President John McGinn opened with a great joke! He noted that the Annual General Meeting will be on June 2 and that some positions are opening on the Board. For more information contact past-president, Sandy Dreger. The Summer Barbecue is scheduled for July 21 at Kitty Coleman, the Christmas Dance is on December 3 at D’Esterre, and PRISMA will be held on June 25. Another Bowling date has been added for April 23. Sign-up on the Special Events page of our Website.
Vice-President Alan Brown talked about flying into Comox 25 years ago and finding a “huge air base, rolling past CF18s, and Search and Rescue (SAR) planes and wondering why an Air Force (AF) Base was in Comox". When he became vice-president, he was determined to find the answer, introducing our guest speaker, retired Colonel Jon Ambler of 19 Wing Comox.
Col. Ambler joined the Canadian Forces (CF) in 1979 and took command of 19 Wing Comox in 2004. In 2006 he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Military Merit. He served 30 years in the AF as a Long Range Patrol Navigator. He commanded at the Crew, Flight, Squadron, Peacekeeping Task Force, and Wing levels. Retiring in 2007, he has been very active volunteering for the Comox Valley Air Force Museum and researching and promoting BC’s aviation history.
Col. Ambler noted that as a historian, he usually holds public speaking engagements monthly but has done nothing but Zoom for the past two years and that it was a great pleasure to be here in person today.
The airfield at Comox was opened by the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1942 to provide a base on the West Coast with the best weather for the Torpedo bombers to fly over the Pacific looking for Japanese warships. With the reduced role of the Torpedo, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) took over the base in 1943.
Wartime Role and Training:
#6 Operational Training Unit (OTU) was a Transport Establishment that flew the D-47 Dakota built in 1930, "with a design that was almost perfect, with some still flying today”. The crew was trained to support the British fighting the Japanese and flew to China, Burma, and India over the ‘Hump’ of the Himalayas. It could transport 30 crew who would parachute out the back of the plane. The Dakota also towed Gliders, also used in WW2, out of the Cassidy RCAF glider training base now the Nanaimo Airport.
Long Range Patrol:
In 1946 RCAF Station Comox was closed under the direction of the Department of Transport. In July 1952 Comox was reactivated with the first operation squadron, 407 Maritime Patrol Squadron flying the Lancaster whose primary task was in anti-submarine warfare role. They provided undersea surveillance, operations against terrorism, high seas driftnet fishing patrols, counter drug ops (with RCMP) and SAR. In alliance with NATO and NORAD they patrolled the Pacific and Western Arctic Ocean. The Neptune replaced the Lancaster and was eventually replaced by the Canadian built Argus capable of flying for 10 hours over 3000 miles.
In November of 1954, the 409 All Weather Fighter Interceptor Squadron was reactivated at Comox due to the threat of the Soviet Union Bomber Force. Over the years it was equipped with the CF-100 Canuck (nicknamed the "Clunk") which was replaced by the CF-101 Voodoo till the 1980s. These supersonic planes were built in the USA and were armoured with a nuclear unguided 'Genie' rocket warhead to fire at bombers. The acquisition of nuclear weapons resulted in both political and anti-nuclear controversy and protests. The purchase agreement actually states that the ‘Genie’ rockets were the property of the US and that Canada would only use them under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) 1957 military alliance with the US providing aerospace warning, airspace sovereignty, and protection of North America. They were never used.
In 1984 409 Squadron ceased Voodoo operations at Comox and moved to CFB Cold Lake to fly Hornets. Today, Comox remains a NORAD Forward Operating Base (FOB).
The 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron conducts SAR operations and Cormorant training. Their designated ‘Victoria’ region of the Canadian Search and Rescue Regions (SRR) is the smallest at 1.3 million square km comprising BC and the Yukon but the busiest SRR with over 300 calls per year covering the most diverse landscape (mountains, ocean, forests, lakes, trees, and coast line including the Arctic). Col Ambler noted the helicopter is best used for the rescue part of SAR. The Albatross, which was an amphibious helicopter, was replaced by the Labrador which was notoriously underpowered with two engines and no warning other than “the earth was getting closer” when one engine shut down. The Labrador was replaced by the Cormorant and with three engines and a light that notifies when one is lost, it currently provides the best SAR capabilities at the Squadron.
The helicopter holds a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer (that manages the hoist), and two SAR Technicians with paramedic training. The Buffalo, a SAR airplane, has just been retired and replaced by the Kingfisher that carries a pilot, co-pilot, sensor operator (including radar, infra-red, lowlight, and TV) operator, and navigator. The Kingfisher is used for sensing humans which from 200 feet away are the size of a soccer ball. It can fly at night and in bad weather.
SAR Techs, the Air Force Para-Rescue Specialists, moved their school to 19 Wing Comox in 1996. The Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue (CFSSAR) opened in Comox in 1998, training crew and maintenance personnel using simulators and aircraft. The 418 Squadron was Canada’s highest scoring squadron in WW2 in terms of day and night operations. It was re-introduced in 2019 as the 418 SAR Operational Training Squadron and began operations at the new SAR Centre of Excellence Training Center at 19 Wing Comox in 2020. Their training methods and new simulators will improve SAR skills using the latest fixed wing search and rescue aircraft, the Kingfisher.
Col. Ambler invited us all to come to the Museum for more detail. 2024 marks the Centennial for the RCAF and the Museum is hoping to raise enough funds to build a display for a 1999 Vampire.
Col. Ambler answered the following questions:
The myth of the Avro CF-100 Canuck. The Government cancelled the project of a more futuristic/triangular updated version in the 1950s as the RCAF did not want the plane as there were other planes already flying that were just as good plus if they trained squadrons for the new Canuck there would be no money for anything else.
The ‘Genie’ nuclear 1.5 tonne nuclear warheads were sent back to the US.
Planes use jet propulsion fuels based on either naphtha or kerosene with different additives.
The SAR community includes the Coast Guard, the RCAF, the RC Navy, the RCMP, local police, North Shore Rescue, and volunteers.
On behalf of Glacier PROBUS, Alan Brown gave Col. Ambler’s honorarium to the Museum at his request. Alan noted that Ms. J. Evans from BC Cancer will be our May guest speaker and will report on new cancer care on Vancouver Island.
President McGinn thanked Col. Ambler for a most informative talk and announced the winners of the Art Knapp gift certificates who were: Bev and Gerry Haist, Dave Adshead, Helmut Breitinger, and Alan Drummond.