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RCAF 401 Squadron ‘boss bird’

Photo: The 401 Squadron 'boss bird' CF-188 188731 at Toronto Lester B Pearson International Airport in its commemorative livery. Andrew H Cline


The Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) newest fighter squadron has painted a CF-188 in commemorative colours to celebrate its distinguished heritage, Andrew H Cline reports for AFM. 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron was re-formed as a second operational CF-188 Hornet squadron at 4 Wing, CFB Cold Lake, alongside 409 Squadron in 2015. 401 returned to service with a stand-up parade and an eight-ship flypast at Cold Lake on June 30 2015, 75 years after it flew in the Battle of Britain.

401 Tactical Fighter Squadron was the RCAF’s first 400-block fighter squadron to fly in the Battle of Britain in 1940, equipped with Hurricanes, making an indelible mark in the air force’s history. It was originally formed as No 1 Squadron in Trenton, Ontario in 1937, flying the Siskin. It converted to the Hurricane in February 1939 and proceeded overseas in June 1940. It converted to the Spitfire in September 1941. The unit was renumbered 401 Squadron on March 1, 1941 to avoid confusion with the Royal Air Force’s No 1 Squadron. During the Battle of Britain the fighter unit destroyed 30 Luftwaffe aircraft and damaged 34, with nine other probable victories. It participated in several other major battles in the Second World War, including Dieppe, and bombed numerous Nazi targets. 401 Squadron ended the war as the highest-scoring unit in the RAF Second Tactical Air Force, credited with 186.5 aerial victories.

Currently equipped with the CF-188, this is the first time that 401 has flown fighters since it was a reserve squadron flying Canadair Sabre Mk5s at St Hubert, Quebec between 1956 and 1958. The ‘City of Westmount’ Squadron also flew Vampires from 1948 until 1956, before it converted to transports, flying Beechcraft Expeditors and de Havilland Canada Otters after its days as a reserve fighter unit. It later transitioned to Bell CH-136 Kiowas until it disbanded in the mid-1990s.

Each side of the tail of CF-188 188731 depicts 401 Squadron combat operations, showing the first and the most recent. The right side features the Battle of Britain with appropriate camouflage pattern, and the left carries the CADPAT (Computer Assisted Design camouflage PATtern) for the 2016 deployment on Operation Impact in Iraq. 401 carried out combat operations over Iraq from its base in Kuwait. During this campaign, 188731 accumulated 25 mission markings, which are still worn below the left-side leading-edge extension. Both sides of the tail feature 401’s ram mascot rearing up. Also on the left leading-edge extension fence is a tribute to Capt T D ‘Toast’ McQueen, who was killed in a training accident at Cold Lake on November 28, 2016.

Andrew H Cline


Andrew H Cline 

Posted in News


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