Crew members who worked on the CP-140 Aurora aircraft that Canada sent in March to be part of the Libya mission returned to base in Nova Scotia on Saturday, a day later than expected due to inclement weather.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay was on hand at 14 Wing Greenwood air force base to welcome home the 16 Canadian troops.

Other pilots who flew missions in CF-18 jets over Libya had returned to Bagotville, Que., on Friday.

One of the Aurora aircraft sent to Libya is from 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., while the other is from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, B.C.

Crew members from B.C. returned the aircraft to 14 Wing Greenwood Wednesday before flying home on a commercial jet, according to the Wing's Public Affairs Officer, Capt. John Pulchny.

Canada joined the UN-approved NATO mission, whose official goal was to protect civilians during the bloody, eight-month-long revolt against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The Canadian Forces pilots who flew missions over Libya were based in Trapani, Italy. The crews flew about 1,400 hours during the mission, according to Pulchny.

The CP-140 Aurora Maritime Patrol aircraft played a pivotal role in the NATO mission. In Libya, the aircraft's task was to fly ahead of the CF-18s and target areas where Gadhafi's troops and opposition fighters were in civilian areas. Then the CF-18s would follow and bomb the targeted areas.

With the mission over, and Gadhafi dead, NATO has called the operation a success.

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Canadian Forces pilot Maj. Yves Leblanc was greeted Saturday with open arms and a big smile from two-year-old son Jeremy. (CBC)

"This is a squadron that has made significant contributions to the unified protector mission in Libya. They ... contributed greatly to the success of what we know was a very important effort with UN backing to protect the Libyan people," MacKay said Saturday.

"We protected civilian life, which was part of the UN Security Council resolution. We were there with allies working with the National Transitional Council," the opposition group that has become Libya's government.

When home, the aircraft are used to patrol Canada’s coastlines, safeguarding Canadian waters from foreign threats. The aircraft is capable of flying more than 9,000 kilometres without refuelling.

Warm welcome

The CBC's Stephen Puddicombe said just before the planes landed, there was excitement in the air as families gathered to wait for their loved ones to step onto Canadian soil. Puddicombe said one small child said to him, "I just want to see my daddy. I haven't seen him in a long time."

Canadian Forces pilot Maj. Yves Leblanc was welcomed Saturday morning after eight long months away with a big smile and wide-open arms by his two-year-old son, Jeremy.

"There's no feeling like coming back home safe and sound back to your family," Leblanc told CBC News. He expected the first thing he would do at home would be to head down with Jeremy to the playroom to play.

Leblanc said while there were days when he questioned how much longer the mission would carry on, he was proud of the work Canada did in Libya.

"It was great to be a part of NATO, such a large-scale organization such as that one," he said. "It was great to have mission success and come back home when you know Libya's been freed from dictatorship and that they can continue hopefully with a democratic government."

Leblanc's crew carried out the final mission on the day Gadhafi was captured, and were flying 25,000 feet over when Gadhafi's convoy was attacked.

"There were a couple high-fives going around in the airplane because we knew the mission was coming to an end."