Your assertions about age not being an issue for the Sea King helicopters is absolutely correct – provided they are properly maintained.
One only has to consider several of the large US Air Force jets that appeared at the recent Avalon Airshow. The KC-135 tanker (basically a Boeing 707) was ordered/built in 1958. It’s one of hundreds still in use by the US Air Force. Official websites indicate that with their upgraded engines and avionics they will continue to be used for decades into the future. Similarly, the Boeing B-52 bomber that made a brief appearance at the show was also a 1950s production model and the Air Force has no plans to retire the remaining fleet.
The problem with the Sea Kings however are many, including the increasing cost of maintenance on what is essentially complicated 1950s technology. This complexity I believe does not have the inherent reliability of current technology. Consider the views of the Naval Officers Association of Canada (NOAC) below:
The main reasons why the Sea King must be replaced are:
- The Sea King is costly to operate, with diminishing returns on growing expenditures. Money and time is being wasted maintaining and repairing this old helicopter with its 1950s technology, and these costs are escalating yearly.
- The Sea King does not have the serviceability required of a major component of the Navy’s ships and Task Groups. This translates into a serious unreliability factor of a system for which the ship must depend.
- It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain what inadequate reliability it does have.
- The Sea King has only a limited operational capability, while the demands at sea are changing and increasing.
- Sea Kings do not complement the highly capable and modern ships they are supposed to support. From their inception these ships were designed with the requirement for a modern helicopter to extend their capabilities and to convey an air capability for the Task Groups.
In calling for a modern replacement, they go on to say that reliability is achieved by:
- total helicopter and systems robustness
- high levels of both overall and component serviceability
- an effective support organisation
- ease of maintenance and repair
It’s crucial to have a proper support system, including sufficient trained technicians, spare parts, test equipment, tools, and repair facilities needed to ensure the required reliability. This support system, along with adequate training facilities, and a properly conducted introduction program, are all essential to the Air Force’s Maritime Helicopter Project.
Let’s hope the the remaining Sea Kings can provide reliable service until replaced, even if that means limiting their operational role and effectiveness.