Tag Archives: Sea King

Belgium Sea King still rules the waves

Forty years old the Westland Sea King Mk 48 flown by the Belgian Air Component of its armed forces is still very much ruling the waves when it comes down to search and rescue operations.

The already delivered four new NH90 helicopters are not managing well, meaning that the dinosaur Sea Kings are somewhat strange still the most reliable rotary wing for whoever gets lost at sea in front of the Belgian coast – where one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world passes through the English Channel and North Sea.

The Ministry of Defence in Brussels confirmed it has a tremendous amount of difficulties in providing the nation with an adequate air rescue at sea. The Grey Cayman, as the Belgians have nicknamed their new navy NH90s, has too many issues during its operations – including a radar that sometimes doesn’t work.

One of three Sea Kings that will have to soldier on in Belgian SAR service 2019 at least. (Image © Marcel Burger)
One of three Sea Kings that will have to soldier on in Belgian SAR service 2019 at least. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Neighbours help out

The Sea Kings – suffering from their age – already have to soldier on till 2019, four years later than planned. NHIndustries/Airbus needs at least one and a half years more to update and repair all four NH90s delivered for navy tasks – taking about 6 months per aircraft at a time. According to a ministry spokesperson Belgium will ask its European neighbours – the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom – to help out and back up the Sea King. It may still rule the waves, but increased maintenance and lack of spare parts will likely put the Sea King on the ground at times as well, meaning there will be no single dedicated SAR helicopter on Belgian soil available for helping out stranded sea man, unfortunate swimmers and downed pilots.

Crown jewel

Envisaging the coming new kid on the block, Belgium already retired its first Sea King (RS-01) on almost a decade ago, in the 33rd year of its service life. It left the 40 Squadron at homebase Koksijde on 17 December 2008 and has been a crown jewel of the Royal Museum of Army and War History of the nation ever since. Some black pages in its operational history: the crew had to ditch it into the North Sea in April 1981 due to engine problems and in 2005 it was suffering from severe hydraulic problems.

RS-01 was one of five Sea Kings delivered to the Belgian Air Component, sporting a for European waters rather rare ochre yellow and green camo scheme as the machines were originally built by British Westland for the Egyptian armed forces, but that delivery was cancelled in 1975. The Belgian Armed Forces started operations with the Sea King on 1 April 1976. During the years modernisations were implemented to keep the aircraft aloft. They included a protection plate for the engine intake, a FLIR camera and a new all-weather radar.

The camo scheme of the Belgian Sea King is a rare sight in European skies. (Image © Marcel Burger)
The camo scheme of the Belgian Sea King is a rare sight in European skies. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Sixth Sea King

The second Sea King (RS-03) was taken out of service in August 2013, leaving only three machines available. However, even with a sixth Sea King bought in the UK to provide the remaining machines with spare parts, Brussels has said it will be very very complicated to keep the SAR going without the support if its NATO partner nations.

Problems with the NH90 are also bad news for the effectiveness of the Belgian Navy’s frigates. The Navy NH90s were supposed to increase their fighting capabilities, a task never done by the Sea Kings, but the MoD now says the first NH90s are now likely to operate from the combat vessels in 2025 at the earliest.

For those who love the Sea King in its Belgian special colour scheme, there is at least another year or two left to enjoy them above North Sea waves and in European skies.

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

First flight for Norwegian AW101

The first of 16 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MoJ) successfully performed its maiden flight at the AgustaWestland Helicopter Division’s Yeovil factory in the UK on 21 March 2016.  This was announced by Finmeccanica on 23 March 2016.

The successful on-schedule maiden flight marks a major milestone and the start of the flight test programme that will lead to initial aircraft deliveries to the MoJ, for operation by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, in 2017. Aircraft deliveries will continue through to 2020.

“I am very pleased that Finmeccanica has reached this important milestone in the SAR helicopter project and thereby making good progress for the replacement of the aging Sea King helicopter with the new state-of-the-art AW101 by 2020,” says the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Mr. Anders Anundsen.

The first Norwegian AW101 during its maiden flight on 21 March from Yeovil airfield (Image © Finmeccanica)
The first Norwegian AW101 during its maiden flight on 21 March from Yeovil airfield (Image © Finmeccanica)

As we reported earlier, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security signed a contract for 16 AW101 helicopters plus support and training, back in december 2013, to meet the Norwegian All Weather SAR Helicopter (NAWSARH) requirement based on a new generation aircraft. Each aircraft is provided with an advanced SAR equipment package including a multi-panel AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) surveillance radar system, that provides 360° coverage. The large cabin doors and rear ramp provide easy access for personnel, survivors and equipment into the 27 m3 cabin which has stand-up head room throughout.

Finmeccanica’s Helicopter Division will provide initial support and training services, including spares at each of the aircraft operating bases and aircrew training. It will then provide performance based logistic support to deliver approximately 90,000 flying hours across the fleet of 16 helicopters over the initial 15 year period of operation. In support of pilot training, a full flight simulator will be available in Norway in advance of the delivery of the first aircraft.

The AW101 is in service with several air forces. For example, the Danish Air Force already send their AW101 (EH101) for operations in Afghanistan. In 2015, Japan got its first anti-mine AW101 (MCH-101) delivered, produced by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, while the Italian Air Force recently introduced its first CSAR AW101 (HH-101A) into service.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk
Featured image: The first Norwegian AW101 during its maiden flight on 21 March from Yeovil airfield (Image © Finmeccanica)

Royal Air Force Sea Kings end SAR duties

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.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: Yellow and always there when needed: a SAR Sea King. (Image © UK Ministry of Defence)

Canadian Cyclones accepted

Canada accepted the first six Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters on Friday 18 June. The helicopters arrived at Shearwater airbase just outside Halifax. In the end, 28 Cyclones replace the CH-124 Sea King helicopters that fulfilled Canadian SAR duties for five decades.

Replacement of the trusty Sea King has been a headache for years in Canada. The AgustaWestland EH101 was meant to replace the old helo, but that contract was cancelled after a change of government. It resulted in a new contract for Sikorsky for 28 CH-148 Cyclones.

Problems
The new chopper is however not without problems. The Cyclone proved underpowered at first and unable of running its gearbox for 30 minutes without oil, a requirement set by Canada. The order was almost cancelled, but subsequent trials have set Canada at ease. Sikorsky and the Canadian Armed Forces conducted sea trials with the CH-148 Cyclone on HMCS Halifax between December 2014 and May 2015. The Cyclone conducted 67 sorties, including 322 landings and takeoffs from the frigate.

Before the end of the year, two more Cyclones will be delivered and the first two Sea Kings retired. The year 2018 should see the final end for the Sea King.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A CH-148 Cyclone (Image © RCAF/Sikorsky)

 

Opinion: “Rafale deal opens Egypt up to Airbus Helicopters”

The purchase of 24 French-made Dassault Rafale fighter by Egypt opens up possibilities for a sale of Airbus Helicopters to the North African country. As the Rafale deal includes the transfer of French Navy multi-purpose FREMM frigate D651 Normandie, it might be an excellent opportunity for the Egyptian Air Force to renew its aging Westland Seaking maritime helicopter fleet. With the current warm relationship between Cairo and Paris, Aérospatiale designs managed by Airbus Helicopters can be on the front-row of negotiations.

The French Navy is not really amused by its government’s decision to quickly transfer one of its eight planned FREMM frigates, produced by DCNS, less than half a year after it was commissioned at its homeport of Brest. Only one other vessels of the class is in service: D650 Aquitaine. Normandie was still very much in its trail period, like its newest sister D652 Provence. The Normandie crew will now move to the Provence. The vessel will be re-located from planned homebase of Toulon to Brest “to ensure French Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities on the Atlantic Coast as originally planned”, according to a French Navy statement.

New French Navy frigate D651 Normandie will be transferred to the Egyptian Navy even before its trial period has ended (Image © Marine Nationale)
New French Navy frigate D651 Normandie will be transferred to the Egyptian Navy even before its trial period has ended (Image © Marine Nationale)

The Provence’s crew will move to the upcoming fourth vessel of the class, D653 Languedoc, which has been launched 12 July 2014 with planned commissioning in 2016. The retirement plan for the older FASM frigates Montcalm and Jean de Vienne has been delayed until 2017 and 2018.

Air assets
France plans to operate the NHIndustries NH90NFHs from the FREMM frigates, which have hangar space for one helicopter, but is unlikely that Egypt will opt for that machine. The Egyptian Navy doesn’t have any air assets itself, but the Egyptian Air Force holds 10 Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprites and 5 Westland Sea King helicopters available for shipborne tasks, besides 9 Aérospatiale Gazelles for coastal reconnaissance. For a possible replacement the AS565 MBe Panther anti-submarine warfare (ASW) that Airbus Helicopters is selling to Indonesia looks to be an interesting option.

The AS565 MBe Panther anti-submarine warfare version (Image © Anthony Pecchi / Airbus Helicopters)
The AS565 MBe Panther anti-submarine warfare version (Image © Anthony Pecchi / Airbus Helicopters)

Seasprites
However, the cheapest solution for the Egyptian Air Force and Navy would be to commission one of the three Seasprites that are held in reserve. But the FREMM frigate purchase might just mean a break for the Egyptian military to replace the Sea Kings, giving Airbus Helicopters new possibilities.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Apart from the ASW version the Egyptian Air Force also operates 23 Commando (assault) versions of the Westland Sea King. Seen here on 16 June 1980 (Image © US Department of Defense)
Apart from the ASW version the Egyptian Air Force also operates 23 Commando (assault) versions of the Westland Sea King. Seen here on 16 June 1980 (Image © US Department of Defense)