Newspaper article The Canadian Press

New Cyclone Chopper Technical Concerns Potential "Show Stopper" Sources

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

New Cyclone Chopper Technical Concerns Potential "Show Stopper" Sources

Article excerpt

Cyclones susceptible to interference?


OTTAWA - Canadian air force engineers and flight-certification officials are grappling with serious concerns related to the electronics aboard the CH-148 Cyclone helicopters that are supposed to replace the geriatric Sea Kings.

That's the word from defence sources with intimate knowledge of the troubled program.

The federal government has refused to accept four test helicopters, currently parked at the Canadian Forces facility in Shearwater, N.S., on the basis they are "non-compliant" -- and most of the public explanation has related to software issues.

But the sources say there's concern that delicate flight systems, including a computer that runs the engines, are not sufficiently shielded against powerful electromagnetic waves, such as those produced by military-grade radar on frigates.

The interference has the potential of blanking out the digital instruments and possibly shutting down the engines.

The directorate of air worthiness at National Defence issued a restricted flight certificate in July and imposed restrictions on the helicopter's operations specifically because of so-called E-3 concerns -- electromagnetic compatibility, electromagnetic vulnerability and electromagnetic interference.

"Each of them are potential show-stoppers," said one source, who asked for anonymity.

"The vulnerability depends on the frequency and the strength of the signal. You have the potential of losing your instruments and not knowing where you are, and having to take visual cues from outside your aircraft to get down safely."

The Cyclone, meant to replace 50-year-old CH-124 Sea Kings, was cleared to fly within sight of the ground only during daylight hours as part of a long-delayed flight test program that was to have been carried out last month in Nova Scotia.

It also cannot fly over water because of separate, unresolved concerns about the flotation system.

The Conservative government signalled last week it is examining "other" options to the Sikorsky-built helicopter, which is five years behind schedule and overbudget.

Debate within the military test community has revolved around whether the electromagnetic issue is a fatal blow to the program, since the Cyclone's design was based on a less-rugged civilian variant.

"The aircraft was not designed from the ground up with this kind of shielding in mind," said the source. "Military aircraft, the skin of military aircraft, are sometimes embedded with a fine copper screen or mesh to prevent the intrusion of electromagnetic interference."

There are potential fixes, according to several defence sources.

One solution could involve retroactively installing screens around sensitive electronics, but that could add as much as 136 kilograms to the weight of the helicopter. That worries engineers who have long been concerned whether the Cyclone's engine is powerful enough to comfortably lift its existing weight. …

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