RCAF says goodbye to the Sea King rescue helicopter

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has officially retired its ageing fleet of Sea King helicopters, and is ushering in a new era of combat and SAR helicopter with the introduction of the CH-148 Cyclone

Recognising past contributions

The CH-124 Sea King was a ship-borne maritime helicopter with unique capabilities. The aircraft’s compact design, with a fold-up rotor and tail, meant it fitted on even the smallest warship’s deck, while its amphibious hull enabled it to perform emergency water landings. Powered by two turboshaft engines and equipped with subsurface acoustic detection equipment and homing torpedoes, the Sea King lifted off from destroyers and frigates to locate and destroy submarines.

Capable of flying day or night, the CH-124 was a versatile surveillance aircraft. Although originally procured for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in 1963, it expanded its role to include:

  • SAR operations
  • Disaster relief
  • Counter-narcotic operations
  • Fisheries and pollution patrols.

The helicopter also played a vital role in international peacekeeping operations. It was heavily committed to the international campaign against terrorism, conducting hundreds of missions to transport troops and locate suspicious vessels.

CH148 Cyclone – the new generation

The CH-148 Cyclone is replacing the CH-124 Sea King as Canada’s main ship-borne maritime helicopter, providing air support to the Royal Canadian Navy. The Cyclone will serve a number of key roles and participate in a variety of activities. It will conduct surface and subsurface surveillance and control, utility and SAR missions, and provide tactical transport for national and international security efforts. This twin-engine helicopter is compatible with the latest high-tech naval frigates and includes several new safety features. Its aluminium and composite airframe, for example, is built with lightning-strike and high-intensity radio frequency pulse protection. The aircraft also incorporates flaw tolerance and engine burst containment. The Cyclone can conduct its operations day and night and in most weather conditions. It is approximately 10-per-cent faster than a Sea King.

The Canadian Government approved initial operational capability of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter in June 2018. Sikorsky and Canada’s Department of National Defence have designed, built and configured the CH-148 Cyclone for ASW, anti-surface warfare (ASuW), maritime SAR, overland operations and utility missions. As Canada’s first true intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) helicopter, the fly-by-wire Cyclone is equipped with a fully integrated mission system, modern sensors and a multi-mission cabin.

Entry into service with the Royal Canadian Air Force occurred in mid-2018 aboard one of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigates. By 2021, with delivery of all 28 Cyclone helicopters in full mission configuration, the RCAF’s 12 Wing will base the aircraft at Shearwater, Nova Scotia, and Patricia Bay, British Columbia.

Key features:

Fully integrated mission systems and sensors, featuring multi-mode radar, HELRAS dipping sonar, ESM/radar warning receiver, aircraft survivability suite, dual torpedoes.

Dual-station tactical console with ASW/ASuW full mission suite; or 22 passengers (utility configuration), or multiple medical litters.

Fly-by-wire controls enable exceptional handling qualities, folding tail and main rotors, C-RAST deck handling system demonstrated to Sea State 6, CT7-8A7 marinised engines, shipboard maintainable, helicopter in-flight refuelling.

Maximum takeoff weight: 29,300 lb (13.3 t); designed to lift 7,000 pounds on the cargo hook.

Significant increase in useable cabin space, mission performance and speed compared to the CH-124 Sea King.


Wing Commander (retired) Ian Lightbody, former commander of 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, commented on the retirement of the Sea King, and its value to the RCAF as its role changed over the years

Originally delivered in August 1963 to then Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Shearwater, just outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Sea King finished its service to Canada at the end of 2018 in Patricia Bay, just outside Victoria, British Columbia. During its 55 years of employment in Canada, the Sea King has been used by multiple services, and has changed significantly from its initial 1963 configuration. Originally procured by the Royal Canadian Navy to operate from aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure in anti-ASW roles, it was on the leading edge of rotary wing technology at the time, with two turbine engines and the then-revolutionary capability to automatically transition to a hover with the push of a button. This allowed a great leap in night and all-weather operations, permitting anti-submarine searches with an active dipping sonar. Additionally, the automatic transition equipment permitted SAR operations in bad weather.

The end of the Cold War saw the Sea King change with the times. After the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, the Sea King was modified from an obsolete ASW platform to a multi-mission helicopter specialising in surface surveillance and control. The addition of a forward-looking infrared sensor, a door-mounted machine gun and infrared anti-missile defences opened the door to expanding its presence in roles that weren’t emphasised during the Cold War.

A decade later, the Sea King reached a new peak of deployed operational activity after the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001. In 2010-11, for example, the Sea King was deployed in combat operations off Libya, humanitarian relief operations in Newfoundland and after the Haiti earthquake, and domestic security operations during the Olympics and the Toronto G7/G20, where the Sea King performed air intercept operations.

While there is no doubt that the Sea King’s retirement was long overdue, it was a bittersweet moment for many. The East Coast ceased Sea King operations early in 2018; in August, the Shearwater Aviation Museum inducted two Sea Kings into its inventory, one in the original RCN configuration and one in the final configuration.