HMCS Winnipeg’s eye in the sky

November 17, 2020 – Four short pips come over the ship’s public address system, then “Flying stations!”

HMCS Winnipeg’s CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter is on the flight deck as the flight crew prepares to take off. It’s just another day for the air detachment, charged with ensuring Winnipeg’s Cyclone is ready for the task at hand.

Winnipeg’s Cyclone goes by call-sign Stinger 09, and it is something to see in action.

The first opportunity the ship’s company had to see the helicopter operating from the ship was during the August 6 sail past departure for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMAPC) Exercise, when both Stinger 09 and HMCS Regina’s Bronco flew in consort with both ships.

RIMPAC provided an excellent platform from which to see both helicopters in action and marked the first time the Cyclone had participated in the multi-national exercise. It also provided an opportunity for the ship’s crew to understand with greater depth the immense capabilities of the aircraft and how they enhanced Winnipeg’s situational awareness.

“During one surface exercise, it was one task group versus another task group, so we were deployed as the air asset to advance and find the enemy fleet,” says Major Kris Sutton, Winnipeg’s Air Detachment Commander about RIMPAC.

“Probably within 15 minutes of launching, we climbed to an appropriate altitude, picked up the radar tracks, and identified them while remaining outside the threat they posed to the aircraft. We were able to get those positive confirming details to the ship, which allowed them to target the enemy fleet before the enemy fleet got to them. It was impressive to see.”

Stinger 09 and Winnipeg’s performance coincided with the ship’s Intermediate Multi-Ship Readiness Training program. Aircraft and crew were put to the test and came out the other side stronger and more confident. This is especially impressive given their deployment-readiness was achieved during an exceptionally challenging year.

In April, the Canadian Armed Forces and all Canadians mourned the loss of six Canadian Armed Forces members who were killed when Stalker 22, the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter deployed with HMCS Fredericton, crashed into the Ionian Sea near Greece.

“It had a pretty profound effect on the entire maritime helicopter community,” said Maj Sutton.

“We’re a pretty small and closely-knit group, and those were our friends. It was a really tough time, but the community is strong, and we all came together and got through it.”

The resilience of that community is apparent in the dedication each Stinger 09 team member applies to their work on board Winnipeg.

“We have a really exceptional team,” said Maj Sutton.

“You can see the pride in the technicians when they fix things and they’re able to keep the aircraft going for us. There’s that sense of duty; they want to make sure we’re able to fly. Then we have the pride of being able to go up and execute the mission. But it’s all a team effort.”

The air detachment’s team effort has a direct and profound impact on the rest of the Winnipeg team as well. Stinger 09 is, after all, a mission-critical component. It’s Winnipeg’s eye in the sky that’s ever watchful of the waters ahead. The Cyclone’s ability to properly identify ships or targets from such a long range offers a capability unmatched by any of the ship’s own sensors.

“We can go 100 miles ahead, create that zone around the ship and say, ‘this is what we found for you,’” said Maj Sutton.

“The altitude advantage that we bring to the table allows the ship to make a calculated move. We’re able to really give the ship that edge.”

Winnipeg is conducting forward naval presence operations in the Asia-Pacific as part of Operation PROJECTION from September to December, and while deployed in the region will also participate in Operation NEON, Canada’s contribution to a coordinated multinational effort to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed against North Korea.

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