Canadian SAR Helos

RCAF EHI CH-149 Cormorant. Photo by John Davies

The Canadian Coast Guard does not operate SAR aircraft the way the USCG does. Canadian SAR aircraft are operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). They have a fleet of 14 AgustaWestland AW101 (formerly EH101) helicopters. According to Wikipedia,

In June 2011, several US VH-71s, which are also based on the AW101, were purchased by Canada to be used as spare parts for the CH-149 fleet.

In 2017, the Liberal government announced funding for the mid-life upgrade of the fleet, to be led by ‘Team Cormorant’, a team composed of Leonardo Helicopters and IMP Aerospace and Defense. Estimated at around C$1.5bn, the programmes will offer a common fleet featuring latest avionic and mission systems, advanced radars and sensors, vision enhancement and tracking systems as well as a new 3,000 horsepower (2,200 kW) GE CT7-8E engine. On May 10, 2017, a report by the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence recommended the government move forward with a proposal to expand the Cormorant fleet by upgrading the 14 CH-149 aircraft and converting seven VH-71 airframes currently in storage to the same operational capability. This would expand the Cormorant fleet to 21 aircraft, and keep them operational until 2040. All of the upgraded helicopters are expected to be delivered by 2024.

But now Defense News reports that Sikorsky will be offering the civilian version of their S-92 (known as the CH-148 in Canada) claiming to be “more affordable at acquisition and thoughout the entirety of the lifecycle.”

These helicopters are larger than the USCG MH-60 Jayhawks (empty weight 14,500 lb (6,580 kg)/max take-off weight  21,884 lb (9,926 kg))

  • Sikorsky S-92 (empty weight 15,500 lb (7,030 kg)/max take-off weight 27,700 lb (12,568 kg))
  • CH-149 (empty weight 23,149 lb (10,500 kg)/max take-off weight 32,187 lb (14,600 kg))

The RCAF has already begun operating the CH-148 as a replacement for 50 year old SeaKing (H-3) helicopters. Navy Recognition reports a navalized ASW variant of the S-92, has recently completed a series of test with the Canadian Navy, operating day and night from Canadian frigates HMCS Montréal and HMCS Halifax (12% larger than the National Security Cutter) in up to and including Sea State Six seas.

Key among the design features for the Cyclone, Sikorsky engineered:

a retractable probe on the belly of the aircraft to more securely cinch the 29,300-lb. Cyclone to the ship’s flight deck in high sea states;
a ground support tool with an articulating arm that, with the Recovery, Assist, Secure and Traverse (RAST) system, allows the deck crew to remotely align the aircraft’s nose prior to guiding the helicopter into the hangar.

This program was plagued by developmental delays and may have left a bad taste in the mouths of Canadian procurement personnel, but there would be undoubted advantages in operating a common type of helicopter.

A decision is expected soon.

4 thoughts on “Canadian SAR Helos

  1. Seeing as Sikorsky is offering their civilian S-92 for the Canadian CSAR needs, they really won’t be see any real “advantages in operating a common type of helicopter.”
    The CH-148 is not the S-92. They may both start out with the same basic skeletal airframe, but they diverge from there. The difficult development process of the CH-148 was all about it’s differences from the S-92

  2. It has already been decided. All 14 CH-149 Cormorants are being upgraded and an unspecified amount if ex-VH-71 (up to 7) will be remanufactured to a new common standard. I think it has already been mentioned, but Sikorsky was offering the civilian S-92 SAR variant as a replacement for the Cormorant and not a SAR variant of the CH-148 Cyclone which is significantly different from the S-92, kind of like being a commercial UH-60A compared to an MH-60R.

    Unfortunately, this is a missed oppourtunity for the RCAF And Sikorsky to standardize the naval, SAR and possibly it medium utility fleet of the RCAF on a common CH-148 based helicopter type.

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