With our inside contact, we were able to obtain the necessary security passes to have access to the Base itself. Here, we were treated to a walk-through of one of the main hangers as well as a runway view of several of Canada's current front-line fighter, the CF-18 Hornet, taking off and performing various manouevers!
Then, it was into the special SARTech room where the Rescue specialists hold sway. I had myself kitted out in typical jump gear (minus the bright orange jumpsuit) just to see what it was all about. Parachute on my back, orange medical kit bag on my front with helmet/visor and I was ready for 'free-fall'! A fairly hefty load but luckily you don't do too much walking with this stuff on!
My hat is off to these guys (and gals) - qualified Emergency Medical Technicians, Para-jumpers trained for Arctic, ocean or tree-top landings, Mountaineers with rapelling skills, Swimming skills - you name it, they have to be constantly training and ready for anything when the chopper takes off! My guy is ex-Paratroop as well so he knows how to handle himself!
Cold Lake is a slightly different posting for SARTechs as compared to the other bases in Canada. Here, the main role is to assist in the event of problems with miltary aircraft using the huge demarcated firing and training ranges north of the Base. Since there is generally no need for Ocean or Arctic work, the squad here is equipped with much smaller converted Army 'Griffon' helicopters. While were were there, these choppers were in the process of being repainted in the bright yellow colours used by the Search & Rescue teams.
In the last two years, the new Westland-Augusta 'Cormorant' helicopter has been brought into-service, leading to the phase-out of the 'Labrador' in the summer of 2004.
Although with only one main rotor, these new twin-engine helicopters are far ahead of the old Labs in their operational performance: Speed 145 knts (105 Lab), Hover Altitude 8000 ft (5000), Range 530 naut. miles (500) and cabin size 975 cu. ft. (810).
My son-in-law was involved in ferrying the first of these new choppers back from Europe via the Iceland route and helped to work them up into readiness state before leaving his Nova Scotia posting. The photo is taken from a model box for his young son!
When I first became drawn into the Search & Rescue world 5 years ago, the workhorse of the Royal Canadian Air Force rescue teams was the Boeing-Vertol Labrador twin-rotor helicopter. Even then, these 36-year old machines were almost always older than the people flying in them! They had performed remarkably well over their service lifetime, which would eventually reach 41 years, but maintenance and spare parts issues had long been a problem before they were finally retired after much prevarication by the federal government. Near the end of their life, the SARTech's could not sit in them during rotor start up because there had been cases of rear blade 'wobble' as it came up to speed, resulting in its cutting into the fuselage! These were the machines in which my son-in-law first flew his North Atlantic Ocean and Arctic rescue missions while based in Nova Scotia.