The purpose of this document is is to record the various techniques that Sea King crew used to track down submarines. As the Sea King grew in capability and complexity, the techniques were altered as well


David Wall, a flew the Sea King in the mid 1960's. Here, he describes how a submarine was detected in conjunction with a Tracker aircraft.

"The Sea King was an excellent sonar platform with nearly 500’ of cable and an experienced operator could track a submarine quite well but what we could not do was prosecute an attack by ourselves without breaking the dip and flying to the last known position (actually the projected position based on last course and speed) and dropping a torpedo. The sub knew when we left the dip of course and would then likely alter course and/or speed so as to avoid our weapon when it finally got into the water.

The solution was to have another airplane (or helicopter) overfly the Sea King with the target and fly out along the bearing to drop a torpedo, being vectored by the helicopter still in contact (the Tracker flew out a “radial” from the helicopter). The drop could be done on time and distance but the most effective op was for the Tracker to wait until it got a MAD signal as it passed over the submarine. This was positive confirmation of the target and an immediate torpedo drop would (one hoped) acquire the sub and hit it.

We did a lot of this off HMCS Bonaventure and it was very effective, at least in an exercise sense. Before the Sea King, the HO4S-3 (Horse) was very sensitive to loss of lift if the Tracker passed too close overhead, it (the Horse) being marginally powered if heavy and the air was hot. When the Sea King arrived with plenty of excess power, the Trackers would pass very close overhead (rather spectacular sometimes) and then in order to increase the chance of a MAD contact (coded call was “MADMAN”) they would get right down on the water. I can remember seeing the upper surface of their wings from a 40’ hover, not to mention seeing the rooster tails in the water behind the props".


In the mid-1960's, the pilot and co-pilot would switch seats on a trip-by-trip basis so the Crew Commander could be in the left seat doing “co-pilot” duties while the second-in-command flew from the right seat. There was never any question who was in command . Ian Snow who flew as a sensor operator in the 1980's, expands on this.

"The "pilot routine" evolved tremendously.  While the 'switch seat routine' was routine, there were significant changes in IFR procedures, especially with respect to the flying pilot staying on the dials during the approach while the visual pilot took control for the actual landing.  The bigger cultural change was the shift to appropriately qualified TACCOS becoming the Mission/Crew Commanders.  One thing I really liked about the navy approach were the formal boards rather than the VP process of the CO's just making the appointments.  It was very controversial in the stiff wing world, Canada being I think the last major operator to adopt the concept.  Eventually the VP world simply ran out of pilots with enough operational experience to perform the role and the Maritime Air Commander (Pickering) ordered the change.  Once made, the Sea King world adopted it without controversy.  After all,, half the Det Commanders were TACCOs and were the defacto mission commander in any event.  As you say, it was pretty clear in everybody's mind when the Aircraft Captain was the Air Craft Captain.
The '67 sinking of the Israeli Elath by the Egyptian Komar SS-N-2 fitted patrol boat (at 30 nm without leaving harbour) was the beginning of the change to introduce the 60,000 yard USN MK 48 torpedo but it took a long time. I remember one sortie on a REALLY dark night when I was asked by the Squad Boss if I'd go out 125 miles in search of a 2-ship orange force coming south from Halifax.  I agreed, but on condition that Mother flash Father for 20 seconds 15 minutes before "Charlie Time" (the time we were to initiate the recovery approach to Mother.  Found the two ships no problem, 135 or so miles out using random radar sweeps, and I had a 25 mile error in the 501 plot when they flashed the TACAN - so much for doppler radar - and we hit Charlie dead on time.  Self controlled radar approach to Mother and then landing sequence by signal lights.  All done with radio silence.
The Mk 44 torpedo only had about 30 minutes battery duration in the exercise recording head. We had the sub on sonar of course but it was more than the maximum 30 seconds from break dip to release, and there was no time on the battery to reposition.  So I plotted a lead factor, which we weren't supposed to do on a Selftac and away we went.  Well wouldn't you know the bloody thing collided with the sub during the dive and went to the bottom (the sub surfaced and reported the collision).  I had the last laugh because the Mk44 armed at 50 feet so it would have gone off even though it hadn't entered it's search turn and or turned it's sonar on.  The MK 46 has to go down through search depth and then come back up before it arms.
Another sea story my Huron days when we were doing helo radar trials.  We were doing a Casex in very difficult waters.  The ships were getting really short range hull mounted sonar contacts.   Don't remember now whether it was Nipigon or Assinibione (I think so) but we jumped on top, got contact, and I took the ship under positive radar control, ordered it to Standby Ringers, gave it a heading to steer, as well as a range and bearing from it to the sub to dial on the mortars/sonar.  Well talk about a pregnant pause.  Then somebody other than the ASAC got on the horn with a Roger and she came around very smartly.  I never did near their story but I'd bet that the voice was the CO on the bridge.

In later years, as subs became fitted with towed arrays, it was really dumb to, in particular, to fly down the target  course looking for the sub.  Just like ships and subs, aircraft transmit sounds into the water.  To the sub, this was manna from heaven. THe sounds from four synchronized turbo prop engines leave a very defined doppler shift of several dozen hertz at a known distance behind the sub, as the aircraft crossed the sub's towed array.  All the sub had to do was wait the required fraction of time and then fire their antiaircraft missile(s)."

Credits and References:

1) David Wall <walld(at)>
2) Ian Snow <va3qt-4(at)>

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May 24/11