Inside the helicopter operations centre
The Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan (CHFA) Operations Centre often looks as chaotic as a bus station on the Friday before a long weekend.
But it only looks like chaos; in reality, it's a delicate network of scheduling, flight timing and co-ordination hard at work to keep Canadian helicopter traffic flowing through the airspace of southern Afghanistan.
The minute a flight request comes in from the aviation cell at International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command (South) Headquarters, the CHFA Ops Centre staff initiate the chain of events that connects service providers -Canadian helicopters and their crews -to users: Canadian soldiers and their coalition partners. Helicopter transport gets them to their destinations fast, and reduces their exposure to the risks of road travel.
Improvised explosive devices planted on roads have accounted for most Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan. Consequently, each time a Canadian helicopter is used to transport soldiers instead of ground vehicles, it could be saving several lives.
"The feedback we're getting from our users is tremendous, and right now, the CHFA is being used for 95 per cent of all emergency requests coming out of Kandahar Airfield," said Captain Joseph Rehberg, a pilot from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton. Capt Rehberg is the CHFA's Deputy Operations Officer, or ‘Operations Battle Captain.'
As well as flight-scheduling and planning, the Ops Centre staff are responsible for determining the availability of helicopters and prioritizing requests. Each flight gets a priority number, and emergency missions are ranked highest.
"The CHFA is conducting, on average, at least one emergency aviation mission per day. Our helicopters are becoming a huge asset to the overall mission in Regional Command (South), and we attempt to confirm all flight requests within 24 hours," said Capt Rehberg.
Behind the hustle and bustle of satisfying flight requests are the support services essential to flying operations, such as manifesting, communications, updating and plotting maps and, most importantly, making sure all the helicopters are safe and staying on their flight path.
"It feels really good to be here with the Wing in Afghanistan," said Corporal Jason Belanger, an aerospace telecommunications and information technician from 408 Squadron who works in the Ops Centre as a signals operator. "I think the need for an Air Wing was a long time coming."
The Ops Centre staff are also responsible for ensuring that the CHFA's six CH-147 Chinook and eight CH-146 Griffon helicopters are used to their full capacity.
"I was here in Afghanistan in 2006 during Roto 2; I was serving with Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) as an armoured crewman. This is when we didn't have the air transportation we have now," said Warrant Officer Mark Riley of 408 Squadron, the CHFA Operations Warrant Officer. "The Canadian Air Wing brings a whole new dimension and capabilities to the table. It's a great thing for the mission here; it's a great thing for Canada."
By Captain Dean Menard - Canadian Armed Forces
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