Success of rescue missions leads to request for measures to extend helicopter's range

Canada is seeking to extend the capabilities of its AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter following a series of dramatic rescues since service entry last year.

Maj Gilbert Thibault, commanding officer of 103 SAR Sqn, says the Canadian Forces have requested a weight increase and clearance to operate with one of the helicopter's three engines shut down. Both measures will be used to extend the machine's 1,200km (650nm) range. The Canadian Forces are understood to have submitted a list of changes, although Thibault declines to comment.

TheCH-149 is cleared for 14,580kg (32,120lb) maximum take-off weight (MTOW), says Thibault. AgustaWestland is already offering the EH101, of which the Cormorant is a variant, at 15,600kg MTOW, and a number of operators are routinely using only two engines during cruise. The Canadian Forces have restricted the CH-149 to 150kt (275km/h) to "extend the life of some components", while long-range cruise is flown at 130kt, says Thibault.

The active control of structural response system is proving valuable, says Thibault, adding that for the 13-14h missions that 103 Sqn may fly, "it can be difficult to believe you are in a helicopter - it's a better platform for the aircrew, which are less fatigued with less vibration". This improves safety, he says.

The Canadian Forces had "initial issues with the speed and reaction times" of the rescue hoist, but this has been resolved and full trials were performed at Gander, Newfoundland, this month, says Thibault.

Gander-based 103 Sqn started flying the Cormorant last July, and it became operational on 16 November. By the start of this month, the unit had flown 57 Cormorant SAR missions. On average, the squadron flies 1,500h a year and 117 SAR sorties.

The Cormorant's performance was demonstrated in December when 103 Sqn was tasked with the medical evacuation of an injured seaman from the Berge Nord, 320nm north-east of St John's. The 11h trip included two refuellings on the oil rig Hibernia and 70kt headwinds. "We never stopped the rotors," says Thibault. "The man owes his life to this machine. With the old aircraft, we would have had to wait 12-24h before take-off."

Source: Flight International