AIRBORNE ELECTRONIC SENSOR OPERATOR
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
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.
AIRBORNE ELECTRONIC SENSOR OPERATOR IN THE CANADIAN FORCES