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As Canada closes in on starting operations to fulfil the UN peacekeeping role in Mali, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is moving forward with deploying the first helicopters to join the Air Task Force (ATF).
The pre-deployment team in Mali is now ready to start receiving the three CH-147F Chinook heavy lift helicopters from 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (THS) and five CH-146 Griffon tactical transport helicopters from 408 THS that have been pledged to the UN mission.
The F model Chinooks have twice the range of past versions, making them well-suited to the forward aeromedical evacuation role they’ll undertake in Mali, but they’re not flying there.
Like the Griffons to follow, they’ll be transported overseas, a task that involves many steps and lots of teamwork to complete successfully.
Much planning and co-ordination took place to develop the timeline and taskings involved in moving the first Chinook helicopter from Petawawa, Ont., to west Africa.
After first flying the helicopter to 8 Wing in Trenton, Ont., it was prepared for loading onto a CC-177 Globemaster III of 429 Transport Squadron.
With a 60-foot rotor diameter and a height of more than 18 feet, geting the Chinook into the CC-177 requires significant disassembly. This task was the responsibility of technicians from 450 THS and specialists drawn from other helicopter squadrons.
The week prior to loading was spent removing the rotor blades and both the front and rear rotor masts before the Chinook would fit into the plane.
The rear mast and gearbox assembly travels on a dedicated dolly built to both protect the delicate and critical mechanisms of the mast/gearbox assembly and to accommodate rolling it safely into the CC-177.
Once the technicians had completed their work it was time for the staff of Trenton’s 2 Air Movements Squadron (AMS) to take over.
2 AMS is responsible for processing all the cargo that transits through Trenton. On July 3 their task was to load and secure everything in the CC-177 that would be required to get the first Chinook assembled and operational on arrival in Mali.
With much of the Chinook’s parts and assembly equipment stored in the helicopter’s interior, the body of the aircraft became a storage unit on wheels for most of the gear.
A small self-propelled crane to re-mount the front mast and the rear mast/gear box assembly was also loaded. 2 AMS and the helicopter technicians worked together closely to ensure the loading went smoothly and safely.
Loaded with the Chinook, parts, tools and the personnel to rebuild it, the CC-177 left Tuesday evening. Once assembled in Mali and ground checks are complete, the Chinook will be test flown to confirm it’s ready for operations. Meanwhile, the process of moving the Griffons and the remaining Chinooks will be ongoing as the ATM closes in on the start of its UN operations scheduled for later in July.