Titanic Sub Hunt: Canada’s Spy Plane & the Sonic Search

A Canadian spy plane picked up regular 'banging' noises in the search area of the missing OceanGate submersible days after it vanished in the Atlantic on June 18, 2023 with five passengers aboard and a limited supply of oxygen.

The Canadian Air Force deployed a Lockheed CP-140 Aurora to carry out underwater sonar searches in the hope of locating a 21-foot submersible that disappeared near the wreckage of the sunken Titanic - just as military pilots would do if they were hunting a submarine. 

The long-range patrol aircraft deployed sonobuoys above the ‘distress position’ about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland where the submersible, Titan, was last seen. A ‘banging noise’ was repeatedly detected days after the vessel went missing - and at once point the noise carried on every 30 minutes for at least four hours - although it wasn’t immediately known where the noise came from or what it meant.

Canadian Armed Forces Operations

Here’s what you need to know about the Lockheed plane and some of the technology utilized to find the Titan submersible and its five occupants, lost within an hour and 45 minutes into their dive. 

Canada's Aurora Spy Plane
Canada’s Air Force deployed a CP-140 Aurora


What’s the Aurora spy plane used for?

The spy plane is a long-range patrol aircraft used for maritime and overland intelligence, anti-terrorism operations, surveillance and reconnaissance, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, strike coordination, and search and rescue as well as combating drug trafficking and other operations.

CP-140 is Canada’s designation for Lockheed’s P-3 Orion maritime patrol craft, the same type of craft developed for the US Navy. It is designed to detect and destroy new-generation stealth submarines. 

Aura
Canada’s fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2030

Avionics & weapons

The Joint Rescue Coordination Center said the Aurora offers ‘surface search and sub-surface acoustic detection capabilities’. So what’s on board? 

The CP-140 Aurora is reportedly equipped with Wescam MX-20 Electro-Optical/Infrared system, a magnetic anomaly detector generally used to track submarines from an aircraft, Applanix DSS-439 digital mapping camera, hand-held camera, Airborne Imaging Radar Systems, and gyro-stabilized binoculars.

The Aurora is armed with Mk 46 Mod V torpedoes which can strike high-performance submarines within a range of about seven miles. The CP-140 also carries signal chargers, smoke markers, and illumination flares. Other equipment and systems include an Electronic Support Measures system and sonobuoys.

Aurora spy plane
Sonobuoys loaded onto a USN P-3C Orion aircraft

What are sonobuoys?

Sonobuoys are expendable sonar systems dropped or ejected from an aircraft conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research. They are generally five inches in diameter and three feet long and float on the water with a radio transmitter that communicates with the aircraft. One or more hydrophone sensors and stabilizing equipment descend below the surface of the water and relay acoustic information via UHF/VHF radio to operators on board the aircraft.

Titanic Sub Hunt: Canada’s Spy Plane & the Sonic Search

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A Canadian spy plane picked up regular 'banging' noises in the search area of the missing OceanGate submersible days after it vanished in the Atlantic on June 18, 2023 with five passengers aboard and a limited supply of oxygen.

The Canadian Air Force deployed a Lockheed CP-140 Aurora to carry out underwater sonar searches in the hope of locating a 21-foot submersible that disappeared near the wreckage of the sunken Titanic - just as military pilots would do if they were hunting a submarine. 

The long-range patrol aircraft deployed sonobuoys above the ‘distress position’ about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland where the submersible, Titan, was last seen. A ‘banging noise’ was repeatedly detected days after the vessel went missing - and at once point the noise carried on every 30 minutes for at least four hours - although it wasn’t immediately known where the noise came from or what it meant.

Canadian Armed Forces Operations

Here’s what you need to know about the Lockheed plane and some of the technology utilized to find the Titan submersible and its five occupants, lost within an hour and 45 minutes into their dive. 

Canada's Aurora Spy Plane
Canada’s Air Force deployed a CP-140 Aurora


What’s the Aurora spy plane used for?

The spy plane is a long-range patrol aircraft used for maritime and overland intelligence, anti-terrorism operations, surveillance and reconnaissance, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, strike coordination, and search and rescue as well as combating drug trafficking and other operations.

CP-140 is Canada’s designation for Lockheed’s P-3 Orion maritime patrol craft, the same type of craft developed for the US Navy. It is designed to detect and destroy new-generation stealth submarines. 

Aura
Canada’s fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2030

Avionics & weapons

The Joint Rescue Coordination Center said the Aurora offers ‘surface search and sub-surface acoustic detection capabilities’. So what’s on board? 

The CP-140 Aurora is reportedly equipped with Wescam MX-20 Electro-Optical/Infrared system, a magnetic anomaly detector generally used to track submarines from an aircraft, Applanix DSS-439 digital mapping camera, hand-held camera, Airborne Imaging Radar Systems, and gyro-stabilized binoculars.

The Aurora is armed with Mk 46 Mod V torpedoes which can strike high-performance submarines within a range of about seven miles. The CP-140 also carries signal chargers, smoke markers, and illumination flares. Other equipment and systems include an Electronic Support Measures system and sonobuoys.

Aurora spy plane
Sonobuoys loaded onto a USN P-3C Orion aircraft

What are sonobuoys?

Sonobuoys are expendable sonar systems dropped or ejected from an aircraft conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research. They are generally five inches in diameter and three feet long and float on the water with a radio transmitter that communicates with the aircraft. One or more hydrophone sensors and stabilizing equipment descend below the surface of the water and relay acoustic information via UHF/VHF radio to operators on board the aircraft.

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Canadian spy plane, Aurora

Previous CP-140 missions

Canada deployed its CP-140 aircraft in Operation Apollo in the Persian Gulf from late 2001 to mid-2003, performed maritime patrol missions in the Libyan waters under America’s Operation Odyssey Dawn, and deployed for NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. The Aurora is Canada's only strategic Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft.

The Titan submersible
The Coast Guard received a report on an overdue 21-foot submersible, Titan, from the Polar Prince


The Titan rescue team

Researchers aboard the Polar Prince - mothership of the Titan submersible - lost contact with the crew less than two hours after its early-morning dive on June 18, 2023.

US, Canadian and French agencies are working together to find the submersible but the search area is vast - about twice the size of Connecticut. The US Coast Guard is coordinating the operation and has sent search teams, vessels, and ROVs - remotely operated vehicles - to hunt under the surface.

A French ocean research vessel carrying the 'Victor 6000' unmanned, deep-sea robot arrived at the Titan search zone on June 21. The vessel, Atalante, was to use an echo-sounder to accurately map the seabed so the robot’s search would be more targeted. The deep-diving Victor 6000 has arms that can be remotely controlled to cut cables or perform other manoeuvres 24/7 operated by a 25-person crew. Victor is capable of visual exploration with video equipment.

the 'Victor 6000' unmanned, deep-sea robot
the 'Victor 6000' unmanned, deep-sea robot



“This is a complex search effort which requires multiple agencies with subject matter expertise and specialized equipment which we have gained through the unified command,” Capt. Jamie Frederick, the response coordinator from the First Coast Guard District, said.

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