History of Special Operations Aviation in Canada
A Historical Timeline
427 Squadron Background 1942-1997
427 (Lion) Squadron was formed overseas on November 7th, 1942, as the eighth of fifteen Royal Canadian Air Force Bomber Squadrons. It flew Wellington aircraft out of Croft, Yorkshire, then Halifaxes and Lancasters out of Leeming from May 3rd, 1943. Its first CO was Group Captain Dudley Burnside, DSO, OBE, DFC & Bar. Initially part of 4 Group, the Squadron was transferred to 6th Bomber RCAF Group where it remained until the end of the war. On May 31st, 1946, the Squadron was disbanded. On August 1st, 1962, the Lions were reactivated as a Fighter Squadron flying F-86 Sabres at St-Hubert, Quebec, before moving to Germany. 427's Fighter era saw them serve initially in the UK then in Germany, France, Morocco and Sardina, before becoming the first Canadian Squadron to be equipped with the CF-104 Starfighter. The Squadron was again disbanded on July 1, 1970. The Lions returned on January 1, 1971, as a Tactical Helicopter Squadron based at Petawawa, Ontario. Originally equipped with the L-19 Bird Dog, they soon received the CH-136 Kiowa light observation helicopter, as well as the CH-135 Twin Huey utility helicopter.
Special Operations Aviation (SOA) Era
A sub unit of 450 Squadron (Ottawa) was formed to provide dedicated aviation support to RCMP SERT (Special Emergency Response Team). This sub-unit was known as the SERT Assault Helicopter Flight. It consisted of three CH135, thirteen pilots, and six flight engineers.
The SERT role was transferred to JTF2. 450 Squadron was reorganized with the retirement of Chinooks to 6 CH135 Twin Hueys while retaining the army support role. 450 Squadron attempted to "re-role", going from a sub-unit size to a full size SAH (Special Aviation Helicopter) Squadron. Experience levels dropped as personnel were posted out and replaced with new members.
450 Squadron moved from 7 Wing Ottawa to CFB Montreal. Response time increased; experience continued to be posted out; training costs increased, and the physical separation from DHTC (Dwyer Hill Training Centre) negatively affected the SAH capability. The DHTC ALO (Air Liason Officer) position was established and an initiative began for a 450 Squadron sub-unit to be co-located once again with DHTC.
An effort to stabilize and regain experience depth was initiated by posting experienced JASF (JTF2 Aviation Support Flight) Huey pilots back into 450 Squadron. Formalization of a JAS aircrew training course began. Longer tours of a minimum of 4 yrs were imposed, and a transition of personnel from 450 Squadron to a specialized flight formation at 427 Squadron in Petawawa was initiated.
427 Squadron assumed the responsibility of support to JTF2 with the creation of a SOA (Special Operations Aviation) Flight (B Flight).
427 Squadron transition to the CH146 commenced.
DHTC began intensive training on Griffons. By July, 80% of the first wave was trained. The second wave of training began in August in anticipation of the first tasking that would use the Griffon.
427 Squadron retired the Twin Huey in July 1997, while receiving the last of the BELL CH-146 Griffon fleet.
B Flight was deployed in support of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Vancouver.
C2 (Command and Control) relationships were re-evaluated between OC B Flight, the CO JTF2, and upwards to DCDS (Deputy Commander Defense Staff).
B Flight was deployed to Gagetown in support of the Francophone Summit held in Moncton.
B Flight was deployed to Alberta for OP (Operation) Grizzly during the G-8 Summit.
At a 19 October 2005 Armed Forces Council, as part of the overall Canadian Forces Transformation initiative, the CDS (Chief of the Defence Staff) directed that 427 Squadron be transferred under OPCOM (Operational Control) to CANSOFCOM (Canadian Special Operations Forces Command) with the Air Force retaining oversight of key processes required for the safe and effective generation of this specialized capability.
01 February 2006, 427 Squadron transferred OPCOM (Operational Command) to CANSOFCOM.
B Flight received the CDS commendation for exemplary skill and outstanding aviation support to the increased tempo of JTF-2 operations and training.
427 nomenclature was formally changed to 427 SOAS (427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron).
427 SOAS expanded upon the B Flight expertise to form a more robust high readiness detachment-sized element as the integrated aviation component of the Immediate Response Task Force. The generation of an OOA (Out of Area) capability was also initiated.
Ed. Note: A DND Recruitment Brochure further explains the role of the CANSOFCOM force and 427s part in it. The brochure is available here.