CH-148 Cyclone

 

22.08.2017
CH-148 Cyclone

When you sit down with Charles Bouchard, Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin Canada, and a former RCAF helicopter pilot himself, you quickly recognize how important it is for this company to ensure that the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces have the right equipment to conduct operations both effectively and safely. Through Sikorsky, the latest addition to Lockheed Martin’s corporate family, one particular point of pride is Canada’s new CH-148 Cyclone. “From detecting submarines to search and rescue missions, this state-of-the-art helicopter will meet Canada’s operational demands well into the 21st century,” said Bouchard.

And, the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter is on the verge of transforming maritime aviation in Canada.  Officially, CMHP (The Canadian Maritime Helicopter Program) consists of an acquisition contract which includes the development, testing certification, and delivery of twenty-eight CH-148 aircraft, and an In-Service Support (ISS) contract which includes training and 25 years of fleet support for the CH-148 helicopter. 

Cyclone is fitted with modern sensors and a cutting-edge mission suite which was designed and optimized in Canada and its weapon system has the ability to use the sensor information it absorbs and integrate everything together to form and present a tactical picture like no other multi-mission helicopter can do today.  This capability, for those that have followed the program, has come at a dear price not only in dollars, but in time and considerable consternation, which goes all the way back to the genesis of the program.

In 2004, the Canadian Government announced the acquisition of the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter as a low-risk, off-the-shelf solution. It is unusual that the powers that be would regard Cyclone as an off-the-shelf solution since Canada is the launch customer, but that point is, as they say, history. 

Cyclone was originally baselined off Sikorsky’s commercial S-92 platform, however,it soon became clear that a significant developmental effort would be necessary to modify the platform to meet RCAF requirements for the CMHP program. Although Cyclone remains about 50% parts common to the S-92, there are significant differences such as airframe upgrades to support ship operations. 

Transforming a civil helicopter into a naval variant involves much more than simply painting the aircraft tactical gray. Sikorsky engineers, some of the best in the business, set out to ruggedize the aircraft to handle the corrosive environment which is ubiquitous in naval operations, and also to strengthen the aircraft so it can handle the unique stresses that come from operating off the back of a navy ship - often in sea states that would make seasoned mariners cringe.  Add to that, the necessity of developing rotor blades and a tail pylon that can fold to allow the helicopter to stow inside a ship’s hangar, and one quickly gets a sense of the challenges involved in developing a maritime combat helicopter.

That’s not all though. Cyclone also has a unique Integrated Mission System (IMS) from General Dynamics Mission Systems - Canada (GDMS-C). This system leverages the GDMS-C mission system from the CP-140 Aurora, and incorporates electro-optical, radar, and sonar sensors, as well as integration of night-vision capability. Also integrated, are electronic defensive systems to detect and defend against threats to the aircraft.

In addition to those aspects, Cyclone also differs from the S-92 in that it’s a full fly-by-wire helicopter, the first of its kind in the world of maritime helicopters. Simply stated, the fly-by-wire system on the Cyclone serves to increase control and performance, while decreasing weight.

“This was a very significant developmental undertaking for Sikorsky,” said Bill Falk, Sikorsky Program Director for the Canadian Maritime Helicopter Program. In an exclusive conversation, he told CDR, “It's our first maritime fly-by-wire helicopter, and it's delivering exceptional handling and performance. We've now leveraged that technology to other Sikorsky products.”

 

A BRAND NEW MULTI-MISSION HELICOPTER

 

Other key differences between Cyclone and the civil S-92 include: a Canadian Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse (C-RAST) deck landing system recently demonstrated to Sea State 6,  helicopter in-flight refueling capability, and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 29,300 lbs (2,800 lbs more than the civil S-92A). The Cyclone helicopter is also capable of lifting 7,000 lbs on its cargo hook. So, given all these factors, one can start to appreciate the complexity of creating, effectively, a brand new anti-submarine and multi-mission helicopter like the CH-148 Cyclone. 

That complexity ultimately led to delays in the mission system integration and issues discovered in flight test. So significant, in fact, was the problem that the program was nearly suspended, however after some intense, very high level negotiations, the decision was made in 2014 to press on and re-baseline the program. The first and most critical aspect of the re-baseline was to recognize that the CH-148 Cyclone is, in fact, a developmental project. The other major decision was to develop a block delivery approach in which aircraft capability would be delivered in stages so that the RCAF could begin training on the Cyclone, as opposed to waiting for a completely contract-compliant aircraft.

When compared to the venerable Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King, Cyclone will provide a 10% increase in speed, 36% increase in usable cabin space, and 40% increase in endurance. In its final configuration, the CH-148 Cyclone will be capable of a full range of anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, and utility missions in various environments, making it one of the most capable maritime helicopters in the world. 

Colonel Claude Desgagne is Director Maritime Helicopter Project at the RCAF and he recently spoke to CDR about the new capabilities that Cyclone brings, “There was a lot of manual work required to form a tactical picture in the Sea King. The Cyclone on the other hand will show the crew a 'picture' which is in multi-dimensions. You get that overlay capability of maps, radar, sonar and its passive acoustics. All of that is correlated with databases of information in the background.”       Charles Bouchard   

Sikorsky’s Program Director, Falk, also shared some unique perspectives on the Cyclone's capabilities He offered, “The Cyclone is designed such that all of the capability and computing power to process the mission system sensor data is self-contained in the aircraft so there's no reliance on outside sources to execute missions. That's why the mission system is so complex, it's all self-contained in the helicopter.”  

Today, Cyclone is in the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) phase and is being flown by the Helicopter Operational Test and Evaluation Force (HOTEF) at CFB Shearwater, and by Sikorsky flight test teams. Cold weather testing was completed in Yellowknife in February 2017, and recent sea trials aboard HMCS Montreal were successfully completed in March 2017 when the Cyclone conducted ship/helicopter flight test operations in Sea State 6 weather with waves reaching 20 feet high.  The test results from sea trials were very positive and will provide an operationally relevant envelope for the RCAF.

“The Cyclone has already conducted two cruises on IOT&E, and has participated in exercises with allies. So we've got some good exposure in flying our own aircraft with our test and evaluation crews to exercise it end-to-end,” said Desgagne.

 

THE ENVY OF OTHER MILITARIES

 

Dan Schultz is President of Sikorsky, and in an exclusive interview with CDR, he shared his thoughts on the overall Cyclone program today, “Together, the Sikorsky and DND team has overcome many challenges to develop what we believe to be the world’s most sophisticated and capable maritime helicopter to perform anti-submarine warfare and other missions. In 2018, the Royal Canadian Air Force will deploy an operational Cyclone weapon system on Canada’s naval ships that will be the envy of other militaries.”

And, the RCAF’s Colonel Desgagnecommented on Cyclone’s unique design, “I think we got it right in the late 90's when the SOR and specs were written for this aircraft. We foresaw what this weapon system needed to be at the essential level, and the SOR still stands as a valid document today. From a capability standpoint, this aircraft is almost as capable as an Aurora which has a crew of twelve.  We have four!”

Beyond the aircraft itself, the Maritime Helicopter project is also responsible for ship integration. This integration isn't only necessary to validate shipboard operations, it is in fact responsible for the modification of all twelve Halifax class frigates so they can operate and deploy with the Cyclone. Modification of these ships has by necessity needed to be precisely timed since frigates that are converted to Cyclone operations are not backwards compatible to operate Sea King aircraft.

The Cyclone program is now structured in a phased capability manner where increased capability is provided throughout five releases: Block 1.0; Capability Release 1.1 (CR1.1); Capability Release 1.2 (CR1.2); Block 2.0; and Capability Release 2.1 (CR2.1).  The final configuration CR2.1 was awarded in 2015 and consists of situational awareness upgrades to the Mission System Console and will be delivered as a kit to be installed by the RCAF on the Block 2.0 aircraft at CFB Shearwater.

RCAF acceptance of six Block 1.0 aircraft occurred in June 2015. These aircraft have subsequently been returned to Sikorsky for Block 2.0 upgrade. The RCAF also accepted four Capability Release 1.1 aircraft at CFB Shearwater, and these are being utilized for training and Operational Test and Evaluation. A single Capability Release 1.2 aircraft arrived in Shearwater in March 2017, and is also being utilized for Operational Test and Evaluation.

The remaining four Capability Release 1.2 aircraft agreed to in the January 2016 contract amendment will be incrementally delivered through September 2017. Acceptance of the first six Block 2.0 aircraft is on track for June 2018 and remaining deliveries will continue through the fourth quarter of 2021. 

 

SET TO JOIN FLEET IN 2018

 

“The Block strategy sounds complicated, but the simple reason we took that approach is we really wanted to get whatever was ready from a relevant maritime helicopter capability perspective into the hands of the operators as soon as we could, and allow the Sea King to retire.  That retirement is on track for 2018,” said Doug Baker, ADM(Mat) Maritime Helicopter Project Manager responsible for acquisition and delivery. 

“It’s not a novel or unusual concept, but in terms of management it’s a little bit more complex as there are multiple configurations we have to manage. The idea is we will deliver more and more capability as it becomes available. In terms of overall implementation, we felt it was the most effective and efficient way to execute on what remained in the rest of the program. Since the contract amendment and re-baseline, we've hit every major milestone on time, so that's been a big success.”

Colonel Desgagne also talked to CDR about his views on the block strategy, "Block 1.0 wasn't an empty hulk. Everything was there, it just wasn't necessarily unlocked yet because there were things the testing program was catching up on. As these things pass tests, the capabilities are unlocked, and if a problem is discovered a fix would be provided in a future block... It is a 15 year-old specification, so life has gone on as far as interoperability with our allies, and with NAV Canada Standards as we go into the next decade. That stuff will have to catch up, but it's a pan-Air Force issue.”

The CR1.1 variant is important because it incorporates fully functioning integrated mission systems and sensors. These include the Telephonics’ multi-mode radar, L-3’s Helicopter Long Range Active Sonar (HELRAS), DS-100 dipping sonar, Electronic Support Measures (ESM) Radar Warning Receiver, Aircraft Survivability Suite, and capacity for two torpedoes.  When missionized, the aircraft can be configured with a dual station tactical console with full mission suite (ASW/ASuW), or when in utility configuration it can transport 22 troops or multiple medical litters.

The Block 2.0 configuration is currently finishing development and will begin mission system flight testing in the summer of 2017.  Key aspects of the Block 2.0 upgrade include an improved Mission Planning and Analysis System (MPAS), a AN/AAR-47(V)2 Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) Upgrade, Tactical Flight Plan (TFP) improvements, an upgraded weapons pylon, a ramp gun, miscellaneous avionics software updates, and Sea State 6 capability, among other things.

CR2.1 upgrades will be introduced at the field level at CFB Shearwater, and include upgraded mission computers for faster processing, a moving map upgrade, and Tactical Work Console upgrades consisting of larger touch screen displays and a soft keyboard.

 

INCORPORATING THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY

 

“These features are really a recognition that technology has advanced and for a relatively modest effort we're able to deliver new technology to the platform without a major re-integration process. We think it's a good time to do it because it sets us up to have the enablers for a very modern operator/machine interface,” said Baker.

Cyclone Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is expected in mid-2018 when the RCAF will begin to deploy Cyclone Helicopter Air Detachments aboard ships. Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is expected in late 2021 when all Cyclone's will be delivered and updated to the CR2.1 standard.

As CDR prepared this article, it became clear that the Cyclone program has encountered various unforeseen hurdles, some of which have taken years of complex engineering to resolve. It’s not necessary now to go into them in detail but, a brief explanation of some of the biggest issues and their resolution will shed light on the extreme complexity of the Cyclone program, why delays have occurred, and the resolve of Sikorsky and its partners to overcome those hurdles.

Two of the most significant technical challenges in the Cyclone program were the RAST (Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse) landing system and the aircraft straightening and deck traversing requirements, both of which are critical capabilities when executing maritime missions aboard a ship.

The RAST landing system which is typically used in bad weather and high sea states incorporates a probe attached to the belly of the aircraft which is guided to the deck of the ship via a haul down cable and eventually captured in a bear trap in the centre of the ship’s deck.  Basically, the system slowly reels the helicopter towards the deck (laterally and vertically) so that the probe can ultimately be secured in the jaws of the bear trap, thereby securing the aircraft to the ship’s deck.

“The aspect that we were unable to successfully demonstrate was for the probe to hold the aircraft to the deck tight enough where it would be stable with all that deck motion in high sea states, and not have any tire lift. We had to resolve that for obvious reasons - namely the potential of aircraft damage,” Falk told CDR.

“What we did was design a new probe that we call the Retractable RAST Probe. It looks very similar to the original probe, but the difference is that after you land and the probe is secured in the bear trap, the aircraft hydraulic system actuates a motor inside the RAST probe which retracts the probe and draws the aircraft closer to the deck. It cinches it down and holds it so there’s no tire lift.”

 

WORKING WITH CANADIAN COMPANIES

 

Indal Technologies Inc of Mississauga, Ontario is the company that manufactured the retractable RAST probe used during the recent sea trial testing. Sikorsky’s Falk explained, “One of the particularly problematic aspects of high-sea testing is you really only get one chance a year from January through March that the seas in the North Atlantic are high enough to do the testing. We pushed Indal really hard to work as fast as they could to generate prototypes and implement the design modifications - they did a fantastic job and we demonstrated that the new probe works this past winter in 20 foot seas, so it’s a huge accomplishment.”

When maritime helicopters land aboard a ship, they need to be straightened prior to being moved across the deck into the ship’s hangar, so the other significant technical challenge revolved around the process of straightening and traversing the aircraft on the ship’s deck. A system to accomplish this for Sea Kings exists aboard RCN ships and was designed for the Sea King’s landing gear configuration which has two forward landing gear mounts and a pivoting tail wheel.

The process involves using cables from the ship that attach to the nose of the aircraft that pull to straighten the helicopter. However, this system didn’t work well for the Cyclone which has a tricycle gear configuration with one nose landing gear in the front and two main landing gear towards the back. The forces required to straighten the Cyclone with the existing ship pulley system applied too much force to the nose tie-down rings so a different solution was required. 

After a joint Sikorsky and DND team analyzed multiple options, a final solution was selected which utilizes a Ground Support Equipment (GSE) tool that has an articulating arm that attaches to the Cyclone's nose gear and steers the aircraft. Maneuvered remotely by a ship crew member, the system helps turn the nose gear while the bear trap guides the helicopter into the hangar.

 

RETURNING TO FLIGHT STATUSDan Schultz

 

On 12 March, 2017, the Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division ordered a temporary pause of flight operations for the CH-148 Cyclone. The order was issued after a single Cyclone experienced a momentary change in the descent rate during a training flight on 9 March. That momentary change self-corrected and the pilot safely landed the aircraft. The aircraft involved, belongs to the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was operated by a RCAF crew.

As a safety precaution, a temporary flight operations pause was ordered while the RCAF, Director General Aerospace Equipment Program Management (DGAEPM) and Sikorsky conducted a comprehensive safety and technical review to determine the root cause of the incident.

At the time, eleven CH-148 Cyclones had been delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force, of which three are operated by the RCAF for the purposes of operational testing and evaluation – it was one of these aircraft that experienced the momentary change in the descent rate. The concern around this issue revolved around the caution / advisory lights that illuminated in the cockpit, those being:  Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS), and Primary Flight Control System (PFCS).  As noted previously, Cyclone is a full fly-by-wire aircraft and its Flight Control System is triple redundant, with each of the three flight control computers having two separate channels providing redundant control within each computer.

As it turned out, an initial failure led to a momentary lag while the system reset.

The FCC software where the root cause was isolated is common across all CH-148 aircraft, and Falk explained, “Given that we understand the root cause of the issue, we were able to define a safe operating envelope for the aircraft to resume flight operations. A software modification is in progress to eliminate the issue so we can return to the full CH-148 flight envelope. That software modification will be in place in Q4 2017 and prior to Block 2 deliveries.”

It’s obvious that no one foresaw such an event occurring, but the Cyclone is undergoing operational testing for precisely these reasons - to identify issues and rectify them before entering fleet service.

Sikorsky Flight Test aircraft resumed flights on 27 April, and the Canadian aircraft in Shearwater resumed flights on 16 May. Aircraft initially started flying with conservative flight limits as the investigation progressed, however now that the investigation is complete, there is a flight envelope in place that ensures safe aircraft operation while allowing Canada to progress training and Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E).  Sikorsky has also resumed production aircraft deliveries planned for this year.

 

CANADIAN COMPANIES SUPPLY ISS FOR CYCLONE

 

Cyclone’s In-Service Support (ISS) contract is a 25-year, $4.2 billion contract primed by Sikorsky, who formed a team which includes key partnerships with Canadian companies: General Dynamics Mission Systems - Canada (Ottawa, Ontario) providing Mission System life cycle support and training services; L-3 MAS (Montreal, Quebec) providing the support services information environment and warehouse management and Bluedrop Performance Learning delivering courseware and instructors.

“The ISS framework is a full service package which runs to approximately 2038. It's a performance-based construct where the contractor is responsible for virtually the entire spectrum of in-service support ranging from spare parts, supply chain management, engineering support across the breadth and depth of the program - not just to the helicopter itself, but support also to the schoolhouse, for example,” said DND’s Baker.

The ISS infrastructure and the Maritime Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC) is now in place at 12 Wing Shearwater.  Built by Sikorsky, the state-of-the-art MHTC, which was formally dedicated on 8 June as the “Fumerton and Bing Training Centre” has already trained over 300 students, including pilots, SENSOs, TACCOs, and maintainers.  Such is the capability of the schoolhouse, that the full-motion flight simulator can be linked to the mission system simulator so the entire crew can train together.

In addition, the MHTC's maintenance trainers and part-task trainers are so life-like in quality that there is virtually no need for students to train on actual aircraft. “It's an aggressive goal, and we're still working to that direction, but it's a huge leap forward in terms of how we train maintainers,” said Baker.

A Contractor Management Office has also been stood up in Ottawa to support the program.

“Equally as impressive as the maritime fighting capabilities of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter are the support facilities that ensure pilots and maintainers are trained to the highest standards,” explained Dan Schultz, Sikorsky President.

He explained, “The facilities that the Sikorsky and DND team have built will ensure that Cyclone squadron personnel, and the Canadian Navy ships they will operate from, will always stay at peak readiness levels. For this we have to thank our key Canadian team members, including General Dynamics Mission Systems Canada and L-3 MAS Canada, which have brought their innovative products and services to bear on this important program”.

 

TAKING IRB OBLIGATIONS SERIOUSLY

 

Schultz added, “At Sikorsky, we take seriously our Industrial and Regional Benefits obligations for the Cyclone program. We are working diligently to complete our contractual obligations that will collectively amount to billions of dollars pumped back into Canada’s economy. One small project with a big impact occurred in 2016 when we transferred a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter to the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. With the help of dedicated instructors, aboriginal students at the Saskatchewan Aviation Learning Centre will enter the workforce knowing how to inspect, maintain and repair a sophisticated twin-engine helicopter.”

As noted previously, five CH-148 Cyclone aircraft are currently being operated by RCAF at 12 Wing conducting operational test & evaluation and training with four additional aircraft to be delivered and in operation this year. The remaining aircraft are with Sikorsky for upgrade to the final configuration.

“This has been a very complex and challenging program, but we're pleased at where we are now. Sikorsky is in this program for the long-haul. We're very confident that the Cyclone will be an outstanding multi-mission helicopter for the Canadian Forces and we're looking forward to the deployment of the first HELAIRDETs,” said Sikorsky’s Falk.

Having listened closely to all parties involved as we prepared this report, we are sure that the Cyclone re-baseline effort was clearly the right decision as it preserves years of hard work by all parties involved. And, it’s also clear that Sikorsky has the determination and resolve to deliver a helicopter that will serve Canada well for decades to come. It will, no doubt, be the envy of Air Forces and Naval Air Arms around the world. 

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