Rebel with a cause: HMCS Winnipeg’s eyes in the sky

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Captain Chelsea Dubeau
HMCS Winnipeg Public Affairs Officer
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Four short pips come over the ship’s public address system, “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 the task of ensuring that one of Winnipeg’s most critical assets is ready to go for whatever task may come.

Winnipeg’s helo goes by call sign Rebel, and while it’s not included in any recall list, the aircraft is a member of the ship’s company all the same.

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 Aug. 6 sail past departure for Rim of the Pacific (RIMAPC), when both Rebel and HMCS Regina’s Bronco flew in consort with both ships.

RIMPAC provided an excellent platform from which to see not just one helo in action, but two. It also marked the first time the Cyclone had participated in the multi-national exercise. RIMPAC provided something else; thanks to Rebel’s participation in the exercise, the ship’s crew understands, with greater depth, the immense capabilities the aircraft adds to HMC ships, and of course to Winnipeg.

“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 then allowed them to target the enemy fleet before the enemy fleet got to them. It was impressive to see.”

The performances Rebel and team pulled off during RIMPAC were all the more remarkable as it was layered over the ship’s Intermediate Multi-Ship Readiness Training program. Aircraft and crew were put to the test and came out the other side even stronger than before. All this, despite the difficult road it took to get everyone deployment-ready during an already exceptionally challenging year marked by a global pandemic and the tragic loss of Stalker 22 and crew.

In April, Canada mourned when six Canadian Armed Forces members were killed when the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter deployed with HMCS Fredericton on Operation Reassurance 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. It was tough, but I think we found comfort in knowing they found out what the issue was.”

The resilience of that community is apparent in the dedication each Rebel 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 effort has a direct and profound impact on the rest of the Winnipeg team as well. Rebel is, after all, a mission-critical component. It’s the ace-in-the-hole; its eye in the sky that’s ever watchful of the waters ahead. Its 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 operate under 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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  1. Don Mitchell says:

    Hi! Great story on the Air Det. I know I’m being somewhat critical but its called the Ships Main Broadcast not the Public Address System.

    Cheers!

    DM

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