|The Buffalo roams... But for how much longer?|
Canada is in desperate need for fixed wing search-and-rescue (FWSAR) aircraft. It's current fleet of CC-115 Buffalo aircraft started service with the RCAF in 1967. Like the Sea King helicopter, there is nothing glaringly wrong with the Buffalo current performance, but it is getting more difficult and expensive to maintain and find parts for this Canadian icon. These new aircraft will also relieve the CC-130H Hercules from its search and rescue (SAR) duties.
The process to procure new FWSAR aircraft has been ongoing for close to 10 years now, with next to no movement into the process. Compared to replacing the CF-18, finding an acceptable FWSAR aircraft should be a relative cakewalk, politically speaking. The aircraft themselves are likely to be far more affordable than cutting edge jet fighters, and Canadians are generally far more willing to see their tax dollars being spent on equipment devoted to saving lives than aerial death machines. The options themselves seem rather straight forward, with no option likely to spark controversy. Well, maybe one option...
|Alenia C-27J Spartan|
The Spartan also stands out by having the most spacious cabin, big enough for a HMMWV to drive in, then allow the driver to get out and stand comfortably. This extra elbow room allows extra flexibility in what loads are carried and how equipment is laid out.
|Madness? THIS... IS... A SPARTAN!|
Sounds good, doesn't it? About the only real strike against the C-27J is its lack of Canadian Content. Alenia would likely have to work a little magic with indirect offset deals. The Spartan also lacks the proven rough field STOL capabilities of the current CC-115 Buffalo.
|EADS CASA C-295|
While the C-295's cabin lacks the C-27J's shoulder room, it does offer similar payload capacity by way of a longer payload compartment. I also utilizes a "mission pallet" system that allows mission specific gear to added easily.
The C-295 is powered by two Pratt&Whitney Canada PW127G turboprops, so the C-295 is an easy sell when it comes to Canadian industrial benefits. EADS CASA is also part of the Airbus aerospace group, so further offsets are pretty much a non-issue, if required.
There are two "made in Canada" possibilities as well. The first, being offered by Viking Air, is a simple "Next Generation" Buffalo utilizing the tried-and-and true CC-115 Buffalo airframe utilizing modern P&W Canada PW150 turboprops off the Bombardier Q400 regional airliner. The other option is to modify the existing Q400 into SAR duty.
|Bombardier Q400. Add some bubble windows, a bigger door, yellow and red paint...|
|Does it come in yellow? The Lockheed Martin CC-130J.|
The Herc isn't the cheapest aircraft to fly, however. It is still a big, heavy, four-engined aircraft. To put it simply, it's overkill for the SAR role.
|Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.|
Controversial as it is groundbreaking, the Osprey certainly has seen its share of print over the years. The first operational tilt-rotor aircraft, it brings the added versatility of VTOL and STOL operations. It's also known for its rather troubled development and reputation for being dangerous.
Contrary to its reputation, the Osprey is now the safest rotorcraft in US military service. It is now a mature platform and it has performed well in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. It performs spec-ops, combat search-and-rescue (CSAR), basic transport, and are even part of the Presidential "Marine One" helicopter fleet.
It has similar payload capacity, range, and speed to the C-27J and C-295. It is capable of air-to-air refueling. Oh... And it also has that tilt-rotor thing. The Osprey's VTOL ability clearly puts it in an entire different league than the others. Where the others all require a short runway, the V-22 requires no runway at all. Combining the range and speed of the current Buffalo with the VTOL abilities of the Cormorant helicopter makes the Osprey the clear winner when it comes to versatility. There is very little of Canada that an Osprey couldn't get to, or land near. With this in mind, there certainly is a strong argument for the V-22.
So what's the catch? For one, it's expensive. A $70 million unit cost, compared to the $53 million unit cost of the C-27J is enough to give anyone pause. The C-295 is even cheaper still. While the temptation might be there to replace our entire SAR fleet (Hercs, Buffalos, and Cormorants) with Ospreys, it should be known that the Osprey should be seen as a aircraft that can fly like helicopter, and not the other way around. It can't perform all the duties a pure helicopter can, so we might not want to get rid of all our choppers just yet.
|Been there... Done that. The CL-84 tilt-wing demonstrator.|
VTOL capable aircraft aren't entirely new territory for Canada. We did develop the CL-84, after all.
Which aircraft is best suited for Canada's FWSAR needs? Like anything else, arguments could be made for any one of these aircraft. It's hard to find a wrong choice, actually.
The most important thing is that Canada actually stops dragging its feet and start the selection process already.
For more about Canada's troubled search and rescue system, check out CBC's "Doc Zone" episode "To The Rescue" here: http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/episodes/to-the-rescue