Saturday, April 18, 2009

Run-dry Cyclones?

Well, it is in that very flawed contract with Sikorsky. Pity it took a fatal crash to draw attention to the matter:
Choppers must meet new rules, says MacKay
Run-dry specs follow N.L. crash

Ottawa won’t accept a helicopter ordered for the Canadian military unless the chopper meets specifications that require it to fly if the main gearbox loses all oil pressure, Peter MacKay insisted Friday.

The defence minister said the 28 Cyclone MH-92 helicopters being manufactured by Sikorsky in a multibillion-dollar contract will have to have a so-called run-dry capability.

"I assure you that there will be rigorous testing, there will rigorous examination of that helicopter before we take possession of it and it will meet the specifications that we submit to them," MacKay said at a funding announcement in Halifax.

"We won’t accept a helicopter that isn’t safe to fly."

The technology in question allows a helicopter to fly for 30 minutes after the flight crew becomes aware of a lubrication system failure or loss of lubricant, according to regulations set out by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Questions have arisen in recent weeks over the new military helicopters after a similar chopper went down off Newfoundland last month, killing 17 people on board.

The Sikorsky S-92, a civilian version of the aircraft Ottawa is planning to buy, was carrying workers to oil platforms off the coast

The S-92 does not have run-dry capability.

The crew had cited a loss of oil pressure moments before the helicopter plunged into the water at a rapid speed.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found that two out of three mounting studs on the main gearbox broke in flight, leading to a complete loss of oil pressure.

The helicopter involved in the Newfoundland crash was certified under an exemption that states the aircraft doesn’t need run-dry capability if such lubrication failures are considered "extremely remote."

The FAA’s European equivalent also certified the Sikorsky S-92 under that provision.

A Sikorsky spokesman has said the company is working on a design that would allow the military version of the aircraft to handle a loss of oil pressure in the gearbox, but hasn’t said explicitly that it will have the 30-minute run-dry capability.

A Defence spokeswoman said the run-dry capability is clearly spelled out in the government contract [emphasis added]. She also confirmed the manufacturer is working to fulfil the specific gearbox and lubrication requirements.

"Sikorsky has undertaken considerable work to define how to best meet this requirement and the final gearbox design will be completed and tested against the contract requirements before acceptance and delivery of the helicopter," Lianne LeBel said in a recent email.

The MH-92 helicopters on order, which will replace the military’s geriatric fleet of Sea Kings, are already years overdue and not expected to be delivered until 2012 [actually the first are still supposed to be delivered in 2010 but won't be "full capable" until 2012]. But it’s not clear whether the gearbox upgrade could lead to further delays.

MacKay said officials will consider findings from the TSB investigation that affect the design of the helicopter, but that won’t change the requirements of the contract.

"The problems that were experienced will certainly be taken into consideration in the design, but it will not change the specifications of the helicopter that we will be accepting," he said...
As Defense Industry Daily put it:

Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Replacement Program has been a textbook military procurement program over its long history. Unfortunately, it has been a textbook example of what not to do. While Canada’s Sea King helicopter fleet aged and deteriorated to potentially dangerous levels, political pettiness and lack of concern turned a straightforward off-the-shelf buy into a 25+ year long odyssey of cancellations, lawsuits, rebids, and more...

H-92/ CH-148
CH-148 Cyclone
(click to view full)
Or, as an Air Force webpage rather dryly observes:
The Maritime Helicopter Project has faced its share of challenges, but the Government of Canada and the Department of National Defence are confident and determined that it will result in an unrivaled helicopter at the forefront of modern technology.


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