Norwegian SAR helicopter draws Canadian interest

Speaking following the aircraft tour, Terry Wood, director general of major procurements air and land at the Canadian Department of National Defence, said it had yet to define the exact requirements for the upgrade programme, but will be led by the needs of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

"We are very much interested in what Norway has done. There are a number of important design changes over our configuration," he says.

He notes the addition of Leonardo's "more powerful" Osprey active electronically scanned array radar, modernised cockpit and improved winch.

"Those are the key aspects that the operational community are interested in," he says.

However, Wood cautions that with cost an important consideration, the department will have to evaluate the benefits of certain upgrades, versus the number of airframes it can field.

Although Canada has previously indicated that it hopes to operate "up to 21 airframes", Wood says that figure is "still up for consideration".

"If the [improved] engines and avionics prove more reliable it could be that we sacrifice an airframe or two for additional capabilities."

In addition to its 14-strong in-service fleet of Cormorants, Ottawa previously acquired nine surplus aircraft from the USA following the cancellation of the VH-71 presidential helicopter programme.

A number of the VH-71s are likely to be brought back into operational use as part of the mid-life upgrade programme, with the goal of delivering a "common fleet" with identical equipment and mission systems.

Leonardo was selected earlier this year to perform the modernisation work.

The company believes that the helicopters for the Royal Norwegian Air Force – four of which have so far been delivered – can form a "basic standard" from which it can "springboard", says Sean McElliott, senior product marketing manager for specialised aircraft.

He identifies Portugal as a likely future customer for a similar mid-life upgrade on its AW101 fleet, as well as potential export sales opportunities for "long-range SAR".

Norway damaged one of its four AW101s in a ground accident earlier this year after the aircraft rolled onto its side. Leonardo will recover that example to its Yeovil factory for repair, says McElliott.

Other modifications to the Norwegian aircraft include upgrades to the automatic flight control system, the addition of Leonardo's rotor hub-mounted obstacle proximity lidar system and the integration of a Smith Myers mobile phone detection unit.

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