Canadian helicopters were landing atop the White Mountains – training, not an invasion

  • A CH-147 Chinook helicopter is used by the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment parachute team during Exercise BLIZZARD NORDIQUE in the training area of CFB Valcartier in Québec, Québec, February 9, 2018. Photo: Corporal Matthieu Racette Courtesy—Caporal Matthieu Racette

  • A CH-147 Chinook helicopter is used by the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment parachute team during Exercise BLIZZARD NORDIQUE in the training area of CFB Valcartier in Québec, Québec, February 9, 2018. Photo: Corporal Matthieu Racette Courtesy—Caporal Matthieu Racette

Monitor staff
Published: 4/5/2018 5:27:06 PM

Climbing above treeline in the White Mountains is an exhilarating experience that presents hikers with spectacular views of mountain ranges, valleys, cliffs, rock slides – and for a few times last month, 6-ton helicopters performing touch-and-go mountaintop landings.

The pair of Chinook helicopters were operated by the 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of a training exercise from March 23 to March 27.

The detachment averaged two flying excursions per day, “each lasting about 3 hours,” said Sub-Lieutenant Melanie Aqiqi, public affairs officer for the Canadian Air Force. “The aircrew conducted precise reconnaissance patterns in the mountainous area to determine the effects of wind and suitability of landing zones, culminating in mountain site landings and departures.”

Why were Canadians training in New Hampshire? Because we’re a lot closer than the Canadian Rockies.

“While Canada certainly has its share of mountainous terrain, the White Mountain National Forest was chosen because it is the closest mountainous area, within a half-day transit from the 450 Squadron main operating base in Petawawa, Ontario, that offers landing zones above the tree-line,” she wrote in an email.

Evan Burks, public affairs officer for the White Mountain National Forest, said forest officials authorized the training for “quick touch and go landings, with no discharge of passengers and equipment” on seven peaks, “as long as they were not occupied.”

Approval was granted for peaks including Adams Four, Mt. Osceola and Mt. Chocorua, although not all peaks were used in the training. The helicopters were based at Lewiston-Auburn airport in Maine during the training.

Aircraft are not allowed to land or take off within National Forest lands without special waivers. Private planes and gliders that can be seen offering sight-seeing trips in the summer use private airports.

Still, helicopters are not unknown on the peaks of the White Mountains. The Army National Guard out of Concord trains there, and with its Blackhawk helicopters provides medical evacuation of injured back-country hikers.

“The ideal situation is they land in a parking lot and the injured hiker is brought down transported to a hospital, but depending on the situation and severity of the injuries there have been times we have had to do mountain rescues,” said Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, director of public affairs for the Guard.

“They do practice up in the White Mountains, but they do more of what they would call practice approaches, where they come in and hover anywhere from 10 to 30 feet above the ground – it could be bare, it could be over a forested area,” Heilshorn said. “Land is not typical for us.”

Such hovering is the system generally used for medical evacuation in the mountains, with the patient strapped to a gurney and lifted up into the helicopter.

The Chinook helicopters used by the Canadian Air Force are much larger than the Blackhawks based in Concord, featuring a horizontal rotor at each end of the aircraft, compared to just the one rotor on the Blackhawk.

Much of the White Mountains has an unusually low treeline due to the severe climate. In most ranges in the U.S., mountains that are lower than 6,000 feet, like those in New Hampshire, would be forested all the way to the summit.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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