In fighting form

Air Force conducts 'real world' exercise

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

Inuvik ( May 19/00) - The Air Force has given a thumbs up to Exercise Fabric Brave.

The exercise, which recently wrapped up in Inuvik, was a North American Air Defence drill conducted to ensure Canada's fighter forces remain ready to enforce Canadian sovereignty and the protection of national airspace.

Canadian CF-18 fighters, along with 200 support crew, deployed from their base in Cold Lake, Alta., at the beginning of March.

"I guess this exercise was one of the more demanding we can do in support of Canada and NORAD," said Lt. Col. Charles "Duff" Sullivan, who served as detachment commander at the Inuvik Forward Operating Location.

"When we're called into action generally we're out doing our operations in Europe or far away from home. And though this was a 'real-world' exercise right on our doorstep, it was a real challenge for us to get up here so quickly and to stay for two months."

Sullivan, also a pilot, said simply flying a CF-18 out of Inuvik's Mike Zubko Airport was a challenge. "I flew approximately 16 mission for a total of about 30 hours," he said.

"But here the runway is quite a bit shorter than what we're used to. That's why we had to set up cable 'arrest gear' like they use on aircraft carriers and did have to use them a couple of times when conditions were slippery." Sullivan added with the planes' alternate landing sites located so far away -- in either Norman Wells or Fairbanks, Alaska -- the pilots had to land with 500 pounds of jet fuel, making touching down that much touchier.

Besides the landing cables, Sullivan said another comfort for the pilots came in the temporary presence of a C130 Hercules search and rescue out of Winnipeg, Man.

"We had them located with us in Inuvik, and it gave us a good feeling when we were flying over the ice pack on the Arctic Ocean," he said.

Sullivan said the fuel situation was similar. The force ran into the problem of depleting its local contractor's supply and ran out of time to ship more up from Yellowknife before the ice crossings closed. That fuel problem was also responsible for dashing the Snowbirds acrobatic team's plans to visit the Western Arctic.

But Sullivan said the training experience was so valuable he could easily imagine the air force coming back to Inuvik much more often than it has in recent years.

"I think we'll be coming back up once or twice a year now," he said