Canada’s 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron


    The 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS) is an air force unit which supports the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). The unit, founded during the Second World War, is based at CFB Petawawa, Ontario, Canada.

    1. History

    The 427 Lion Squadron began its career as a bomber squadron on the 7th of November 1942 in Croft, England. This unit was one of the fifteen Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Bomber Squadrons formed overseas in the 1940s. During the Second World War, it was part firstly of the No. 4 and then of the No. 6 Group RCAF and Royal Air Force Bomber Command. In May 1943, the squadron was then moved to Leeming, in North Yorkshire. There, it was equipped with Handley Page Halifax Mk V aircraft. During the war, the squadron’s flying hours amounted to 26,000, with more than 3200 sorties. The unit remained active until the 1st of June 1946, when the RCAF decided to dismantle it.

    The use of the name Lion increased in 1943 when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer adopted the Squadron and gave them a bronze lion.

    On the 1st of August 1952, the 427 Squadron was re-established and it was based at RCAF Station St Hubert, in Quebec. Becoming 427 Fighter Squadron, it was equipped with Canadair Sabres.

    The year after, in 1953, following the training, the unit took part in Exercise Leapfrog III and moved, as part of 3 Wing, to Zweibrücken, Germany.

    1.1. The 1960s

    In 1962, after various changes within the squadron’s structure and after becoming the 427 Strike/Attack Squadron, the 427 was dismantled once again.

    The Squadron returned active on the 1st of January 1971, and it became a Tactical Helicopter Squadron. Since then, the unit has been based at CFB Petawawa.

    In the following years, the unit took part in various operations and exercises around the world. Among these missions also feature:

    • 1981, Operation Calumet, in Egypt
    • 1989, Operation Sultan, in Central America
    • 1992, Operation Deliverance, in Somalia
    • 1995-1996, Operation Pivot, in Haiti

    In 2006, the Squadron took the current name of 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron and become officially part of the CANSOFCOM.

    2. Structure of the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron

    The 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron serves alongside four other units which are all part of the CANSOFCOM, a high-readiness organisation. These units are:

    Structure of CANSOFCOM

    The 427 SOAS is based in Petawawa, Ontario. It is considered a Tier 2 unit since its main function is to support other special forces units during various operations.

    The squadron consists of two different flights. A Flight is more focused and trained for international operations. Whereas, B Flight, specialises in counterterrorism operations in Canada.

    3. Responsibilities

    The main goal of the 427 SOAS is to support CANSOFCOM during missions, domestic and abroad, and to provide an aviation capability to the command’s units, especially to the Immediate Response Task Force (IRTF) unit.

    Moreover, this unit is able to assist, also with logistical support, the other units during:

    • casualty evacuation
    • domestic search and rescue (SAR)
    • insertion and extraction of special operations forces unit by using rappelling or fast rope techniques
    • operations during the night
    • surveillance and reconnaissance
    • troop airlift

    The main difference between the 427 SOAS and Royal Canadian Air Force is the level of readiness since the 427 SOAS is a high-readiness unit, which can be deployed with short notice.

    4. Training

    The 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron, like all the special forces units, requires a high level of physical fitness. Most of the new members of the 427 SOAS are not new recruits of the Canadian Air force, since specific skills and knowledge are required to join this squadron.

    During their training to become a member of the 427 SOAS, there is the possibility to build additional skills, especially in the mechanics of the manoeuvres to pilot properly a helicopter.  The new members have to face various tactical scenarios, during different parts of the day and in different environments, which will then prepare them for the actual operations

    5. Equipment of the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron

    The 427 SOAS motto is “Ferte Manus Certas”, which means Striking with a Sure Hand.

    The squadron’s badge depicts a golden lion rampant, which represents England, in front of a green maple leaf, which represents Canada. At the bottom of the badge is also placed the unit’s motto.

    The 427 SOAS also has its own coin, which was introduced in 1942.

    The 427 SOAS’ coin

    Regarding the equipment, the squadron has had at its disposal the CH-146 Griffon helicopter, since 1996. This helicopter is mainly used for tactical aviation and search and rescue operations. However, in the past, it was also adopted for evacuations, surveillance and reconnaissance, and training operations.

    The tools and features that can be applied to this helicopter are:

    • GPS-satellite navigation
    • Self-defence weapons
    • Searchlight
    • Hoist for extraction operations
    • Doppler-radar system
    427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron
    Picture of a Bell CH-146 Griffon

    The squadron, before adopting the CH-146 Griffon, was equipped with:

    • Avro Lancaster Mk I and Mk III
    • Bell CH-135 “Twin Huey” and CH-136 “Kiowa”
    • Canadair Sabre Mk 2, Mk 5, Mk 6 and CF-104 Starfighter
    • Cessna L-19 Bird Dog
    • Vickers Wellington Mk III and Mk X

    6. The 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron: Missions

    In 1998, the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron took part in two different humanitarian operations.

    The first one was in January, and it took place in Eastern Canada. This operation, called Operation Recuperation, was aimed to support during the humanitarian crisis which hit Southern Quebec, Eastern Ontario, and other areas of the United States due to various ice storms. The 427 SOAS was able to deploy eight units and help the victims of this natural disaster.

    The second humanitarian operation in which the 427 SOAS took part was called Operation Central. It took place in November in Honduras. With only 24 hours of notice, the squadron was deployed to support the transportation of the medical teams in the areas most affected by Hurricane Mitch.

    In 2003, the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and it took part in the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR), a multinational peacekeeping operation which took place after the Bosnian war.

    In 2013, the squadron was sent to the Sahel region, alongside the CSOR, to take part in Flintlock 13, a multinational exercise. Ground maintenance crews, pilots, and engineers of the 427 SOAS were sent to support the Africa Command during the exercise and to train the local forces.

    427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron
    The 427 during an air show exhibition in Canada

    In 2014, the 427 SOAS received, alongside the CSOR, the Theatre Honours, which is a Battle Honour given to the Canadian Armed Forces when they successfully take part in abroad armed conflict.

    In May 2016, three CH-146 Griffons, belonging to the 427 SOAS, were deployed in Iraq, in order to support the Canadian forces already present on the ground. The operation, the so-called Operation Impact, aimed to train the local forces of Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.

    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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