Despite painful delays, budget overruns and broken promises, the Government of Canada keeps choosing Sikorsky to provide the armed forces with the CH-148 Cyclone. The maritime helicopter will replace the aging Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CH-124 Sea Kings from 2015.
Canada says it now re-engages in a hard agreement with Sikorsky to “see delivery of helicopters with operational capability sufficient to begin retirement of Sea Kings in 2015, and a program to enhance those capabilities culminating in a fully capable CH-148 Cyclone in 2018”. Meaning, the RCAF for the first three years of operational service cannot use the new helicopters to their full advertised extend.
As we at AIRheads↑Fly reported in September, the Canadians were so mad at Sikorsky that they sent a team to the UK to validate the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin in stead of the Sikorsky machine.
The renewed Canadian deal is a win for Sikorsky, which suffered from very bad PR because of the Canadian project. But it doesn’t come light. Sikorsky will not be able to squeeze any more money out of the deal until they upgrade the Cyclones to full capability. Furthermore, the American helicopter manufacturer will pay US$88.6 million in liquidated damages for the non-delivery for the choppers.
Cyclone initial training and testing on very limited machines will with the new deal now continue at RCAF base Shearwater in Nova Scotia. External consulting agency Hitachi – which advised the Canadian government to continue with the Sikorsky deal – “will remain engaged in the project to ensure delivery of a fully capable maritime helicopter”.
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.
Astonishing news this week. Roughly a month after the global stand-down order of the Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma was lifted, a similar helicopter – this time an older and smaller AS332 – crashed into the North Sea. The ditch, killing four of the 18 people on board, reminds many of two offshore incidents in 2012 which caused the flight prohibition to the newer and larger EC225 Super Puma.
August 23, 2013. The pilot on board a CHC Scotia AS332L2 Super Puma releases a distress signal about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) south of the southern tip of the Shetland islands. CHC is one of the world’s largest non-military helicopter operators, with more than 240 aircraft in about 30 countries. With its headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, the company’s choppers are a common sight in the North Sea area where they mainly transport personnel to and from oil and gas platforms.
Back to the the Shetlands on the unfortunate Friday where the CHC signal had been picked up at Sumburg airport. The air traffic controller on duty subsequently looses all contact with the chopper at 18:20 local time, when the Super Puma is about two miles west of the field. The Super Puma was on its way to Sumburgh, having taken off Aberdeen Dice airport earlier that day to visit two oil rigs on the way.
At 18:30 the Shetland Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre was advised by the Air Rescue Coordination Centre that they had lost contact with a Super Puma helicopter with 18 people on board traveling from the Borgsten Dolphin ridge to Sumburgh. Co-ordinators of the Shetland Coastguard immediately request assistance of air and sea assets.
A 130 miles (210 km) away, personnel at Royal Air Force air station Lossiemouth in Northern Scotland, directs the crew of a 202 Squadron D Flight bright yellow Westland Sea King helicopter to the accident area. Subsequently the privately owned search-and-rescue service Bond sends two of its choppers and almost immediately cancels its open day planned for August 24th. At the ports of Aith and Lerwick all-weather lifeboats head out to sea, about 40 respectively 20 miles (65 resp 32 km) from the last reported location of the ditched Super Puma. The RAF Sea King picks up medical specialists from the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and ferries them to Lerwick at the Shetlands.
The day ends with 14 people injured, one death and three still missing at sea. Immediately the discussion of the safety of the Super Puma picks up in several western media, including the Norwegian quality newspaper Aftenposten.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had just validated safety measures to the Super Pumas gear shaft box and main gear box emergency lubrication system on July 10th which were behind the crashes of two EC225 helicopters in the North Sea in 2012. On July 19th, the EC225s return to full flight status worldwide. However, most media missed an essential part of the information: a Super Puma is not always the same Super Puma. This was quickly reflected by CHC.
“We believe that engineering and operating differences associated with AS332L/L1 and EC225 aircraft warrant continuing flights with those aircraft”, a company spokesperson wrotes in a press release. “But in order to give us an opportunity to take stock of any implications associated with Friday’s accident, we will not fly AS332Ls/L1s/L2s anywhere in the world on Sunday, August 25, except for life-or-death search-and-rescue missions.”
Looking at the recent stand-down of the newer EC225 type and last week’s AS332 crash near the Shetlands it is easy to ask What is wrong with the Super Puma? But with both the stand-down and the crash happening in the North Sea the focus could very well be What is wrong with the Super Puma in North Sea offshore operations.
The answer might be nothing more than a temporarily broken image and tough luck just after the break. The EC225s worldwide alone accumulated 300,000 flight hours (source: Eurocopter). With so many Super Pumas of all types flying worldwide in both civilian and military roles sooner or later an accident is statistically about the happen.
1x Dassault DA-20 Jet Falcon VIP transport aircraft
18x Bell 412SP utility & transport helicopter
6x NHI NH90 helicopter for coast guard duties and as shipborne anti-submarine / anti-ship and naval support
12x Westland Sea King Mk 43 search-and-rescue helicopter
16x Saab MFI-15 Safari basic training aircraft
20x Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealty multi-role fighters. Total requirement 52. First two aircraft delivered in 2015 to Luke AFB, no. 3 and 4 in 2016 and then 6 aircraft every year in the years that follow. F-35s will replace F-16s.
8x NHI NH90 helicopter for coast guard duties and as shipborne anti-submarine / anti-ship and naval support