The Sea King’s not done yet
It may be the oldest aircraft in the Air Force. It may even be slated for decommissioning and replacement. But the Sea King’s not done yet.
“That aircraft is still contributing significantly to current operations,” says Major Wayne Joy. As staff officer for the maritime helicopter project at 12 Wing Shearwater, he is responsible for all activities related to the transition from the CH-124 Sea King to the soon-to-arrive CH-148 Cyclone.
“It doesn’t do us any good as a community to focus on that system [CH-148]. That doesn’t drive what we do,” he continues. “What drives what we do is current operations, meeting the expectations of the country and the Navy, and getting out there and supporting those operations – be it in Haiti, the Horn of Africa or the Gulf [of Aden]. We are fully engaged in that, and we are very, very busy.”
That said, Maj Joy and many others at 12 Wing are also busy figuring out how best to use the Sea King to prepare the aircrew and technicians for the Cyclone. There is no comparison between a helicopter brought into service in 1963 and one introduced in 2010, Maj Joy says, but they are both maritime helicopters, and keeping those skill sets alive is vital.
“We still need to train aircrew and technicians to fly this thing because when we move into the new aircraft, we’re taking our community and converting it onto the new aircraft,” he explains. “If we were to let the Sea King community fizzle out, and then step into the new aircraft starting from zero, a lot of those maritime helicopter components would be lost, and the risk level for things like landing on a ship and operating a helicopter at sea goes high.”
The Sea King will continue flying well into 2012. Aircrew and technicians will be trained on the Sea King as long as they can gain six months of experience working with the CH-124 before entering conversion training for the CH-148.
In the meantime, a lot of work is going into easing the transition and equipping the CH-124 to mimic some of the capabilities of the Cyclone. Unlike the Sea King, the Cyclone is night-vision-goggle-compatible, which will take some getting used to by both pilots and crews.
“We’re introducing night-vision goggles in the Sea King because, with the new aircraft, that’ll be part of our day-to-day operations, and operating with NVGs is significantly different from flying unaided,” Maj Joy explains. Flying with night-vision goggles means no depth perception, little to no peripheral vision and a lack of contrast in the image presented due to the green wash imposed by the goggles.
Another significant difference that Maj Joy and his team hope to prepare Sea King crews for is the overabundance of information that will be available on the Cyclone. Whereas the tactical crew on a Sea King must continually input information on contacts they are tracking, the numerous software systems in the Cyclone will enable it to track many contacts independently. This will allow the crew to take a more strategic role in analysing the data rather than constantly updating it.
To prepare the tactical crew for this flood of information, Maj Dwight Bazinet developed the augmented surface plot which fuses GPS with map information and radar. Instead of a straight radar image, the ASP presents the radar picture overlaid on a map of the area, with objects such as navigation buoys already identified so that the crew can focus their attention on other, more important, contacts. The ASP can also be loaded with information before a flight to simulate the conditions in a Cyclone and help the tactical crew learn how to manage the influx of data.
“The Sea King and the Cyclone are generations apart; no comparison can be made between where we are now and what we’re getting with this system,” says Maj Joy. “We have to demand more from the people who are operating the Sea King now because the new aircraft is going to demand so much more from them. That’s why ASP is so important, because they can sink their teeth into that and see how fundamentally different it’s going to be in the aircraft.”
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