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


December, 22, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces


Canada has one of the world’s largest areas of responsibility for search and rescue (SAR) operations, with a territory covering 18 million square kilometres of land and water, and more than 243,000 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 operations.

A SAR helicopter for Canadians

The 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 air crews. Canadian Armed Forces’ SAR technicians require a capability that can operate in ocean and Arctic environments, in forested areas, or in the high altitudes of the Rockies. We 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 on SAR operations, as well as continuous research and analysis efforts. They are also regularly validated during more than 1,000 SAR missions flown on average every year by the RCAF.

The CH-149 Cormorant helicopter has been the RCAF’s primary all-weather helicopter dedicated to SAR since 2001, after demonstrating it could meet all of the requirements and face the challenges of the harsh Canadian environment. Since entering service the CH-149 has proven to be an excellent asset for the RCAF, providing an effective 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 flight regulations.

Under the CMLU project, capability enhancements and equipment improvements will be implemented to improve service to Canadians and meet the operational availability requirements to support the national 24/7 SAR service.

Upgrades and enhancements to the fleet will include:

·        Upgrades to navigation, communication, flight management, flight recorder, and safety systems to comply with new Canadian, United States, and European airspace regulatory requirements, and to address obsolescence;

·        Improved sensor capability and in-cabin wireless communications;

·        Upgrade to the most advanced version of the helicopter, the AW101 612; the same model Norway has recently procured to conduct its rotary-wing SAR missions, to capitalize on upgrades and improve parts availability for maintenance.

·        The addition of three helicopters to the fleet for a total of 16 ensuring these helicopters can continue to perform SAR operations from Comox, B.-C., Gander, N.L, Greenwood, N.S, and adding SAR capacity from Trenton, Ont. and,

·        The acquisition of improved training solutions including a flight simulator that will be located in Canada.

Through Canada’s Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy, the CMLU project will leverage jobs and economic opportunities for Canadian industry. A central part of the ITB policy is the Value Proposition which will motivate industrial activities that sustain and grow several of Canada’s Key Industrial Capabilities (KICs), including defence system integration, training and simulation, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) systems, and aerospace systems and components.

Delivery of these upgrades and training systems are expected to begin in 2026, and are anticipated to be fully operational in 2029.

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