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Canada's Arctic Sovereignty  –  Denmark's Claims in the Arctic  –  July 2009

Update:  Denmark's  Arctic  Assets  and  Canada's  Response  —
Danish Air Force Aircraft on a Mission over Canada's High Arctic

Sidebar  –  A Danish Military Aircraft on Familiarization Flights over Canada's Arctic
In a 05 June 2009 news release, Canada's Air Force Paffos described a recent STOL demonstration by a  Boeing  CC-177 Globemaster III transport plane. This was to display the ability of the CF's CC-177s to operate "... on the  austere  runways  commonly found in an  Assault Landing Zone (ALZ)  and  to make precision landings and takeoffs from short or makeshift runways" said a spokesman.

The demonstration took place at CFD Mountain View, a military airstrip some 22 km south- east of  the CC-177s' home base of  CFB Trenton. But the Globemaster III's simulated ALZ was not the 4800 ft (1463m) gravel runway used by Hercules tactical transports to practice austere condition takeoffs and landings. No, the CC-177 assault landing was performed on Mountain View's main, 5000 ft, paved runway after two practice touch-and-go approaches.

The CC-177's displays were visually impressive. With Mountain View's  narrow pavement, there was lots of dramatic dust kicked up by the CC-177's wake. But no flying gravel  to chip the expensive paintwork or ding pristine aluminum skin. That is left to the smaller, less highly-valued, CC-130 Hercules fleet. Which takes us to an altogether different 4800 ft gravel runway also visited by CF Hercules –  CFS Eureka.

Eureka is midway up the west coast of  Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. And, shortly after that CC-177's hop over to CFD Mountain View, CFS Eureka hosted an unusual visitor. This was another jet transport, albeit on a much reduced scale.  It was a Canadair Challenger built in Montreal but kitted out by Field Aviation in Toronto for military support missions. But this Canadian aircraft was not a CF  CC-144.  It was a  Challenger 604  MMA of  the Danish Air Force on a familiarization flight  –  in case Danish forces in Greenland should ever be called upon by their defence agreements to perform SAR missions over Canadian Arctic territory.

In the past, we at CASR  have argued that suitably equipped Challenger 604 MMA would be capable of operating from austere, gravel strips in Canada's High Arctic. We now know this to be the case. But it wasn't a CF Challenger that provided  the proof. That job fell to the Danes – compelled  by treaty to perform tasks Canada will not do.  Instead, our Air Force was busy demonstrating assault landings on an asphalt runway in southern Ontario.

A translation of a news release "Dansk Challenger på pionermission i Canada" from the Flyvevåbnet, Flyvertaktisk Kommando (or Danish Air Force, Tactical Command ) follows:

News Release, 03 July 2009: Danish Challenger Aircraft on Pioneer Mission to Canada

Over the past  few days,  a Challenger aircraft from the Royal Danish Air Force's Esk 721 (721 Squadron) completed a mission to very distant and  isolated  gravel airstrips  in the wilderness of  northern Canada. This was the first mission of this kind ever flown over Canada by Danish aircraft. The mission was flown in collaboration with Grønlands Kommando by Eskadrille 721.

According to the mission commander,  these Challenger flights are part of  the Grønlands Kommando's preparations for further cooperation with Canada. This extra cooperation is a direct consequence of increased interest in arctic regions, particularly the rising commercial traffic  –  with the increase in arctic cruise ship traffic being a particular area of research. [1]

The Challenger's chief pilot tells us: "In the last few days, a Challenger-plane from 721 Squadron has, in collaboration with Grønlands Kommando, completed the first ever missions to very isolated gravel strips in northern Canada. The flights were characterized  by particularly  thorough  planning before hand  plus a dependence on local  weather reporting since these remote airstrips  rarely have instrument-approach beacons or other nav aids."

The first stop for  this Challenger was CFS Eureka, the most northern research station in the world – only 1000 kilometres from North Pole. With a runway only 4800 ft long and a heavy wind, the approach into Eureka was a particularly big challenge for the crew. Upon arrival, the Danish plane was closely studied by the few personnel stationed at Eureka [ Ed: usually 75 - 100]. This was the first time that they had ever seen a jet aircraft at Eureka.

After a short lunch the Challenger left for Resolute Bay, which is situated on the northern edge of  the North-West Passage.  During this flight,  the crew were exposed  to a fantastic natural panorama, the experience including the spotting of more polar bears moving below.

In comparison with the Eureka's strip the runway at  Resolute Bay was of a much better nature.  With its  6500 foot (1980 m) runway, the approach here was comparable with Mestersvig, for instance, an airport on the east coast of  Greenland which Danish Challengers often visit.  However, airport  personnel at Resolute Bay were also surprised to encounter the Danish aircraft. When the Challenger crew established radio contact with Resolute, the first thing Canadians controllers asked was whether the Danes knew that CYRB was a gravel airstrip.

After the stop at  Resolute Bay, the Danish Challenger flew the 2000 km back to Søndre Strømfjord [the 9220 ft asphalt runway in SW Greenland, the settlement is now known as Kangerlussuaq ].  For the crew,  this day was characterized by an atmosphere of euphoria. You could sense the excitement that those original explorers must have had when they first discovered  this new,  remote, and  unexplored country up in the far North of  Canada.

Within the next few days, the plane will try to complete additional missions to other gravel runways of  the Canadian Arctic including CFS Alert on northern Ellesmere Iceland as well as Nanisivik in western Baffin Island, weather depending. The purpose of missions to such Canadian locales was to appraise the gravel airstrips'  fitness for possible future operations with Danish Challenger aircraft. Grønlands Kommando periodically uses the Challengers for the surveillance of its operational area.  Mutual assistance agreements entered into with neighbours and allies include performing search-and-rescue missions over areas bordering Greenland's  waters and airspace.  Specifically,  neighbouring areas of  Iceland and Canada.

[1] A Copenhagen-based travel agency has recently been given approval by Environment Canada to tour Sirmilik National Park (Bylot Island) using a polar cruise ship, Ocean Nova.

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