Warplanes: Canada Rules The Night Air

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February 28, 2009: Canadian troops are now using their CH-146 helicopters for night time IED (roadside bomb) patrols in Afghanistan. The CH-146 pilots are equipped with night vision goggles (which helicopter pilots have been using for over two decades), while the helicopter carries a high resolution reconnaissance pod, that enables the operator to zoom in for a close look on anything below, and at quite a distance. The patrols examine roads used by Canadian troops, for evidence of freshly planted IEDs, and reports the locations to engineers (who will clear them after daybreak). If the choppers catch the Taliban placing a bomb, the helicopter's machine-guns will be used to attack the IED crew.

The helicopters fly low enough (under 200 meters) to be heard by any Taliban in the area, but with all the lights on board turned off, the Taliban don't have much of a target to shoot at. Just the sound of the choppers in the area often prevents IEDs from being planted. The Canadians got a lot of practical advice on this from the Americans, who have been using manned aircraft and UAVs to do this sort of thing since 2003. The Americans were able to provide help with how to use night sensors for searching the ground, and how to plan the missions to check as much road as possible per sortie.

Canada has established its own little air force in Afghanistan. The Canadian Air Wing will have, by this Summer, six leased Russian made Mi-8 transport helicopters, six newly purchased U.S. CH-47 transport helicopters and eight Canadian made CH-146 armed transports to escort the larger choppers. The Wing will have about 450 personnel to support the twenty helicopters and some UAVs.

A primary function of the choppers will be to keep Canadian troops off the roads, where half the casualties have been suffered because of roadside bombs. Previous to the establishment of the Wing, the 2,500 Canadian troops had much less access to helicopter transport than their American or NATO allies fighting in the south. This is the first time, since the Korean War (1950-53) that Canadian forces have established an Air Wing in a combat zone.

The 22 ton CH-47F can carry ten tons of cargo, or up to 55 troops, and has a maximum range of 426 kilometers. Its max speed is 315 kilometers an hour. Typical missions last no more than three hours.

The 12 ton Mi-8 can carry three tons (or up to 24 passengers) and has a max speed of 240 kilometers an hour and about the same range as the CH-47. Typical missions can last up to four hours.

The 5.3 ton CH-146 is actually the Bell 412, which is in turn an updated version of the Bell 212, which is a civilian version of the 1960s era U.S. Army UH-1 ("Huey"). Built in Canada, the CH-146s normally carry twelve troops, and no weapons. But such helicopters have been equipped with machine-guns and rockets and have no problem keeping up with the CH-47s and Mi-8s.

 


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