Sikorsky has flown the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter - about 15 days before it was originally scheduled to deliver the first of 28 to the Canadian Forces. It's a long-awaited step towards replacing Canada's 40-plus year-old Sea King shipborne helicopters. But exactly when Cyclones will begin replacing Sea Kings is not clear.
The Cyclone, which Sikorsky also calls the MH-92, is an advanced version of the commercial S-92, which the company developed as a private venture. In addition to fly-by-wire flight controls, the CH-148 has GE CT7-8A engines and a Rockwell Collins glass cockpit; an anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare mission system integrated by General Dynamics Canada; and the usual shipborne helicopter kit, including blade and tail fold, deck lock and anti-icing.
When Cyclone deliveries will begin is not clear. In January, the Canadian press reported a 30-month delay to the program because of integration issues. But the Department of National Defense says it is still negotiating with the company and can't yet say what the delay will be. Earlier this year, air force head Lt Gen Angus Watt told a parliamentary defence committee it "will be a matter of some months to years".
It's not fair to put all the blame for the delay in replacing Canada's long-serving Sea Kings on Sikorsky. In terms of years squandered, the Canadians themselves are the worst offenders. Purchased in 1963, the Sea Kings were to be replaced with EH101s, with an order placed in 1987, but the contract was cancelled in 1993 after a change of government.
The requirement was revived in 2000, but a government decision to split the airframe and mission system contracts delayed service entry beyond 2005. That decision was reversed and, in 2004, Sikorsky was awarded a C$1.8 billion contract for 28 helicopters, plus another C$3.2 billion for 20 years of in-service support. First delivery was set for Nov. 30, 2008, but later slipped to Jan. 9, 2009 after a strike at Sikorsky in 2006. The company won't be meeting that deadline either. The Canadian press' best guess for service entry is now 2010/11.