Griffon’s our best bird: 424 boss 0

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Criticism about CFB Trenton’s search and rescue helicopters’ reliability are unfounded, said the unit’s commanding officer Lt. Col. Joel Roy.

According to a National Defence Department study filed in 2009, it would be risky for the air force and Roy’s crews at 424 Search and Rescue squadron to continue using the Griffon CH-416 aircraft to conduct missions in Central Canada.

The review by the chief of air force development cites limitations of the CH-146 – a military version of the Bell 412 civilian chopper that was pressed into service in 2005 at 8 Wing – claiming it is too small and lacks the range to reach wilderness sites in Northern Ontario and Quebec without refueling.

The helicopter’s capabilities are challenged when employed as a front-line rescue aircraft and its use constitutes a risk, states the report.

The air force intends to keep using the Griffon in Trenton until at least 2014, said Roy. I was aware of the study long before the media got hands on it. To be honest I don’t think it reflects the reality regarding the use of the Griffon by our squadron here in Trenton.

First of all, the 424 works as part of a team and by definition our work his risky, not the aircraft we fly. The Griffon is never alone, we need the staff to operate it and make sure it’s safe and fully maintained before we head out on a mission. The nature of our work is based on emergency response versus the operational zone we cover, and that’s where the Griffon gets its limitations.

The search and rescue zone for CFB Trenton’s 424 search and rescue technicians (SAR) is the largest in Canada, spanning from Quebec to the high Arctic and the western provinces.

With a flight-range capacity reaching near 200 kilometres with a full load of fuel on board, the study states the Griffon would have to hip-hop from refueling stop to refueling stop on long-distance missions.

Having to stop for gas increases the response time to an incident site, and the amount of time the helicopter can remain on the scene to perform rescue tasks, said the 20-page censored report.

It is true that the Griffon doesn’t allow us to reach northern and remote locations part of of our operational zone, but we have put in place some ways of preventing any late responding times due to our helicopters’ limitations on fuel capacity, power, and space.

Honda Griffon
Honda Griffon

Roy said the Trenton squadron’s Griffon fleet, which is often backed up by a specially-configured C-130 Hercules, could soon be refueled while on mission by using the transport aircraft.

We are currently looking at the possibility of using our Herc to refuel our Griffons when we know we will be away for a longer period of time and/or heading to remote locations, said Roy. The idea by using the Herc would be to find a reasonably long runway in the given location that would allow us to land both aircraft and refuel the Griffon right from the Herc.

The other option would be to load fuel barrels aboard the Herc and leave them at some strategic locations near the area where we are conducting a mission. When put in place, these two options will definitely help us reaching northerner locations as well as saving flight time with refueling.

The study also questioned the fact that the Griffon has no GPS, no all-weather radar, and no flotation equipment on board.

It’s true that our choppers aren’t equipped with the latest GPS systems, but we are in the process of getting brand new asset tracker systems, said Roy. We don’t have a weather-radar system on board either, but we use an hand-held online radar system that provides us with basically the same information. Regarding the flotation issue, it is true that the Griffon isn’t equipped with such system, but it’s important to understand that my crews are professionally trained to respond in case of a crash aboard the Griffon in remote locations.

We are aware of the Griffon’s limitations and our crews are trained in order to operate beyond those limitations.

Honda Griffon
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