I’m on a Canadian Forces C-17 on my way to Alert, Nunavut which is 5½ hours and 2400 nautical miles north of Ottawa. To give you some perspective, the pilots told me that if we flew the same 2400 nautical miles south we’d be in Venezuela. Alert is about 500 nautical miles from the North Pole. If I see Santa Claus when I get there I’ll give him your regards.
The C-17 is relatively new to the Canadian Forces (since 2007). It can carry a tank or three helicopters. While it is a cargo plane, and spartan-like compared to commercial aircraft, it is positively luxurious compared to the C-130’s we flew when I was in Afghanistan. There are actually seats!! As you approach the plane, the main thing you are struck by is how low to the ground the belly is – only a couple of feet of clearance. The inside is a maze of wires and pipes. But, because of the wingspan and the design, it is VERY smooth in the air. Though pretty noisy.
One interesting thing – at least for a United States Ambassador. One of the crew members, the “load master” is from the United States Air Force. He is part of an exchange program where U.S. troops are stationed side-by-side with Canadian Forces here in Canada while – at the same time – Canadian troops are doing to the same in the United States. It’s yet another example of what I always say about the relationship. We’re family.
This is the first C-17 “operational flight” to Alert. Last week they did a test run. The runway up there is gravel and it is covered with snow and ice. Last week was the first time a C-17 ever landed anywhere in those conditions. If you are reading this, it went as well the second time.
We took off from Ottawa at 4 am. About an hour later we saw the sun rise in the northeast. I was told that will be the last time I’d see darkness until we get back to Ottawa tomorrow night. There is daylight for all 24 hours in Alert at this time of year. That’s the good news. The bad news is the temperature is -20 degrees Celsius. And that’s warm for this time of year. I packed every warm piece of clothing I own.
I am travelling with Deputy Minister of Defence Robert Fonberg, Assistant Deputy Minister for Policy Jill Sinclair, Major-General Yvan Blondin, the Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and Brigadier-General Gregory Matte.
People always ask me if I have been “north.” By tomorrow night I’ll be able to say “as far north as you can go.” Very exciting.