TAMPA — The air over Tampa might be a little louder the next couple of weeks, but for the 140 members of the Royal Canadian air force in town for training, life will be a lot warmer.
Welcome, neighbors to the north, to sunny Florida. Land of manatees, gator ribs, Wendy's baconater, bigger Walmarts and military bases full of armadillos. Yes, those gems are what draw praise from these Canadian visitors. That and the sun, of course.
Cpl. Josh Stennett, 28, said the warm weather and clear skies make it easier to train.
"The jets actually tend to like the heat a little better than the weather where we're from," Stennett said Thursday. "Coming down south here, they tend to perform a little better."
Stennett is referring to technical things such as fewer fuel leaks. But the men and women of the 410 Squadron out of Cold Lake, Alberta, seem to react to the heat better, too. That is, after they realized they no longer needed fleece jackets or their sleeves rolled down.
"I talked with the wife earlier, and it's -5 (degrees Celsius) there," Stennett said. "It's not uncommon to hit -40 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year. You end up looking like the Michelin man."
Commanding officer Lt. Col. Paul Doyle said the squadron will spend the remaining two weeks training young pilots in one-on-one fighter skills. The squadron brought down about 14 CF-18s (they're the same as the Air Force's F-18s, the "C" just stands for Canadian) and about 30 pilots, half of whom are in training as part of a six-month course. Those 14 jets are about a quarter of the Royal Canadian air force's fighter fleet.
The squadron takes two training trips a year, usually to places such as San Diego or Key West. This is their first time at MacDill Air Force Base.
The pilots are airborne Monday through Saturday, running training simulations and dogfights in a 200-mile-by-200-mile airspace over the gulf, just outside of Sarasota.
Ideally, the squadron will launch 20 jets a day. So those in Tampa can expect to hear more noise overhead. Not only are there additional flights, but these jets are louder than the others that typically fill the Tampa skies.
"Everyone here is used to these slow-moving tankers," MacDill spokesman Terry Montrose said. "They're very quiet, especially compared to these jets."
Doyle said operating from a base other than their own helps the squadron train for challenges they wouldn't normally see. For example, the technicians have to plan in advance for what will break down, so they know what supplies to bring. Those in middle leadership have to deal with new situations, such as Tuesday's tornado. And the airspace here, near a city and international airport, is more crowded than their base back home.
"We don't really have to talk to anyone, usually, we just take off," Doyle said. "There's a lot more air traffic in Florida than anywhere else we'd see in Canada."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.