RCAF’s 12 Wing gives first outside group Cyclone tour
After recently celebrating a number of milestones surrounding the Maritime Helicopter Project and transition to the CH-148 Cyclone, officials at 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, recently welcomed an outside group for a progress briefing and static tour of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) newest aircraft.
Personnel from the Helicopter Test and Evaluation Facility (HOTEF) hosted members of the RCAF Association and the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia for the briefing, which was delivered at the wing’s Maritime Helicopter Training Centre by Captain Bryan Langille.
The visitors were given an overview of maritime helicopter roles in the modern era, and the advanced capabilities of the Cyclone, including its upgraded engines, night-vision compatibility, and advanced sensors and radar, and were briefed on the transition progress thus far. They viewed a number of photographs and video clips of the aircraft flying at sea during trials with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Montreal, and then went out to the hangars to see the Cyclones and tour the interior of the helicopter.
Four Cyclones are currently housed at 12 Wing, with two of those being the upgraded 1.1 Block version of the helicopter. Two more of the original six Cyclones delivered are currently with Sikorsky, receiving the Block 1.1 upgrade.
In terms of testing the helicopter, HOTEF commanding officer Major Travis Chapman said his crew has made significant progress in evaluating shore-based and shipborne operations; after a break from flying for a new training course, the crew will be back out soon with the upgraded 1.1 chopper to continue building those proficiencies with HMCS Montreal. “The biggest thing is proficiency and currency for the crews,” he said. “If we’re employing these guys to evaluate the aircraft and apply tactics, and try to insert the aircraft into a fleet, they need to know what they’re talking about and how to use the systems, and how to fly the aircraft.
“And by September, we’ll be entirely focused on the warfighting aspects of the aircraft: above water and underwater warfare.”
Deficiencies and technical problems have been raised, as is expected, but the process of working with the many contractors and Department of National Defence stakeholders involved with the project has been smooth. Problems have been identified, accepted, and work toward solutions has happened in a timely manner. “People are engaged and enthusiastic,” said Major Chapman. “People want this work. So we do identify problems, and maybe sometimes that affects workdays or sailing schedules, and people can get unhappy, but there’s been a real high degree of professionalism around this project.”
Major Chapman also gives credit to Sikorsky, who still own and operate the Maritime Helicopter Training Centre, for being agreeable partners through the process.
The key milestone achieved so far, which was a goal for spring 2016, was to have the first all-Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) air detachment crew land the Cyclone on the deck of a warship, which took place successfully in April. Another significant marker, more recently, was the completion of the final aviation systems technician Sea King course for 406 Squadron. Squadron members will now exclusively be training for the new aircraft, which is very significant, said 406 Squadron’s commanding officer and acting wing commander Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Saunders.
“It’s not ‘someday’ that we’ll see training on the 148 and focus all our energies on that; it’s ‘today’,” he said. “It’s still going to be a long process to get ourselves fully mission-capable, but the more people see HOTEF crews out flying, or they notice their friends and comrades coming to the schoolhouse for a course – that sends a powerful message throughout the wing.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Saunders said the mix of serving and retired CAF and RCMP members, and police officers, made up the perfect group to bring in for an initial visit to see the newly upgraded aircraft. Many of those in attendance played a role in the early days of the Maritime Helicopter Project, and the tour could be seen as an opportunity to thank them and give them a glimpse of what that early work has led to.
As for opportunities for other outside groups and the general public, to see the Cyclone up close – they will come. There’s a finite capacity to arrange tours at 12 Wing itself, with multiple training courses ongoing at the training centre, but the RCAF’s new maritime helicopter will make its way to air shows when the wing commander feels it’s time, Lieutenant-Colonel Saunders said, and other broader engagement activities will be planned as well.
“We’ll get people an opportunity to get up close and personal,” he said. “We know there’s a high interest. We’re not there yet, but it’s an inevitability.”
The last flight of the CH-124 Sea King is scheduled for December 2018 on Canada’s West Coast, marking the full transition to the Cyclone as the CAF’s maritime helicopter.
The membership of the Royal United Services Institute comprises former CAF, RCMP and Police Services personnel, and other persons interested in the study, promotion and debate of defence and security issues.