OTTAWA — The Defence Department's top procurement official says he would feel safe flying on the military's new Cyclone helicopters, and that he is more concerned about an "urban myth" emerging about the aircraft than its actual airworthiness.
Assistant deputy minister of materiel Troy Crosby made the comments in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press as military officials and Sikorsky Aircraft, which builds the Cyclone, work to address several issues with the naval helicopters.
Those include a software problem that caused one of the Cyclones to crash off the coast of Greece last year, killing all six Armed Forces members on board, and tail cracks that were recently discovered on virtually the entire fleet.
Despite these issues and several other incidents since the Cyclones came into service in 2018 after nearly two decades of problematic development, Crosby insisted the issues are unrelated and the helicopters remain safe for military crews to fly.
"Aviation always does, of course, come with some risk," he said. "But my concern is that the narrative that can be created by knitting together unrelated issues that do need to be addressed can start to create an urban myth."
Like Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, Crosby credited the air force's technicians and inspection protocols for finding the tail cracks on 21 of the military’s 23 Cyclones before a serious incident.
Those cracks are now being repaired, Crosby said, even as the military and Sikorsky continue working on a solution to the autopilot problem that saw the Cyclone known as Stalker 22 crash into the Ionian Sea on April 29, 2020.
Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Brenden MacDonald, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin and Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke died in the crash — the largest single-day loss of life for Canada's military since its mission in Afghanistan.
Several experts have been calling for urgency in fixing the software issue that led to the conflict between the pilot and autopilot responsible for Stalker 22's crash, but the Defence Department says it won't have a solution until spring.
Time is required to make sure any remedy doesn't result in new problems, Crosby said.
"The process needs to be worked through to look at all those potential scenarios and mitigate the risks the best you can," he said. "It takes a methodical effort to go through that. Not a rush, not to check boxes and tell everybody it's done. It needs to be done well."
While Crosby acknowledged both issues need to be fixed, he said it would be a mistake to suggest they are somehow linked or that the Cyclone fleet is a threat to its crew. Rather, he said issues always pop whenever a brand-new piece of military equipment enters service.
"So the question is: is this helicopter where you approximately would expect it to be given... it's relatively new?" Crosby said. "I think the answer is yes."
The Cyclones are typically deployed on Canadian frigates and used for search and rescue, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare. They first started flying real missions in 2018 after nearly two decades of developmental problems and delays.
Sikorsky has yet to deliver all 28 helicopters ordered by Canada, at a total cost of $3.1 billion, and still needs to upgrade the software on those it has delivered to meet the military's requirements.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press