Living on the west coast of Ireland I regularly get the Irish Coast Guard S61N passing over on training/rescue missions. Its always a beautiful sight although we always hope its just on a training mission. The first of its replacement S-92 has been received and replacement of the entire fleet (6) of S-61's is due in 2013.
I remember reading years ago that the S-61/Sea King had some special qualities that made it a superlative rescue chopper. I believe it had some outstanding all weather hovering capabilities developed by the US for its anti sub work that made it the king at S&R. It had outstanding range and search endurance too. It could also land in water although I don't know if this was ever used for rescue work, I doubt it would be relevant in Atlantic swells.
Originally when our air corps got Dauphins they were supposed to take over the rescue role from the RAF who provided rescue cover for Ireland using Sea Kings but the Dauphins proved unable to carry out the role for whatever reason and long range cover was mostly still provided by the RAF (Thank you ) until the coast guard took it over in 2001 with a private company (CHC) providing the service with S-61N's.
I know it was slow but the Sea King has done some amazing rescues off the Irish Coast, things like the Fastnet Disaster where they went out in force 9+ gales and 30+ foot swells and rescued many souls that night. To the best of my knowledge none have ever been lost in the rescue mission around Ireland. When you consider the weather they take on that is simply amazing.
The Irish Channel and west coast have always been a very demanding role for a rescue chopper, with range a key factor and it has always been said/felt that the Sea King was the only helicopter up to the job despite it being replaced in US service by many types. The Irish Navy has only very limited heilcopter (1 heli patrol craft which can take an AW139) capability so rescue responsibility falls to the various RNLI stations with helicopter cover from the Coast Guard. Thats a lot of ocean for 4 helicopters, they need to be good at it. I note the Royal Navy and RAF still use Sea Kings for their S&R despite Merlins coming on line.
My question is, have the new FBW(?) replacements such as the EH101, S-92, NH-90 etc surpassed its ability in the rescue role. They are definitely faster but do they have the range/endurance, inherent stability and sheer doggedness in the face of ridiculous weather to match the old warhorse?