Environment Canada Hangar U-17 Tour
1 December 2007

About a dozen members of the Ottawa Airport Watch braved the cold temperature and severe chill factor on Saturday, 1 December 2007 to visit Hangar U-17, home of Environment Canada's two remote sensing aircraft: Douglas DC 3 C-GRSB and Convair 580 C GRSC.

Watch members gathered at the Hangar U-17 on Alert Road at 10 am and were introduced to Bill 'Chev' Chevrier, one of the Convair pilots, who had kindly volunteered to be our host for the tour. Assisting Bill with the tour was his old RCAF Transport Command buddy Don MacLeod.

Bill started the visit with a short briefing on the activities of the Remote Sensing Group. The unit is a component of Environment Canada's Emergencies Science and Technology Division (ESTD) which carries out research and development relating to spilled hazardous materials, and develops and applies techniques for measuring environmental contamination at spill sites and for airborne remote sensing of spills. The DC-3 and the CV-580 are also used by other Canadian Government departments, including National Defence, for various projects requiring an airborne remote sensing aircraft. The aircraft have also been used under contract by foreign governments and companies as stable testing platforms for their research and development projects. Both aircraft were used extensively in the Swissair 111 investigation to detect and map the fuel dumping area.

We were then guided through the two bays of the hangar and into the immaculate DC-3. C-GRSB (c/n 12295) began life as a C-47A some 65 years ago! Today, as a DC3C  S1C3G it is used primarily for remote sensing of oil spills. Equipped with a scanning laser environmental airborne fluorosensor (SLEAF), as well as high tech cameras such as infrared, ultra-violet and night-vision, it operates at altitudes up to 12,000 feet. Five sensor bays in the aft belly of the aircraft accommodate these and other sensors. There are several work consoles in the cabin for the sensor operators.

One thing the visitors immediately found interesting was the method used to slide the DC-3 into the hangar on a 90-degree angle on specially made cribs to ensure a nice fit, since the former RCAF ready hangar is not wide enough to accommodate the aircraft's 95 ft wingspan. Another hot topic for discussion was the cockpit escape hatch, which is precariously close to the left propeller. Timing really is everything when it comes to deciding when to leave the aircraft in a hurry!

Environment Canada's Convair 340/580 C-GRSC (c/n 72) was manufactured by Consolidated Vultee in 1953. Normally operating at approximately 22,000 feet, it is equipped with synthetic aperture radars (SAR), simultaneous C-band imaging and a variety of other sophisticated sensors. Mapping can be performed on either side of the aircraft. It is primarily used in agriculture, forestry and ice thickness detection.

During our visit the Convair was parked outside the hangar because it requires the tail fin to be removed in order to fit inside. Unfortunately, despite the best of planning and effort by host Bill Chevrier, the cold weather precluded a first-hand inspection of the interior and only a handful of hardy photographers ventured outside to snap a few photos.

After the tour, we received detailed brochures on both remote sensing aircraft as well as the welcome offer of a hot cup of coffee, over which Bill and Don regaled us with a few tales from their extensive flying careers. Bill also extended an open invitation for individual members to return in warmer weather for a better look at the Convair.

The Ottawa Airport Watch extends a special thank you to Bill Chevrier and Don MacLeod for their time and effort in providing us with a most informative and enjoyable tour.

Text by: Doug Lafontaine & Rod Digney         Photos by: Rod Digney