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Sea Kings go out in style

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December 2, 2018 2:52 pm

Updated: December 2, 2018 2:55 pm

Goodbye Sea King, hello Cyclone: workhorse of RCAF retires after 55 years of service

kristen-robinson.jpg?quality=60&strip=al By Kristen Robinson Reporter / Producer  Global News   Story Link with Video

After 55 years as the workhorse of the Canadian military, the Sea King helicopter is officially being retired in Victoria with two days of celebrations including a parade and fly past salute. Kristen Robinson reports.


After more than 55 years of service, the Sea King went out in style.

Two days of retirement festivities for the helicopter known as the workhorse of the Royal Canadian Air Force included a military parade and ceremonial flypast at its home base, 443 Squadron in Patricia Bay near Victoria.

Captain Don Leblanc said he’ll never forget his first flight in one of the machines more than three decades ago.

“It was nerve wracking but also exciting, especially when you do your first touchdown and everything is good,” the 33-year Sea King pilot told Global News.

READ MORE: Push to have B.C. highway memorialized in honour of 2 fallen Sea King pilots

During its five-plus decades in action, the Sea King fleet racked up some 550-thousand flying hours.

“At a hundred knots an hour, that’s the equivalent to 7,200 laps around the globe,” said Royal Canadian Air Force Commander Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger.

The first search and rescue Sea Kings arrived at Shearwater, Nova Scotia on Aug. 1, 1963, and were expected to serve primarily as submarine hunters in an effort to deter the former Soviet Union from violating Canadian sovereignty.

The venerable choppers were initially placed on aircraft carriers but when the large warships were scrapped in the 1970s, the Sea King was modified to land on smaller, less stable warships during the most adverse conditions.

READ MORE: HMCS St. John’s, Sea King return to Halifax port after overseas mission

“If anything the Canadian Armed Forces have shown how to fight with helicopters from the back of small naval ships and to do so in absolutely appalling weather anywhere around the world,” said Frans Jurgens of Sikorsky Aircraft, the Sea King manufacturer.

“It’s been a good machine,” recalled Sea King pilot Captain Troy Maa.

“It did everything that we needed it to do.”

“If you have a job to do then you call us and then if we can’t do it, then nobody can, because the Sea King is so versatile. She will do it all,” added Leblanc.

READ MORE: Sea King helicopters finally ready for full retirement on Canada’s East Coast

In its later years, the aging aircraft experienced mechanical problems that led to forced landings and crashes. In February 2003, a Sea King crashed on the deck of warship HMCS Iroquois – and in November 2012, another made an emergency landing in the middle of a Halifax business park.

Ten Canadian air crew members died in crashes or mishaps while operating Sea Kings over the past 55 years.

The mission to replace the Sea Kings with Sikorsky Cyclones has been plagued with delays and cost overruns. The new fleet is expected to be fully operational by 2021 – and Jurgens told Global News the Cyclone will be a “quantum leap in capabilities.”

The Sea Kings at 423 Squadron(12 Wing Shearwater) on the east coast were retired in January 2018. The Sea Kings at Patricia Bay will remain in operation until the end of the year as crews from 443 Squadron are trained to fly the new Cyclone.

An RCAF CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter technician engages in a hoist exercise in Halifax on Friday, July 13, 2018.


“It’s going to be bittersweet for sure,” said Maa.

The Royal Canadian Air Force invited former military members to join current pilots like Maa and Leblanc for Sea King retirement celebrations on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2018.

READ MORE: Sonar snafu a challenge for Canada’s new navy helicopters

For Leblanc, saluting the Sea King is like saying farewell to an old friend. The veteran pilot said he will also be calling it a career after his last flight later this month.

“I’m retiring my wings with the aircraft, a bit of an homage and respect that the old girl always brought me home. So it’ll be a bittersweet moment. It’ll be very emotional, there’s no doubt about it.”

With files from Canadian Press

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At one time my half brother held the record for emergency single engine landings on  HMCS night, with the mighty Sea King.

I flew in to see him  for a couple of days (I had a student on a cross country trainer), and he took me on a "famil" flight  over Oak Island and then back to Shearwater for auto rotations....arrggghhh.

Not much faith in an aircraft where the "wings" spend 50% of the time going backwards. 5150.gif

  • Haha 1

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Nine years, 2000 hrs, five NATO deployments and lots of this:

A great first tour (or 3) that makes all other aspects of flying fall obediently into place. Kip, if I'm not mistaken, your brother was doing a refresher on my OTU in 1981 and I think his record still stands. There have been a few engine mods and upgrades since then.... some as a result of his adventures. Full Power Both!

Edited by Wolfhunter

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New mission On 1 Dec 18, your @CanadianForces #SAR team from @RCAF_ARC #103Sqn conducted a #medevac from a 250 ft fishing vessel located about 200 nautical miles off the St. John’s N.L. coast. Crazy 4-5 meter swells

Crews rescue ailing mariner from Portuguese trawler off Newfoundland


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It’s about time they parked those Sea Kings. A buddy of mine used to fly them and from some of his stories I think you had to be very brave to get in those old machines. 

Also, not sure who would know how to fix them today as other work is now getting farmed out.

Edited by blues deville

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32 minutes ago, Kip Powick said:

Using a CH 149 Cormorant





Nice looking but what a history this replacment had with our so called leaders calling the shots.

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My brother was the Canadian President for Aerospatiale and had a bid in for a replacement helo....and as a result I got a few flights in the AS 365 Dauphin while he was trying to get the CDN Government to buy it.

Grudgingly I must admit it was easy to fly, especially with the CC like any jet fighter....They did not get the nod..... He was seconded back to the USA to work the USA Aerospatiale.

ZJ780 8490634574 (cropped).jpg

Back in the old days I did two trips while in Cold Lake with a twin Huey and discovered that Alberta wasn't big enough for me to hover in one spot...

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