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The RCAF-operated Sikorsky CH-148 crashed during a routine surface surveillance mission, killing four crew members and two passengers. Combat Camera Photo

Updated: Tail repairs complete on first Canadian CH-148 Cyclone

By Dan Parsons | December 8, 2021

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 24 seconds.

Tail boom cracks found in most of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopters pose a maintenance challenge, but the issue has not grounded the helicopters or significantly impacted current operations.

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. 

The RCAF-operated Sikorsky CH-148 crashed during a routine surface surveillance mission, killing four crew members and two passengers. Combat Camera Photo
Cracks have been found in 19 of the RCAF’s 23 CH-148 Cyclones. Combat Camera Photo

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

“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.

“For the 19 aircraft affected by this issue, and because the exact nature of the cracking on each aircraft varies, a unique repair scheme has been developed by Sikorsky for each aircraft. 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 Royal Canadian Air Force’s CH-148 Cyclone fleet belongs to 12 Wing, 443 Squadron, based in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, where 17 Cyclones are stationed. Six of the aircraft are based in Patricia Bay in Victoria, British Columbia. The helicopters are typically deployed aboard Royal Canadian Navy vessels. The squadron is prioritizing the order of repair to increase the number of available aircraft as quickly as possible. 

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. 

“Working closely with the manufacturer, Sikorsky, we continue to investigate the cause/nature of the issue, and are working towards a full return to serviceability of the fleet in the most expedient and safe manner possible,” the CAF said. “CAF engineers are working with Sikorsky to implement the necessary repairs as soon as possible but does not yet have a definitive timeline for the completion of the repairs.”

Fixing the issue is having some impact on the ongoing response to recent catastrophic flooding in B.C., called Operation LENTUS, although the CAF would not provide details, citing operational security.

“While a CH-148 previously allocated to support the LENTUS operations in B.C. (providing reconnaissance flights of flood-affected areas) is no longer doing so, the diligent efforts from the province, Canadian Armed Forces and other emergency response partners means that the remaining air assets have been adequate to answer the demands placed on the Air Task Force,” the CAF spokesperson said. 

“Our teams seek to assure that in-service equipment is safe, fit-for-purpose, and functions as intended. This is how the issue was first identified, and why we are working diligently to inspect the rest of the fleet, and to repair the problem.”

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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