At the end of June, two long-awaited Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones arrived at 12 Wing Shearwater, N.S. However, neither aircraft has been officially delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The newly-arrived pair of Cyclones, MH805 and 808, which remain Sikorskys property until the DND takes possession, are still considered interim maritime helicopters and are being used primarily for maintenance and non-flight aircrew training.
Some critical work remains outstanding before the Canadian Forces [CF] can take formal delivery of the first interim maritime helicopters, DND commented. Most notably, a Canadian military flight clearance and training for the initial cadre of aircrew and technicians need to be completed. . . . Once the delivery requirements have been met, DND/CF will take delivery . . . to commence initial operational test and evaluation.
While official lips are sealed at DND and Public Works & Government Services Canada (PWGSC), the other department most involved in the procurement, the fundamental deficiency is understood to be the power-to-weight ratio. The original General Electric CT7-8A1 evidently was heavier than expected which, coupled with Canadianization of what was supposed to be an off the shelf (OTS) aircraft, compromised its performance.
The OTS angle was highlighted by the Office of the Auditor-General, which said in a report to Parliament in late 2010 that DND not only had failed to adequately assess the developmental nature of the aircraft, but also had underestimated the risks related to cost and the complexity of the required technical modifications.
The first production aircraft, MH801, flew in November 2008 and the power problem soon became apparent, prompting confirmation of an engine upgrade in May 2010. Designated CT7-8A7, the new engine, developed at GEs expense, generates 10 percent more power with a redesigned fuel manifold and nozzles, among other modifications. In the meantime, the interim aircraft have CT7-8A1 engines.
The Cyclone project dates to the mid-1980s, when DND acknowledged the need to plan on replacing its fleet of 1960s-era Sikorsky CH-124 Sea Kings. But it would be years before the need for Sea King replacements became urgent. In 2008-2009, the federal government awarded a contract to Sikorsky to begin delivering 28 aircraft. It also opted to purchase 15 EH101s from AgustaWestland for DNDs search and rescue (SAR) work, and those CH-149 Cormorants remain the backbone of coastal SAR today.
Nearly a year before the first Cyclone was to be delivered, Sikorsky sought schedule relief because of what it called excusable issues with the project. Then, about the time the first aircraft had been originally expected, DND and PWGSC agreed to a new schedule, which would see deliveries of interim platforms in November 2010 and fully compliant helicopters by June 2012.
That amended contract, which involved no penalties for Sikorsky, also saw the cost of 28 helicopters increase by more than five percent to some $1.9 billion US. Then, in late 2009, Sikorsky advised that it could not deliver a fully compliant helicopter by the new deadline. The contract was amended again in June 2010, providing for delivery of the first six aircraft with preliminary mission software by that November. A short time later, however, Sikorsky said first delivery would not take place until possibly February 2011, which eventually was pushed back yet again, to May 2011, when MH 806 arrived at Shearwater.
DNDs current but anodyne position is that it continues to closely monitor progress with a view to taking formal delivery of a fully compliant interim aircraft this year.