Canadian American Strategic Review




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Background  —  CF Naval Helicopter  —  Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King

This page is provided as background for the  Maritime Helicopter Project  and  the oft-rumoured deploying of  Sea Kings to Afghanistan.

The ‘Sea Thing’ by Sikorsky
The reputation of  the CF Sea King  has  suffered  in  recent years  but, when first  bought for  the Royal Canadian Navy in 1963,  they were the best in the world.  The Sea King  has since gone into (and  remains in)  naval service around the world. Sikorsky initially developed the Sea King for the US Navy as their dedicated shipboard anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platform.  The primary role  for CH-124s in Canadian service was also ASW. However, with the end of the Cold War, the submarine threat has virtually ceased to exist.  Shipboard resupply and other utility missions became the CH-124s’ new emphasis.  Operation Apollo returned the Sea Kings to more bellicose roles –  flying patrols and covering naval boarding parties with the Sea King’s pintle-mounted 7.62mm C6 machinegun.

Getting Caught Up in the Plot or the CF’s Shipboard ‘Beartrap
In earlier days, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Sea King astonished the world. To enable the then-CHSS-2 to serve aboard small RCN destroyers, an ingenious retrieval device called the beartrap was developed. A probe-tipped cable was lowered from the Sea King to the vessel’s pitching deck.  The beartrap’s frame captures the probe and ‘reels in’ the helicopter. [1]  Once on the deck, the Sea King’s tail is secured by another probe. The rotor and  tail boom are folded. Then, the beartrap frame (complete with the attached helicopter) is drawn along guide rails in the deck into the hanger.

“ ...  Time hovers  o’er,  impatient  to destroy  ... ” [2]
Beartraps allowed  CH-124s to ‘land-on’ in the worst possible weather, and  Canadian Sea Kings gained a reputation for continued operations when our NATO allies had ceased flying.  Aircrews of  high calibre are vital  for  these operations but they alone are not enough.  An  equally high degree of reliability is required from both aircraft and systems.  The CF Sea Kings can no longer deliver either – their 40-year old airframes, engines,  and  dynamics are just worn out.  Dangerous enough for any shipborne operation. But the CH-124s are still expected to perform missions which can entail four hours of flying, no more than 60m above the surface of  the  North Atlantic,  at night,  in mid-winter.  Something has to give.

Sea King Successor –  the Sikorsky Cyclone
At the conclusion of the infamously drawn-out Sea King replacement (the Maritime Helicopter Project [3] or MHP) the winner was announced. Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk will enter Canadian service as the CH-148  Cyclone starting in 2008. With the planned phase-in of the new CH-148s, elderly CH-124s will serve on until at least 2010.

 Also seeSea King variants (CH-124, CH-124A, CH-124B, CH-124B-2 HELTAS, CH-124C), upgrades/defensive aids, and the troop-carrier.

[1]  In reality, CH-124s are flown onto the deck. Pilots apply power to resist the beartrap’s pull, reducing power to ease down to the deck.
[2]  Narrow-hulled Canadian destroyers were prone to pitching and rolling.  By using the beartrap, a  CH-124 could  be set down onto the deck of a ship pitching  9°, rolling through  31°, and heaving 6m / second.  Small wonder then that beartraps are now standard worldwide.
[3]  A Sea King replacement was first selected in the 1980s – the Anglo-Italian EH-101 (later to enter Canadian service as the SAR CH-149 Cormorant.  But, the ASW model  EH-101 to replace the Sea King was cancelled in 1993.  Finally, in July 2004, the new H-92 was selected.

Photo Credits — CH-124A Sea King side view: Stephen Priestleyall other images: Canadian Forces / Department of National Defence