Friday, November 1, 2013
Canadian Conundrum Searches for Contingency
The long-running and painful (to both sides) Canadian Maritime Replacement Program may be heading toward a solution after the Canadian government took the drastic step of bringing to a meeting those involved – and rivals – to try and force an answer. According to The Canadian Press, a meeting was staged at the beginning of October between Canadian Defense and Public Works officials and representatives from CH-148 Cyclone manufacturer Sikorsky – as well as industry rival OEMs AgustaWestland and NH Industries. The meeting, which has been reported widely in the Canadian media, was allegedly staged to find a workable alternative (a Plan B) to the Cyclone helicopter should the government wish to change course and abandon its procurement. Options reportedly under examination include NH Industries’ NH-90, Sikorsky’s own MH-60 Sea Hawk, as well as the AW159 and AW101 from AgustaWestland. The AW101 was the original aircraft selected to replace the Sea Kings in the 1990s but the decision was overturned after a Liberal government was elected in 1993. Coincidentally, the AW101 been in service with the Canadian Air Force for 11 years as the CH-149 Cormorant. Its first operational flight took place in July 2002.
Of course should the government take the step of bringing to an end the Cyclone procurement, then long-running legal battles are sure to ensue, unless the alternative identified ended up being the MH-60 Sea Hawk.
Sikorsky President Mick Maurer said earlier this summer at the Paris Air Show that dealing with two Canadian government departments of Defense and Public Works had made the procurement more complicated than it might have been. But Sikorsky has until now been insistent that it can deliver the remaining 24 CH-148s (four are already with Canadian Forces for evaluation).
Political delay and mission creep blight many defense procurement programs, but the whole campaign has been generally agreed as a nightmare by all sides. The contract for 28 CH-148s (Canada’s military version of the MH-92) was signed in November 2004 with the aircraft intended to replace the existing Sea King. Canadian crews have being in trained for the aircraft and Sikorsky has tried the tactic of asking the Canadian’s to accept an interim aircraft solution on a rolling acceptance basis. However, in June this year the Canadian government stated that it would not accept “non-compliant” aircraft.
Bravo Bears into Battle
“The Chinook pedals in the cockpit of any CH-47 still say Vertol,” explained David Pitchforth, managing director of Boeing Defence UK, during his presentation to members and guests at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Cierva Lecture on October 1. The Cierva lecture, so named to remember Juan de la Cierva’s autogyro of 1923, is an annual event staged by the Society’s rotorcraft group. A senior figure connected to the rotorcraft industry is usually invited to give a lecture with Pitchforth this year addressing “Boeing Rotorcraft: History and Continuous Innovation.”
This history snippet harks back to 1960 when Boeing bought Vertol Aircraft Corp. The venerable ‘Dakota’ of the helicopter world has clocked-up five million flight hours to date and is still going strong. Chinook crews flying one particular aircraft – Bravo November ZA718B – have won four Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) medals, Pitchforth noted. The last recipient was Flight Lt. Ian Fortune in 2010 but the list goes back to Flight Lt. Craig Wilson in June 2006 (both of these DFCs were won in Afghanistan), Squadron Leader Steve Carr in Iraq in 2003, to the first winner Squadron Leader Dick Langworthy during the Falklands War in 1982. According to the Royal Air Force, “over the last 10 years the Chinook force has received 17 DFCs and five Air Force Crosses.”
Currently there is an ongoing push to modify British Chinooks to Mk4 and Mk5 configurations. Project Julius involves Thales as the main subcontractor for the mission display system upgrade, which will include four MFDs. “Project Julius will touch every wire in the cockpit,” Pitchforth explained. Sixteen of the aircraft had already been modified, he continued, with all modifications on the RAF’s Chinook fleet due for completion by the end of 2016. The first Chinook Mk4 aircraft was delivered to 7 Squadron, RAF in February 2013.
Switching to the Apache aircraft, Pitchforth stated that it takes only five minutes to “pulse” the AH-64 production line at Mesa, Ariz., meaning to move all the production aircraft to the next bay. He added that the total wiring now incorporated into each Apache Guardian (AH-64E) helicopter had been reduced from 11 miles down to nine. He could not give any indication on the path that the Army Air Corps was likely to take as they ponder how to take forward their own Westland (now AgustaWestland)-built Apache fleet.