All but two Canadian CH-148 Cyclones have tail cracks

Avatar for Dan ParsonsBy Dan Parsons | December 16, 2021

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 25 seconds.

Tail boom cracks have now been found in all but two of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopters, six of which have been repaired.

“Repairs are underway for several aircraft, as our engineering and technical experts are working closely with Sikorsky to return the fleet to serviceability,” the RCAF said in a statement. 

Cpl Stuart Evans/RCAF Photo
The RCAF said its fleet of CH-148 Cyclones could be back in the air by the end of this week, though there is no rush. Cpl Stuart Evans/RCAF Photo

As of Dec. 16, tail cracking was repaired in six aircraft and fixes are underway on an additional four aircraft.

On Nov. 26, cracks were found on the tail of one of the helicopters undergoing a routine maintenance inspection. After the initial cracks were found, other aircraft at that squadron were inspected for the same problem and cracks were found on three other Cyclones. The same cracking issue was eventually found on 19 of 23 CH-148s, according to the Canadian Armed Forces. 

A special inspection of all 23 aircraft was completed Dec. 9 and found cracks in only those 19 aircraft. Repairs on the first damaged aircraft were completed on Dec. 8, the CAF said in a statement. 

One of the affected aircraft was flown from Halifax-class frigate HMCS Winnipeg as it returns to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in Victoria, British Columbia. In this specific case a one-time short ferry flight from the ship to its home base at 443 Squadron, Patricia Bay, Victoria, was authorized, in following a detailed airworthiness review. 

“Minimal cracking was found on this particular aircraft,” the RCAF said. The RCAF “possesses a robust flight safety culture and Airworthiness Program and a highly skilled and experienced network of engineering and technical experts that oversee the maintenance of its aircraft fleets. It is thanks to this expertise we were able to identify a potential issue and initiate the necessary repairs.”

“The location of the cracks on the tail structure are unique for each aircraft, although they are on the aircraft’s frame and no cracking was found on the tail hinge or its components,” a CAF spokesperson told Vertical in an email on Dec. 9. 

Unique repair schemes are being developed by Sikorsky for each aircraft, because the cracks found are different for each airframe. As individual unserviceable aircraft are repaired, they will be returned to service in a progressive manner. 

The RCAF’s fleet of CH-148 Cyclones is not grounded or under an operational pause, the CAF spokesperson said. 

The CH-148 Cyclone is Canada’s main ship-borne maritime helicopter used for surface and sub-surface surveillance, search-and-rescue missions, tactical transport and other mission. Since 2015, 23 Cyclones have been delivered to Canada by manufacturer Sikorsky, owned by Lockheed Martin. Delivery of another four Cyclones is expected to be completed in 2022. 

A Sikorsky spokesperson told Vertical in an email that the company is “working with the RCAF to resolve the issue. Safety is always our top priority.”

Sikorsky has a plan to address the cracking, with each aircraft requiring a unique approach to repair affected components. The repairs involve removal/replacement of damaged parts, and the use of reinforcements to provide additional strength. 

Four RCAF crewmembers and two passengers were killed in April 2020 when a CH-148 Cyclone conducting a routine surface surveillance mission from HMCS Fredericton crashed into the Ionian Sea. A previously unidentified software problem related to the automatic flight control system (AFCS) was flagged as a leading cause of the accident.

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