Canadian American Strategic Review


Air Force





BackgroundBuffalo  –  Tactical Transport and Arctic Sovereignty

 Also see: Viking Air (inheritors of  DHC line) on Buffalo support and new build DHC-5s and A Modest Proposal Twin Otters for Rangers.

A little-known part of  CF CC-115 Buffalo oper- ations are its annual supply runs to the Arctic. Each summer, aircraft  from  442 Transport and Rescue Squadron leave Comox to make a  long trip north. Supplying CF Arctic stations makes good use of the Buffalo's STOL capabilities [1] and establishes a more tangible CF presence in the Arctic than exercises can. (The Buffalo may also form the kernel of a more permanent Air Force presence [2] in the High Arctic.)

In the north, those Buffalo fill a slot between small CC-138 Twin Otters and larger transport aircraft  –  primarily CC-130 Hercules but, reportedly, the huge CC-177 Globemaster III has now made two 'Box Top' supply runs onto CFS Alert's frozen runway.  The Buffalo operates at the opposite end of the scale. Able to slip in and out of small, unprepared airstrips, the Buffalo is big enough to carry a useful load (maximum payload is about 5680 kg) while still being light enough to land on an unpaved Arctic runway in the summer (an unfrozen gravel airstrip supporting less weight).

During the summer,  the Buffalos routinely supply  CFS Eureka, a weather station  midway up  the west coast of Ellesmere Island  –  in June 2008,  a CC-115 flew on from Eureka up to Quttinirpaaq National  Park, north of  81° ). Plans at  present are to replace the CC-115s with 17 new Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue aircraft  for $2.8B. These new aircraft will be able to do civilian SAR no doubt but will the heavy C-27J front-runner or its C-295 competitor be able to match Buffalo rough field capabilities?[3] Not likely. Odd way to make a priority of Arctic sovereignty.

[1] A loaded Buffalo can lift off from an unobstructed airstrip after a take-off roll of  700m  –  rising to 838m when a 15m high obstacle must be cleared ) and  land within 320m. These STOL characteristics and its rough field capabilities make the Buffalo ideal for Arctic operations.
[2] At present, the only CF aircraft permanently based in the Arctic are a handful of  440 Sqn CC-138 Twin Otters stationed at Yellowknife.
[3] Like the similarly-engined C-130J, the C-27J has an over-abundance of power. The C-27J's difficulty in Arctic operations will be landing weights. The Buffalo has a landing weight of  17,772 kg, the C-27J landing weight  is 30,500 kg.  Higher weight  requires a stronger runway. At 20,700 kg, a C-295 is also slightly heavier than a CC-115.  And its narrow wheel track may cause problems landing in Arctic crosswinds.