A ceremony was held on June 19, at 12 Wing, CFB Shearwater, Nova Scotia, to mark official acceptance by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) of its first six Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters. Various high-profile government figures were in attendance, including Defence Minister Jason Kenney, Public Works and Government Services Minister Diane Finley, as well as Regional Minister for Nova Scotia and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
The final hand over was a major milestone, following years of delays with the project. They were accepted in accordance with a revised schedule that had been agreed in January 2014. This will enable the RCAF to finally begin retiring the CH-124 Sea Kings, which are now more than 50 years old. The first six CH-148s will be based at Shearwater and used for training and testing with RCAF personnel. In its final configuration, the Cyclone will be capable of a full range of anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, and utility missions in various environments.
The first two Sea Kings will be retired later this year, but the RCAF Sea King fleet will continue operations until 2018 to allow for the transition to the Cyclone fleet.
Most recently, Sikorsky, the RCAF and the Royal Canadian Navy undertook sea trials with the CH-148 Cyclone on the frigate HMCS Halifax (FFH 330) between December 2014 and May 2015. The Cyclone conducted 67 sorties, including 322 landings and take-offs from the frigate, during these trials. The Government of Canada signed amendments to both the acquisition contract and in-service support on June 18, 2014, to include an additional ten years of support at rates based on those competed in 2004.
The RCAF ordered 28 Cyclones under a contract signed on November 23, 2004. Although the first CH-148 had flown as far back as November 15, 2008, since then technical problems have plagued the programme and delayed progress. The first Cyclone, in an interim configuration, arrived at Shearwater on May 13, 2011. However, all those delivered to Canada until now had remained the property of Sikorsky, until they were brought up to the specification required by Canada for acceptance.
While the RCAF determines operational strategy and more personnel are trained to fly and maintain the aircraft, Sikorsky will progressively introduce increased capabilities for the Cyclone. More than 40 military personnel have already completed initial training on the helicopter. Alan Warnes