Seaking Becomes Gate Guardian

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Maj Philip Dodge, 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron

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443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron has a new guardian at the facility entrance – a beautifully preserved Sea King helicopter.

On July 7, the CH12417 Gate Guardian was dedicated by the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, LCol Ryan Sexsmith, and Honourary Colonel Mike Sudul, along with the placement of a time capsule. 

The time capsule will be opened on the 50th anniversary commemorating the Sea King’s final flight with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), in December 2068.

The fleet of Sea Kings retired on Dec. 31, 2018, after 55 years of service to Canada, the RCAF, and the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Sea King has a storied past as one of the longest serving and operationally deployed aircraft in Canadian Armed Forces history. It has deployed around the globe in peacetime and in conflict. With this rich history in mind, 443(MH) Squadron leadership wanted to preserve and display CH12417 as a Gate Guardian, providing a fitting testament to all who pass through Arundel Castle gates, past, present, and future. 

The project took flight in January 2020 with an initial meeting between the Squadron and Real Property Operations Unit (Pacific). COVID-19 and the limited space to display the helicopter offered a few challenges. RPOps and Farmer Construction Ltd worked with the Squadron to design and construct the pedestal concrete pad, hardscape retaining wall, and subcontract the recessed LED lighting installation to illuminate CH12417 during night time hours.

Preparing the helicopter for its new role was left to the Gate Guardian team members. As the lead aircraft structures technician, MCpl Sylvain Fortier worked tirelessly to design and implement practical solutions that enhanced the display, while preserving the aircraft’s security and integrity. 

On June 2, with the aircraft fully prepared and the crane ready on site, fair winds proved excellent craning conditions. Under the leadership of MWO Paul MacQueen, the final Sea King “crane off” occurred and CH12417 was successfully lifted and mounted onto its final place of retirement by Squadron technicians and Farmer Construction.

A time capsule was securely displayed inside the aircraft. Cpl Shannon Clayton and Avr Mohammed Mohammed designed the artwork for the stainless steel cover, and Capt Don Leblanc assembled the various historical contents to be stored inside. These included a wine glass from the Sea King Retirement Gala, a Sea King Dark Hops IPA beer can, flight and maintenance records of 417, Squadron patches and photos, and other memorabilia.  A special 12 Wing Commander Coin #117 was also placed in the time capsule.

CH12417 now has a place of honour at the entrance to 443(MH) Squadron.  Its final resting place is a fitting testament to the proud legacy of the Sea Kings’ service with the Royal Canadian Navy and RCAF. Indeed, no better “King for a Castle Gate Guardian.”

443(MH) Squadron Gate Guardian Team Members

  • Maj Philip Dodge
  • MWO Paul MacQueen
  • Sgt Eric Duchesne
  • MCpl Sylvain Fortier
  • Cpl Glenn Grinyer
  • Cpl Shawn Connolly
  • It should be noted that the successful completion of the project was a team effort that could not have been accomplished without the support of the following agencies:
  • Real Property Operations Unit (Pacific)
  • Farmer Construction of Victoria
  • Tournour Masonry Victoria
  • United Engineering Ltd/Harjim Industrial Services Sidney
  • Thomis Electric Ltd Victoria

Highlights of CH12417 Service

  • Built at the Pratt and Whitney plant in Longeuiel, Quebec.
  • Delivered June 30, 1965, to the RCN as Sikorsky Serial Number 61283.
  • Accepted into service Sept. 8, 1965.
  • Over its entire life it amassed 17,776.1 total airframe hours.
  • B Category Damage March 1971 – Starboard
    landing gear collapse on board ship aircraft
    recovered ashore, repaired, and returned to service.
  • Gulf War Veteran, modified to a CH124A configuration as one of six aircraft for Operation Friction in August 1990. 417 provided stellar service throughout the conflict, proving to be the most reliable of the five aircraft assigned to the Canadian Task Group.  She earned the nickname “Big Bird” after the Sesame Street character as she always seemed to be “hovering around in the background.
  • Painted in RCN livery in 2017 at 12 Wing Shearwater.
  • Last official deployment of CH12417 occurred during Operation Lentis where she and her 443(MH) Squadron crews made a significant contribution to fighting B.C. wildfires in the summer of 2018.
  • Final Flight Dec. 17, 2018.

CH12417 Final Flight Crew:

  • Major Paul Faganello – Crew Commander
  • Capt Rob McMullen – Co-Pilot
  • LCol Travis Chapman – ACSO
  • MWO Bruce Hollington – AESOp

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