Service Aerien Gouvernemental, Quebec's helping hand to the world

Using water bombers, Challenger jets, Bell helos and a Dash 8 TP, SAG suppresses forest fires, combats crime and saves lives.

By Philippe Cauchi
Contributing Writer

SAG's medevac Bombardier Challenger 601-1A is the highest-time Challenger in the world.

Quebec's Government Air Service-Service Aerien Gouvernemental (SAG)-provides executive transportation and fire fighting services throughout the province and abroad.

It achieves this with a fleet of 20 aircraft-2 Bombardier Challenger 601s, a DHC8-200, 14 CL215/415s, 2 Bell 206s and a Bell 412.

Origins and history

SAG was created on Feb 4, 1960 under what was then the province's Ministry of Transport and Communications. This had the effect of centralizing the province's fleet of 5 airplanes and establishing a maintenance base at what is now YQB (Jean Lesage, Qu├ębec City QC, Canada).

Almost 50 years later, the SAG headquarters complex is still located at YQB. On Sep 1, 1960, SAG had 7 pilots and a fleet of 5 planes-a Beech 18, a Grumman G73 Mallard, a Douglas DC3 (also used for the transportation of then Prime Minister Jean Lesage) and 2 de Havilland Canada DHC2 Beavers-all housed in a modest hangar shared with the Ministry of Transportation of Canada.

Two firefighting Canso tankers-the Canadian version of the Consolidated PBY5 Catalina-joined the fleet in Apr 1961 along with a DHC3 Otter and a Bell 47J3 helicopter. At that time, most of SAG's flight hours-amounting to approximately 3250 annually-were dedicated to transporting passengers.

Between May and Oct 1962 another 5 Cansos were added to the fleet. SAG entered the jet age in 1965 when it bought a brand new Hawker Siddeley HS125-the ancestor of the Hawker 800-for C$573,000.

Photos from nearly half a century of service to Quebec. (Clockwise from top L) SAG Fokker F27 Friendship, Canadair CL215, de Havilland Canada DHC3 Beaver, Douglas DC3, SAG's first director, Paul Gagnon.

In 1966, SAG placed an order with Canadair for 15 CL215 fire bombers for delivery between 1968 and 1970.

By now the unit's expertise in aerial fire fighting was world renowned, encouraging both Chile and Tennessee to sign cooperative agreements with SAG.

In Feb 1968 two of the unit's Cansos spent 3 weeks fighting fires in Chile. A Fairchild F27 Friendship and a Hughes 500 were acquired in 1970. SAG also placed its first 2 CL215s into service. The following year, firefighting missions accounted for 4116 of SAG's 8460 flight hours. SAG's involvement with medical transportation began in 1972, and a second F27 was acquired in 1973.

In 1974, SAG put at the disposal of Surete du Quebec-the provincial police corps-4 pilots and several technicians for its 4 helicopters based at YQB and YUL (Dorval, Montreal QC). SAG placed an HS125, modified as an ambulance aircraft, into service in Jul 1982, naming it in honor of Valentine Lupien, a nurse who worked in northern Quebec in the 1930s.

It was in 1983 that the provincial government decided to make its fleet of fire bombers available to other governments during the winter months. The unit took delivery of its 5th CL215 in 1987.

June the following year saw SAG accept a Bombardier Challenger 601-1A-a roomier and longer-range aircraft for EMS missions. Two years after that, the unit disposed of its ambulance-configured HS125.

Then, in 1992, following more than a quarter century of faithful service to the government of Quebec, the other HS125, which had been used mainly by the prime minister, was withdrawn. A new device, developed in-house to facilitate the loading of the patients on stretchers, was put into service in 1993.

In 1994, Quebec requested that SAG withdraw from the transportation of passengers and goods and the monitoring of the environment in order to concentrate on medical evacuations, fire fighting and police operations. SAG acquired its first Bell 206LT at this time.

SAG brought maintenance of the CL215 tankers in-house in 1995 as the first of 2 turboprop Bombardier 415s joined the fleet. By 1999 the F27s had become very expensive to maintain, and SAG replaced them in that year with a Challenger 601-3A and a DHC-8-200.

In 2000, following the shutting down of InterCanadien, SAG launched a medical shuttle with the Dash 8 for patients from remote parts of Quebec. The following year, a fully equipped Bell 412EP joined the fleet.

Today, SAG missions fall into 4 sectors corresponding to particular customers-forest fire fighting, medical transport, territory surveillance and transportation of people.

Forest fire fighting

SAG has a fleet of 14 dedicated fire fighting aircraft. Referred to generically by their crews as "Canadairs," they consist of 4 piston CL215s, 2 CL215Ts and 8 Bombardier 415s. One of these fire bombers can carry out 40 drops an hour if the fire is very close to a lake.

(Top to bottom) Challenger 601-1A air ambulance interior, lobby/waiting room at SAG's YBQ headquarters complex, Wescam-equipped Bell 412EP operated for Surete du Quebec.

SAG General Mgr Lucien Tremblay explains that it requires a water surface slightly less than 1 mile in length for the turboprop Bombardier 415 to scoop its capacity 1620 gal of water. (The piston-engine CL215 has a capacity of 1425 gal.) This is carried out in about 12 sec at a speed of approximately 80 kts.

From early May to the end of August each year, SAG's fire fighting crews average 2000 flight hours, making up to 12,500 drops on around 600 fires. In 2005, in response to a total of 1251 fires, SAG crews flew 3450 hrs and made 24,276 drops.


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