Canada Refreshes Its Multi-role Challenger Fleet

 - June 8, 2020, 4:37 AM
Aircraft 144614 is one of the last two CC-144Bs flying with 412 Squadron. They will be replaced later this year by two new Challenger 650s. (Photo: Canadian Department of National Defence)

The Royal Canadian Air Force has ordered two Bombardier Challenger 650s, the Department of National Defence (DND) announced on June 6. The aircraft will replace the RCAF’s two oldest Challengers, which are facing obsolescence. According to the DND, they “fall short of operational requirements and are nearly obsolete due to new rules in the United States and Europe that will restrict their ability to fly internationally before the end of this year.” The C$105 million ($78.3m) deal also includes a training and spares package, and comes at a welcome time for Bombardier as the OEM announces layoffs due to reduced sales of business jets as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Delivery of the off-the-shelf aircraft is expected in the summer, with initial operational capability targeted for the fall. The aircraft will join 412 “Falcon” Transport Squadron at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, which currently operates four Challengers.

The fleet is tasked with numerous roles, including VIP/governmental transport, medical evacuation, and international personnel extraction. The aircraft also undertake the speedy deployment of specialized capabilities and expertise, including Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team. Around 80 percent of the fleet’s flying hours, however, is taken up with Utility Flight Services work that aids the armed forces with liaison and operational/training support. The Challengers have been busy during the Covid-19 emergency, delivering medical equipment and testing kits to some of Canada’s remote northern communities.

The new Challenger 650s will replace 412 Squadron’s remaining pair of CC-144Bs, which are based on the CL-601 model and were delivered in the 1980s. The unit’s other two aircraft are CC-144Cs, based on the CL-604 and delivered in the 2000s. This pair does not face the obsolescence issues of the older aircraft.

The RCAF has been a loyal customer of the Canadair/Bombardier Challenger since the program’s early days. Eleven of the original Lycoming ALF 502-powered CL-600 version were acquired as CC-144As, with serial numbers of 144601 to 144611. They were operated by 412 Squadron, initially from CFB Uplands before moving to Ottawa IAP in 1994. Until 1993 the squadron also maintained a detachment at CFB Lahr to support the Canadian Air Division based in Germany. In the mid-1980s the second Challenger prototype was acquired to serve as the CX-144 trials aircraft (144612) at CFB Cold Lake. Six of the CC-144As were modified to CE-144 standard to serve as electronic warfare trainers with 414 “Black Knight” and 434 “Bluenose” Combat Support Squadrons at, respectively, CFB North Bay and CFB Greenwood. Three CC-144As were earmarked for conversion as CP-144 maritime patrollers, but this program was canceled.

The survivors of the CL-600 fleet were sold off in the early 2000s, by which time the unmodified CC-144As had been augmented in the transport role by four CC-144Bs (CL-601-1As, 144613 to 144616) with winglets and General Electric CF34 engines, which were delivered from 1986. They were followed by a pair of CC-144Cs (CL-604s, 144617/144618) in December 2002, this version featuring CF34-3B engines, increased fuel capacity, structural enhancements, and Rockwell Collins Proline 4 avionics with large-screen cockpit displays.

It is expected that the new Challenger 650s will be designated as CC-144Ds in RCAF service, and take up the serials 144619 and 144620. The current production version has increased take-off thrust and Proline 21 avionics as part of the Vision cockpit system.