Landlubber gets sea legs during Cyclone flight trials

Sgt Don Harvie poses with the Cyclone helicopter on board HMCS Montréal.
Sgt Don Harvie poses with the Cyclone helicopter on board HMCS Montréal. Photo: ADM(Mat)

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By Sgt Don Harvie, Quality Assurance Representative NDQAR Enfield

From January to March this year, I participated in the Ship-Borne Operating Limits (SHOL) trials aboard HMCS Montréal. The trials are designed to gather flight envelope information (capabilities in terms of airspeed and load factor or altitude) for the new Cyclone helicopter, which will replace the venerable Sea King, due to retire in 2018.

On board, my role as a Quality Assurance Representative (QAR) was to provide quality oversight under the care of Sikorsky civilian technicians. My duties included monitoring routine maintenance activities and critical junctions, holding point inspections, and releasing the helicopter for flight. Most days, I attended pre-flight briefs with the crew. We planned the mission objectives, and reviewed previously collected flight data with an eye out for potential risks.

Our ‘Motley Crew’ of new sailors consisted of civilian maintainers and engineers, as well as Sikorsky and Canadian Armed Forces test pilots. Oceanographers from the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, an air detachment from 12 Wing Shearwater, and I rounded out the team. Together with the ship’s company, we set sail in search of high winds and waves off the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

The purpose behind our storm chasing was to evaluate the performance of the Cyclone helicopter during high winds and heavy sea states. We quickly found some nasty weather, eventually reaching seas as high as Sea State 9 (near hurricane force). The ship took a pounding, some crew members got sea sick, and some were injured – one seriously enough to require a medevac.

There was a lot of excitement on board when a Cormorant helicopter from 103 Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron from Gander arrived in the dead of night. Watching two SAR Techs rappelling down onto the deck to hoist the injured crewman up to the hovering helicopter brought back memories of my years posted to 424 and 442 SAR Squadrons.

Seeing an immense wall of water swelling up over the horizon was both awe-inspiring and frightening. We all had to hold on to something solid as wave after wave struck the ship, while another chorus of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” played in my head.

The rough weather also took its toll on the ship, which required some emergency welding while in port in St. John’s. Once the ship and crew were pronounced seaworthy, we set sail again to reacquaint ourselves with the worst Mother Nature had to offer.

This year’s SHOL trials were highly successful for the future operation of the Cyclone aircraft. Sikorsky and the NRC will be analyzing the data to assist in establishing the “safe at sea” operating parameters of the new Cyclone helicopter.

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  • Sgt Don Harvie poses with the Cyclone helicopter on board HMCS Montréal.
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