back to article Canada buys Obama's reject Brit choppers for spare parts

Canada has snapped up a rejected fleet of US presidential helicopters, intending to break up the choppers for spare parts to keep its own search-and-rescue aircraft flying. The British forces may wish they had struck such a deal, as they too operate the "Merlin" copter in large numbers - and they too have severe difficulties in …


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  1. Anonymous Coward 101


    9/10 comments will be of the following nature:

    "There goes Lewis bashing Britain again, telling everyone America is great..."

  2. Magnus_Pym

    So why...

    , if they are so crap, did the Bush administration buy them? And why did the Canadians? Surely <sarcasm> Everyone knows US kit is best</sarcasm>.

    1. Chad H.

      @ Magnus

      It was President Bush. What more do we have to say?

      1. maclovinz

        What he said.

        Nuff said....

    2. Daniel 4
      Thumb Down


      It isn't a question of them being crap (though their support has been crap, End Of Story), it's a question of appropriate for purpose. They weren't. And that blame lies with the genius who decided to try to cram EMP shielding, 14 VIP seats, an executive washroom and a full communications suite into something with those lifting specs.


  3. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Nine aircraft for $164m?

    Considering they're going to be stripped for spares, a unit price of around $18.2m doesn't seem a bargain! Is there anything else thrown in with the deal like a mountain of spares? Maybe the rediculous toilet that the Whitehouse was insisting had to be in every US101 despite not being in any of the VH60N Whitehawks. And seeing as the UK's version of the Apache uses the same engine, I'm not sure why there's a spares issue with the UK's version unless it's the usual one of the cash-strapped MoD not buying enough spares in the first place.

    The bit that Lewis studiously avoids mentioning is that the Canucks also use the Sikorsky H-92, which is a more powerful development of the original S-70 which was the basis of the UH-60 Blackhawk. Seems the Canucks prefer keeping their EH101s to buying more of the chopper family that Lewis champions at every chance.

    1. Marvin the Martian

      You think this is a bad deal?

      Then realize this is actually a better deal than the UK have been left with...

  4. Silverburn
    Thumb Up


    Actually, can we have more "Lewis-bashes-countryx's-military-spending/decisions" articles?

    They're fun, but i refuse to believe we're the worst offenders..surely other countries are cocking it all up worse than us?

    Then again...

    1. Rick Brasche
      Thumb Up

      sure, there are plenty of nations that do worse

      but they already have their own homegrown detractors. LP rightfully goes after what he knows and where he lives. We already have thousands of wonks who wouldn't even pass Air Force basic training hating on every single military expenditure here in America. LP fills a niche that only now is being properly exploited.

  5. AbnormalChunks

    Don't worry though....

    The MoD will be getting some (but not all) of that cash... So the US Marine Corps can buy our old Harriers to do exactly the same thing i.e. breaking them up for parts to keep theirs flying!

  6. Anonymous Coward

    There must have been ...

    ... a reason they were ordered in the first place; I doubt the US lightly orders foreign helicopters for it's pressy to fly in. Bashing a foreign procurement project is also a no-brainer for candidates.

    Still, it does look like Lockheed f*cked-up big time in making them 'presidential', so many thanks for pointing it out Lewis.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      There was a reason

      AW and Lockheed underestimated the amount of stuff that needs to be put on the helicopter (and its weight) when bidding for the contract.

      At the same time Boeing/Sikorsky, the incumbent supplier, knew very well the potential surprises and how their client constantly comes up with design changes and new requirements. So they basically just waited for AW to step on the rakes, knowing that the contract will revert to them in that case. There was even no need for a lot of acrimony (like there was with the KC-X tanker)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        IT Angle

        And the sales rep?

        Just to draw a parallel with the computer services industry, does anybody know if the person who made this massively under-priced sale without considering the total cost of delivery kept the bonus? If the businesses are at all similar, the sales rep probably bought a house in St. Tropez and a yacht, then would have been shocked if anyone had suggested there was a problem with that.

        Just wondering.

        1. Steve Evans

          Re: And the sales rep?

          I'm sure they did.

          Govt contracts seem to work in a completely different way to "normal" ones. Estimates/quotes mean nothing. Say what you like, win the contract, then triple the price halfway through the development process.

          Same goes for delivery schedules.

          And if after 5 years of very expensive development it doesn't work and is scrapped, don't worry, you're still in the money, and you'll probably get the next contract that comes up for bidding anyway.

          Feel free to correct me if I've missed anything!

  7. Matthew Smith

    Glass half full

    The Canadian Lewis analogue will be publishing a story of 'Idiot armed forces spend $164m on nine useless helicopters - to be used only as scrap.'

  8. Anonymous Coward

    In future articles about helicopters....

    ...can they be referred to as whirlybirds. It makes them sound cooler.

    If the Register does it, maybe the lesser whirlybird writers will consider becoming cooler as well...

    1. Not That Andrew
      Black Helicopters

      Not Whirlybirds, Helibeans

      The post is required, and must contain letters.

      1. M Gale

        Not helibeans...


        1. Andy Miller

          NO NO NO !!!

          Jelly choppers !

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A Whirlybird

      is a rotary washing line.

      You want Hellychopper

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward a rotary washing line....

        was that not a Whirligig?

    3. Anonymous Coward

      How About

      How about "flying metal fatigue test-beds"?

  9. Iamfanboy

    "We've gone crazy at Obama's factory-second helicopters!"

    You, sirrah, owe me a new laptop keyboard. Hilarious.

  10. Chris 244

    An excellent purchase

    Considering that we spent almost $500 million CDN in the 1990's to NOT BUY ANY EH-101s, this deal looks to be excellent value for money. Fewer dollars for 9 actual (albeit non-airworthy) helicopters, and maybe even a fancy toilet or two.


    1. Steven Knox

      Yeah, but

      In the 1990s, $500millon CDN was only about $49.24 US.

  11. Malachite

    Not enough lift but more than enough downwash.

    I recall a couple years back when a hovering cormorant blew a tree onto a fire fighter:

    Canada needs the spares as it has bastardized the stock SAR configuration to where it is not useful for SAR operations. Rather than the standard 2 engines and 2 battery packs Canada ordered them with 3 engines and one battery pack; therefore, if they land where no power station exists ( anywhere but airports) they have to keep the engines running because they only have one chance on the resatrt. This is why all you unfortunate people near the Canadian hospitals have to hear it whine the whole time that it is on the pad.

  12. GumboKing
    Black Helicopters

    The Canadian Lewis

    The story of the EH 101 in Canada is one that would have been the subject of many Lewis-like articles over the last 20 years. From reviewing several of the CBC articles here is a general rundown for those interested.

    The Canadian Tory government had made a deal in the early 90's to purchase 50 EH-101's for C$4.8 Billion to replace our ancient Sea Kings. The Tories then lost the next election in 1993 and the contract was cancelled for being too expensive, which ended up costing C$500 million in cancellation fees. The Sikorsky S-92 was eventually picked to be used for the military.

    Then in 1998 15 Cormorants CH-149 (based on the the EH 101) were purchased for C$790 million to replace twin rotor Labradors used for search and rescue (which were approaching 40 years in service). The Cormorants went into service in 2001, in 2004 they were taken out of all but "essential service" for a while after cracks in the tail rotor were discovered and one crashed killing 3 crew in 2006. The last maintenance contract was for C$591 million for 7 years starting in 2007.

    As for its maintenance headaches, the initial specs said it should require 7 hours of maintenance / hour of flight, but initially it was a 22:1 ratio. That had dropped to 12:1 by 2005.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Didn't Canada also buy

      Crappy British submarines?

      Come on Canada, you should have learned a lesson that we can't do this death tech.

      1. Chris 244

        British death tech does work.

        One Canadian sailor died getting them home from Britain.

  13. Jared Vanderbilt

    You scratch my back, I'll stroke your Merlin

    Supposedly the deal to use the Merlin was inked because it had 3 engines in the Marine One configuration, the Sikorsky it competed against only had 2 engines.

    Most likely the Merlin won because the "donations" from AgustaWestland's US collaborators to key congressional campaigns where better than those offered by Sikorsky. Here in the US budget overruns and Pentagon demand for cancellations take a back seat to political corruption.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    "I write a big fat, er, nine!"

    $18M each for what amounts to a huge box of nearly-new helicopter parts is a straight-up bargain.

    The USAF will be getting requests from Canada asking for "Certificates of Conformance" for each part number / serial number combination for the next 30 years. They'll spend trillions of dollars answering those e-mails. Trillions.

    It would be cheaper for all concerned if the USA just left them along the border for a long duration "paint test".

  15. Il Midga di Macaroni

    A lesson in standardisation

    Let's just settle on a few helicopter types - Bell 412 up to 2t capacity, Black Hawk up to 5t, Chinook above that. Once you have an airframe you can do anything you like with it.

  16. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Error: Too many Canadian stories

    Are you sure someone at Vulture Central has not made a mistake with the thumbnail pic that goes alongside the headline for this story in the Top Stories box?

    1. graeme leggett Silver badge

      Better than a boring picture of a chopper

      Made me come back and read the article again...

      (For some reason, I am reminded of the Daily Torygraph's habit of covering its pages with attractive young women when the exam results are published)

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge


        I'd rather not see a picture of a chopper selected by El Reg.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No one joins sororities and fraternities in Canada

      That's for losers. It's not like in the US at all. Or maybe not :)

  17. Anonymous Coward


    Why is there a thumbnail of girls having fun in the top 5 roll-over on El-Reg ? I'm not complaining, but just curious...

    Oh yes, and as the first commentator noticed, Lewis is true to form !

    1. Robert 31


      maybe lewis page has just discovered the girls laughing meme

  18. Dog@86G


    They're not whirlybirds, they're JellyWhoppers

  19. Putonghua73


    Cannot comment on the validity on the article one way or the other, but it [central tenet] does chime in with a discussion I had this morning (and recently) during a 2-day commercial workshop) on Total Cost of Ownership.

    We have the same issue in trying to get stakeholders to recognise TCO, rather than look at upfront costs (Capex) that will hit their budget in a financial year. As well as looking at the TCO to include maintenance, operations and disposals, there is also a supply risk consideration in terms of components / spares i.e. can you obtain generic components / spares that meets conformance and performance critera, and are readily available from a number of suppliers.

    Unfortunately, the commercial side [TCO] and the supply risk are rarely considered because the stakeholders are different from the Capex and Opex sides - hence, the Capex side are interested in different criteria from the Opex side, and it's difficult to cross the cultural divide; especially when there has been little thought into obtaining hard commercial and risk data because the systems and reporting hasn't been set-up and/or is held in disparate systems, by separate teams that do not communicate to one another!

    I only half-joke that the best change management tool is a baseball bat ...

    P.s. Any mention of TCO is also best avoided in the 'dating' sphere because providing a response when someone broaches the subject of 'So what do you do?' leads to EPIC fail.

  20. rh587 Silver badge

    @ Magnus


    Posted Wednesday 29th June 2011 14:09 GMT

    , if they are so crap, did the Bush administration buy them? And why did the Canadians? Surely <sarcasm> Everyone knows US kit is best</sarcasm>.

    They're not crap, they're great helicopters, but the problem is cost/benefit. They do a bit more than comparable aircraft (e.g. Black Hawk), and a bit better, but at a vastly increased price on account of their limited sales and production runs. They've never got as far as being "off the shelf".

    Of course for Presidential choppers, cost is (almost) no issue, so the Yanks went for the best airframes money could buy. However, at this point they then loused up the retro-fit for Presidential standards. When you're getting 14-seat helicopters costing as much as an AF1-spec 747, then you've got to question your procurement and the likely ongoing running costs.

    I'm with Lewis on this one. Merlins are great, but the limited benefits they offer are simply not worth the massive additional financial cost. We actually would have been better off with a bunch of cheap off-the-shelf tried and tested Black Hawks with established spare-part supply lines. They'd have cost less, given us better a/c availability and our troops in the sand pit would have more extensive lifting facility. In this case, quantity over quality.

  21. Old Painless

    .."Merlins are great"...

    ..apart from being unable to take off? How much brass would a sales rep need to gloss over that little nugget? "Sure, she can't take off full, but the toilet is super shiny!"

  22. Maty

    ah yes ...

    "ashore a pilot must taxi forward rapidly to get airborne fully loaded."

    Reminds me of those overloaded choppers we used to have in Africa bouncing down the runway trying to grab enough still air to get airborne.

    We used to say they only took off eventually due to the curvature of the earth's surface.

  23. Desk Jockey

    A procurement designed to fail

    For those in the know (ie. not Lewis!) the Yanks deliberately sabotaged the project and made it go hugely over-cost by driving up the requirements. US101 won the competition because it best met the specs, but of course the Yanks don't see it as an 'American' solution so they found ways of wrecking the project, at a high admin cost. Protectionism is indeed a defining feature of US procurement and pisses off the Europeans no end.

    The UK MOD seems to be very found of 'contracting for availability' these days when it comes to getting stuff supported. In theory, this means the contractor takes a financial hit if they don't keep the aircraft up and flying. Buying additional airframes to cannibalise them is sheer desperation and just shows that the support arrangements are piss-poor. I have no idea whose fault that is, but suggesting that the UK should do it is about as sensible as asking a garage to fix your car by taking parts from another, not quite identical model of car that has been involved in a car crash!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Actually they do...

      use parts from wrecked cars to fix your car. And many parts are interchangeable between models.

    2. Chris 244


      My car got rear-ended by a drunk. The front end is still the original 2002, the back end is now from a 2003 model. Your point was?

      1. Desk Jockey

        Cut and shunt

        My point was badly made so I will clarify. You send you car to the garage who you pay ££s each year on a monthly basis to repair and maintain the car. It is their job to find the spares and they lose money every time your car breaks down. You then decide to help by buying a chopped up car to repair some bits of your car. You pay for it and the garage does not pay you back because they did not source the spare parts and so cannot guarantee its quality, plus it being outside of the contract. So you have just spent money fixing something that you pay someone else to do on a fixed price basis. To add to the fun, the exhaust pipe of the chopped car is a bit different from yours because a chav jazzed it up a bit and so the garage has to chop and weld it to fit your car. It works out very slightly cheaper than buying a genuine part, but it breaks off after a few months because the welds failed! As the garage could not guarantee the quality, they don't have to make good the repairs without extra dosh from you.

        Got the point I was trying to make now?

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      That sounds bizarre

      "the Yanks deliberately sabotaged the project and made it go hugely over-cost by driving up the requirements"

      I don't know, but then why would they award the deal to Italy/UK then finagle things to make it collapse? That sounds byzantine even for an Empire in its end phase.

      Actually, I found this from way back when:

      "The requirement ("requirement" is a government euphemism for "this is a really neat idea that will help my post-government career with a contractor") and go-ahead decision for the VH-71 were established in 2003, coincidentally the year the United States invaded Iraq along with its coalition of the willing. Oddly enough, the procurement authorities decided that a modification of the European EH-101 helicopter would suit the requirement just fine. By pure coincidence, this decision would benefit the British firm Westland and the Italian company Augusta. If any glory accrued to Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, that surely would have been fortuitous. The idea that the White House paid off these worthies for assisting the administration in the invasion of Iraq has not been proved by transcripts of phone conversations or secret memoranda of understanding that have come to light; we will leave to the reader the onus of the obvious interpretation of events.

      Naturally, Congress got involved, because anything involving aerospace contracts means a rich harvest of PAC checks. Forthwith, the cry rang out from Capitol Hill that domestic content was needed. Riding to the rescue was Lockheed Martin, an aerospace megacorporation with no known experience in helicopters since the abortive Cheyenne in the 1960s. They selflessly volunteered to be prime contractor. Bell, an outfit that ought to know something about rotorcraft, came in as a junior partner to Lock-Mart. Together with Augusta and Westland, the consortium marched bravely into the future of politically-guaranteed profits." (etc)

      1. Desk Jockey

        @ Destroy all Monsters

        Look up the KC Tankers deal where Airbus beat Boeing in the competition (because they offered a far better plane that was bigger and cheaper). The whole thing went into an unholy mess when, following complaints from Boeing, the Amercians did an audit and then cancelled the competition award because they claimed it was run wrong.

        Second time round, the requirements were re-written to suit Boeing's offer and so Airbus gave up competing in disgust. The presidential helicopter is very much the same thing. The lawyers/accountants/military running the competition judge the bids based on their evaluations. Congress doesn't like the answer and so scuppers the competition and puts in a new evaluation team to give the 'right answer'.

        It is all about money and 'patriotism'...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    i wonder how many...

    Russian super heavy lifting choppers(the ones that are the size of a boeing 727) you could buy for that much (with bucket loads of spares included)

    yet again a government back hander propping up the dead UK BAE arms industry (it just hasnt realised they are dead in the water (litterly) both in the air on the ground and in the sea(or in dry dock))

    time to put the monster down!

  25. frank ly

    What is it about VIPs....

    ,.. that they need special seats and special toilets? I'm really wondering.

    1. Chad H.


      Presidential Poop is a matter of national security.

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