RCAF Station Cold Lake was carved out of the dense northern Alberta bushland in the spring of 1952. The airfield was situated just west of the town of Grand Centre, Alberta, and almost 200 miles northeast of the Alberta capital of Edmonton. The station was officially accepted on 31 March 1954.
In June 1954, the Air Armament Evaluation Detachment of the Central Experimental and Proving Establishment was formed. They were established to operate the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range at Primrose Lake which straddled the Alberta-Saskatchewan border on the 55th parallel. An Aircraft Control and Warning Unit known as the Cold Lake AC&W Squadron had been formed in 1952. In June 1955 it became known as (Site C-36) 42 AC&W Squadron and later (and to this day) 42 Radar Squadron. In June 1955, No. 3 All Weather (Fighter) Operations Training Unit moved from RCAF Station North Bay to Cold Lake. They were responsible for training crews to operational standards on the CF-100 Cabuck All Weather Fighter. Crew training was done with the CF-100 Mk. 4A.
By 1961 the CF-100 was at the end of its career as a home-based front line fighter. This subsequently reduced the requiremnts for trained CF-100 aircrew. The new all-weather OTU moved to RCAF Station Bagotville, Quebec, in July 1962. In September 1961, 6 (Strike and Reconnaissance) Operational Training Unit was formed at RCAF Station Cold Lake to train pilots on the new CF-104 Starfighter. Later this unit was granted squadron status and became 417 (Strike and Reconnaissance) Fighter Training Squadron. The last OTU course run by 417 Squadron graduated in November 1982 and the squadron was disbanded in 1983. However, it has since resurfaced as 417 Combat Support Squadron (ex-Cold Lake Base Rescue Flight) in April 1993.
In 1966 after integration, RCAF Station Cold Lake became CFB Cold Lake, and finally on 1 April 1994 the operation at Cold Lake became 4 Wing. In the early 1970s, 1 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (CFFTS) moved to Cold Lake from Gimli, Manitoba. On 2 May 1975, 1 CFFTS turned in their T-33s for F-5s and became 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron. At the time they trained all pilots to wings standard; however, this soon changed and wings were presented in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and only pre-fighter pilot training was conducted in Cold Lake. In August 1982, a detachment of the AWC&CS formed at 42 Radar Squadron for the purpose of controlling the new Air Combat Manoeuvring Range (ACMR). By the end of September 1985, the AWC&CS Detachment returned to 42 Radar Squadron. On 1 April 1988, 42 Radar Squadron reverted to a training role.
In June 1982, 410 (TAC) Fighter Tactical Fighter Operational Training Squadron (OTS) was formed and it is one of three Hornet squadrons presently stationed at Cold Lake. The other two are 441 Tactical (F) Squadron, and 416 Tactical (F) Squadron. 441 and 416 Squadrons provide alert aircraft for air defence duties, including an occasional detachment to 19 Wing Comox and when required, Inuvik, NWT.
In August 1984, the two ROCCs (Canada East and Canada West) were fully operational and 42 Radar Squadron and 410 (OT) Squadron became a part of the assets available to Canada West.
A unit that really depended on a starlit night was the Satellite Tracking Unit (SATTU). It began operations as part of NORAD's Space Detection and Tracking system (SPADATS) in 1962 and finished in the summer of 1981. The unit had been located at the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range, some 30 miles north of RCAF Station Cold Lake. SATTU used a Baker-Nunn camera to observe any space based objects orbiting the earth. The camera was powerful enough that it could photograph an object the size of a basketball at 20,000 miles. Data collected from Cold Lake and the Saskatchewan based Prince Albert Radar Laboratory was passed to the Space Defense Centre at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs.
The annual flying exercise called "Maple Flag" has become a much anticipated event at Cold Lake. The exercise offers amazingly realistic wartime scenarios that challenge the best of aircrews. Maple Flag has grown significantly, since it began in 1978, to become a major international training exercise with countries such as the United States, England, Germany, and other NATO members, participating.
Updated: April 13, 2005