Maple Flag Exercises and Open House
Photos and story by Ken Kula
Cold Lake, Alberta is home to a large Canadian Forces air base, aptly named CFB Cold Lake. Adjacent to the air base is the expansive CLAWR (Cold Lake Air Weapons Range), which provides dedicated airspace and ground targets for military training missions. One large scale multi-national exercise is known as Maple Flag, similar to the U.S.’s Red Flag exercises.
In the early 2000’s, I attended a pair of these Maple Flag exercises as a media representative for the Atlantic Flyer. Access to the base was not an issue; a letter sent a few months before the exercise dates to introduce myself and attain approval took place, then a short sign-in session was done at the main gate upon arrival, and the ground rules were spelled out. The viewing area was a field behind a chain link fence… not a perfect spot but much better than not being able to be aboard the big base. The one well-known (through aviation photographer circles) restriction was the limit of no more than a 300mm telephoto lens!
The years I attended the Maple Flags, some interesting nations’ aircraft took part. The Israeli Air Force operated F-16C and -D jets, the French Air Force brought Mirage F.1, 2000Cs and 2000Ds, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Belgian Air Force flew F-16A MLU fighters. The U. S. Air Force supplied F-16C Aggressor aircraft based at Nellis AFB, and others flew into the ranges from their home bases. The RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) operated CF-188 Hornets from their home base, a pair of tactical squadrons were/are based at CFB Cold Lake as part of the Air Force’s 4 Wing.
Other base operations included RCAF flight training in CT-155 Hawk trainers and CH-146 Griffons for search and rescue operations. The AETE (Aircraft Engineering and Test Establishment) is also based upon Cold Lake, and its CF-188 and CT-133 test aircraft were active.
On a Saturday of the Maple Flag 4 to 6 week exercise, an Open House was normally scheduled for the public to attend. It was a great opportunity to meet and greet non-North American air crew and look at their aircraft up close. I was able to attend the 2003 Open House at the tail end of one of my visits. On that Saturday, a specially painted CF-188 debuted a 2003 Tiger Meet of the Americas color scheme, and the 2003 CF-188 Demo Pilot flew his first public display in this jet. Another CF-188D two-seater carried tail art commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first flight in Canada.
Other aircraft of note was a French ND-160 Transall transport and an ATSI Douglas A-4N (former IDF) Skyhawk with a distinctive lengthened tail cone that reduced its heat signature.
Here’s a group of photos from those two trips, you can hover over the photos for an ID, or click to enlarge.