Design and development
The Buffalo arose from a United States Army requirement. Its first flight was on 22 September 1961 but due to a protracted test and development phase, only a pre-production run of four DHC-5As was delivered in 1965 and designated YAC-2 (later CV-7A and subsequently C-8A). Difficulties arose with the Buffalo program in the US, as despite having won the US Army competition, the contract was not awarded. Complications had arisen when US Army fixed wing operations were transferred to the United States Air Force who considered themselves adequately equipped with the American-made Fairchild C-123 Provider.
In the early 1980s, de Havilland Canada attempted to modify the Buffalo for civilian use. The aircraft was to be branded as the "Transporter." After loss of the demonstration aircraft (SN 103 C-GCTC) at the 1984 Farnborough Airshow, the project was abandoned.
A production Buffalo was used for breaking time-to-height records in 1976.
In the early 1970s, a NASA C-8A Buffalo (nicknamed Bisontennial in 1976) was fitted with a short-span Boeing wing incorporating split-flow turbofan engines based on the Rolls-Royce Spey (providing both propulsion and augmentor airflow for the powered lift system). Beginning in 1972 with its first flight in this experimental configuration, this aircraft was used jointly by the NASA Ames Research Center and the Canadian Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce for STOL research.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, NASA used another C-8A Buffalo in the Quiet Short-Haul Research Aircraft (QSRA) program. Its experimental wing was designed, fabricated and installed by Boeing, and was a swept, supercritical design incorporating a boundary layer control system. Instead of the standard engines, this aircraft was powered by four prototype Avco Lycoming YF102 high-bypass turbofan engines (originally from the Northrop YA-9 program) mounted above the wing to take advantage of the Coandă effect. In 1980, this aircraft participated in carrier trials aboard USS Kitty Hawk, demonstrating STOL performance without the use of catapults or arrestor gear.
In December 2008 Viking Air, who hold the type certificate for the Buffalo, indicated that they intend to put the aircraft back into production at their factory in Victoria, British Columbia or Calgary, Alberta. The new production Buffalo will feature Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150 engines, a glass cockpit, enhanced vision and night vision goggle capability. The company intends to propose the aircraft as a replacement for the Canadian Forces fleet of existing DHC-5As.
The Royal Canadian Air Force (now the Canadian Forces) first acquired 15 DHC-5A designated as CC-115 for tactical transports. These were initially operated at CFB St Hubert, QC by No. 429 Squadron in a tactical aviation role as part of Mobile Command. In 1970 the Buffalo aircraft were transferred to a transport and rescue role with No. 442 Squadron RCAF, No. 413 Squadron RCAF, and No. 424 Squadron Squadrons as part of Transport Command. No. 426 Squadron also flew the aircraft as a Training Squadron. Some were leased back or loaned back to the factory for trials and eventually returned to military service.
Three of the aircraft were also deployed on UN missions to the Middle East with No. 116 Transport Unit until 1979. They had a white paint scheme which was retained while they were serving in domestic transport with 424 Sqn in between deployments. On 9 August 1974 Canadian Forces CC-115 Buffalo 115461 was shot down by a Syrian surface-to-air missile, killing all nine CF personnel on board. This represents the single biggest loss of Canadian lives on a UN mission as well as the most recent Canadian military aircraft to be shot down.
In 1975, the Buffalo dropped its tactical transport role and was converted to domestic search and rescue, except for a few that kept serving on UN missions. The initial paint scheme for the SAR converted aircraft were white and red while others still had the original drab paint. The previous drab paint and white paint were eventually replaced with the distinctive yellow and red scheme commonly seen today. The number of aircraft have been reduced to eight, with six on active service, one in storage (recently dismantled) and one used for battle damage training. The remaining operational Buffalos operate in the Search and Rescue role for No. 442 Squadron at CFB Comox. The Buffalo was replaced by the CC-130 Hercules aircraft at search-and-rescue bases in CFB Greenwood and CFB Trenton. The EADS-CASA C-295 or Lockheed/Alenia C-27J Spartan were seen as the likely replacements for the Buffalo in Canadian Forces. The C-27J is now being considered as a sole-source contract by the Government of Canada.
There are currently two Buffalo aircraft used commercially in Canada. They operate with Arctic Sunwest Charters, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
Canadian military designations
United States military designations
Accidents and incidents
In total, 26 hull losses have been recorded. The most notable crash involving a DHC-5 occurred on 27 April 1993, when a plane carrying the Zambia national football team to a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal crashed shortly after takeoff from a refuelling stop in Libreville, Gabon. All 30 people on board perished.
Published in July 2009.
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