Helicopters Magazine

Features Military Operations
U.S. presidential cast offs new SAR options?


May 6, Ottawa – Some helicopters from U.S. President Barack Obama's cast-off fleet may yet find their way into the service of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

May 6, Ottawa – Some helicopters from U.S. President Barack Obama's
cast-off fleet may yet find their way into the service of the Royal
Canadian Air Force.

The Canadian Press has learned Defence Minister Peter MacKay
recently ordered National Defence to take another look at whether
some of the nine VH-71 aircraft – purchased for spare parts to keep
this country's search-and-rescue choppers flying – can be made fully

MacKay plans to tour the hangar, at IMP Aerospace in Nova Scotia,
where the discarded presidential fleet has been housed since the
Harper government spent $164 million to acquire it from the

Both the air force and the department's material branch have
insisted the American helicopters were only suitable for spares
because they do not have an air worthiness certificate, nor an
electronics suite for search and rescue.


But MacKay, in an interview with The Canadian Press, says he's
ordered a review to see what sort of work would be needed to bring
as many as four of them on to the flight line.

"This is something we're very serious about,'' he said, noting
it would be cheaper than buying additional CH-149 Cormorants.

"I'm not saying it would be cost-neutral but I can't think of
anything that would have more of an immediate impact'' on search and
rescue operations, MacKay said.

MacKay ordered the second look before last week's searing auditor
general report, in which National Defence was told it didn't have
enough new aircraft or the right kind of helicopters devoted to
saving lives in the hinterlands.

Specifically, Michel Ferguson took aim at the air force's use of
CH-146 Griffon utility helicopters out of Canadian Forces Base
Trenton, Ont. The light chopper cannot make it all of the way to the
Arctic or other far-flung destinations without refuelling.

The Griffons were placed at Central Canada's major
search-and-rescue hub because the Cormorants, purchased by a
previous Liberal government, faced routine, often infuriating, spare
parts shortages.

The problem has largely been eliminated with the purchase of the
used VH-71s, which are similar to the EH-101 airframe on which the
Cormorant is based.

The air force has also managed to acquire a much larger stock of
spares from the aircraft-manufacturer, AugustaWestland.

Maj.-Gen Mike Hood, the deputy commander of the air force, said
outfitting some of the former presidential helicopters with mission
systems "remains a consideration, but going forward we are focused
primarily on the parts and enabling our present system.''

He was cautious in his assessment of whether the U.S. planes
could be converted.

"I'm certainly not going to preclude anything," Hood said in a
brief interview. "We're going to have to work with industry to see
what is the art of the possible."

Opposition MPs have often asked why some of the VH-71s could not
be converted and pressed into service to relieve the overburdened
search-and-rescue system, and now MacKay is asking the question

"I know they were concerned about spares, but I think our
Cormorants are in a much better place than they were several years
ago, and we have dealt with things," MacKay said.

Internal defence department documents say the number of aircraft
sidelined because of a lack of parts on any given day has been cut
to two from five.

The Canadian military bought 15 Cormorants, but lost one in a
training accident in 2006.

The fleet has suffered a variety of problems, including cracks in
the tail rotor and corrosion.

Shortly after taking office, the Obama administration cancelled
the VH-71 program of new presidential helicopters, which was started
under former president George W. Bush.

The projected cost had doubled to U.S. $13 billion.


Stories continue below

Print this page