A CC-130H from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron on the runway at 19 Wing as part of training with members of the 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron from 4 Wing Cold Lake. Photo by Capt. Alexandra Hejduk

Comox offers valuable training for CF18 pilots, air-to-air refuelling

Training not only good for the members from the Cold Lake squadron, but for those at 19 Wing as well

In 2016, now-Maj. Ryan Kean arrived in Comox as the CF-18 Hornet demonstration team pilot, and four years later he is back at 19 Wing Comox, this time assisting other F18 pilots with their training.

As the operations officer at the 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Kean – who grew up in Victoria and received his gliders licence in Comox – along with 17 other members of the squadron are in the Comox Valley conducting upgrade training until July 20.

“Throughout the year, we always conduct upgrade training, whether it be for brand new members on squadron (or) experienced members on squadron that we’re trying to upgrade their experience level,” he explained.

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“Right now what we’re doing is element lead upgrade training and combat-ready upgrade training. So we’re taking a combat-ready wingman to take that person up to be a two-ship lead so that they can take a two-ship formation into a combat environment and lead a mission in and out.”

Kean said returning to the Island, particularly to the Comox Valley is a valuable part of training.

“It’s always nice to get out of the Cold Lake bubble, so what that does is it provides us with a better experience and more challenges to face that the pilots may not face in with the familiarity in the Cold Lake operating area. So now they have to think about more – not only for their own airplane but when they lead in that two-ship formation.”

Additionally, being in the Valley allows for a different airspace, procedures and fuel considerations, which adds a layer of complexity the team wouldn’t normally get in Cold Lake.

Working in partnership with 19 Wing, Kean explained the experience is not only good for the members from the Cold Lake squadron, but for those at 19 Wing as well.

“We have one CC-130H from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron which is commanded right here out of 19 Wing Comox. The air-to-air refilling crews from 435 operates out of Winnipeg, but they deploy out of here as well. They are running an upgrade as well for one of their tanker commanders … so us refuelling from them is giving them mutual training as well.”

During the training in Comox, the air-to-air refuelling allows the pilots to extend the length of their time in air, particularly with the type of training they are doing, Kean said.

In the full afterburner at sea level, the Hornet will burn about 1,000 pounds a minute of gas, he explained. In the configuration the members are working on in Comox, the planes carry about 12,000 pounds of gas, for about 12 minutes of flying time.

After about half an hour of their training, the crews will use the air-to-air refueller to get more gas airborne, which will allow them to conduct more aerial operations.

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