The Royal Canadian Air Force Retires Their Buffaloes
The last operational flight of Canada’s long serving CC-115 Buffalo transports occurred on January 15, 2022. The 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, based at Comox, British Columbia, was the last operational unit in the Royal Canadian Air Force to use the De Havilland Canada Buffaloes. The type is being replaced by the new EADS CC-295 Kingfisher, of which sixteen will be procured. The Kingfisher will replace the CC-115s and CC-130H Hercules transports used exclusively in the Search and Rescue role.
The CC-115 had equipped five Squadrons in Canadian service over the span of 55 years. Originally, Canada acquired fifteen DHC-5A aircraft, naming them the CC-115. They were tasked with transport and Search and Rescue duties throughout their service lives. Three of the aircraft were assigned to United Nations missions in the Middle East during the 1970s, wearing a neutrality-identifying white and red color scheme. Unfortunately one of these transports was tragically shot down by a missile in 1974.
In 1975 the type’s transport role was dropped and the Buffalo became the primary fixed wing Search and Rescue platform of the RCAF. Camouflage paint was replaced with eye-catching yellow and red colors to assist with identification in its sole role. The rugged design and prized short takeoff and landing capabilities of the CC-115 made it a favorite for its new role, and the fuselage ramp under the tail was quite useful for supply drops, handling larger equipment and parachute operations by rescue personnel.
The Buffalo design was an enlarged version of the De Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou piston-engined STOL transport. The Caribou was operated as the C-7A in US Army service during the late 1950s and early 1960s. A new transport envisioned for the US Army during the early 1960’s was the De Havilland Canada C-8A Buffalo, which could carry twice the payload of the earlier C-7 Caribous and were equipped with new turboprop engines. Four new C-8As were operated by the US Army for a short time; one C-8A was briefly operated overseas during the Viet Nam War in 1965, but in 1966 all military transport aircraft of medium and larger size were assigned to the US Air Force. A large C-8A contract from the United States never materialized after that, and the type was marketed to Canadian and foreign operators.
Besides Canada, Brazil and Peru purchased original DHC-5A airframes. An improved DHC-5D version was launched in 1974 and produced over a dozen years, with Egypt being one of the larger customers. In all, 122 Buffalo airframes were produced and operated by military users. A civilian version was marketed, but garnered no support from possible customers. Three of the four aircraft used by the US Army during the 1960s were later used by NASA in various programs.
In February 2006, Viking Air – a Canadian company based in British Columbia – purchased the type certificate for the DHC-5 Buffalo as well as almost all other De Havilland Canada/Bombardier Aerospace versions (DHC-1 through DHC-7). They announced their intent to put the Buffalo back into production as the DHC-5NG. It would have upgraded engines, a new glass cockpit, and other technological advances. Some interest was shown, but the type hasn’t been produced for customers yet.
The Canadian Department of National Defence will keep a trio of Buffaloes as “historical artifacts” while the remaining CC-115 aircraft have been identified as either museum pieces or training aids. After 55 years of use by the Royal Canadian Air Force, the type’s retirement means very few Buffaloes are still airworthy in the world. Happily, a fair number of airframes will be preserved for future generations to see what this big workhorse looks like. Far luckier are those who flew on them, worked on them or observed them fly their missions of mercy. Furthermore, the type was the transport of choice for the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team, the SkyHawks, in many cases in the air show circuit. For more than half a century, the Buffalo was a common sight in the skies of North America and the world.