Canucks Unlimited Updated

By Jeff Rhodes Posted 3 August 2010

“The goal is to have our first C-130J in theater by January 2011 and a second aircraft flying in Afghanistan four months later,” states Maj. Spencer Selhi, a pilot with 436 Squadron, the Canadian Forces airlift unit at CFB Trenton, Ontario. That goal puts the Canucks Unlimited, as the squadron is called, on an ambitious track—a little more than seven months between first aircraft delivery and first combat deployment.

Canada’s first Super Hercules was delivered to 8 Wing at CFB Trenton, Ontario, on 4 June 2010. The ferry flight crew arrived precisely on time, making a high-speed pass at 200 feet above the crowd of approximately 600 military members and local civic leaders before landing. A 436 Squadron crew took the CC-130J, as it’s officially designated in Canada, up for its first training mission just four days later—a night vision goggle, low-level tactical sortie.

At the delivery ceremony, Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay summed up the sense of urgency both 436 Squadron and the Canadian government have for the CC-130J: “The expectations for this aircraft are great.”

“Tactical airlift is the lifeblood of the Canadian Forces. In any future relief effort or combat operation, the CC-130J will be first on the scene,” noted Maj. Gen. Tom Lawson, the assistant chief of the Canadian Air Staff. “The US Air Force let us jump a few notches on the production line so we could get this aircraft.”

The first CC-130J was delivered six months ahead of schedule with at least three more expected to be delivered to CFB Trenton, Canada’s main transport base, by the end of 2010. The last of Canada’s seventeen CC-130Js on order is scheduled to arrive at Trenton in the second quarter of 2012.

Canada’s current E- and H-model Hercules fleet has been heavily tasked for many years to conduct numerous military and humanitarian missions both in Canada and around the world. Canada also uses its legacy Hercules fleet for search and rescue missions and air-to-air refueling. The first CC-130J was delivered five months shy of fifty years since operations with the CC-130B began.

Canada’s E-models have logged more flying hours than any comparable Hercules in the world. In his remarks, MacKay noted, “I recently flew in a forty-three-year-old E-model aircraft in Afghanistan that had approximately 50,000 flight hours on it.”

With the arrival of the Super Hercules, the CC-130E fleet will eventually be retired. Six of the nineteen E-models in the Canadian fleet have already concluded their flying careers and have been parked, while several more of the older aircraft are literally within dozens of flight hours of reaching the end of their service lives.

Once all CC-130Js are delivered, the 8 Wing CC-130Hs will become dedicated search and rescue assets at Trenton or transferred to Canada’s other SAR squadrons in Manitoba and Nova Scotia. In all, Canada flies thirteen CC-130Hs, which includes five CC-130H(T) aerial tankers. The Canadian H-model aircraft are expected to remain in service for another decade.

“The legacy crews have been heavily tasked with some of them having been deployed three times already,” notes Master Cpl. Derrick Styan, a 436 Squadron loadmaster who has been through J-model training. “But once we go to the J, we don’t go back to the legacy aircraft.”

Not having aircrews dual-qualified on both types of CC-130s creates a unique situation in the short term for Canucks Unlimited. “Normally we send three crews per aircraft to theater at a time,” adds Capt. Joseph Tufenkdjian, a CC-130J-qualified pilot. “But our first J-model to deploy to theater will only have one crew. We don’t yet have sufficient aircraft or trained crews to send three.”

Formed in Burma during World War II, 436 Squadron had four qualified crews when the first CC-130J was delivered. “Eventually, we will have fifty-one total crews,” notes Tufenkdjian. “About thirty-seven crews will be available for operations. The training school and the standardization/evaluation section will make up the rest.”

Currently many of the CC-130J crews are going through the US Hercules training school at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, with follow-on tactical training with the 146th Airlift Wing, the US Air National Guard unit at Channel Islands ANGS, California. “The US Air Force doesn’t have excess C-130 training capacity,” observes Selhi. “So, all of our crew training now is based on the availability of slots at Little Rock.”

By 2012, 8 Wing will conduct all Canadian aircrew training, including the training for tactical missions. Canada plans to purchase courseware and academics from the US Air Force to accompany a full mission simulator and several part-task trainers at Trenton. Construction of a new on-base aircrew and maintenance training facility is scheduled to begin in late 2010. Construction of a new hangar for the CC-130Js is also planned in the next few years.

Maintenance is another area of 8 Wing operations that will change with the arrival of the Super Hercules. With its full digital avionics suite, different powerplant, and even the longer fuselage length, the CC-130J is distinct enough from the legacy Hercules to have its own dedicated maintenance. “Our airplanes, our maintenance,” notes Cpl. Trina Kozlik, an aircraft structures maintainer. “It’s a big shift from what we were doing before.”

“There’s been a lot going on to get ready for the arrival of the J-model,” notes Sgt. Jason Snow, a CC-130J loadmaster. “But we are ready to give it our best shot.”

Jeff Rhodes is the associate editor of Code One.