Friday, 11 September 2015

Last of the 280's - HMCS ATHABASKAN

Once upon a time, there were four IROQUOIS (DDH 280) class destroyers, all of which were commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy during the early 1970s. Wonders of modern warship construction at the time, they received extensive upgrades in the 1990s to transition from antisubmarine warfare (ASW) destroyers to guided missile area air warfare (AAW) destroyers. This bought them, in some cases, another 20 years, but now only one remains: HMCS ATHABASKAN (DDH 282).  HURON was paid off first, and sunk in an exercise. IROQUOIS and ALGONQUIN both paid off this year.

PRESERVER (left) and ATHABASKAN are the two oldest warships ships remaining in RCN commission. ATHABASKAN is the only one of the two still serviceable, with PRESERVER sadly operating as a glorified refueling barge.
Being the last of your family isn't easy. An accident during her tow whilst returning from a refit on the Great Lakes caused some minor damage, and she was never completely returned to her full fighting trim. More recently she has had propulsion problems (despite cannibalizing sister IROQUOIS for many parts). Despite this, she and HMCS HALIFAX (FFH 330) have deployed this week to an exercise in Europe. In the process of leaving on Thursday morning, ATHABASKAN circled the harbour with a Sea King on deck, which proceeded to warm up and take off before she left. My morning ferry ride put me in the right place at the right time, so to speak, to capture some of this.

On ATHABASKAN's return to Halifax from refit in 2013, several holes were visible in her hull above the waterline just aft of her pendant number on the port side, from where she hit the tug that was towing her.
I first saw her headed out beyond George's Island, after which she turned and returned to the inner harbour, with the Sea King on deck. 

Just rounded George's at this point.

Somewhere along the Dartmouth shore, as I was about to pack it in, the Sea King fired up. Around the same time, ATHABASKAN's exhaust plume of blueish smoke also became more apparent. Apparently she is still having some propulsion issues!
The Sea King continued to spin her rotors as ATHABASKAN turned to head back south. I was hoping that she would lift off before getting too far away from my vantage point on Cable Wharf, and I wasn't disappointed. 

Just after the Sea King lifted off. Note the rotor tip vapour trails.
Helicopters can be challenging to capture properly. With any prop or rotor driven aircraft, it is good practice to slow the camera's shutter speed in order to impart motion to the propeller or rotor, otherwise the aircraft can appear static in the air (as if it were falling). Plane propellers spin faster than helicopter rotors, so of the two, helicopters require slower shutter speeds. I usually aim for 1/100 of a second for helicopters, although the shots here were at 1/200 of a second because I forgot to change to shutter priority mode on the camera. Still, not too bad.

After liftoff, she moved right and flew along the starboard side of the ship.
I consulted Wikipedia about the vapour trails. Wingtip or rotor blade tip vortices are always present when lift is being generated, but are only visible when humidity conditions are just right, so that water vapour may condense or freeze in the core of the vortices. It was quite humid this week, so apparently conditions were right. You can also see the water kicked up from the harbour by the rotor wash from the Sea King.

Sea King headed back to Shearwater, ATHABASKAN passed the lighthouse on George's on her way out.
After she passed George's, I had to tear myself away to get to work. Hopefully the exercise is uneventful (well, in the bad sense anyway) for ATHABASKAN!

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