Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator

Now hiring: we are now accepting applications for this job through direct entry.

Job description

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators use advanced electronic sensor systems to operate airborne sensors onboard long-range patrol aircraft, maritime helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

They are responsible for detecting and tracking submarines, providing support for search and rescue operations/medical evacuations, and assisting other government departments and agencies in the collection of evidence and counter-narcotics patrols.

Their primary technical functions are to:

  • Operate radar, electro-optic/Infrared systems, magnetic anomaly detection, and electronic warfare equipment
  • Take airborne photography
  • Load and arm airborne weapons, and search stores systems
  • Operate the helicopter-mounted machine gun system
  • Operate unmanned aerial vehicle electronic sensor systems
  • Communicate with internal and external agencies; both civilian and Allied forces
  • Collect evidence


PRIVATE SEAN ROGOWSKY: I’m Private Sean Rogowsky from Brandon, Manitoba. I’m an Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator on the CP-140 Aurora posted to CFB Greenwood.

CORPORAL TANYA CARR: And I’m Corporal Tanya Carr from London, Ontario. I’m an Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator currently posted to 443 Squadron, Victoria, British Columbia.

CARR: In the Royal Canadian Air Force, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators, or AES Ops, are the experts with the skills and the training to locate, identify and attack hostile submarines… detect border intruders, maritime polluters, and unauthorized vessels… and isolate any other threat to our coastlines and our country – on the ocean surface, under it, and overland in multiple theatres of operation.

CARR: The job itself is sensor operations. That’s the base, that’s the core of what we do. So with the sensors comes radar operation, sonar operation, forward-looking infra-red cameras, even just digital cameras, video recorders – any kind of sensor that an aircraft has, we’re employed with them.

ROGOWSKY: We fly on the CP-140 Aurora, the CH-124 Sea King as well as do UAV duties. We support many government agencies in search & rescue, drug interdiction – all sorts of surface patrols. And we’re the first-line gatherers of information. On the CP-140 Aurora, we operate the radar electro-optical infra-red camera, the magnetic anomaly detector, electronic support measures, as well as do ordnance duties in the aircraft. And we also have two acousticians that sit and work all the acoustic sensors.

CARR: What the AES Op does on board the Sea King helicopter specifically is sensor employment. So we’ll manipulate the radar, we’ll manipulate the sonar, we’ll manipulate the forward-looking infra-red to get the best tactical information to pass on to our tactical director. So we work as a very close team with not only the pilots, but specifically the tactical officer and feed him the information he needs to keep his focus on the bigger picture of what’s happening.

ROGOWSKY: Whether it’s an unlicensed dragger off the Grand Banks or a foreign sub up in the Northwest Passage, it’s the AES Op’s job to help find it and spread the word to the proper air, land and sea authorities to take care of the problem.

ROGOWSKY: And if called upon, we can even handle the problem ourselves – launching anti-submarine torpedoes directly from our aircraft.

CARR: We’re also able to support and assist search and rescue operations by dropping vital survival gear to those in need, whether it be in the ocean, or up in the far North. We can do this day or night, and then maintain an overwatch presence until help arrives.

ROGOWKSY: Put it all together, and being an Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator is one of the best hands-on, high-tech jobs in the Air Force.

ROGOWSKY: My favourite mission is the one that I get to go flying on. There’s so many tools that we can use. It’s very dynamic and every mission is different, so it keeps things very interesting, every time.

MODULE 2 – What’s cool about the job

CARR: The best part of the job – it’s kinda hard to pin down just one thing, because everything I do is kind of exciting. And you know, I’m kind of an average girl doing a really unaverage job. I like to say my office is the back door of a Sea King helicopter.

ROGOWSKY: You get to see quite a lot of the world, doing this job. In the last year, I have been to El Salvador, down South in Florida, I’ve been to Sicily, in Italy, the United Kingdom, and almost all over Canada, from Nova Scotia to BC, to all the way up North in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It’s a lot more than I ever expected this job would be.

MODULE 3 – Trade-Specific Training

CARR: After your basic military and Air Force training, AES Op candidates move to 17 Wing Winnipeg for eight weeks of classroom and simulator work on basic sensor operation and theory.

ROGOWSKY: That first phase lasts about two months. When that’s done, you’re ready to go flying.

ROGOWSKY: The 16-week course, also held at 17 Wing, puts you aboard the CT-142, our advanced airborne sensor trainer. You’ll put your theoretical knowledge to the test in the real world, in real time – detecting and identifying ships, submarines and aircraft, mastering radar, infra-red and magnetic-anomaly equipment, and getting used to keeping sharp and working under pressure on long-duration flights.

CARR: When you complete your ground and air courses at Winnipeg, you’ll move on to Nova Scotia for 24 weeks of airframe-specific operational training: on helicopters at 12 Wing Shearwater, or fixed-wing aircraft at 14 Wing Greenwood.

CARR: In total, that’s nearly a year of intensive, hands-on training for one of the most challenging trades in the Air Force.

MODULE 4 – Your First Posting

ROGOWSKY: Your first posting will be to a Wing on the East or West Coast, depending on the aircraft that you’re assigned to.

ROGOWSKY: In addition to patrols and search-and-rescue missions along our coastlines in the east and west, there are training and operational assignments in the Arctic and in mid-ocean; joint exercises with allied navies and air forces, and deployments anywhere in the world that your skills are needed to serve Canada’s national interests.

ROGOWSKY: My first day at 405 Squadron – once I completed my training, I showed up, I was introduced to the crew that I was on. Within an hour after that, we were sent home for a crew rest period because we were flying an operational mission that night in support of the RCMP on a suspected drug smuggling vessel. It was really great; our leads took care of me, told me what I needed to do, where I needed to be at the time, and once we were on the aircraft, it was second nature doing what I had to do.

CARR: When you first start, it’s this big, huge helicopter and you just don’t feel like you’re going to be able to figure everything out. And over time, you get more comfortable, you get more confident and it kinda takes the “wow” out of it and kinda just makes it more of: “I know what I’m doing and I’m good at what I’m doing”.

MODULE 5 - Testimonials

CARR: Being a Sea King AES Op is kind of a really unique opportunity. There’s nothing like it – it’s a utility helicopter. So I’m not just doing the job of an AES Op, I’m doing whatever needs to be done: operating the hoist, dipping the sonar. To me, that’s where the fun comes from. It’s being able to kinda do those extra things.

ROGOWSKY: I wanted something different, something that would always remain interesting. In my previous career, I was a computer technician. I found myself in a rut, essentially getting bored of the same job after 2-3 years. And as long as I’ve been in here now, I have not lost interest in this job at all, and I’m always looking forward to what’s coming next.




Working environment

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators normally work onboard aircraft; however they may also work on airbase flight lines, on ship flight decks and with operational ground support combat groups. They are usually stationed at bases on the East and West coasts of Canada. They deploy worldwide, in support of Canadian and Allied countries’ operations and exercises.

Pay and career development

The starting salary for a fully trained Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator is $67,500 per year; however, depending on previous experience and training the starting salary may be higher. Initially, they are members of a 20-person Aurora crew, a four-person maritime helicopter crew, or a five-person unmanned aerial vehicle mission team, where they are responsible for the operational readiness of their equipment and contribute to tactical decisions. As they gain knowledge and experience, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators may be called upon to lead a crew, help plan operations and train new crew members. Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators who demonstrate the required ability, dedication and potential are selected for opportunities for career progression, promotion and advanced training.

Related civilian occupations

  • Airborne Radar Operator
  • Airborne Survey Operator
  • Law Enforcement Thermographer

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Basic military qualification

The first stage of training is the Basic Military Qualification course, or Basic Training, held at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. This training provides the basic core skills and knowledge common to all trades. A goal of this course is to ensure that all recruits maintain the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) physical fitness standard; as a result, the training is physically demanding.

Basic occupational qualification training

Following Environmental Training, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators attend eight-week basic occupational qualification training at 17 Wing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Training includes the following basic skills:

  • Theory of flight
  • Electro-magnetic spectrum
  • Electronic sensor theory
  • Airfield operations

Flying training, which also takes place at 17 Wing over 16 weeks, takes place onboard the CT-142 aircraft and covers the following topics:

  • Communication theory and practice
  • Airborne radar operations
  • Airborne navigation
  • Identifying targets using electronic warfare equipment and electro-optic/infrared sensors

Specialty training

Operational flight training takes approximately 24 weeks and is required for Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators to specialize their skills. Training takes place onboard maritime helicopters at 12 Wing in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, or on long-range patrol aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles at 14 Wing in Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

Advanced training

As they progress in their career, Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators who demonstrate the required ability and potential will be offered advanced training. Available courses include:

  • Advanced electronic warfare
  • Advanced electronic intelligence analysis
  • Instructional techniques
  • Leadership and management specialty training
  • Acoustic operator training
  • Airborne operational test and evaluation training
  • Project management training
  • Advanced survival, escape and evasion
  • Law enforcement thermography training

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Entry plans

Now hiring: we are now accepting applications for this job through direct entry.

Required education

The minimum required education to apply for this position is the completion of the provincial requirements for a high school diploma in Canada including Grade 10 Academic Math or Math 426 or 436 in Quebec. Foreign education may be accepted.

Part-time option

This occupation is available part-time within the following environment: Air Force

Serve with the Reserve Force

This position is available for part-time employment with the Primary Reserve at certain locations across Canada. Reserve Force members usually serve part time at an Air Force wing in their community. They are not posted or required to do a military move. However, they can volunteer to move to another base. They may also volunteer for deployment on a military mission within or outside Canada.

Part-time employment

Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators employed on a part-time or casual full-time basis usually serve with aircrews from CAF locations within Canada.

Reserve Force training

This occupation is only open to members of the Regular Force who have been trained as Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators and wish to transfer to the Reserve Force or former military members who have the Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator qualification.

Working environment

Air Reserve members are trained to the same level as their Regular Force counterparts and are employed in the same unit and perform the same job. Air Reserve members usually serve up to 12 days per month in a regular work day, with opportunities to serve full-time for short durations as needed. They are paid 85 percent of Regular Force rates of pay, receive a reasonable benefits package and may qualify to contribute to a pension plan.

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