FRYEBURG, Maine — For the fourth time in the past five years, helicopter crews from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 14 Wing Greenwood, based out of Nova Scotia, have come to the Eastern Slopes Regional Airport for training in the skies over Mount Washington Valley last and this week.
They even did training touchdowns on windy Mount Washington Tuesday afternoon, with wind speeds of 50 knots (about 57 mph) out of the Northwest — just part of their training in the mountainous local terrain.
“They’re a great group of guys; they have wonderful camaraderie and they’re great to be around. Plus, it helps the airport and the local economy, as we have been selling them fuel and they are staying at the North Conway Grand Hotel,” said Eastern Slopes Regional Airport Manager David Cullinan Wednesday, as three flight crew members and six ground technicians worked at lunchtime on the large, yellow triple engine AgustaWestland Cormorant CH-149.
A first team arrived Memorial Day and left June 1; the current contingent arrived Monday and heads back north Friday, according to Cullinan.
The helicopter crew will return via the air, heading over to the Portland Jetport to clear courtesy customs before heading home, while the ground crews will head back to Canada the same way they came, via a 10-hour drive.
The crews have been averaging five hours of flight per day, with 2.5-hour sorties in the morning and afternoon.
In past years, Cullinan said each team has included two or three search and rescue members but that due to personnel constraints, they have not been part of this year’s exercises.
“Normally, the search and rescue training has involved some rock climbing and belaying, but those personnel were not able to come this year due, I think, to manpower issues. The focus has been more on the flight aspect of search and rescue,” said Cullinan.
Capt. Joseph Jacques, the crew’s co-pilot, said Tuesday’s exercises on windy Mount Washington were a good test of piloting skills.
He said the key to flying in such situations is wind direction and windspeeds when touching down. The wind was blowing at 50 knots from the northwest; had it been from the southwest or higher than 55 knots, it could have been dicey.
“Due to the direction of the wind we were able to perform safe approaches in the landing area,” said Jacques. “Had it been from the southwest in relation to the pad it would have gone over the summit and there would have been more turbulence and it would not have been safe to approach. And there would have been a downdraft, whereas it was still flowing from the northwest, which was more stable for us as we touched down on the (summit) pad,” said Jacques.
“Wind,” he added, “is not an issue when you are in the air moving, but once you are in contact with the ground you feel the wind.”
Jacques said Fryeburg and the valley make for a good training destination because they are located a short two-hour flight from Canadian Base Greenwood in Greenwood, Nova Scotia.
He explained that in addition to maritime patrols and search and rescues, 14 Wing Greenwood’s duties include mountainous terrain.
But that terrain is a good 10 hours away to the north, making Mount Washington Valley more expedient as a training resource.
“We come here because (in addition to the ocean), part of our area of responsibility is our mountains located toward the Arctic, which requires a 10-hour flight to get there,” said Jacques, noting that Nova Scotia does not have such mountainous terrain for training. “We train to be able to work in that mountain environment. This is only a two-hour flight, and Mount Washington (at 6,288 feet) is the highest peak in the Northeast. So, we have lots to work with and practice procedures and our skills, and be closer to home, for proficiency.”
Wikipedia notes that Greenwood’s crews conduct sovereignty and surveillance missions over the Atlantic Ocean routinely, while search and rescue capabilities are maintained 365 days of the year.
“14 Wing will be Canada’s leader in developing and applying air power for airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and control and transport and rescue in global, joint and combined operations,” it notes.
In addition to Jacques, other members of the crew included the pilot, Maj. Jeff Powell and Cpl. Matt Metivier, the flight engineer.
This and last week’s squad also consists of ground crew chief Robert “Willie” Wilen and retired military aviation technicians Dan Antle, Glen Decker and Terry Rogers; aircraft structures specialist Leroy Ward; and avionics specialist Larry Collett.
When the first crew led by Maj. William Livingston was flying into town after clearing customs in Portland on Memorial Day, Cullinan says they ended up being part of Fryeburg’s Memorial Day observances.
“I got a call at the airport from (former selectman and parade organizer) George Weston, and he asked if there was anyone who could do a flyover because the usual pilot could not do it. The Canadian Air Force crew happened to be flying in at the time from the Portland Jetport after clearing customs, so I called them, and just in the nick of time they flew over just after the Fryeburg Academy Chorus finished their singing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ so the timing could not have been better,” said Cullinan.
A good story for today, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, given that the Canadians and Americans teamed up in Normandy three quarters of a century ago with the British and other countries in the Allied invasion of Nazi-held France.
The Eastern Slopes Airport is located off Route 5, east of Fryeburg Village on the Portland Road. For further information, call Cullinan at (207) 935-4711.