One of Canada's new CH-148 Cyclone helicopters had to be winched off a ship after a small piece tore off while it was being parked — an unexpected problem that sent engineers back to the drawing board.
Access to information documents say a metal ring on the helicopter's nose snapped as crews tried to get it lined up for a tow into a hangar originally designed to hold the vintage Sea King helicopters that are being phased out.
The incident — which wasn't noted in any news release — occurred during testing last year before the former Conservative government announced on June 19 it had accepted ownership of the choppers.
The 28 Cyclones have faced repeated development delays since being ordered in 2004 and are not expected to be fully operational on both the East and West Coasts until 2021.
'Testing' docking procedures
Brig.-Gen. Paul Ormsby, director general of the helicopter program, says tests are being carried out to ensure docking the choppers goes more smoothly.
"Sikorsky has designed several options for us and as we speak they are right now, at sea, they ... are testing those designs," he said in an interview on Friday.
At the time of the incident, an email from the wing commander of a Halifax air base said deck crews straighten the Cyclones with winches and lines attached to either side of its nose to get the large machines ready to be towed into the frigate's hangar.
In a memo last April, a senior officer working on the project said Sikorsky hadn't yet met contract requirements on the deck handling process.
However, Ormsby said the firm eventually achieved the standards Ottawa was seeking for the parking system.
The helicopter was owned by Sikorsky at the time, and a spokesman for the company says the firm took the decision not to fly the aircraft as a precaution and the issue was rapidly repaired.
Paul Jackson, a spokesman for the U.S.-based firm, said Sikorsky has developed a new approach.
"A new procedure was developed that makes aircraft straightening easier within the time specified in the contract," he wrote in an email.
In a followup email, the military said Sikorsky is testing two hydraulically powered mechanisms that connect directly to the helicopter's nose wheel and allow crew "a remotely controlled, power steering capability" as the chopper is brought into line.
The deck incident on March 12 was among numerous issues noted in the access to information documents leading up to the former Conservative government's acceptance of the helicopter.
Lifespan of parts
Documents prepared at the end of 2014 also say the first generation of the military helicopters, known as Block 1 versions, would have 64 restrictions on their initial capabilities, ranging from prohibitions on flying over rough seas, limits on ship borne operations and altitude restrictions on automated flying systems.
It also said the helicopters would have a lifespan of 200 hours before some parts had to be changed out.
Ormsby said since the original document, the operation of the first helicopters — which are primarily being used for testing — has been increased to 500 hours before some components need to be switched.
"It's a developmental project. What that means is we're introducing the capability in blocks, or phases, over time," he said.
Asked why the incident on board the frigate wasn't reported publicly, he said many steps in the process involve setbacks and workarounds.
"There are a lot of things that will occur in terms of discoveries, many of them positive as well. We don't always report those," he said.