408 Gander

408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron sent four CH-146 Griffon's to 19 Wing Comox to train in the coastal mountains during the third week in June. During this training the crews would have the opportunity to fly in some of the most beautiful but deadly enviroments in all of Canada, the coastal mountains. During their training missions, which were conducted day and night (using Night Vison Goggles- NVG's) they would be landing on snowcap mountains, sharp mountain peaks (see photo on page 2), navigating through high tree tops and landing on a small "island" of rocks near a river with 150ft trees surrounding our landing zone. All this training is invaluable to the pilots as they can be called upon at anytime to fly in this enviroment and to have the opportunity to experience flying in these high mountains while trying to find the "good air" and "bad air", basically head wind and tail wind that comes up one side of a mountain and down the opposite side of the peak. Even though 408 Sqn. is based at CFB Edmonton there secondary mission does involve responding to natural disasters and Search and Rescue (SAR) in British Columbia and examples of 408 Squadron's work resently in B.C. were the forest fires in Kelowna a few years back and a search for a float plane that crashed near 19 Wing Comox.

I was invited to fly with Gander Squadron for a late afternoon mission where I would experience first hand the skill of the men and women who fly the CH-146 Griffon. We would be flying in a 3 ship formation into the mountains with our Griffon as the photo-ship. The flight would leave me in awe of the skill and professionalism of the crew and how they continually worked together during all phases of flight from straight and level, to keeping a visual on the other 2 Griffon's in our flight, to landing on mountain peaks to the friendly chatter over the headsets. To experience this level or flying is amazing and then to know that later that night they would be doing the same thing but using NVG's to turn "night into day" gave me an even greater appreciation for these members of our Air Force.

From a photographers point of view the 2 hour + flight would bring forward some challenging conditions to shoot in. Whenever you are photographing helicopters you do not want to shoot at high shutter speeds as the result will be rotor blades that are sharp and static with408 Gander no sense of motion, to achieve a "in flight" look you have to adjust your shutter speed to 250 or under to get the correct blur effect on the rotors - but now take into consideration that you are flying in a vibrating helicopter with a large door open exposing the photographer to cold air and wind while using a lens with a 500mm focal length and shooting at 250 seconds - that in itself is a no no as you should always use a shutter speed that is faster than your focal length- so to get a sharp picture of a helicopter takes a steady hand, some quick thinking about the shot you want and a lot of luck! I hope you like the following photos of this air to air shoot which stands out as my high point for photographing military aircraft to date.

I would like to thank the crew of 464 - Capt. Andie Gallagher (pilot), Capt. Claude Lachance (co-pilot) and Warrant Officer Andy Dodd (Flight Engineer) as well as the rest of the pilots and techs from 408 Gander Squadron, a special thanks goes out to Comox PAO Capt Cheryl Robinson for arranging this flight.


Copyright 2005 - Derek Heyes