12 Wing Shearwater
|IATA: YAW – ICAO: CYAW|
|Owner||Government of Canada|
|Location||Shearwater, Nova Scotia|
|Elevation AMSL||144 ft / 44 m|
|Source: Canada Flight Supplement|
Canadian Forces Base Shearwater (IATA: YAW, ICAO: CYAW), commonly referred to as CFB Shearwater, was a Canadian Forces Base located in Shearwater, Nova Scotia on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Following a base rationalization program in the mid-1990s, the Canadian Forces closed CFB Shearwater as a separate formation and realigned the facility as the Shearwater Heliport and was attached to CFB Halifax.
The facility's primary lodger unit is 12 Wing, a unit of Canadian Forces Air Command which operates maritime helicopter operations in support of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Maritime Forces Pacific. The Shearwater Heliport also includes dock facilities that support Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic and MARLANT warships.
Shearwater is the second-oldest military aerodrome in Canada. In August 1918 the US Navy established Naval Air Station Halifax on the shores of Eastern Passage to support flying boat patrol aircraft. The land-based airfield was taken over by the Air Board in 1920 for civil flying operations, and later developed by the Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The station became known as RCAF Station Dartmouth and later RCAF Station Shearwater through the Second World War.
Post-war, the Royal Canadian Navy took over the US Navy's flying boat facility, naming it HMCS Shearwater, also known as Royal Canadian Naval Air Station Shearwater (RCNAS Shearwater).
The combined land and sea-based aerodromes were used to station carrier-based maritime patrol and fighter aircraft. Shearwater was also the home to early experiments with ship-borne helicopters—something which was copied by navies around the world. During the 1960s, the aerodrome at the former RCAF Station Debert was attached to RCAF Station Shearwater as a training location for carrier landings.
The February 1, 1968 unification of the three service branches into the Canadian Forces saw RCAF Station Shearwater (and RCNAS Shearwater) change its name to Canadian Forces Base Shearwater (CFB Shearwater). CFB Shearwater hosted an annual Armed Forces Day every September on the weekend following Labour Day which included a popular air show where the long and wide runways at Shearwater hosted some of the largest aircraft in the world, including the U.S. Air Force's C-5 Galaxy transport planes and B-52 Stratofortress bombers.
Base rationalization and defence budget cutbacks for the Canadian Forces during the mid-1990s saw a largely administrative move when the formation CFB Shearwater stood down and the facilities transferred to the formation CFB Halifax and aircraft operations becoming the responsibility of newly formed 12 Wing. 12 Wing is headquartered at Shearwater and reports to 1 Canadian Air Division. The traditional military air show held every fall evolved into the civilian-organized Nova Scotia International Air Show which continued to use the Shearwater airfield.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s the Shearwater airfield was scaled back significantly as the facility transitioned to a heliport with surplus lands identified and transferred to Canada Lands Company. Prior to 2002, Shearwater had two asphalt runways:
By 2002 only runway 10/28 remained open. As part of the Department of National Defence's Shearwater Heliport Conversion Project, runway 10H/28H was reduced in length to the east end only in July 2007. At the same time, runway 16H/34H was reopened, however for helicopter operations only.
These changes allowed for heliport operations including instrument approaches and were accompanied with the construction of other non-airfield facilities in support of the Maritime Helicopter Project. These new facilities were open 31 July 2008, consisting of a new 16H/34H and various helipads for helicopter operations only. The old 16/34 has been permanently closed and is now east of the main fenceline, as shown in the Canada Flight Supplement effective 31 July 2008, although as of 3 April 2009 the land transferred to Canada Lands Company was re-transferred to DND; its future use is unknown.
The runway modifications eliminated the ability of fixed wing aircraft to land at Shearwater, forcing the relocation of the Nova Scotia International Air Show beginning in 2002.
Shearwater's primary mission remains as a heliport in support of Maritime Forces Atlantic with shipborne helicopters operated by 12 Wing, a unit of Air Command. 12 Wing currently operates the CH-124 Sea King but is expected to re-equip with the CH-148 Cyclone commencing in 2010 with the conclusion of the Maritime Helicopter Project. There are currently numerous construction projects ongoing at Shearwater in support of the MHP, including the Maritime Helicopter Training Center where 406 Squadron will be located, as well as a new 423 Squadron hangar facility, a new 12 Air Maintenance Squadron facility with 6 repair bays, and a new Operational Support Facility where the Helicopter Operational Test and Evaluation Facility (HOTEF) and various 12 Wing headquarter functions will be located.
The Shearwater Aviation Museum is located at the facility and documents Canada's naval aviation heritage.
Current operations at Shearwater are administratively and operationally part of CFB Halifax and revolve around two functionally-separate facilities:
Shearwater is the headquarters of 12 Wing, whose sole purpose is to support and operate shipborne helicopters for the Canadian Forces Maritime Command.
12 Wing operates out of two locations with four squadrons:
Milberry, Larry, ed. Sixty Years—The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924–1984. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. ISBN 0-9690703-4-9.