Tuesday, 7 May 2013


On their national news broadcast of May 6, 2013 the CTV network reported that Canada was, to use their expression, “considering using Obama’s old presidential helicopters. (1) The story was replete with a picture of Marine One, the presidential S-61 (Sea King to you and I) taking off from the White House lawn

They couldn’t have had the story more wrong. Perhaps they really didn’t “get” the story, which was an interesting one, or perhaps it’s just more fun to criticize then to do the research.

As correctly reported by David Pugliese at Defence Watch (2) the aircraft in question are not used at all. They are VH-71s, variants of the AgustaWestland EH-101Cormorant helicopter used for Search and Rescue in Canada.

The nine helicopters are part of a failed attempt to replace the current presidential helicopter fleet and were purchased by the DND at a cost of around $164 million as a source of spare parts for our current fleet of Cormorants.

They are brand new and in fact have never even flown. When the purchase was first made it was suggested in some quarters that some of the aircraft could be refurbished to flying condition as they were essentially new aircraft purchased at knock down prices.(3) At that time it was pointed out that the aircraft were unfinished and were not legally certificated to fly.

Canadian Press has reported that Defence Minister Peter MacKay is telling DND to take another look at whether some of these helicopters former can be made fully operational and used for search and rescue.

Canadian Defence Matters may not have always been the first to point out perceived failings at the Department of National Defence and by its leadership. It could be argued, however, that we have tried to be near the front of the line in those cases. This being so, it only seems reasonable to point out that in this case the DND and the Minister are not wrong.

What is wrong is that CTV should be so inaccurate.  While they can, and undoubtedly will, argue that the individual parts of their report are not factually incorrect, it is also true that they have misrepresented and under-reported the story. Viewers who are unaware of the all the facts will have no idea of the real story here. Many will be left with the belief that Canada plans to refurbish elderly, used, U.S. Sea King helicopters for search and rescue.

It is not common to see journalists, particularly television journalists, admit to being wrong. That being so it is unlikely that this story will ever be corrected. It is a reminder of the amount of misinformation concerning defence matters that can be found in the traditional news media.

It strikes Canadian Defence Matters that this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. Looking into possibility of quickly and comparatively inexpensively adding to the number of Search and Rescue helicopters is an excellent idea and we applaud the minister for suggesting it. We can only hope the reception he has received in this case will not deter him from similar endeavors in the future.

(1) Canada considering using Obama’s old presidential helicopters

(2) Parts Already Being Removed From Presidential Helicopters To Be Used In RCAF Cormorants – Will That Jam Up Any Plan To Try To Fly The Planes For SAR?

(3) From Prestige Purchase to 'Hangar Queens' — US Presidential
VH-71 Helicopters Shipped North as CH-149 Cormorant Spares