The Royal Air Force (RAF) ceased Search and Rescue (SAR) operations with its well known yellow Sea King helicopters this weekend, ending an impressive 74 years of continuous life-saving operations by RAF crews. The last operational mission was flown on 4 October by a crew at Chivenor airfield, transporting a 38 year old male to hospital. Shortly afterwards, the RAF crew and helicoopter were relieved of their duty. Bristow Helicopters has taken over the SAR responsibility.
Official statistic show that since 1983 and using mainly Sea King choppers, RAF crews of six SAR-units throughout the UK completed 34,025 callouts and rescued 26,853 persons in distress. Each unit maintained a 15-minutes readiness state during daylight hours and a 45-minutes readiness state during night time.
The Bristow Group in 2013 won a 10-year and 1.6 billion GBP contract to provide SAR coverage, starting this year. It will no longer be Yellow Sea Kings, but red and white Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestlands 189s saving lives in the UK.
The Canadian government is furious at American helicopter builder Sikorsky for continuously not delivering the purchased and promised 28 CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters. The Canadians now sent a team of experts to the UK to check out the Royal Navy’s new Agusta Westland AW101 Merlin Mk2s.
The political and technical storm around the Cyclone helicopters has now reached such a point that Sikorsky might face a cancellation of the project by the Canadians all together, despite already paid damages for the years of delay and problems with the new CH-148s. The Royal Canadian Air Force needs the new helicopters by yesterday, to replace beautiful but dinosaur Sikorsky CH-124 Sea Kings in service since 1963.
The Royal Canadian Navy currently faces the lack of a modern air asset that can enlarge the range and effectiveness of the fleet with military, UN or disaster-relief operations. The Cyclones, flown by the Air Force on behalf of the Navy, are destined to execute anti-submarine warfare (ASW), surveillance and search and rescue missions from the Canadian vessels. The old Sea Kings don’t meet current standards and show fatigue after decades of service.
Problems with the engines, with the mission gear and loads of other more minor issues have resulted in not a single CH-148 planned to be introduced in 2008 is currently in effective active service. There is a pre-version CH-148 for training purposes only, but that is about it.
A drop of the CH-148 and selection of the AW101 Merlin instead would be kind of special. In 1990 the Canadians ordered 50 EH101s on which the Merlins are based, but the deal was cancelled directly after elections by the then new government.
After initial problems with the Merlins in the UK, the Royal Navy now seems really happy with the new Mk2s. The Merlin option would make maintenance for the Canadians also easier, since the RCAF already flies 15 AW101 based CH-149 Cormorants bright yellow SAR helicopters.
What do you do when you are responsible for the transport of the president of the United States, you just like this certain new flashy chopper, but crap what a nasty tender rules you have to respect? Then you just write the paperwork in a way that only your little bladed treasure will make it to within the fences of your beautiful mansion estate.
Now you have a garden party to look forward to. Write Meet my old new friend on your invitation card and whoops there it is: the old new Sikorsky presidential helicopter on the White House lawn.
The head-of-state of the world’s most powerful democracy and the unfortunate drowning man off the Irish Coast will in a few years share the same experience. Both will be ferried through the air by the VH-92 Superhawk helicopter.
As far as we know the Irish Republic had a proper competitive shopping run first, but it’s a whole different story on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The always freshly washed, shiny green-and-white presidential ride will not change brand nor colour. All due to clever clerks, some admirable lobby work by Sikorsky fans and quite likely a great deal of ol’ boys network politics by the Pentagon. The S-team outsmarted not only the house keepers at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but scared off the competition as well.
,,After a comprehensive analysis of the final request of proposal, we determined that we were unable to compete effectively given the current requirements and the evaluation methodology defined in the document”, stated the spokesperson of AgustaWestland. The European company was earlier poised to offer its VH101 Merlin in co-operation with American Northrop Grumman.
The full-American Bell and Boeing companies dropped out too stating ,,problems with the structure of the competitive program”. No VH-47 Chinook or presidential VV-22 Osprey. The only remaining bidder: Sikorsky with the VH-92 Superhawk.
But what happened to the earlier star of the presidential helicopter show: the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel helicopter based on the AW101 that already seemed to have won the show to replace the ageing VH-3D Sea King? It was shot down by the Pentagon despite the White House commitment in 2009 to produce five operational VH-71As, making Lockheed Martin change sides to the Sikorsky team.
Litterly bits and pieces of the once future US commander-in-chief VH-71 helicopter fleet are now in use by the Royal Canadian Air Force, where they help maintaining the RCAF’s 15 CH-149 Cormorant SAR helicopters. The US presidential spare parts are now to protect and to serve the unfortunate drowning man off the Canadian coast.