The new C-295 twin-propeller search and rescue aircraft has the familiar yellow and red paint job as the current Buffalo SAR planes, but the new “Kingfishers” as they’ll be called give Canada the very latest technology available.
“This is going to change search and rescue from using binoculars and eyeballs to the sophisticated equipment we normally use in the military for doing our other work, so it’s going to revolutionize search and rescue,” said Canada’s Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan who was in Comox Friday.
In a procurement process that began over 16 years ago, the Canadian government purchased 16 new SAR planes at a cost of $2.4 billion, plus another $2.3 billion for 15 years of maintenance and support.
They’re being built in Spain by European aerospace giant Airbus.
Five of the new planes will be based at 19 Wing Comox. Bases in Greenwood, N.S., Trenton, Ont., and Winnipeg will each get three new planes.
Two extras will be available to cover downtimes during maintenance.
The fleet is intended to replace two models of aircraft — the C-115 Buffalo and the C-130H Hercules — which have been doing search and rescue service for decades.
Delivery of the new planes has been delayed by COVID-19, which means the Buffalo’s in Comox won’t be fully retired until September 2021.
Captain Fahim Awan is a Buffalo pilot at 19 Wing who looks forward to working on the C-295.
“We look out the window we look for people and you know it takes a long time looking in the mountains, looking in the sea to find somebody so hopefully the new sensor suite is going to change that completely, it will change the way we do SAR,” he said.
The new sensor suite is an array of modern sensors that will allow crew members to spot missing people or objects from more than 40 kilometres away, even in low-light conditions.
“This will fundamentally in my view change the whole nature of search and rescue,” said RCAF Commander Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger. “The search part of the mission I think will be significantly curtailed by virtue of the capacity we now have in the aircraft and then we’ll be focused on what matters most, that’s executing the rescue.”
The entire fleet of new planes will not be operational until 2022.