Canada Department of National Defence, August 12, 2018 - By Ryan Melanson - After nearly three years of training, testing and evaluation, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s new state-of-the-art maritime helicopter, the CH-148 Cyclone, has left for its first operational deployment.
The Cyclone and its accompanying Helicopter Air Detachment (HELAIRDET), based out of 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron at 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, embarked in the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Ville de Québec on Operation Reassurance, departing Halifax on July 18 to join NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe.
While the equipment may be new, the cooperation between the RCAF and the Royal Canadian Navy is anything but, and the first Cyclone HELAIRDET is building on a long history of maritime helicopter operations, joining the ship’s company to become one seamless team for roughly six months.
“That partnership has existed for many decades with the Sea King, and this is the start of us continuing that with the Cyclone, which we’re very excited about,” said Colonel Sid Connor, Wing Commander at 12 Wing Shearwater. “This is a culmination of several years of testing and evaluation. We had to take a look at our procedures, to make sure we had that right, we had to get the flight time experience, and we had to train crews to be ready for real-life operations.”
Ahead of this first operational deployment, the RCAF invited media to 12 Wing on July 13, 2018, for a briefing on the Cyclone and Operation Reassurance from the Wing Commander. A few lucky reporters were also taken on a flight around Halifax harbour to experience the new helicopter in action and learn about the Cyclone’s enhanced capabilities compared to the CH-124 Sea King fleet.
These advancements include faster flight for longer periods of time and with more stability, along with automated fly-by-wire systems that are a first in the world of military helicopters, and new sensors and communication suites that offer significant improvements over previous technology. Certain tasks, calculations and data collection that were previously done manually can now be automated, allowing crews to fly easier while gathering higher quality information to pass down to a ship.
“This means that, when we fly,” Colonel Connor said, “we’re able to give the ship’s captain a view over the horizon, either above or below the water, at much greater ranges than we could previously. It’s really expanding the eyes and ears of the ship while we’re at sea.”
Of the 28 helicopters set to be delivered to the RCAF by 2021, 15 have been received, with 13 fully operational Cyclones currently housed at 12 Wing, and two others away receiving upgrades from manufacturer Sikorsky. A portion of the fleet will eventually be sent to 443 Squadron in Esquimalt to support Pacific Fleet operations. The total program costs will be $3.2 billion, including the 28 helicopters and in-service support for the first 20 years of operations.
Personnel at 12 Wing’s Helicopter Operational Test and Evaluation Facility and 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron have been working with the Cyclone since 2015, adjusting training and procedures to the new platform and working out early kinks and modifications. This includes many hours of training with frigates of the RCN, including storm-chasing with HMCS Montreal to determine limits of Cyclone operations in heavy sea states. The Operation Reassurance deployment marks a major next step, however, and the air crew and technicians who embarked in HMCS Ville de Québec broke new ground for the RCAF and for maritime aviation in Canada.
“This is just the beginning of a buildup of capability. We’ll have one detachment out the door with a ship on July 18, and we’ve already begun preparing two more detachments to leave, one from each coast, in January 2019,” Colonel Connor said. “It’s an exciting time at 12 Wing. I’ve been calling 2018 the Year of the Cyclone, as we ended our Sea King operations earlier this year, and I think all of us at the wing are feeling lucky to be a part of it.”