with loyalty and without reservation.
Contributions to fill this record with stories, anecdotes, personal biographies and photographs are requested and encouraged.
CANADIAN ARMY AVIATION
1947 - 1972
Studies into the post-war restructuring of the Canadian Army had recognized the value of using light aircraft to supplement the roles and tasks of land forces and that the helicopter had tremendous potential as an integral part of a modern army. The following is an outline of the evolution of Army Aviation in the twenty five years from the formation of an Air Observation Post Squadron in 1947 to the absorption of the last remaining army aviation units in 1972 following the unification of the Canadian Forces.
Wartime experience proved that artillery fire control could be more effective if it was controlled by army pilots using light aircraft instead of air force pilots flying larger observation aircraft that were requested through conventional air tasking procedures. As a result the RCAF had created three AOP Squadrons operating Taylorcraft Auster light aircraft during the war. The history of 664, 665 and 666 AOP squadrons validated the concept of retaining aviation within the army.
Operational research on the use of helicopters and light aircraft on a battlefield concluded that many tasks could be more effectively done by aviation units co-located with and under control of the army’s ground elements. This would allow for timely anticipation and reaction to a changing tactical situation without requiring extensive tasking and briefing procedures. The army was not interested in duplicating any air force functions such as close air support or out-of-theatre transport but it identified the need for air observation, dedicated liaison aircraft, light helicopters in the reconnaissance role and utility and cargo helicopters for the immediate transport of troops and supplies as being a essential part of its organization.
The army considered that aircraft must be flown by experienced officers to avoid the problem of having to train pilots in army tactics and that the aircraft must be an integral part of the existing combat arms units to ensure their availability and tactical awareness. These factors affected the development of army aviation since it imposed limitations on selecting aircrew, that aircraft in small deployable detachments would have to be compatible with the army’s supply and logistics system and the maintenance of these aircraft would increase the need for cross-trained army technicians to service them in dispersed locations.
The post-war reorganization of the Canadian Forces recognized the need to retain the ability to conduct airborne and airlift operations and this provided the basis of a Mobile Striking Force (MSF). This grouping of airborne troops and tactical aircraft was created in 1948 to counter any incursions to the Arctic or the northern regions.
The emphasis on Joint Air/Ground operations led to the establishment of the Joint Air School at RCAF Station Rivers in Rivers Manitoba in 1947. This School, which was later renamed in 1949 as the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC), became responsible for developing the concepts and techniques for close air support, photo reconnaissance, air portability, land/air communications and the delivery of troops by parachute, air landing and towed gliders. CJATC also was responsible for the training of Army officers as light aircraft and helicopter pilots as well as qualifying a number of Army non-commissioned officers as glider pilots in 1948. The original aircraft complement for the Centre consisted of Dakota transports and Hadrian gliders of 112 (T) Flight, Mustang fighter bombers of 417 Sqn and Auster AOP aircraft of 444 AOP Sqn (RCAF).
444 Air Observation Post Squadron was formed at the CJATC in 1948 for artillery fire direction and the training of army pilots. The squadron was an RCAF unit equipped with the Taylorcraft Auster Mk 6 aircraft, commanded by an army major, staffed by army instructor pilots, with a RCAF CFI and maintained by air force tradesmen. The Squadron included a detached flight under the control of the artillery school at Shilo and operated the first helicopters purchased by the army for evaluation purposes.
444 Sqn was absorbed by the Air Training Wing at CJATC in 1949 as the Light Aircraft School (LAS) and the Auster aircraft were replaced with the Cessna L-19 in 1955. The LAS continued to train the army officers who had completed basic flying training on civil light aircraft at the Brandon Flying Club by giving conversion to a service aircraft and further tactical flying to wings standard at Rivers. The contract with the civilian club ceased in 1959 when army student pilots were trained at the RCAF primary flying school at Centralia Ontario on the DHC Chipmunk aircraft before going on to the CJATC.
After the army’s acquisition of twenty one Hiller CH-112 light observation helicopters in 1961 the initial conversion of all service pilots to the helicopter was the responsibility of the RCAF Basic Helicopter Training Unit (BHTU) at Rivers with the LAS conducting the tactical flying courses required to allow army pilots to operate in the low-level environment dictated by army operations.
The name of the Light Aircraft School was changed to the Army Aviation Tactical Training School (AATTS) in 1961 to emphasize a change of priorities. The school provided aircraft detachments and crews to support major army field exercises to demonstrate the value of Army Aviation as well as continuing to train army pilots on fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. The school was renamed as 4 FTS after unification in 1968 and ultimately moved to CFB Portage as 3 FTS.
The Artillery expanded its AOP capabilities in 1953 by forming 1 AOP Flight in Petawawa and 2 AOP Flight in Shilo, each with six Auster aircraft. These independent flights were re-equipped with Cessna L-19 aircraft in 1955 and were enlarged in 1960 into five troops of three aircraft each. These AOP troops became part of the individual Artillery Regiments stationed at Shilo, Petawawa, Gagetown , Valcartier and Germany. Many L-19 aircraft were transferred to the Air Cadet League od Canada in 1971 when the AOP troops were re-equipped with helicopters and absorbed into the Tactical Helicopter Squadrons on Unification.
The availability of the CH-112 helicopter allowed the Armoured Corps (RCAC) to achieve its aim of introducing the LOH into its traditional reconnaissance role. The RCAC had added an independent Recce Sqn of twenty-three Ferret scout cars to the NATO Brigade Group in northern Germany which included a troop of seven helicopters crewed by experienced armoured officers and NCOs to assist the scout cars in accomplishing their tasks. This RCAC helicopter troop was formed in Rivers in 1961 and served in Germany until it was combined with the 1 RCHA AOP Troop to become 444 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in 1972.
At the same time this Troop was added to the Brigade, an additional CH-112 was provided to the Brigade HQ to fill the essential aviation liaison function. This aircraft proved the value of being available to the commander and staff since it was located next to the HQ and flown by two pilots who also acted as the Brigade air staff officers. This function was expanded into a Command and Liaison flight which also became part of 444 Sqn.
Another example of the importance of having aircraft available for commanders and senior staff was the formation of the Army Headquarters Training and Liaison Flight in Ottawa in 1961 which was equipped with four Cessna 182 four-seat passenger aircraft. This unit was absorbed into 412 Transport Sqn at CFB Uplands after unification. A total of six of these aircraft were eventually purchased and brought into service.
The transportation branch of the army had been interested in using aircraft to assist and supplement the movement of troops and cargo on the battlefield since 1952 and these plans were met when the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC) acquired twelve Boeing Vertol twin-rotor, twin-turbine engined CH-113 helicopters in 1963. The equipment and training required to form 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon (1 THP) was a major advance for Army Aviation. This unit was originally a lodger unit in Rivers and later moved to St Hubert Quebec with a detachment in Edmonton. Upon integration, they became 450 and 447 Squadrons respectively. The CH-113As supported major exercises in Canada, Germany and NATO’s northern flank in Norway.
The question of providing sufficient tradesmen to service the increasing number of army aircraft and to maintain them in the field was a challenge to the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME). Up until this time the maintenance of the army aircraft based at Rivers was done using base facilities and the independent AOP flights were serviced by RCAF aircraft mechanics on strength of these units. The expansion of army aviation required an extensive training programme which was met by the formation of the Army Aviation Maintenance Unit (AAMU) at Rivers and training army technicians with the RCAF, the US Army and attachments to RCN aviation units.
The mobility of a helicopter soon led to the concept of arming it. Although trials were conducted with arming the LOH with machine guns the potential for this role could only be realized when a helicopter with adequate performance combined with a long range optically guided missile became available. The army had always expressed a need for an armed helicopter in its equipment proposals and had incorporated its operational procedures in its tactical publications in anticipation of acquiring them. This included the use of helicopters in the anti-tank role in conjunction with armour and self-propelled anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM). Unfortunately, financial and other defence priorities during this period never allowed the requirement for these aircraft to be finalized.
The reorganization of the Canadian Forces into a self-contained mobile force in 1965 included a requirement for a large number of helicopters. An interim purchase of ten CH-118 utility helicopters was made in 1967 to transition aircrew to turbine helicopters and develop operational procedures for the proposed new Tactical Helicopter Squadrons. This unit, commanded by an army officer and with the majority of its pilots being army aviators, was designated as 403 Helicopter Operational Training Squadron (HOTS). It was stationed in Petawawa from 1968 to 1971 and, in addition to qualifying pilots, took part in major exercises in the NW Territories,
Norway, Denmark, Germany and Jamaica during that period. The Squadron was later moved to CFB Gagetown and re-equipped with CH-136 and CH-135 helicopters.
The Government’s decision to reorganize and unify the Armed Forces in 1968 resulted in transforming the army into a joint Mobile Force with an integral air component. The air group of this new command included six helicopter squadrons equipped with 113 observation, utility and cargo helicopters as well as two fighter and one transport squadron. The placing of these resources under command of the land forces was the ultimate example of aviation support to the army. The expanded number of helicopters represented a logical evolution in aviation support since they utilized the procedures and expertise developed during this period by the previous army aviation units to meet this new mobile force concept.
The aviation component of the pre-unification army, although it never was designated as a branch, existed as a distinct function for twenty-five years and acquired 80 aircraft, formed nine separate aviation units and trained
200 pilots and numerous technicians, flight engineers, loadmasters and observers. After unification a considerable number of army pilots transferred into the air element as part of 10 Tactical Air Group and some of these
pilots later commanded squadrons in 10 TAG and went on to senior appointments in the CF, including two who became commanders of the group. The conduct and reputation of this small organization could be construed as being
a final endorsement of the concept of organic army aviation in the Canadian Armed Forces and it deserves to be remembered.