This year Canadian troops have, for the first time, flown in a Canadian helicopter in a combat zone. Two CH-146 helicopters flew soldiers to a Canadian base in Afghanistan. The last time Canadian troops were in large scale combat, during the Korean War (1950-53), there were few helicopters available (the first use of helicopters in combat had occurred in 1944), and they were all American.
Canada has established its own little air force in Afghanistan. The Canadian Air Wing will have, by this Summer, six leased Russian made Mi-8 transport helicopters, six newly purchased U.S. CH-47 transport helicopters and eight Canadian made CH-146 armed transports to escort the larger choppers. The Wing will have about 450 personnel to support the twenty helicopters and some UAVs.
A primary function of the choppers will be to keep Canadian troops off the roads, where half the casualties have been suffered because of roadside bombs. Previous to the establishment of the Wing, the 2,500 Canadian troops had much less access to helicopter transport than their American or NATO allies fighting in the south. This is the first time, since the Korean War (1950-53) that Canadian forces have established an Air Wing in a combat zone.
The 22 ton CH-47F can carry ten tons of cargo, or up to 55 troops, and has a maximum range of 426 kilometers. Its max speed is 315 kilometers an hour. Typical missions last no more than three hours.
The 12 ton Mi-8 can carry three tons (or up to 24 passengers) and has a max speed of 240 kilometers an hour and about the same range as the CH-47. Typical missions can last up to four hours.
The 5.3 ton CH-146 is actually the Bell 412, which is in turn an updated version of the Bell 212, which is a civilian version of the 1960s era U.S. Army UH-1 ("Huey"). Built in Canada, the CH-146s normally carry twelve troops, and no weapons. But such helicopters have been equipped with machine-guns and rockets and have no problem keeping up with the CH-47s and Mi-8s.