Celebrating 50 years of Sea King service to Canada

[Thursday, 10 November 2011] There have been few aircraft in Canada’s aviation history that have provided enduring and outstanding service worthy of note more than the Sea King maritime helicopter. In 2013, the Sea King’s Golden Jubilee will commemorate 50 years of service to Canadians and Canadian interests throughout the world.

Those who have flown and maintained these venerable helicopters have formed a proud and fiercely loyal community that understands that as global events change, so must the capabilities of the aircraft that was for so long the Canadian Force’s only shipborne helicopter. The talent, experience and can-do attitude of the Sea King maintenance community provided mission capable aircraft when and where they were needed.

The Sea King design is based on the United States Navy’s Sikorsky SH-3 helicopter. The Canadian navy ordered 41 Sea Kings, originally designated the CHSS-2, which entered service in 1963. The Sea King’s CHSS-2 designation was changed to CH-124 in 1970.

Sikorsky’s plant in Connecticut manufactured the first four aircraft and the components for the remaining 37 helicopters, which were assembled by United Aircraft of Canada, a subsidiary of Sikorsky’s parent company, in Longueil, Quebec. The Canadian Sea Kings differed from the USN version with the addition of Canadian mission avionics, Helicopter Hauldown Rapid Securing Device fitments, strengthened main undercarriage and an automatic tail pylon folding system.

The Canadian developed Helicopter Hauldown and Rapid Securing Device, colloquially known as the ‘Beartrap’, provided a quantum jump in capability as it permitted a relatively large helicopter to operate from small warships. Considered first in 1943, further recommended in 1951 and again in 1955, called for and trialled in 1956, the helicopter carrying destroyer escort concept finally became possible with the introduction of the Beartrap.

The marriage of a modern twin-turbine helicopter, capable of day-night, all-weather operations with a destroyer-size ship established Canada as a leader in the field of shipborne helicopter operations. A frigate or destroyer equipped with a Beartrap and embarked Sea King Detachment transformed naval operations during the last half of the twentieth century. The embarked Sea King expanded the ships’ search area multifold and extended its tactical reach. Navies around the world, including those of the United States, Japan and Australia, adopted the Canadian Sea King-Beartrap concept. It is considered Canada’s gift to naval aviation.

Operationally, the Sea King first served in Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron HS 50 until it split into Anti-Submarine Helicopter Squadrons HS 423 and HS 443 in September 1974. In January 1995, HS 423 and HS 443 were redesignated Maritime Helicopter Squadrons (MH) to more accurately reflect their maritime surveillance and interception roles, which encompassed much more than antisubmarine warfare. MH 423, MH 443 and 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadrons were based at 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, until MH 443 Squadron moved to Pat Bay, British Columbia, in July 1989.

The Sea King operated from the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, the three operational support ships, the seven St. Laurent-class destroyer escorts (DDEs), which were converted to helicopter carrying destroyers (DDHs), and the two Annapolis-class DDHs, which were the first destroyers designed from the keel up to carry the large Sea King. The four Iroquois-class destroyers carried two Sea Kings each, and today, despite her advancing age, the Sea King continues to complement the capabilities of our navy’s twelve Halifax-class frigates.

Since her introduction, the Canadian Sea King has been involved in United Nations and NATO sponsored operations around the world. Until the end of the Cold War, the helicopter was primarily used to extend the anti-submarine capabilities of the ships in which they were embarked. However, during the first Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, the extensively modified Sea King proved to be incredibly flexible, filling a myriad of new roles to extend the effectiveness of Canada’s naval task group.

Because of the Sea King’s flexibility and capability to operate from small ships, it has played a leading role in most of Canada’s humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace-making operations since 1991. These operations have witnessed the Sea King in national and multi-national exercises and operations in virtually every ocean of the globe.

Throughout her half century of service, the Canadian Sea King’s reliability, versatility and relevance have been maintained by a series of improvements, modernization programs, modifications, depot level inspections, repairs, mission kit fitments, and engine and gearbox upgrades. These modifications and improvements have enabled the Canadian Sea King to provide outstanding service throughout her legendary career.

All who have enjoyed the pleasure of serving with this unique and distinguished helicopter are proud to pay tribute to such a Canadian icon on her Golden Jubilee.