by Steffan Watkins for ADSBexchange.com
A hurdle Canadian journalists might face when investigating flights of federal, provincial, or municipal law enforcement is a lack of familiarity with which police forces have aircraft, and which of those aircraft can be studied using publicly available information. This should hopefully answer some questions and provide a foundation for future investigative reporting.
The Government of Canada’s Civil Aviation Register (CCAR) contains a bounty of useful public information regarding state-registered aircraft, a subset of which are law enforcement aircraft. According to Statistics Canada, in 2020 80% of the aircraft listed in the CCAR were privately owned, 19% were commercially owned, and 1% were registered as state owned. Aviation transponders installed on state-registered aircraft allow Canadians to keep up to date with aviation operations by leveraging flight data collected by ADSBexchange. There were 34,751 aircraft in the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register in August. Filtering out everything but “State” aircraft reduces the scope of the search to 216 aircraft.
Some law enforcement aircraft broadcast their own location using ADS-B and can be monitored quite easily. Some aircraft do not broadcast their precise location, but are still located using multilateration (MLAT), which uses four ground based receivers to geolocate the aircraft. Some aircraft don’t show up at all, requiring old fashioned skillsets like photography and access to information requests to track them down.
This article embeds examples of historical flight data and documents details about those aircraft that can be reused. Links that track similar aircraft of the same type or owner, facilitate context through historical flight data, leaving no ambiguity for when or where aviation-related events in the recent past have occurred. Using ADSBexchange-aggregated data, from a network of over 9500 volunteer-operated software defined radio receivers, it is possible to track planes that self-identify their location, as well as some that don’t, using multilateration. The links below are easily bookmarked for subsequent queries.
With the exception of Edmonton and Calgary, who seem to have opted for the most expensive aircraft (multiple helicopters), municipal governments are normally financially constrained, often limiting their investment to a single aircraft to fulfill their mandate.
The Ottawa Police Service have an Air Services Unit which is not widely publicised, and they have operated a Cessna U206G over Ottawa since 2001. They do not show up on flight trackers, they do not have a web page about their unit on any website, and their aircraft has so far not been mentioned in the media, but they still need to be registered in the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register (CCAR), showing us they exist.
C-GMJF 1981 Cessna U206G (s/n U20606241)
The Durham Regional Police Air Support Unit has operated a Bell 206B helicopter since at least 2003 when the Regional Municipality of Durham purchased C-FASU. It does not appear to use Mode-S, but local photographers confirm it is painted in Police livery, seems to be operated frequently, and the police themselves have mention of it on their website.
C-FASU 2003 Bell 206B “AIR1” (s/n 4568)
The York Regional Police have operated a police helicopter since at least 2003 when The Regional Municipality of York purchased Eurocopter EC120B C-GYRC. Interestingly, the Regional Municipality of York Police Services Board’s newest helicopter is privately-registered, not state-registered, and can be tracked by their transponder, which uses ADS-B Out.
C-GYRC 2000 Eurocopter EC120B (s/n 1086) former “AIR2” (retired)
C-GYRP 2022 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 9196) new “AIR2”
C-GYRP conducting operations over the Greater Toronto Area [September 9] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live)
The Winnipeg Police have been operating their helicopter C-GAOL since 2010, and recently “Air One” required some maintenance that took them out of operation for an extended period, landing them in the press. C-GAOL does not ever seem visible to flight trackers while flying over Winnipeg. They do not seem to use ADS-B Out or Mode-S.
C-GAOL 2009 Eurocopter EC120B “Air One” (s/n 1608)
The Saskatoon Police have operated a surveillance Cessna 182T over Saskatoon since 2009, and seem very pleased with the results; so pleased that they were a reference account for Regina’s purchase of a similar Cessna. They transmit their own location using ADS-B Out when they fly, and can be tracked by anyone with a receiver within line of sight of the aircraft.
C-FSPS 2016 Cessna 182T (s/n 18282424)
C-FSPS patrolling over Saskatoon on [September 6] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live).
The Regina Police Service in late 2022 successfully lobbied for a similar plane to what the Saskatoon Police have, and are reportedly already conducting operations over Regina. They are not presently being geolocated by any receivers in the area, suggesting they are not using ADS-B Out or Mode-S, unlike Saskatoon.
C-GRPF 2005 Cessna 182T (s/n 18281603)
The Calgary Police Service Air Support Unit have operated helicopters since 1993, and still have one of their previous helicopters “HAWC2” registered to them. While their former Eurocopter EC120B HAWC1 and HAWC2 were not visible to open sources, the two new Aérospatiale AS350 B3 Écureuil helicopters use Mode-S and can be found operating almost every day using multilateration (MLAT).
C-FHWC 1999 Eurocopter EC120B (s/n 1050) “HAWC2” (retired)
C-FIVO 2019 Aérospatiale AS350 B3 Écureuil (s/n 8767) “HAWC 1”
C-FCPS 2020 Aérospatiale AS350 B3 Écureuil (s/n 8818) “HAWC 2”
C-FIVO and C-FCPS conducting operations over Calgary on [August 21] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live).
Contracted aircraft like these aren’t as easily identified as state-registered aircraft.
C-FNTP seemingly conducting surveillance operations over Calgary [April 28] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live)
The City of Edmonton has owned Cessna 182T C-GMXM since 1993, which doesn’t show up to flight trackers.
C-GMXM 1980 Cessna 182Q (s/n 18267567)
The Edmonton Police’s helicopter fleet is better known to the public. Their former “AIR1”, a 1999 Eurocopter EC120B they’ve owned since 2001 is still registered to them, but has been replaced with two new Aérospatiale AS350 B3 Écureuil, just like Calgary has. Both use Mode-S and can be geolocated using multilateration (MLAT), allowing the media to follow their operations and ask better questions of them.
C-FEPS “AIR1” 1999 Eurocopter EC120B (s/n 1035)
C-FEPU 2016 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 8200)
C-GEPS 2019 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 8758)
C-GEPS and C-FEPU conducting operations over Edmonton [August 21] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live)
Service aérien gouvernemental
Quebec Provincial Police helicopters are painted in SQ livery, but do not seem visible to flight trackers.
C-GBPQ 1979 Bell 206B (s/n 2897)
C-GSQL 2001 Bell 412EP (s/n 36262)
Ministry of the Solicitor General (Ontario Provincial Police)
The OPP aircraft frequently identified by the public over major events is C-GOXY. They do not transmit their own position using ADS-B Out, but are identifiable using Mode-S, and they can be geolocated using multilateration (MLAT).
C-GOXY 2008 Cessna T206H (s/n T20608804)
C-GOXY conducting surveillance over Highway 401 on [July 26] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live)
Neither OPP Eurocopter EC135 identifies themselves using their transponder.
C-FOPP 2010 Eurocopter EC135 P2+ (s/n 0948) in OPP livery
C-FOPS 2011 Eurocopter EC135 P2+ (s/n 0959) in OPP livery
The OPP Pilatus PC-12 fleet seems to be used for transport, not surveillance.
C-FOPD 2013 Pilatus PC-12/47E (s/n 1398) in OPP livery
C-FOPE 2023 Pilatus PC-12/47E (s/n 2229) in OPP livery
Compared with other law enforcement in Canada, RCMP surveillance operations have been most prominently featured in the Canadian media, attracting the attention of plane-spotters by their not-so-covert operations over urban centers. While exact comparisons internationally are difficult, the airspace above Canadian cities is significantly less crowded than many American cities, so when a conspicuous propeller-driven plane circles a small town for successive cold winter nights, all night, it gets noticed; “Riddle of mysterious plane that for weeks buzzed Kingston sky at night solved by RCMP terror arrests”. When the same plane circled over a suburb of Ottawa for hours, it was noticed; “What’s up with this mystery plane circling Stittsville?”. When the RCMP conducted surveillance over suburbs of Toronto they were noticed “Not-so-stealthy RCMP spy plane circles Vaughan, Bradford”, and as recently as two weeks ago they were spotted again “Mystery RCMP spy plane circling Toronto and it’s not part of the Air Show”.
On some days, the RCMP cease transmitting ADS-B Out and fall back to transmitting Mode-S without transmitting their location. By doing so, they could render themselves less visible to flight trackers, but as long as 4 receivers have them in line-of-sight, they can be geolocated with multilateration (MLAT). Over much of Southern Ontario, where they conduct considerable numbers of flights, that’s not an issue. Anyone can follow almost daily RCMP surveillance flights over urban centers like Toronto, or Montreal.
When CBC contacted the RCMP about circling the Ottawa suburb of Stittsville, they denied they were there, despite undeniable evidence to the contrary. Since the RCMP Air Unit has not changed their behaviour, despite being repeatedly publicly identified by amateur sleuths, they don’t seem to be worried about their aircraft’s visibility impacting their investigations.
C-GMPB conducting surveillance over Stittsville, Ontario on November 20, 2019
Many aircraft in the RCMP’s extensive fleet that operate coast-to-coast-to-coast do not obfuscate tracking, facilitating their identification and geolocation, with the only limiting factor being a lack of transponder receivers in remote Canadian regions.
Cessna 208/B (3)
C-FRPH 1994 Cessna 208B in discrete livery (s/n 208B0377)
C-FSUJ 1994 Cessna 208B in discrete livery (s/n 208B0373)
C-GMPR 1996 Cessna 208 in RCMP livery (s/n 20800253)
Aerospatiale AS350 B3 helicopter in RCMP livery (6)
C-GMPN 1998 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 3072)
C-FRPQ 2002 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 3636)
C-FMPH 2003 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 3683)
C-GMPK 2005 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 3923)
C-FMPP 2006 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 4124)
C-GMPF 2007 Aerospatiale AS350 B3 (s/n 4229)
Dehavilland DHC-6 SERIES 300 fleet (1)
C-GMPJ 1977 Dehavilland DHC-6 SERIES 300 in RCMP livery (s/n 534)
Eurocopter EC120B fleet (2)
C-GMPT 2003 Eurocopter EC120B (s/n 1355)
C-FMPQ 2008 Eurocopter EC120B (s/n 1533)
QUEST KODIAK 100 fleet (1)
C-GMPI 2011 QUEST KODIAK 100 RCMP livery (s/n 100-0047)
Airbus MBB/Kawasaki BK 117 D-2 fleet (1)
C-FDJB 2018 Airbus MBB-BK117 D-2 RCMP livery (s/n 20203)
Pilatus PC-12 fleet
The Pilatus PC-12 is a capable and popular ISR platform favoured by law enforcement, both for transport as well as surveillance. From their flight patterns, the majority of RCMP Pilatus PC-12 aircraft are being used for transport, most fly direct routes between airports and do not show signs of obvious surveillance, like circling targets for hours.
C-GMPQ is the RCMP’s Quebec-based equivalent to C-GMPB which conducts surveillance on the Quebec side of the provincial border regularly.
RCMP C-GMPQ conducting operations over Montreal [August 22] (ADS-B Exchange - track aircraft live)
Pilatus PC-12/45 in RCMP livery (3)
C-FMPB 1999 Pilatus PC-12/45 (s/n 283)
C-GMPP 2001 Pilatus PC-12/45 (s/n 374)
C-GMPY 2000 Pilatus PC-12/45 (s/n 311)
Pilatus PC-12/47 in RCMP livery (1)
C-FMPF 2006 Pilatus PC-12/47 (s/n 768)
Pilatus PC-12/47E (12)
C-FGMQ 2009 Pilatus PC-12/47E in discrete livery (s/n 1107)
C-FMPA 2010 Pilatus PC-12/47E in discrete livery (s/n 1216)
C-FMPK 2008 Pilatus PC-12/47E (s/n 1092)
C-GMPA 2011 Pilatus PC-12/47E in RCMP livery (s/n 1262)
C-GMPB 2011 Pilatus PC-12/47E in discrete livery (s/n 1304)
C-GMPE 2008 Pilatus PC-12/47E in RCMP livery (s/n 1073)
C-GMPM 2008 Pilatus PC-12/47E in RCMP livery (s/n 1011)
C-GMPO 2010 Pilatus PC-12/47E in discrete livery (s/n 1197)
C-GMPQ 2011 Pilatus PC-12/47E in discrete livery (s/n 1268)
C-GMPV 2009 Pilatus PC-12/47E in RCMP livery (s/n 1181)
C-GMPW 2012 Pilatus PC-12/47E in RCMP livery (s/n 1336)
C-GMPX 2008 Pilatus PC-12/47E in RCMP livery (s/n 1017)
Cessna T206H fleet (3)
C-FDTM 2004 Cessna T206H (discrete livery s/n T20608476)
C-FSWC 2004 Cessna T206H (s/n T20608438)
C-GNSE 2008 Cessna T206H (s/n T20608847)
C-FDGM 1985 Cessna U206G discrete livery (s/n U20606864)
In 2023 many aircraft the public might not think are trackable, actually are. Journalists and the public can use their flight data to confirm news stories, or investigate stories that haven’t been published yet. For example, journalists in Saskatoon could use the flight data to validate the number of flight hours reported by the Saskatoon Police Air Support Unit; never before has this level of transparency been available to the public and enabled this level of verification.
The following links provide the locations where the above mentioned aircraft have been geolocated in the past 24 hours: