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Aerial SAR – CH-149 Cormorant Spare Parts & Maintenance – February 2012

From  Prestige Purchase  to 'Hangar Queens' — US Presidential
VH-71 Helicopters Shipped North as CH-149 Cormorant Spares

Sometimes the puzzling thing about Canadian Forces and  DND-related news is not so much its content as its sources. The saga of  Canada's purchase of ex-US  Presidential helicopters, the VH-71 (aka US-101) is such a case. The sale of this EH-101 variant was prompted by a desparate need for spares for the CH-149 Cormorant SAR fleet. Yet the news was broken by foreign aviation press. The transfer of  the future 'hangar queens' to CH-149 maintenance support contractor, IMP, did not generate a ripple in the media.

That transfer occured back in Sept 2011 when a New Jersey-based  transport specialist firm, HW Farren Company, arranged shipment of the nine VH-71 airframes from Owego NY  (home of  VH-71 contractor, Lockheed Martin  Systems Integration ) and  Patuxent Naval Air Station, Maryland, up to the IMP Aerospace facility  in Enfield, Nova Scotia.

DND makes no public mention of the arrival of the VH-71s in Canada. Neither does the most recent issues of IMPrint, IMP Aerospace house organ. And Lockheed Martin, it seems, would rather never hear of the VH-71 ever again now they are finally shed of  it.

The only trace of  this odd tale is that  NJ transport company, HW Farren. Their  news release gives a fairly detailed report of the move itself. It's worth a read but reproduced below is a rather harshly edited version to highlight the elements relevant to Canadian readers. What is revealed is that the nine aircraft were shipped in two blocks. The four airframes coming  from  LMSI  were partly dismantled  for the  road trip to Nova Scotia. For some reason, the five VH-71 from  Pax River couldn't  be dismantled and  had to be shipped first  by sea to Halifax before being trucked  to IMP aboard specially-modified trailers. This job was completed on 12 Sept 2011 but  planning had  begun in Nov 2010.

Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to the HW Farren Company. Not only did  this firm get the task accomplished "with zero incidents",  they were also the only public news source reporting on this delivery. [1] Why is that?  Neither DND nor Canadian Forces are too keen on the notion of  'used' equipment (although the VH-71s are all but brand new). IMP's IMPrint reports on their CH-149 Cormorant Aircraft Sampling Inspection program and Sea King Avionic Support.  But nary a word about nine 15-t  helicopters!

The real issue here is the 'open government' that Canadians were promised. If citizens are not kept informed. If the information citizens require to make informed judgements is withheld, then we become a nation of  boosters and cynics. As an institution, DND has always come off as paranoid and hostile to the citizenry. We trust the same is not becoming true of the governing Conservative Party. There's a simple way to dissuade us. Shine a light into some of  the traditionally gloomy corners of the GoC ... like DND.

As for the VH-71s, they did get one mention in the mainstream press when a question was asked by a member of the Official Opposition. Jack Harris, the NDP defence critic, wanted to know why some of these VH-71s couldn't bolster the ranks of CH-149s and fly search-and-rescue missions.  DND's response was typically bureaucratic. In effect, the VH-71s weren't perfect. The question deserved a better answer. There may well be solid reasons why the VH-71 would be a poor choice for SAR but 'it wouldn't be easy' sounds lame coming from a crowd who always complain about being short of aircraft!

[1] Reader George Keats alerted us to a Vertical magazine article, VH-71s for Canadian Service? by Ken Pole published 30 Jan 2012.  Apparently, AgustaWestland advocates restoring seven of the VH-71 airframes to active RCAF service to fly SAR.  'CH-149B' ?

H.W. Farren Ships Nine VH-71 Helicopters to the Department of  National Defense

September 12, 2011

On Sunday, September 12th 2011, the H.W. Farren Company completed the transport- ation of nine VH-71 US-101/EH-101 helicopters to the Department of National Defence in care of  IMP Aerospace,  Enfield, Nova Scotia, Canada. [ HW Farren ] designed and fabricated special wheel cradles that would safely and efficiently transport the aircraft
... These cradles were tested to a weight over 40,000 pounds [18,000 kg] a safety factor in which we design fabricate our equipment [to] twice the weight of the full up aircraft.

[ HW Farren ] were tasked with not only moving the nine aircraft but also numerous parts and support equipment loads from Owego, NY and Patuxent Naval Air Station, MD to Enfield, NS... Philip Antonucci and Glenn Wargo met with Lockheed Martin Systems Integration people numerous times to plan the transport of the entire project.

[The first four VH-71 were broken down for transport] from Owego to Enfield. The last five could not  be disassembled and  were loaded on a barge, transported to Baltimore, off-loaded, placed on an ACL [Atlantic Container Line]  RORO Vessel for transport to Halifax,  then re-loaded onto barges  for transport  to Canadian Forces Depot Bedford.

These [ last five VH-71 ] aircraft stood 20' [6.10 m] high on the trailer, 15' [4.57 m] wide, with 26' [7.92 m] of  rear overhang off  of our specially-modified aircraft  transportation trailer... On [12 Sept 2011] we transported the final aircraft... [completing] the mission ... with zero incidents. This was to the satisfaction of IMP Aerospace, DND Canada, and Lockheed Martin Systems Integration.

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