Fuelling the fire: 435 Squadron delivers air-to-air refueling for a quarter century

Exercise AMALGAM DART

A 435 Squadron Hercules refuels two Hornets en route to Inuvik.
Photo: Cpl Arthur Ark, AETE Imaging

Capt Mike Wolter, 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron

This year 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron celebrates 25 years of operational air-to-air refuelling (AAR) with the CC-130HT Hercules tanker aircraft.

435 “Chinthe” Squadron is located in Winnipeg, but reports to 19 Wing Comox. For a quarter of a century, 435 AAR crews have seen the world through myriad exercises and operations, delivering an important capability for Canadian and allied fighter jets.

By the end of 1992, the RCAF had taken delivery of five new CC-130H Hercules aircraft. At Northwest Industries Limited in Edmonton, they were converted to the CC-130HT tanker configuration. With a fuselage tank capable of carrying 24,000 pounds of jet fuel, new fuel lines and drogue-style air refueling pods, CC-130HTs provide the RCAF with a flexible AAR asset for its probe-equipped fighters.

The initial aircrew course was completed in 1993. Shortly thereafter, the squadron carried out its first operational AAR mission. On February 11, 1993, 435 Squadron helped the United States Air Force intercept a hijacked Lufthansa Airbus A310 off the east coast of North America.

435 Squadron participated in numerous AAR operations and exercises as aircrew and technicians quickly became educated on their new equipment and role.

In these early years, AAR operations were conducted in Europe and northern Canada, and exercises took place in the Netherlands and the United States. In 1998, 435 Squadron deployed to Kuwait as part of Operation Southern Watch. There, the squadron’s tankers helped allied fighters enforce Iraqi compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution following the Gulf War.

In 1999, 435 Squadron participated in a 79-day NATO operation named Operation Allied Force, an air campaign conducted over the former republic of Yugoslavia. CC-130HT aircraft provided fuel to CF-18 Hornet fighters flying out of Aviano, Italy.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the squadron has been continuously engaged in Operation Noble Eagle, providing AAR support in the defence of North American airspace, often from forward operating locations in Canada’s far north.

Crews also deployed to Italy in 2011 as part of Operation Mobile, helping fighter jets enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

435’s AAR crews and technicians support yearly exercises with Canadian Hornets and fighter jets from allied countries around the world. In recent years, the squadron has played a role at Maple Flag in Cold Lake; Red Flag in Alaska and Nevada; Cougar South in California; and Alouette Mobile in Louisiana. The squadron has also supported Exercise Pitch Black in Australia and Arctic Challenge in Finland.

As Canada’s only tactical aerial refuelling aircraft, the CC-130HT provides the RCAF with a flexible and global AAR capacity that has been used extensively since its introduction in 1993.

With the CC-130HT AAR capability slated for retirement in 2020, this anniversary year provides an opportunity to reflect on a proud history earned during more than 25 years “fuelling the fire.”

435 Squadron’s AAR crews will continue to accomplish their missions, striving to uphold the squadron’s motto of Certi Provehendi — “Determined on Delivery” — until the last AAR “poke” is complete.