Military choppers cause a stir

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The presence of military helicopters over Slave Lake on or about Dec. 13 and 14 caused a considerable stir locally. Stirring things up even more was the fact similar aircraft were seen in several locations in northern Alberta.

Was it a dry run for COVID vaccine distribution? For setting up pandemic field hospitals? Or if not that, then what?

Wading into and putting a bit of cold water onto the flames of speculation was a representative of a local aircraft company. He said on social media (and subsequently to The Leader on the telephone) that military helicopters stop at Slave Lake airport routinely to refuel. This was just one of those routine training missions.

Seeking confirmation and further details, we called the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based at CFB Edmonton (AKA Namao). A few days later, Major Rodney Dietzmann of the 408 called back. Sure enough, it was a training mission. The only thing unusual about the training that is going on these days, Dietzmann said, is there’s quite a bit more of it. COVID is the reason why. Normally, about half the squadron is somewhere overseas. “We’re all home now,” he said.

The 408 Squadron has to be ready to respond when called, Dietzmann said. It hasn’t been asked to do anything with regard to COVID vaccine distribution, but it expects that it might. Other emergencies can crop up.

“For example, last April we helped the RCMP in northern Saskatchewan on a rescue.”

Dietzmann said the squadron generally does its low-level flying training in northern Alberta and goes all over; for one thing, they don’t want the pilots to become “over-familiar” with the terrain; for another, it likes to “spread the wealth,” meaning refueling and other business. Slave Lake is a regular stop, and night flying is a regular part of the training regime.

A CH-146 Griffon. Photo courtesy 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron.

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