Royal Canadian Air Force, December 05, 2018 - By Makala Chapman and Captain Lynne Patterson - One of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) longest-serving Sea King helicopters has landed and now calls Trenton, Ontario, home.
On November 20, 2018, the first Canadian-built Sea King—tail number CH12405—emerged from the grey horizon at 8 Wing Trenton. It will soon be put on display at the National Air Force Museum of Canada (NAFMC), where it will continue to serve as a reminder of Canada’s rich aviation history.
The Sea King departed 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron in Patricia Bay, British Columbia, on November 14, with her aircrew of Major Chris Inchley (pilot and aircraft commander), Captain Cory Proulx (co-pilot), Captain Brian Norwick (air combat systems officer), Master Warrant Officer Bruce Hollington (airborne electronic sensor operator), Master Corporal Mac Neilson (level C tech), Corporal John Dorenberg (aviation systems technician) and Corporal Matthew Coling (avionics systems technician). Along the way they stopped in places such as Penticton, British Columbia, Medicine Hat, Alberta (where they were weather delayed by a snowstorm), Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, to name a few.
The six aircrew on the transit had 52 years of experience on the aircraft amongst them—close, but not quite equalling the Sea King’s 55 years of service.
“Thinking back to all those that have worked on this aircraft, touched by the Sea King passion, we feel extremely privileged to be part of the final crew,” said Master Warrant Officer Hollington.
"The beginning of this trip felt like any other flight,” said Captain Norwick. “Mission plan, equipment checks, prepare the helicopter, take-off from Victoria.
“The farther we flew, the more we realized the significance of the event. Crossing this great country and hearing stories of those that we met along the way it became clear that the Sea King's history is far-reaching. The nature of its missions meant that it is significant for both Air Force and Navy veterans. Over five and a half decades, that turns out to be a lot of people! We met people across the entire country, at various hotels, restaurants and airports, who had a personal story related to the Sea King.
“A highlight was being recognized by the Toronto Centre air controller. He knew that we were retiring the helicopter after its illustrious career and asked if we would like to complete a ‘victory lap’ around the CN Tower; the crew happily accepted.”
The arrival of 405 at the NAFMC is ““historic,” said Mr. Kevin Windsor, the museum’s executive director. “This was the first Canadian-built Sea King. It’s the iconic helicopter of Canada.”
The first four Sea Kings in service in Canada were built by Sikorsky Aircraft at their factory in Connecticut, but CH12405 was the first to be built in Montreal. Of the 41 aircraft, 37 were assembled in Canada.
Mr. Windsor said he was delighted to have a new representative of maritime air at the museum. “A lot of the guys at the museum who are working on the aircrafts in the restoration department are old Sea King maintainers and will continue to work on it. They’re really excited.”
“I’ve worked on this one here on an off for the past 12 years,” said Master Corporal Neilson. “Honestly, I’m very proud to have been part of the final flight because I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, tears and a lot of hours into it.”
The trip also marked a career milestone for Major Inchley.
“I just so happened to break 3,000 hours on the Sea King during this trip,” he said. “That’s 14 years of flying. We just did the last shut down there and in 12 hours it will be a museum piece. It’s pretty significant.
“What we do with the aircraft is amazing,” he added. “We can put it on the back of a small ship or we can take 11 technicians and eight aircrew and fly it all over the world in all crazy sea state, day or night. It’s just an amazing aircraft. It always has been and always will be.”
“People love the Sea King. Every place we go, they come out to see it. They ask if they can go inside, some of them even took video of the blades folding. It's just not something people see every day and they've heard about in the news and are genuinely curious about it,” he said. “They're usually surprised at how big it is and the aviation buffs want to know how much fuel it burns, how heavy it is, etc.”
January 2018 saw the Sea King’s last East Coast flights in Halifax-Dartmouth. In August, the Shearwater Aviation Museum received tail numbers 401 (exactly 55 years to the day after the Royal Canadian Navy accepted it) and 431. Aircraft 441 sits outside the museum at the Shearwater Aviation Park. No. 405’s cross-country transit marks the fourth aircraft to arrive at its final destination, just before Sea King retirement events on November 30 and December 1 at 443 Squadron.