When Canadian Armed Forces adopted a new "do-everything" utility-minded helicopter platform in 1995, it selected the Bell 412 - a further evolution of the hugely successful Vietnam War-era "Huey" air cavalry helicopter. The Bell 412 was, itself, a further evolution of the earlier Bell 212 model though now showcasing a four-bladed, composite main rotor instead of the original two-blade system for increased performance. The Bell 412 saw its first flight in August of 1979 and Canada began local production of the product in 1989 and also saw local manufacture of Pratt & Whitney turboshaft engines. Adopted as the CH-146 "Griffon", this local Canadian variant saw its own first flight during 1992 to which then production followed for 100 units delivered into 1997 - the CH-146 is based on the Bell Model 412EP ("Enhanced Performance") offering and the Griffon's model number is CH-146CF ("Canadian Forces").
The CH-146 replaced the aging line of CH-118 helicopters then in service - these based on the original Bell UH-1 "Hueys".
The helicopter serves Canadian forces through its air force, combat support, training, and Search and Rescue (SAR) services. Some six training squadrons have made use of the type. SAR versions are painted in a bright yellow finish while military variants showcase a dark camouflage pattern. The overall design and configuration of the CH-146 is consistent with the Bell Model 412 in all ways. It features a two-seat cockpit (side-by-side seating) with excellent views out of the forward, side, and floor window panes. Access is through hinged, automobile-style doors along the fuselage sides. The passenger cabin is amidships and accessed through large, two-windowed sliding doors. Above the cabin is the twin-engine installation driving the four-blade main rotor. A drive shaft is shrouded in the tail stem leading to the two-bladed tail rotor sat to the starboard side of the vertical tail fin. The undercarriage is a low-cost, easy-to-maintain landing skid system. A typical operating crew is three to include the two pilots and an onboard flight engineer. Passenger spacing is for ten infantry/paratroopers or up to six medical litters in the MEDEVAC role. In the cockpit, avionics includes the CMC Electronics CMA-2082A Flight Management System (FMS), night vision support, and a WESCAM 16TD-A fully-stabilized Thermal Imaging System (TIS).
The CH-146 is outfitted with 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-34 turboshaft engines, each rated at 900 shaft horsepower. Maximum listed speed is 160 miles per hour with a cruising speed of 135 miles per hour and range out to 405 miles.
The platform can be armed for support roles by way of 7.62mm machine guns (C6 series GPMG)or miniguns (Dillon Aero M134D) fitted on pintle mountings at each cabin door. The 12.7mm GAU-21 heavy machine gun system is also supported. Additional armor can be installed for improved crew and passenger protection in active-fire warzones.
To date, CH-146s have taken part in local security and disaster relief efforts across Canada. They have also served overseas in Haiti, Bosnia/Kosovo, and - most recently - Afghanistan. The vehicles are made somewhat air-transportable in the hold of a C-130 Hercules or C-17 Globemaster III (in Canadian service as the CC-130 and CC-177 respectively) transport aircraft through removal of some outlying structural components to promote a smaller, more compact profile.
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February 2019 - Instead of seeking a costly successor, The Canadian government has decided to extend the service lives of its existing CH-146 Griffon fleet consisting of eighty-five helicopters - keeping them operating in a frontline capacity into 2031. The modernization will be handled locally by Bell Helicopter Textron Canada and include all new cockpit displays, avionics, and updated sensors. Pratt & Whitney Canada will be supplying new PT6T 9 "TwinPac" turboshaft engines for the lot. Following a design phase, work on the fleet will begin in 2022.
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