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The Buffalo in the Canadian Forces
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The de Havilland Buffalo originated as a joint US-Canadian project to develop a turboprop version of the Caribou transport. The first four Buffaloes were delivered to the U.S. Army in 1965, followed by a further 55 to the air forces of Canada, Peru, and Brazil between 1967 and 1972. In 1977, the modified DHC-5D appeared and sales continued until 1986. By the end of the production run, 126 Buffaloes had been delivered. This article provides an introduction to the use of the Buffalo by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Wally Adam, a current Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum volunteer, was a pilot in the CAF between 1963 and 1988. During this 25 year period, Wally flew the Buffalo with 429 Tactical Transport Squadron at St. Hubert, Quebec and 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Comox BC. Wally’s experience on the Buffalo closely mirrors early CAF use of the Buffalo.
Wally began flight training in 1963 on the DHC-1 Chipmunk, followed by further training on the Harvard and T-33 Silver Star to earn his wings in 1964. Following twin engine conversion training, Wally was eventually assigned to Flying Training Unit, Ottawa from 1965-66 where he flew the Dakota and C-45 Expeditor. Late in 1966, Wally took courses on the DHC-3 Otter and DHC-4 Caribou at OTU (Operational Training Unit) at Trenton Ontario before being assigned to Canadian Armed Forces Advisory and Training Team Tanzania (CAFATTT) for one year. Here he instructed Tanzanian pilots on the Otter and Caribou, along with performing general transport flying. On his return from Tanzania in early 1968, Wally took up residence at 429 Squadron in St. Hubert Quebec to fly the Buffalo.
THE BUFFALO ARRIVES
The first two Canadian Forces Buffaloes (115451 and 452 using the post-1970 numbering scheme) were delivered to the Aeronautical Engineering Test Establishment (AETE) in 1967. During 1967-68, most of the remaining Buffaloes were delivered to 429 (Bison) Tactical Transport Squadron at St. Hubert (115451 and 452 also eventually rotated into service at St. Hubert).
The camouflaged Buffaloes of 429 Squadron supported the 10 Tactical Air Group, also located in St Hubert. The aircraft often flew in support of various army units including the Airborne Regiment in Petawawa Ontario and the Royal 22nd Regiment (The Vandoos) in Quebec City Quebec. Common activities included vehicle and troop transport, paradropping personnel (both the Airborne Regiment and the Vandoos), supply dropping, and supply delivery to primitive landing strips. The aircrew were trained in tactical navigation at low level (200 feet agl), day or night. A common tactic was to fly at low level to a drop zone, zooming up at the last second to a safe altitude to release the paratroopers. Co-operation with other forces led to flying training exercises in locations such as Germany and Jamaica. The Buffalo was capable of flying across the Atlantic ocean, for example Gander Nfld to Shannon Ireland, using extra fuel carried in bladders in the cabin.
At 429 Squadron with Wally during this time were Jack Sloan and Gary Foster. Jack Sloan, who started flying during WW2, was a CWH volunteer and tour guide until his death late in 2003. Gary Foster was the pilot of the Buffalo that was shot down over Syria in 1974. The Buffalo shot down over Syria, #115461, was also at St. Hubert and Wally put in 100 hours on this particular Buffalo.
In 1970, the Buffaloes were withdrawn from 10 Tactical Air Group and were assigned to Air Command.
SEARCH AND RESCUE
In 1970, six Buffaloes were transferred to the Search and Rescue (SAR) role, three to each coast to replace ageing Grumman Albatross amphibious aircraft - at 442 Squadron at Comox, BC and 413 Squadron at Summerside, PEI. These six SAR Buffaloes were painted white with rescue markings. Other 429 Squadron Buffaloes eventually ended up at 424 Squadron (Trenton, Ont.), 440 Squadron (Edmonton) for a short time, and elsewhere for special duty assignments (e.g., UN Peacekeeping, aeronautical testing).
When Wally arrived, 442 Squadron was assigned 3 Buffaloes (115454, 456 and 458) to complement the 3 Labrador helicopters already assigned to the squadron. There were two basic tasks on a SAR Squadron, airborne searches and medical evacuations. For both, a 30 minute response time during normal working hours and a 2 hour response time at other times was required.
Medical evacuations could originate almost anywhere in BC but they usually terminated at Vancouver International Airport where the patient would be transferred to an ambulance. Patients were usually very urgent cases ranging from accident victims to premature babies. Military or civilian doctors and nurses tended to the patient during the flight.
Searches were invariably initiated for missing boats or aircraft. For 442 Sqn Comox, the search area included all of British Columbia and the Yukon territories and the offshore waters in the Pacific Ocean. This large search area usually required that, for major northern searches, the aircraft would deploy to a location such as Whitehorse in the Yukon territories. Many of the missing aircraft in the northern areas were attempting to fly to Alaska. Standby crews might be called away for a week or more on short notice so a packed suitcase was always at hand. The Buffaloes and Labrador helicopters worked well together. Sometimes a Buffalo crew would call in a Labrador to have a closer look at an object on the ground.
THE BUFFALO HANGS ON
During the 1990s, the Hercules replaced the unpressurized Buffalo as a SAR Aircraft at 413 and 424 Squadrons. However, as the Buffalo is uniquely suited in the west coast’s mountainous regions, six Buffaloes (115451, 452, 456, 457, 462, and 465) still fly with 442 Squadron in Comox. Its STOL capability allow it to operate from virtually any small airfield and its rapid rate of climb enables effective searching in difficult areas such as mountain valleys. A 442 Squadron Buffalo is also used as a jump platform by the SkyHawks, the Canadian Forces parachute team.
Of the other 9 Buffaloes used by the Canadian Forces, one is in storage at CFB Mountainview (115454), another is reported at Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering in Trenton (115464), six have been purchased by Sky Relief in Zimbabwe, and the ninth, 115461, was destroyed over Syria. The Canadian Government is looking to replace the remaining Buffaloes. Possible replacements include the CASA 295 and the Lockheed C-27J.
WALLY MOVES ON
After leaving 442 Squadron in 1973, Wally Adam did a “ground tour” at Royal Roads Military College in Victoria BC. This was followed by training on the CH-136 Kiowa helicopter before being assigned to 450 Transport Squadron in Ottawa Ontario to fly the CH-147 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter from 1976-80. This included many operations to the north, including Baffin Island and Greenland. Air show fans will be interested to know that Wally flew the Chinook that lifted a school bus during a routine at the 1978 CNE Air Show. Wally retired from the Air Force in 1988. He is now a member of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, where he volunteers as a tour guide. On most Saturday mornings, Wally can also be found working on the DHC-5 Buffalo as an active member of the museum’s Buffalo Crew.