A new headquarters is well underway at 443 squadron near Victoria airport.
The land is being prepared for construction of a new hangar, which is slated to be in place sometime before spring 2014.
“It’s just one more sign of progress that we get to look across and see,” said Lt.-Col. Peter Allan, commanding officer of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron.
The combined operations and maintenance centre, budgeted at $155 million when it was announced in February, will consolidate all squadron functions under one roof. It’s going up across from the existing hangar off Kittyhawk Road.
The project includes a 20,000 square metre facility to replace the 60-year-old-plus hangar currently in use. The building will house nine new CH-148 Cyclone helicopters scheduled to arrive in the spring of 2014.
“We are looking forward to it,” Allan said. “The Sea King is a great machine. It’s been a workhorse and I still put a lot of faith in the aircraft, but the mission systems are old and tired. We can feel they’re holding us back from doing the work we could.”
The Cyclones will replace the six Sea Kings currently in use.
“The Cyclone is designed, at a more advanced level, to perform the same roles as the Sea King,” Allan said.
In the meantime, the squadron continues to train while preparing for the new aircraft. “We continue to work the Sea Kings as hard as we can, as hard as they have ever worked, probably.”
They’re doing incremental modifications to create a situation as similar as possible to the new helicopters “so we can start thinking about the processes we will have to use when we start using the Cyclone,” Allan explained.
For example, they’ve modified a Sea King to be compatible with night-vision equipment, “which is again a lead-in for the Cyclone, because it will be a night-vision aircraft. Anywhere were we can reach ahead, we do.”
Squadron helicopters are frequently attached to HMCS Calgary, Ottawa, Regina, Vancouver and Winnipeg in the Canadian Patrol Frigate class, and other vessels such as HMCS Huron, Algonquin and Protecteur.
The 443 squadron also supports government efforts to combat drug, fisheries and environmental violations in Canadian waters. Internationally, it supports operations in surveillance, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.