Based on the Bell 412EP, the Griffon is designated 412CF. Canada ordered 100 of the model in 1992. The CH-146 was built at Mirabel, Quebec, at the Bell Canadian plant. They were delivered between 1995 and 1997 in one of two configurations, the Combat Support Squadron (CSS) version for search and rescue missions, and the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter (UTTH), which carries a crew of three and an eight-man section.
CH-146 Griffon in SAR markings
The Griffon can be equipped with various specialized bolt-on mission kits, which can enhance the performance of the Griffon, from increasing range, improving protection against enemy fire, etc.
While the CH-146 can be equipped with a total of 13 seats, accommodating three crew and ten passengers, weight restrictions usually result in a normal combat load of eight equipped troops or fewer depending on armament and fuel carried. The aircraft can also be configured for up to six stretchers.
The CH-146 Griffon have been deployed in various operations in Canada since their introduction in 1995. They have been deployed during the Operation Saguenay in 1996 and Operation Assistance in 1997. The CH-146 have also played a major role during the great ice storm of 1998. They were deployed during the 28th G8 summit and 36th G8 summit. They were also deployed to secure the 2010 Winter Olympics during the Operation Podium.
Haiti and Balkans
The CH-146 have been deployed in Haiti. They were deployed during the Operation Standard and Operation Constable between 1996 to 1997. They were deployed more recently during the Operation Halo in 2004 and Operation Hestia in 2010.
The Griffon have been deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo during the Operation Kinetic between 1999 to 2000 and Operation Paladum between 1998 to 2004.
On 26 November 2008, the Canadian Forces issued a statement announcing that 8 Griffons would be modified to act as armed escorts for CH-147 Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan. Equipped with a M134D mini gun, the helicopters are employed in a defensive and support role, including the evacuation of battlefield casualties. The eight CH-146s arrived at Kandahar International Airport on 20 December 2008.
Suitability for role
The CH-146 was purchased by the CF to replace four existing helicopters, the CH-136 Kiowa in the observation role, the CH-135 Twin Huey in the army tactical role, the CH-118 Iroquois in the base rescue role and the heavy lift CH-147 Chinook. From the time of its purchase defence analysts have been critical of the aircraft pointing to its procurement as politically motivated and that the aircraft cannot adequately fill any of its intended roles. It has been termed "a civilian designed and built aircraft, with only a coat of green paint."
Writing in 2006 defence analyst Sharon Hobson said:
The Griffon helicopter has become almost a laughing stock. It is underpowered for the transport role the army needs it to play, and it’s too big for a reconnaissance role. At a time when the Canadian Forces are thirsting for equipment, it’s telling that about 20 of the Griffons have been parked.
The CH-146 was ruled out for the Afghan mission by General Rick Hillier when he was Chief of Defence Staff in 2008 due to being underpowered. It has also been criticised for being underpowered by Martin Shadwick, a defence analyst and professor at York University. Shadwick stated in July 2009:
Its engines are fine for most domestic requirements in Canada and a more moderate temperature, but [the Griffon] doesn't really have the horsepower to reach its full potential in a place like Afghanistan.
Retired LGen Lou Cuppens defended the aircraft's performance:
When the discussions took place about Afghanistan it was very quickly determined that when you do the weather analysis, that the aircraft could not carry the same combat load of troops that it could in Canada and land in a temperate climate. But all you do then is, you use more of them to do the same mission. Looking at operations that we've done elsewhere in the Middle East, with similar aircraft, they all have limitations of some sort and you work with the limitations."
I believe the Griffon is a superior helicopter, well-maintained, it's a utility helicopter that serves our interests both in Afghanistan and for purposes here in Canada.
The CH-146 Griffon is forecast to be retired in 2021. Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Inc. was awarded a C$640 million contract to repair and overhaul the CH-146 fleet until retirement in 2021. It includes options to extend the contract up to 2025 if necessary.
U.S. Army National Guard paratroopers from 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group and 116th Air Support Operations Squadron board a CH-146 Griffon.
On 18 July 2002, #146420 operated by 444 Sqn crashed north of CFB Goose Bay while returning from a search and rescue mission that had been called off. Both pilots were killed on impact and the SAR Technician and Flight Engineer were both seriously injured. The cause of the crash was the loss of the aircraft tail rotor after a tail rotor blade failed from fatigue.
On 6 July 2009, #146434 crashed about 80 kilometres northeast of Kandahar city killed two Canadian soldiers, along with a British soldier from the Royal Engineers. Three other Canadians were hurt. The crash was reportedly an accident due to the pilot's loss of visual reference in recirculating dust and not due to enemy action.
CH-146 Griffon in Afghanistan armed with a Dillon Aero M134D "Minigun"
^"Senator urges deployment of small choppers to Afghanistan". Canwest News Service. 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2013-09-17. "The Canadian American Strategic Review, a defence-oriented Internet site operated out of Simon Fraser University, points out that until July 2006 the U.S. Marines flew convoy escort duties from Kandahar airfield in Huey helicopters. Those choppers are similar to the Griffons but less powerful, the site adds. It also questioned why the marines can operate such choppers when the Canadian Forces considers the local conditions in Kandahar too extreme for the Griffons."