New Cy­clone chop­pers bol­ster ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Pa­cific frigates

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - RICHARD WATTS rwatts@times­colonist.com

VIC­TO­RIA The 250 women and men of 443 Mar­itime He­li­copter Squadron are train­ing for a new mis­sion: de­ploy­ing the Cy­clone he­li­copter aboard the frigate HMCS Regina.

It will be the first of the new Siko­rsky he­li­copters to fly from a Cana­dian navy war­ship de­ployed from the West Coast.

The mis­sion is sched­uled for Jan­uary.

“De­ploy­ing on a seago­ing mis­sion is the epit­ome of our mis­sion ca­pa­bil­ity,” said Lt. Col. Travis Chap­man, com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of 443 Squadron, in an in­ter­view at the squadron’s hangar near Pa­tri­cia Bay.

While the he­li­copters are part of the Royal Cana­dian Air Force, they ’re at their best on board navy ships, Chap­man said. “You can do a lot with a he­li­copter, but our pri­mary role is be­ing out there fly­ing from the backs of ships.”

With he­li­copters al­ways in­tended as a key el­e­ment of Cana­dian Navy frigate de­sign, the new Cy­clones will al­low the ships to op­er­ate at their full po­ten­tial.

State-of-the-art sen­sory equip­ment aboard the Cy­clone will make the frigate a more ef­fi­cient anti-sub­ma­rine weapon.

In­frared and other pho­to­graphic gear make it in­valu­able for sur­face-wa­ter re­con­nais­sance.

Two CH 148 Cy­clones have ar­rived at 443 Squadron, the first in Au­gust. Ul­ti­mately, the squadron will be equipped with nine Cy­clones by 2021. The five re­main­ing Sea King he­li­copters will be re­tired next year.

“Chang­ing air­craft and all the sup­port to make them fly is a huge ask,” said Chap­man.

“It’s huge.”

Cy­clones be­gan to ar­rive in Canada in 2015 to re­place the Sea Kings, which went into ser­vice in the 1960s.

The Cy­clones are now fully op­er­a­tional on the At­lantic coast.

The full fleet will have 28 he­li­copters, with the fi­nal ones de­liv­ered in 2021. To­tal cost is about $3.2 bil­lion.

Con­tro­versy has dogged the he­li­copter project since 1986, when the Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment first se­lected a dif­fer­ent de­sign.

When the Lib­er­als took over in 1993, they can­celled that con­tract at a cost of $500 mil­lion in fees.

In 2003, the govern­ment chose the Cy­clone, de­spite warn­ings it was an untested de­sign.

Pro­duc­tion was be­set by de­lays. The first of the air­craft didn’t ar­rive un­til well past the orig­i­nal de­liv­ery year of 2008.

But since its ar­rival, the two­engine Cy­clone has wowed pi­lots.

Its alu­minum and car­bon com­pos­ite hull is lighter than the old Sea King and the new ma­chine is about 10 per cent faster. Chap­man said the Cy­clone com­fort­ably cruises at 120 knots, where the old Sea King was hap­pi­est at 90.

Con­trols and in­stru­ments on the Cy­clone are all dig­i­tal, com­pared to the old hy­draulic and ana­log equip­ment of the Sea King.

Chap­man said he­li­copters, with their abil­ity to lift off ver­ti­cally and large car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, are ver­sa­tile ma­chines, whether they’re de­ployed in war­fare, search and res­cue or hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

Last sum­mer, 443 Squadron de­ployed he­li­copters to the Smithers area for weeks to fight for­est fires.

When HMCS Regina and other Cana­dian frigates sail out, the ships’ com­pa­nies are ex­pected to in­clude four pi­lots, four flight-sup­port mem­bers and 12 tech­ni­cians to main­tain the air­craft.

There will be one com­bat sup­port an­a­lyst to make sense of the data col­lected by the air­craft.

“One of the great things about the air­craft is it will see a lot be­cause of all its sen­sors,” said Chap­man.

“And it records ev­ery­thing for play­back from ev­ery flight.

“That is how we ply our trade and con­vey our ca­pa­bil­ity,” he said.

“It’s what we add to the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the navy.”

DAR­REN STONE/TIMES COLONIST

Lt. Col. Travis Chap­man is com­man­der of 443 Squadron, which will even­tu­ally de­ploy nine Cy­clone he­li­copters.

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