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Operation Boxtop shows off Canadian Forces' skill
« on: April 21, 2012, 12:30:11 PM »
Operation Boxtop shows off Canadian Forces' skill

By Jerome Lessard, The Intelligencer

CFS ALERT - It's a long way to go for a pint of beer or a litre of milk.

Absolutely everything in Canada's most northerly military station has had to be flown in, since the Canadian Forces began its operational role in the Arctic in the early 1950s.

After the Royal Canadian Air Force took command of Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS) in the Arctic Archipelago and became a unit of 8 Wing/CFB Trenton in April 2009, cargo aircraft have landed on the Arctic's austere ground too many times to count.

CFS Alert is located on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island, 817 km from the geographic North Pole and about 4,300 km from 8 Wing/CFB Trenton.

The most northerly and permanently inhabited location in the world is in the midst of wrapping up its first and most critical resupply operation of the year — Boxtop 1/12.

Until Saturday, April 28, more than one million litres of various types of fuel are being flown to the Arctic station during the spring leg of the bi-annual operation, which is better known in the air force community as "wet Boxtop.”

Using United States Air Force base Thule in Greenland as a staging point, air crews from 436 Transport Squadron and two C-130J Hercules (with a 3,000-gallon fuel bladder on board), along with crews from 429 Transport Squadron and its C-17 Globemaster aircraft, started running day and night flights to the Canadian Arctic station on Thursday, April 12.

Last Tuesday morning, Maj. Todd Murphy of 16 Wing/CFB Borden — who was appointed to the coldest job in the Canadian Forces as commanding officer of the northern station on Jan. 31 for six months — was amazed by Boxtop 1/12's operational high-tempo after a Herc (#612) landed on the snow-covered and semi-prepared 5,500-foot runway, just a few minutes after our arrival in Alert aboard the C-17 (#701).

"It's amazing to see these two huge aircraft on the runway here at the same time. It never happened before since we started using the C-17 for Boxtop in August 2010," said Murphy, while welcoming returning civilians employed by Canadian Base Operators, members of CFB Trenton's 8 Air Communication and Control Squadron (who provide airfield control), 2 Air Movement Squadron (processing airlift traffic, including passengers and freight), and firefighters.

"We are conducting our spring Boxtop, during which the station gets re-supplied in various types of fuel, which are used to heat the station, produce our electricity and run our different kinds of vehicles and aircraft when they fly up here."

Murphy said the goal of this first Boxtop this year is to see 97 flights in and out of the Arctic air force station by J (Hercs) models and a few C-17s over two weeks — bringing up to 1.6 millions litres of fuel to the station by April 28.

In comparison, 750,000 litres of fuel and about 320,000 kilograms of freight were flown during last year's Boxtop operation. The "dry" material such as office supplies, food, constructions material, vehicles and other needed supplies are delivered in the fall by using mostly the C-17 and its "incredible capacity and performance in the north," said Murphy.

"But we do have re-supply (at times) other than during our two annual Boxtop operations. Generally, every week we have a re-supply round which supplies the station with fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, dairy and all the on-going essentials that we need up here. But Boxtop provides that big bulk of supply, which we can predict a bit further ahead of time depending on our needs and allows us to run the station."

Lt. Col. Jason Stark, C-17 pilot and commanding officer of 429 Transport Squadron and Capt. Robert McIntosh, a C-130J pilot with 436 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing/CFB Trenton, were acting as the CF's workhorses of the north in Alert this week.

Stark and his co-pilot Capt. Tim Stokes assisted McIntosh and his crews by flying a weekly "beast" load of dry goods to the Arctic station as well as leaving tens of thousands of litres of fuel behind this past Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We are currently flying at 32,000 feet over James Bay ... and Hudson Bay is just over there," said Stark, from his cockpit early Tuesday morning, after two-and-a-half hours of flight out of the six that it takes to reach the top of the world from CFB Trenton aboard the Globemaster.

"Our total load in cargo (construction material, canned beer, dry goods, and one Hägglunds' Bv206  snow-tracked utility vehicle) today is about 60,000 pounds. The total weight of the aircraft with 27 passengers on board is about 535,000 pounds and we will be at around 430,000 pounds after we land in Alert."

Just a few minutes after Stark and Stokes landed the cargo-laden bird on the ice-covered runway — it was -22 C upon our arrival at 11:24 a.m Tuesday — McIntosh conducted a spectacular landing, which brought two cargo aircraft together on the Arctic runway for the first time since CFB Trenton began servicing the station.

CFS Alert provides support to Environment Canada and Arctic researchers, maintains signals intelligence facilities, as well as geo-location, high-frequency and direction finding to support search and rescue operations.

"In the execution of its mission, CFS Alert plays a key role in exercising Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic," said Murphy, who came forward and showed his interest in becoming the station's leader for six months.

© 2012 The Belleville Intelligencer is a member of Canoe Sun Media Community Newspapers