Monday, June 23, 2014

Helicopters and Cons

This is ludicrous. Canada's Seaking replacement is the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone. This is a militarised version of the civilian S-92 helicopter. Two S-92 helicopters, one in Australia and one in Canada, have crashed due to the loss of oil in the main gearbox. The Canadian crash killed 17 oil rig workers and crew.
Now, CBC News has learned the details of what the government has agreed to forego in order to conclude a long-awaited new deal with Sikorsky, and it includes a formerly mandatory safety measure: a 30-minute run-dry standard for its main gear box.
The importance of the ability to fly for 30 minutes after a loss of lubrication in the main gear box was reinforced by an investigation into a deadly 2009 crash of a Sikorsky-built helicopter.
The gearbox is a kind of linkage between the helicopters engines and its rotor system. It's packed with lubricating oil that cools the gears and keeps power flowing to the rotors. If a helicopter loses oil in its main gearbox, the system will get too hot and either seize up or otherwise fail. That would lead to a loss of power in the rotor, forcing a helicopter from the sky.
A helicopter that meets the run-dry standard can continue flying for 30 minutes even if there's no oil in the main gear box — a critical feature for helicopters flying hundreds of kilometres out to sea.

As a result, the Transportation Safety Board recommended revisiting the 30 minute gearbox run-dry requirement that this model of helicopter was exempted from under an "extremely remote" chance provision in the regulations because the chances are apparently somewhat less than extremely remote.

I suspect that if the CH-148 has been exempted from this requirement this late in the game, it probably has not been able to demonstrate that it can meet it and likely won't ever. I wonder what the paperwork looks like around that toxic nugget!

A few things to keep in mind. First, naval helicopters fly from ships that may be sailing thousands (not hundreds) of kilometres from shore. If a helicopter gets in trouble, it could be a long way from its ship, the sea conditions could be bad, it could be a combat situation, and so on, any of which makes a timely rescue difficult to impossible. Second, military aircraft, unlike civilian ones, are regularly flown right to the edge of their performance envelope (and sometimes beyond), placing additional stress on airframe components. It doesn't take an engineer to tell you that this both increases the likelihood of failure and the need for robust safety systems and criteria. 

There's no excuse for this. Like the single engine F-35, it isn't a question of if crashes will happen, but when. I hope the Cons aren't using the near 50% loss rate (incl. 37 deaths) of their ancestral (Diefenbaker) government's purchase CF-104s as an acceptibility benchmark.

It's cowardice and utterly criminal not to cancel a program that fails to meet safety standards set by fatal experience. Aircrew will pay with their lives for the Cons inability to eat their error. Should we be surprised? People, workers, military members, it doesn't matter: everyone is expendable to them if it is politically expedient.

Collective sociopathy, if there is such a thing. He's a little off, but this guy has a point.


Alison said...

So the original 2004 deal called for this to get fixed but in the interim 9 years Sikorsky hasn't come up with one.

I was curious how long the S-92 could fly for following loss of lubricant.
"During the S-92 helicopter's initial certification testing, it ran for approximately 11 minutes following a complete loss of lubricant from the main gearbox."
11 minutes.

Is there some reason, aside from being billions into this to date, why Canada can't buy an already proven helicopter?

Dave said...

You mean like ... the Merlin?

theo said...

Sure, in regards to why we can’t buy a proven airframe, here is a word: it is called “Treason” and it is done to enrich individuals at the expense of the state.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why military professionals like the Cons after being kicked in the nads by them so often.

theo said...

ps. I would really like to see some forensic accounting of our upper military.

Alison said...

Here ya go, Theo - government’s newly-released Defence Acquisition Guide :

"The more than 200 projects aren’t prioritized, the cost estimates are vague, and the government probably can’t pay for most of them anytime soon, they say. The government also readily admits that anything in the guide can be changed or dropped at anytime."

Ok perhaps not quite forensic

Of note in the Embassy article :
"The guide’s timeline shows the government does not plan to enter the first stage of the [CF-18 fighter jets] process until between 2015 and 2017, and doesn’t plan to award a contract until between 2018 and 2020."

Also :
"National Defence has failed to spend more than 75 per cent of its capital budget for four consecutive years, yet is projecting to spend $4.7 billion on capital this year, $900 million more than it ever has before, according to the report."

MgS said...

I'm not disagreeing with the requirement, but are _any_ helicopters known to meet the 30 minutes without oil in the transmission requirement?

Boris said...

MgS, yes. Here's one that does 50 minutes of run-dry:

The, ahem, sigh, proven, operational, existing, flying, all that is, Merlin can do 30 min.

So it isn't an engineering challenge for at least some manufacturers.

The Mound of Sound said...

Boris, the mind reels, it truly does. What is it about defence acquisitions and Conservatives?

MacKay paying Irving $288-million to design an Arctic patrol boat based on designs we already bought from the Norwegians for $5-million.