It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a… UAV? Yes, the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum is at it again. The latest restoration project to hit the workbenches at the museum is the French-made Sagem Sperwer, the first uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) used in a theatre of war by the Canadian Forces. Designated the CU-161, the Sperwer (a Dutch word for “Sparrowhawk”) served between 2003 and 2009 in Afghanistan in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role supporting ground forces, during which they flew more than 1300 missions. Airborne Combat Systems Officers (formerly air navigators), and avionics and aviation technicians from 14 Wing Greenwood with specialty training flew and maintained the Sperwer in Afghanistan during that time, making this aircraft historically significant to the Wing.
Sperwer 161026 and spare parts from 028 arrived at the museum in early April this year, disassembled and crated in huge fibreglass container. The aircraft had suffered a hard landing in Afghanistan where many of the primary aircraft structures buckled or were destroyed under the strain of crash forces. The Sperwer was particularly prone to this type of damage over rough terrain since it lands vertically, deploying a parachute from above, and large airbags under the wings and belly in place of traditional landing gear.
A team of museum volunteers started assessing the damage on 19 August. We first started by laying out all of the pieces on the floor in a manner reminiscent of what Transport Canada does after an aircraft crash, only this took up a lot less room! For some of us, this was the first time we had ever laid eyes on a Sperwer, so familiarization was the word of the day. We spent the next couple hours emptying Afghan sand out of the nooks and crannies, and photographing all of the damaged parts to help organize the upcoming restoration work into a logical order.
By the end of September, Team Sperwer had congealed into a lean and mean four-member team comprising of Capts Dan Arsenault and John Bernardi (both of 405 Sqn), MCpl JF Tremblay (404 Sqn), and Maj (ret’d) Dave Saulnier (formerly of 434 and 413 Sqns) as team lead. As newcomers to the army of volunteers at the museum, we were literally taken “under the wing” of the very helpful Bolingbroke team. It is, after all, a small shop with a big airplane shoe-horned into it! The “Bollies” quickly initiated us to the world of scrounging supplies, talking over the sound of banging hammers, and making-do with two electrical outlets and one extension cord.
To date, the aluminium centre section of the fuselage has been stripped to its skeletal structure enabling replacement of the heavily damaged wing-box ribs. As well, work has been done to remove what appears to be a field-repair performed to the port wing using expanding foam. Cured fibreglass sheets will eventually replace the wing skins where they are damaged or missing. And finally, we’ve begun sculpting a buck, or mould, out of Styrofoam to enable us to fabricate the missing port wing’s leading edge and a wing tip out of fibreglass.
When all is said and done, 14 Wing is one of only four places to have a Sperwer on display in Canada. We know it will generate a lot of interest with its modern technology and unusual delta wing, rear-engine, pusher configuration.