Rotary Wing / By COL Al M. Niles Jr.: In January 2020, Team Chinook will successfully pass another milestone: the U.S. Army will take delivery of its last Remanufactured CH-47F Block I Chinook helicopter. This is a culminating event of what is considered one of the Army’s most successful acquisition programs. The CH-47F traces its origins to the 1997 Improved Cargo Helicopter program, a service-life extension program for the CH-47D. The program achieved its First Unit Equipped (FUE) in July 2007 with fielding to the 7th Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, KY. Over the last 12 years, this program delivered and fielded all its 460 aircraft, on time, to all Chinook units in the Active Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard. During these production and fielding efforts, the aircraft also received multiple significant retrofit enhancements.
CH-47F aircraft conducting the first fully-configured Block II test flight in Mesa, AZ, Nov. 7, 2019. / PHOTO BY DAVE ANDREWS OF THE BOEING COMPANY
The Chinook continues to bring unique and reliable capabilities to bear since its first flight on September 21st, 1961. The CH-47 received numerous upgrades, progressing from the original CH-47A through C and D models to the current CH-47F in use by Army conventional forces. Other Chinook variations include gunship models and the MH-47 family of special operations aircraft.
In the current variant, the CH-47F, the implementation of the Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) and the Digital Advanced Flight Controls System (DAFCS) enhanced safety and situational awareness. The change to new monolithic machined airframes, permanently installed rotor and drivetrain vibration monitoring systems, and improved approaches to preventing corrosion reduced maintenance demands and extended airframe life-spans. Mission flexibility and cargo management improved by the Cargo On and Off Loading System and the addition of the latest defensive systems continues to improve aircraft survivability.
Through continuous combat deployments that began almost immediately after FUE and countless responses to natural disasters, ranging from floods to hurricanes and forest fires, the CH-47F maintains its long-standing reputation as the Army Aviation workhorse. The aircraft’s unique capabilities are indispensable in the mountains of Afghanistan. Its power and stability enabled the rapid re-construction of electrical power distribution infrastructure in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. No other platform can safely deliver comparable payload in such extreme environmental conditions.
The aircraft’s reputation as the workhorse is a testament to the hard-working, persistent, and resilient people of the Chinook family. None of it would happen without the support of the Pentagon, Army Acquisition Corps, and Congress who perceived the need and provided funding and strategic guidance. There are hundreds of people completing aircraft design and manufacturing efforts at the Boeing facility at Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. Additionally, there are thousands of people working in the supply base across the nation and in several foreign countries to design, develop and deliver the sub-systems and components necessary to build and maintain the aircraft. Their work culminates with the untold numbers of people training, operating, maintaining, and riding in the CH-47F along with the vast amounts of cargo and equipment moved around the world every day.
Each of these people have their own unique story and many of them, a lengthy and notable connection with the Chinook. One example is Mr. Dick O’Connell, who joined the Chinook family as a CH-47A pilot in Vietnam. O’Connell recently retired from a position in the Training and Doctrine Command’s Capabilities Manager’s office where he provided input and guidance for the definition of user requirements. Whether these team members are recent additions to the Chinook family, or they have participated from the inception; whether the component or system they produce is large or small, each is critical to the success of the platform.
As the Chinook family anticipates the milestone delivery of the last CH-47F Block I, it is also looking to the future. The Block I Product Office continues to provide heavy lift capability to our international partners through the delivery of Chinook aircraft, the training systems, and simulator devices to support aircrews and individual country requirements for unique modifications to the CH-47F.
Another historic step in Army Aviation occurred on November 7, 2019, when the first fully configured CH-47F Block II prototype test aircraft broke ground and completed an experimental test flight at the Boeing Test Flight Facility in Mesa, Arizona. This event was the first time that a complete Block II aircraft flew with the improved drivetrain, improved rotor system, and advanced chinook rotor blade. The November 7th flight is a testament to the incredible CH-47F Block II Product Office dedicated to providing the Army critical heavy lift capability.
A combined test team made up of U.S. Army and Boeing personnel is currently testing three Block II prototype Engineering and Manufacturing Development aircraft. The CTT is ushering the aircraft through months of rigorous ground testing and over 300 hours of experimental flight testing in advance of a limited user test in early 2021.
One thing is clear: despite a changing Army and evolving battlefields over the past 59 years, the Chinook continues to stand the test of time. As the U.S. Army prepares itself to dominate in the Multi-Domain Operations fight, the Chinook will continue to play a critical and unique role in the fight. The Chinook family is leaning forward to ensure the aircraft will remain relevant in the future fight through improved reach and payload, improvements in interoperability and cybersecurity, and agile deployment of new capabilities through the employment of the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA).
COL Al M. Niles, Jr. is the project manager, Cargo Helicopter, Program Executive Office Aviation at Redstone Arsenal, AL.