By Emily Lindahl
22 Wing Canadian Air Defence Sector
The Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force unveiled the new Airborne Warning and Control System aircrew badge (‘wings’) at North Bay’s 22 Wing/Canadian Air Defence Sector Oct. 23, 2020.
The badge was converted from the current upswept flight crew specialty badge to the more appropriate out-stretched full wing Aircrew Flying badge and will be worn by AWACS qualified Aerospace Controllers and Aerospace Control Operators. The timing of this ceremony was fitting given that October 2020 marks the 80th anniversary of air defence operations in the RCAF.
When the AWACS positions were established in 1974, it was assumed that AECs and AC Ops in those positions did not directly contribute to the safe operation of the aircraft, which would justify an upswept wing-style aircrew flying badge. In addition, it was assumed they would only fly occasionally. Our understanding of their responsibilities has changed.
“As the RCAF has moved forward, we have come to realize that the extent of duties being performed by these aviators far exceeds those laid out or foreseen almost fifty years ago,” said Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, Commander RCAF. “Many current personnel have more than 1000 flying hours, and have participated in multiple combat operations. We want to recognize their airborne operational aircrew responsibilities to conduct global AWACS operations in ever increasingly complex combat environments. This badge allows us to do that.”
The new badge recognizes the demanding training, arduous qualifications, and extensive responsibilities needed to maintain Combat Mission Ready status. They are integral members of E-3 aircrew, with a wide range of duties and responsibilities that include tactical employment of the aircraft, aircrew/aircraft safety, threat monitoring and evasion, as well as the execution of emergency procedures to ensure survivability.
Brig.-Gen. Sean Boyle, Deputy Director General Continental Defence Policy, supports the new badge.
“When AECs/AC Ops began flying as E-3 AWACS aircrew in 1974, they were assigned the upswept wing badge," Boyle said. "At that time, few realized the significant role these aircrew would play in E-3 aircraft operations (air/ground threat warning, air-to-air refuelling, real-time orbit selection, tactical positioning, on-board fire-fighting, mission planning, etc.), all this in addition to their core functions of airspace control and air battle management.”
He spearheaded the project, noting that his own experience was behind his passion to see the conversion become reality. “When I received my own wings in 1998, I hoped one day to see this oversight corrected. Meinzinger’s announcement highlights the RCAF’s adaptability, innovation, and ability to self-correct, and I am incredibly proud to be part of such an amazing Air Force team. This milestone is the culmination of two years’ work, and I want to sincerely thank the small team of experts who helped me complete this important project – it is indeed a very proud day for our two great occupations!”
This conversion from flight crew specialty to aircrew flying badge has been well received across the RCAF, with its impact being recognized by those serving around the world:
“With a 40 [plus] year flying history at Tinker [Air Force Base], AECs and AC Ops have flown side-by-side on the E-3 AWACS with our [U.S. Air Force] mission partners, on operations at home and abroad. These personnel are integral to the execution of the mission and as such, the RCAF Commander’s decision is a great recognition of their efforts and myriad hours flown in support of operations.”
Lt.-Col. Shawn Guilbault - Commanding Officer Canadian Detachment, 552 Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, United States
“The issuing of aircrew wings is an incredibly momentous milestone that formally acknowledges the important role that to Aerospace Control Officers and Operators hold on the E-3 AWACS, directing air operations toward mission accomplishment. This recognition of the role held by AECs and AC Ops now publicly and ceremoniously denotes the true nature of the significant operational contribution we have made for years.”
Lt.-Col. Jill Lutz - Commanding Officer Canadian Detachment, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, United States
“An important point of pride, and excitement, in my life is the ability to serve Canada in such a unique way. While duty and diligence are common to all CAF members, my experiences are unique to a select few. Being recognized for the work we do and the distinct way in which we serve our country is very rewarding!”
Maj. Melissa Dupuis - Commanding Officer, Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre Prairies and the North, Calgary, Alberta
“I was thrilled to hear the fantastic news for the AEC/AC Op community. This decision has been a long time coming and is a result of the hard work of past and present AECs/AC Ops. This is something our operational community will proudly wear for generations.”
Maj. Matthew Galvin - Assistant Director of Operations, NATO AWACS Squadron 1, NATO Air Base, Geilenkirchen, Germany
“As the Air Operations Branch CWO and as someone who proudly wears my AWACS wings, I am exceedingly pleased to see this important initiative has come to fruition. I have always advocated that AC Ops and AECs should be wearing the correct type of wings to reflect our role as aircrew and that we have a direct impact on mission accomplishment and aircraft operations. I look forward to wearing the new wings with pride and will continue to advocate for AC Ops and AECs within the RCAF and CAF.”
Chief Warrant Officer Randy Reisch - Air Operations Branch CWO, RCAF Air Staff, NDHQ Carling, Ottawa, Ontario
“These AWACS wings are a symbol of collective pride and shared resolve. They embody the essence and professionalism of all service members, past and present, who have served under them.”
Chief Warrant Officer Marc Corriveau - NCOPD Course Director & Instructor NATO School, Oberammergau, Germany
“A lot of time and effort has been placed into ensuring that the AWACS Wings are delivered to all who served as part of its crew. The effort put towards this agenda captures the appreciation for the nature of the work and sacrifices that the crew aboard AWACS aircraft have made, are making, and will make. The gesture is appreciated and the upgrade will be worn proudly.”
Sgt. James Kelly - NORAD Plans NCM5 Wing Ops Support Squadron, Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador