Honouring the Sea King on “a day like no other”

News Article / December 7, 2018

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From Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger
Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force

On December 1, 2018, Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force was the keynote speaker at the ceremony held in Patricia Bay, British Columbia, to bid farewell to the CH-124 Sea King. The Sea King will end its service with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force by the end of December, after 55 years of providing “wings for the fleet”. Here are Lieutenant-General Meinzinger’s remarks.

Wow, what a wonderful turn-out  as I look left and right here this morning and what an amazing weekend of events.. My sincere thanks to all of you this morning. It is a real privilege and honour as the commander of the RCAF to be part of this fantastic celebration.

This day is certainly like no other.

Today we say farewell to an aircraft that has seen more than a half century of service and has become an icon to both the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Where do I start to pay tribute to this great aircraft—the CH-124 Sikorsky Sea King—its aircrew, its maintainers, its support personnel and of course its manufacturer.   

Over the 55 years of proud Sea King operations, hundreds of thousands—and perhaps millions—of words have been written or spoken about this particular phenomenal helicopter.

So I’m not going to repeat the full history of the Sea King. We’d be here until tomorrow, and there’s a great gala dinner planned, so I’ll try to be brief.

But consider this if you would: when the first Sea King took flight in March 1959, the Cold War was in full swing and the Soviet Union was our primary threat.

On May 24, 1963, when the Royal Canadian Navy accepted its first Sea King for shipborne anti-submarine warfare activities, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles released their first album. And the year before, the Cuban Missile Crisis had brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

And yes, I was not even born yet!

Since 1963, the Sea King has provided Wings to the Fleet, serving Canadian interests at home and abroad.

During its service, our Sea King crews have flown a miraculous 550,000 hours. At cruising speed, helicopter cruising speed I might add, that’s is roughly equivalent to flying 7,200 trips around the globe or—for those astronomers in the crowd—the shortest distance from Earth to Mars. Simply amazing!

Following the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Sea King traded its Navy roundel for the Air Force roundel.

But even though this maritime helicopter became part of the Air Force family, she remains integrated with the Navy, and we are proud to provide Air Power to our sister service.

After the Cold War ended, the Sea King became a multi-purpose naval helicopter, serving in places ranging from Somalia, to the Persian Gulf, to Libya, the Baltic Sea, the Caribbean and many more, conducting counter-piracy operations, counter-narcotic operations, counter-terrorism work, and humanitarian aid missions, and even supporting search and rescue here at home.

During the First Gulf War, the Sea King took on a new role:  anti-surface warfare. The Sea King was already 28 years young at that point and replacing her was a topic for discussion in Ottawa. Little did we know, she was only half way through her journey with plenty of magnificent contributions [remaining] to deliver for Canada.

I could go on, but I’ll simply say: What an amazing aircraft!!

Over the years, tremendous people, including amazing leaders, have been associated with the Sea King. The success of our maritime helicopter operations is really a tribute to them.

One of my predecessors, Angus Watt, was a former Sea King member. Along the way he commanded Joint Task Force Southwest Asia during Operation Apollo and was deputy commander of ISAF in Afghanistan.

Anyone [here in the crowd] know Bruce Ploughman and Sam Michaud? Of course you do! They flew in the harsh Mogadishu area of operations, carrying out ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] missions and medevacs, and transporting cargo and personnel. During one fateful mission, they came under fire but, in true warrior fashion and true warrior spirit, these two aviators and their crew continued onwards. For this and a second similar mission a couple of nights later, Sam received the Meritorious Service Medal from the hand of our Governor-General, which he said, with humility, he accepted on behalf of his crew.

Lise Bourgon was my Director General Operations in the Strategic Joint Staff . . . but, before that, she commanded Joint Task Force-Iraq during Operation Impact.

I suspect Lise might say, however, that the most rewarding years of her career to date were spent commanding 12 Wing and not working for me on the Strategic Joint Staff. Lise’s sterling reputation within the contemporary maritime helicopter community is but another example of the great leaders that have contributed to the many successes over the years

And of course, I can’t forget Lieutenant-General Larry Ashley, who joined the Navy but also ended up as our air commander. He was the first commanding officer of 423 Squadron when it was re-established as a maritime helicopter squadron.

Our Sea King even has a connection with our future King: Prince William. A Sea King pilot, Prince William underwent water bird training in Prince Edward Island in 2011, under Sam Michaud’s careful and cat-like supervision.

And in fact, this summer, while I was in the United Kingdom for RAF 100 celebrations, his father, Prince Charles, asked me if we were still flying the Sea King. Of course I proudly said, “Yes, Your Royal Highness”. Clearly our Sea King is famous—from the streets of Halifax-Dartmouth and Pat Bay to downtown Mogadishu to Buckingham Palace!

As we celebrate the Sea King and its incredible team, we must also remember those whom we have lost.

You may know that I’m from the helicopter community . . . but my background is flying Twin Hueys and Griffons. I confess that I only flew in the back of a Sea King once.

In 2007, we were very concerned about flooding on the lower Fraser River and we were planning for a potential disaster and subsequent Canadian Armed Forces response. I was designated the air task force commander for this contingency operation that would have seen us cobbling together a good portion of the RCAF had the Fraser River spilled over her banks, thankfully she did not. Intending to mount our operations in Abbotsford, I flew in a Sea King for a recce [reconnaissance] of the river.

My battle buddy for this trip was my designated maritime helicopter liaison officer—Captain Tim Lanouette—whom I met in Abbotsford upon arrival.

He was an absolutely super fellow who I befriended immediately after meeting him. We spent the day together and I recall thinking how fortunate I was to have met such a personable and outstanding Canadian. I felt as if we could have been best friends.

Sadly, Tim later tragically died in a helicopter crash in Newfoundland. So although Tim was not lost during Sea King service, he is very much on my mind today.

As we individually and collectively reflect on 55 years, I am sure many of you will be toasting— and telling many stories about—the 10 aircrew who retired Colonel John Orr has determined were lost during maritime helicopter operations.

  • Sub-Lieutenant Allen Altree
  • Petty Officer First Class Ron Greenbury
  • Commissioned Officer Claire Tully
  • Petty Officer First Class Douglas Mander
  • Lieutenant Lawrence Ostaficiuk
  • Naval Lieutenant Allan Dick
  • Leading Seaman John McCrea
  • Naval Lieutenant Kenneth McDonald
  • Major Wally Sweetman
  • Major Robert Henderson

We will forever remember these brave souls.

Lest we forget.

As we honour all Sea King aircrew, past and present, I must offer my highest praise to the technicians who have kept this Cold War warrior flying—and relevant—to this very day.

Maintainers make up about two-thirds of the 12 Wing team and their work has been incredible on terra firma—and [they work] even harder at sea. Of course, maintaining the venerable Sea King became more challenging as it aged, as you know.

Our techs enabled us to bridge seamlessly to the CH-148 Cyclone. Their dedication and professionalism are incredible..

During the first Gulf War, when a handful of our incredible technicians looked to transform the Sea King from an ASW platform to a surface surveillance platform, the first prototype was amazingly ready in a week and all five were operationally ready within a month.

Our world class technicians: they are miracle workers and we pay tribute to their remarkable contributions over 55 years. I’m very proud of all of you for the work you have done to keep the aircraft flying— for your creativity, for your dedication and for your skill.  

Bravo Zulu!

In conclusion, as we say goodbye, all I can say is “Well Done” to everyone who has flown, maintained and supported the Sea King throughout the decades.

Thank you to everyone who had a hand in arranging this magnificent farewell and thank you to everyone on parade, for the super turnout.

And to our magnificent Sea King: though an inanimate object, you are like a living presence in the lives of so many, including my Chief Warrant Officer, Denis Gaudreault. We will certainly miss you, but I know the Cyclone will continue to do you proud.

My sincerest thanks to all that have contributed to this amazing chapter within our Air Force and our Navy history. You have fulfilled the Navy’s motto, as my good friend and colleague Rear Admiral McDonald would say: Ready Aye Ready.

Enjoy this incredible weekend, ladies and gentlemen, Sic itur ad astra!


 

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