The CH-149 Cormorant: The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Search and Rescue Helicopter


August 22, 2019 – Ottawa, Ontario – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

Canada has one of the world’s largest area of responsibility for search and rescue (SAR), covering 18 million square kilometres of land and water with more than 243,800 kilometres of coastline connecting three oceans. The challenges associated with such an enormous area are compounded by the varied and often austere terrain, mountainous regions, extreme weather conditions and low population density that characterize many parts of the country, making Canada one of the most difficult environments in which to conduct SAR.

A SAR helicopter for Canadians

That unique Canadian reality has resulted in a set of robust operational requirements for SAR aircraft to allow the best chance of survival for Canadians in distress, while ensuring the safety of our SAR crews. We require a capability that can operate in ocean and Arctic environments alike, in forested areas, or in the high altitudes of the Rockies. We also require a helicopter that has the range and speed to cover vast distances, and can fly and hover in the most challenging weather conditions.

These requirements are based on decades of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) experience in SAR missions and continuous research and analysis efforts. They are also regularly validated by the 1,000 SAR missions flown on average every year by the RCAF.

The CH-149 Cormorant was selected as the RCAF’s primary all-weather helicopter dedicated to SAR after demonstrating it could meet all these requirements. Since entering service in 2001, the CH-149 has proven to be an excellent asset for the RCAF, providing a long-range, all-weather rotary-wing SAR capability.

The Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade (CMLU) project: modernizing and growing the CH-149 fleet

As with any fleet approaching the middle of its service life, upgrades are required to modernize and optimize the Cormorant fleet to ensure it remains a relevant SAR asset and complies with new and emerging flying regulations.

Capability enhancements and equipment improvements will also be implemented to improve service to Canadians and meet the operational availability requirements to support the national 24/7 SAR service to 2042 and beyond.

Upgrades and enhancements will include:

  • Upgrades to navigation systems, communication systems, and flight recorder systems to comply with new Canadian, United States, and European airspace regulatory requirements;
  • Improved sensor capability and in-cabin wireless communications;
  • New avionics suite including navigation, flight management, communications and safety systems in order to address obsolescence and meet current and pending regulatory requirements;
  • Upgrade to the AW101-612 design, including airframes, to capitalize on AW101 family upgrades and improve parts availability for maintenance;
  • The addition of at least two helicopters to the fleet for a total of 16 minimum (from 14); and
  • The acquisition of improved training solutions.

Through the Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) policy, the CMLU project will maximize jobs and economic opportunities for Canadian industry. A central part of the ITB policy is the value proposition which will motivate investments that sustain and grow several of Canada’s key industrial capabilities (KICs), including in-service support, training and simulation, aerospace systems and components, electro-optic/infra-red (EO/IR) systems and Defence systems integration.

The CMLU project is currently in its definition phase. Implementation is planned for 2020, and the delivery of the first upgraded Cormorant expected in 2022.

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