FRYEBURG, Maine — Once again, big yellow Cormorant CH-149 helicopters from the Royal Canadian Air Force are flying through the area mountains and basing at the Eastern Slopes Regional Airport. Over the weekend, the airport hosted two of the helicopters at once for the first time, and on Monday a helicopter flew to Mount Washington and back.
This is the third time in four years that crews from 413 Wing Greenwood, based in Nova Scotia have come to the region.
"We are really excited about this," said Eastern Slope Regional Airport Manager David Cullinan.
The first crew arrived April 29 and left over the weekend. The second crew will be here through Thursday.
Anyone who was at the airport last Saturday would have had the rare treat of seeing two of the helicopters side by side. Cullinan said the first helicopter contained more rescue gear than the second.
Cullinan said the crews graciously let members of the public look around in the choppers.
Among those taking photos was World War II veteran Luther Earl "Smitty" Smith, who lost part of his right arm and hand after his plane was shot down by the Germans. The airport posted photos from that on its Facebook page.
The first Canadian helicopter had to return to Nova Scotia, replaced by one that didn't have the rescue gear, which wasn't really needed because they are doing flight, not rescue, training.
The airport has never hosted two of the helicopters at the same time, said Cullinan, adding that in past years, crew changeovers are done with a C130 in Portland, Maine.
"This time they were able to bring the other crew with the chopper right here," said Cullinan. "That was big for us."
The aircraft have been flying about three or four hours per day.
One of the captains, Will Livingston, said Monday was a "great day for flying."
On Monday, it was flying with a crew of four — three pilots (one observing) and a flight engineer. Back home they also would train with a couple of paramedics.
The first crew had a pilot, a co-pilot and two flight engineers.
Livingston said crews that come here to train are responsible for covering the "the Atlantic region" of Canada for search and rescue. They will also assist the U.S. Coast Guard when asked.
"One of our skill sets is mountainous flying, and New Hampshire is a great area to train," said Livingston.
While here, they got to check out Mount Washington. The pilots were able to land at the top, said Livingston, who explained that the training lets them practice how to assess winds and see how that affects their landing.
"Today, everything worked out in the sense that the winds were good; it wasn't too turbulent, and the visibility was great," said Livingston. "It was just an ideal day to land up there."
First officer Josh Elander said normally the rescue personnel would have dive/mountaineering equipment medical supplies on board. The first officer is a junior pilot on the crew.
All that rescue equipment would add 600-700 kilos (over 1,300 pounds) to the weight of the chopper. Elander added Mount Washington looked "beautiful" on Monday. He liked flying without that load.
"It's challenging flying in the mountains," said Elander, adding they don't have mountains like that in their part of Canada. "This is real good exposure."
He said they need to be prepared to handle anyone who needs help in the mountains. They might be deployed to look for lost hikers or survivors of plane crashes, and such.
While the pilots were flying, the maintenance crew of IMP Aerospace were making sure the aircraft was in good shape.
There were four technicians led by crew chief Robert Willen, who was on his second trip to Fryeburg. They are staying at the North Conway Grand Hotel.
Willen said that he's pleased with how things are going.
He said the helicopters are doing well aside from "a little hydraulic issue" on Sunday.
He said all those he met around North Conway and Fryeburg have been extremely helpful.
"I really like the people here," said Willen. "Everywhere we've gone, they've been super."
Cullinan said the Canadians will be back next February and they hope to make their trip to the valley on an annual basis.
Selectman Carl Thibodeau, who is on the executive committee of the airport authority, discussed the economic impact on the valley. He noted on Tuesday at the selectmen's meeting that the Canadians stayed at the North Conway Grand Hotel, rented multiple rooms, ate two meals per day in North Conway and will be purchasing about 6,000 gallons of jet fuel.
"The first crew that busted out of here last Sunday did a tremendous amount of shopping in the North Conway area taking advantage of New Hampshire's tax- free status," said Thibodeau. "The bottom line is this was just a 10-day event and it generated tens of thousands of dollars for the Mount Washington Valley. It's just one example of the type of things that can be done when you have a facility like this airport that is promoted and people like this continue to come."