22 Wing History

“Sky Shield” scramble exercise with the Avro CF-100

“Sky Shield” scramble exercise with the Avro CF-100

22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay is the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)’s central wing for guarding North American air sovereignty.

Early history

RCAF Station North Bay opened on September 1, 1951, part of Canada’s new national air defence network. It was built in response to the Cold War threat from the Soviet Union.

Until 1955, the station was home to No. 3 All-Weather (Fighter) Operational Training Unit. It was the world’s most advanced air defence flying training school. Up to 1964, the station was home in succession to:

  • 430 Day (Fighter) Squadron
  • 445, 419, 433 and 414 All-Weather (Fighter) Squadrons

445 Squadron was the first in the world to fly the Canadian-built Avro CF-100, the top interceptor of its day. 414, 419 and 433 Squadrons began flying CF-100s shortly after.

The station got its first ground air defence unit in 1952. It was 6 Aircraft Control & Warning Unit. From a handful of trucks, 35 officers and other ranks provided:

  • radar surveillance
  • early warning
  • ground controlled interception

From 1952 to 1960, 5 Ground Observer Corps Unit worked in North Bay. It commanded and controlled several detachments that provided air defence from the Saskatchewan to Quebec borders via:

  • visual surveillance of the sky
  • aircraft identification
  • early warning

NORAD comes to North Bay

SAGE Blue Room at the NORAD Underground Complex

SAGE Blue Room at the NORAD Underground Complex

In 1963, after four years construction, Canada’s North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) Underground Complex (UGC) opened in North Bay. The Main Installation was:  

  • shaped like a figure 8 
  • 60 stories deep in the earth and 3 stories tall 
  • 430 feet long and 230 feet wide 
  • Housed:
    • a cafeteria
    • a medical facility
    • operations rooms
    • the command post
    • computer facilities

The Power Cavern was:

  • 3 stories tall 
  • longer than a Canadian Football League field 
  • 50 feet wide 

The UGC was specially engineered to withstand a 4-megaton nuclear explosion and keep operating. That would be 267 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. When an earthquake 5.2 on the Richter scale hit North Bay in 2000, no one underground felt it.

The UGC’s SAGE air defence computer was the size of 12 small houses and weighed 275 tons, yet had a memory of just 256 K. Three 19-ton steel bank-vault-type blast doors can be closed to protect the facility. Despite their weight, they are so well-balanced that each door can be hand-moved by a 12-year-old girl.

From there, Canadian and American NORAD personnel guarded North America’s Cold War frontline, the skies of: the Maritimes east-central Canada the Canadian Arctic. 

In 1983, the station expanded its surveillance to all of Canada, a region the size of Europe. 

On April 1, 1966, the station was renamed Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay. 

446 Surface-to-Air Missile Squadron, armed with nuclear-tipped BOMARC missiles, served with the base from 1961 to 1972.

414 Squadron returned in 1972 as an electronic warfare unit. It trained ground air defence personnel and aircrew to fight an enemy that had degraded our radar and radio communications. 

Pair of CIM-10B BOMARC surface-to-air missiles at CFB North Bay

Pair of CIM-10B BOMARC surface-to-air missiles at CFB North Bay

Post-Cold War history

In 1992, 414 Squadron left the base, and airfield structures were sold or demolished. This made CFB North Bay our only air base with no aircraft or airfield.

In 1993, we renamed the installation 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay, commonly referred to as 22 Wing. 

In October 2006, the new Sgt David L. Pitcher Building replaced the Underground Complex. It had state-of-the-art, 21st Century air defence computers and electronics.  

In 2014, 22 Wing began space surveillance. The system connected to Sapphire, Canada’s first military satellite. Sapphire is a contributing sensor to the United States Space Surveillance Network. It launched in February 2013, and was operational in January 2014.

Sapphire looks for objects (called “Resident Space Objects”) orbiting between 6,000 and 40,000 kilometres altitude. It transmits the data to the Sensor System Operations Centre (SSOC) in our Sgt David L. Pitcher Building. The SSOC, in turn, coordinates with the Joint Space Operations Centre at Vandenberg, California. In its first year of operation, 22 Wing saw 1.2 million space objects.