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Air Force

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator

Non-Commissioned Member | Full Time, Part Time

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Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators use advanced electronic sensor systems onboard long-range patrol aircraft, maritime helicopters, search and rescue aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft.

They are responsible to participate as crewmembers on a variety of maritime and overland missions. Amongst others, missions include underwater warfare, above-water warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and search and rescue. They often provide assistance to other government departments and agencies in the collection of evidence on fisheries, pollution and counter-narcotics patrols.

Their primary technical responsibilities are to:

  • Perform common aircrew tasks on fixed wing, rotary wing and remotely-piloted aircraft
  • Conduct mission planning and preparation
  • Perform photo reconnaissance in an operational environment
  • Perform armament and search stores duties, to include arming/de-arming torpedoes, flairs, sono buoys and deploying survival kits
  • Manage tactical information using aircraft data management systems
  • Operate radar, electro-optic/infrared systems, magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) systems, acoustic systems and electronic support measures (ESM) equipment
  • Conduct helicopter utility operations such as personnel and cargo hoisting, cargo slinging and confined area operations
  • Performing as a helicopter door gunner
  • Conducting routine and tactical communications on radios and internal communication systems

Work environment

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators normally work onboard aircraft; however they may also work on airbase flight lines, on ship flight decks and with operational ground support combat groups. They are usually stationed at bases on the East and West coasts of Canada. They deploy worldwide, in support of Canadian and Allied countries’ operations and exercises.

Career Overview





MASTER CORPORAL JOHANNA FLAWN: I’m Master Corporal Johanna Flawn from Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. I’m an Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator at 406 Squadron in Shearwater, Nova Scotia.

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators, or AES Ops, work in a complex environment operating advanced airborne sensor equipment including radar, sonar, and forward-looking infra-red cameras. AES Ops work primarily on two types of aircraft: the CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft and the Cyclone maritime helicopter. On the Aurora, there is a crew of 12, five of whom are AES Ops – while on the Cyclone, there’s one AES Op on a crew of four. 

FLAWN: The biggest thing with the helicopter being on the ship is that it is an extension – we’re there to protect the people on board the ship. We’re there to find submarines, ships, do search and rescue if need be. And we also just get to do a lot of really cool stuff. When you’re hunting a submarine and you’ve done countless exercises and countless simulators and training to work towards that moment, it’s just a giant game of hide-and-go-seek and when you find them, you win.

AES Ops relay critical surveillance and reconnaissance information from their aircraft to Navy ships at sea and to troops on the ground. This could mean being part of a naval task group conducting anti-submarine warfare, counter-drug operations, fishery and sovereignty patrols, as well as supporting search and rescue efforts, or working with the Army gathering information on targets and enemy forces.  

FLAWN: If we’re looking for a submarine, there’s information that we’ll know ahead of time, that we can apply to our sensors to set them up at the best we possibly can to find them, and that’s what being an operator is about. Knowing how to manipulate your sensors to find what you need to find by using the intelligence you’re given.

Other roles in this job include serving as the door gunner on the Cyclone helicopter, and operating the aircraft’s winch. 

FLAWN: The overall flying experience, with all the things that we can do in the aircraft all at once… When you come home, you’re definitely tired – however, you feel very accomplished when you get home.

FLAWN: When I’m operational with my job, it’s the best part of my job. Flying off the back of a ship is the most exhilarating portion of being a sensor operator. Being able to go out on missions that have specific things you have to accomplish and getting home as a crew after accomplishing that… flying is definitely the best part of our job. And I would go back to the ship to sail operationally and fly operationally in a heartbeat.

After completing their primary occupational training, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators are assigned to an aircraft type and a tactical squadron, where they learn to master the specialized systems onboard the aircraft they’ll be working on.  

As they perfect their skills, they could be assigned to work on missions in Northern Canada; overseas, in joint operations with other nations; or go to sea for several months as part of the air detachment on a Royal Canadian Navy ship on maritime operations.

There will also be AES Ops working the sensors on Canada’s new fixed wing Search and Rescue aircraft and on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (or drones).

No matter the platform, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators need to extract the right information at the right time from their sensors, and deliver it to the right people – clearly and concisely. The critical intelligence they provide in operations can save lives, keep troops safe, and reduce collateral damage.

FLAWN: We do a ton of training and exercises working towards any of those missions so that when we do get there, we’re able to do it properly and find what we need to find. When you do get to find it, it kinda just solidifies everything you’ve been doing up to then.

FLAWN: I joined at a young age and I’ve had a pretty intense and busy career. I was able to travel the world and fly on a helicopter in my young 20s. If you want adventure and you want to travel, and you want to fly and work with a lot of really awesome, capable, smart people, this would be awesome.



Related Civilian Occupations

  • Airborne Radar Operator
  • Airborne Survey Operator
  • Law Enforcement Thermographer


The first stage of training is the Basic Military Qualification course, or Basic Training, held at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. This training provides the basic core skills and knowledge common to all trades. A goal of this course is to ensure that all recruits maintain the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) physical fitness standard; as a result, the training is physically demanding.

Learn more about Basic Training here.

Following Environmental Training (Land and Sea survival as well as Aeromedical Training) candidates attend the 4 month Basic Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator Course at 17 Wing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This training develops the core competencies required to function as an aircrew member. The course syllabus includes the following basic topics:

  • Basic aviation concepts and theory of flight
  • Basic meteorology
  • Human Performance in Military Aviation
  • Conducting flight duties
  • Conducting radio communications & monitor ATC clearances
  • Basic electronic warfare & electronic sensor theory
  • Airfield operations
  • Airborne radar operations
  • Basic airborne navigation
  • Identifying targets using radar, electronic support measures and electro-optic/infrared sensors

Following the Basic Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator Course, candidates will complete operational aircrew training on one of three platforms, either the CP140M Aurora at 14 Wing Greenwood, NS, the CH148 Cyclone at 12 Wing Shearwater, NS or the CC295 Kingfisher at 19 Wing Comox.  Upon completion of this 6 month long operational aircrew training, candidates will reach the operationally functional point and will be available for first employment.

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator may be offered the opportunity to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, including:

  • Flight Instructor 
  • Aircrew Standards 
  • Operational Test & Evaluation
  • Flying Supervisor 
  • Project Management

As they progress in their career, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators who demonstrate the required ability and potential will be offered advanced training. Available courses include:

  • Advanced electronic warfare
  • Advanced acoustic analysis
  • Advanced electronic intelligence analysis
  • Tactical electronic warfare instructor training
  • Instructional techniques
  • Leadership and management specialty training
  • Advanced survival, escape and evasion

Entry plans

No previous work experience or career related skills are required. CAF recruiters can help you decide if your personal interests and attributes match the criteria for this occupation.

The minimum required education to apply for this occupation is the completion of the provincial requirements for a high school diploma in Canada including Grade 10 Academic Math or Québec Secondary 5 with Math 426 or 436 / SN 4/TS 4.

Foreign education may be accepted.

Part time options

This position is available for part-time employment with the Primary Reserve at certain locations across Canada. Reserve Force members usually serve part time at an Air Force wing in their community. They are not posted or required to do a military move. However, they can volunteer to move to another base. They may also volunteer for deployment on a military mission within or outside Canada

This occupation is only open to members of the Regular Force who have been trained as Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators and wish to transfer to the Reserve Force or former military members who have the Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator qualification.

Air Reserve members are trained to the same level as their Regular Force counterparts and are employed in the same unit and perform the same job. Air Reserve members usually serve up to 12 days per month in a regular work day, with opportunities to serve full-time for short durations as needed. They are paid 92.8 percent of Regular Force rates of pay, receive a reasonable benefits package and may qualify to contribute to a pension plan.