The long life of the H-47 Chinook

By Luca Peruzzi

Boeing continues to work to maintain the H-47 Chinook at the edge as well as looking to new customers in addition to upgrading programmes and support services and activities to current operators. With nearly 60 years of service, the Chinook is today in service with 20 countries with 950+ aircraft but continues to evolve to meet the latest and future operational needs, said Dave Palm, Director Vertical Lift Global Sales & Marketing during the Boeing’s Pre-Virtual Farnborough Air Show Media Days conference call with international media. The latest Chinook CH-47F Block II programme will bolster the US Army and current and future international operators CH-47F capabilities by integrating new technologies into the platform, including the advanced Chinook rotor blades, an improved transmission, redesigned fuel tanks and an enhanced fuselage, all aimed at increasing payload, providing commonality across the fleet and creating a foundation for affordable future upgrades. Notwithstanding the COVID 19 pandemic, Boeing is working hard to execute the Chinook CH-47F Block II engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) flight test in support of the US Army’s schedule, said Terry “TJ” Jamison, Director, Vertical Lift International Sales Global Sales & Marketing. The key decision on this programme, which will have a major impact on the Boeing aircraft future, will come with the Milestone C being expected in 4Q FY2021, with the launch of the Low Rate Initial Production of the Block II soon after, according to US Army latest plans. Boeing is however under contract and already working on the MH-47G Block II programme for the US Army Special Operations Aviation Command (SOAC) with the first aircraft already on the assembly line for the expected delivery later this year. On parallel to the Block II developments, under the Cooperative Research and Development programme with the US Army and General Electric, Boeing is working to test and demonstrate the GE T-408 turbofan which can provide up to 7,500 shp (compared to current 4,868 shp for each engine) with a new transmission, airframe and systems modifications, ensuring enhanced operational capabilities to the Chinook. A first flight is expected in a couple of months, said Randy Rotte, Director Vertical Lift-Cargo/Utility/Future Vertical Lift, Global Sales & Marketing. Under the same programme, the US Army entered into an agreement with Howeywell, the current engine provider of the Chinook, to demonstrate and fly its upgraded T55-GA-714C 6,000-horsepower engine, which is 25% more powerful and consumes 10% less fuel than the current T55 engine among other benefits, and requiring almost no airframe changes.

To keep its Chinook production line busy for many years to come, in addition to new platform developments, Boeing is actively involved in marketing and sales campaigns worldwide, from Europe to Middle East and Pacific for both new production and upgrade programmes, as well as supporting activities. In addition to the baseline CH-47F Block I, Boeing also proposes the H-47 Extended Range (ER) version (like the one in service with Canada and centered on more capable fuel tanks) which can be customized to fit the user’s unique requirements, with capabilities like air-to-air refueling, which has been in use on the Chinook for decades.

In addition to the lasting support activities and upgrading programmes to latest CH-47F version of current NATO customers, including Canada, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the Netherlands and the UK, Boeing is working hard to won the Schwerer Transporthubschrauber (STH) competition in Germany, while France has showed concrete interest in the tandem rotors helicopter. Boeing recently delivered the first of the new CH-47F Chinooks to the Royal Netherlands Air Force on-cost and on schedule. Boeing will continue to deliver these FMS aircraft through the end of this year according to TJ Jamison, who also underlined that the Chinook has been the workhorse of the Royal Netherlands Air Force for 25 years now, and they needed well-deserved upgrades.

Italy also ordered 14 ICH-47F aircraft in a customized configuration for Italian Army Aviation needs, which are all in service. The acquisition programme for additional four H-47 in the Extended Range (ER) version for special operations has been mothballed even if the operational need remains, although to be accomplished by existing assets but with different capabilities.

In September 2018, the Spanish MoD took the decision to modernize the in-service fleet of 17 CH-47D to the Foxtrot version. In addition to the integration of digital automatic flight control system and the common avionics architecture system there will be modification also to the internal and external fitting/slinging capacities. Boeing continues to work through the manufacturing process to modernize the Spanish Chinook fleet and deliveries are scheduled to begin next year, said TJ Jamison. Turkey, however, ordered 11 CH-47F Chinooks via FMS and all aircraft have been delivered.

The UK MoD is well advanced in the on-going upgrade programme (to HC6A standard) to equip its earliest fleet of 38 HC4 (analogous to UK-customized CH-47Ds) Chinooks with Boeing’s DAFCS sided by the eight HC5 (equivalent to the US MH-47E plus UK-specific modifications) and 14 HC6 (equivalent to the CH-47F plus UK-specific modifications). With 60 Chinook currently in service, the US Government approved in October 2018 the possible procurement of a further 16 H-47 Chinook in the so-called ER (Extended Range) version with similar US Army’s MH-47G standard special forces mission kit. However, no contract has yet been signed for these additional helicopters.

Boeing provided a comprehensive response to the German MoD’s BAAINBw invitation to tender on 13 January 2020, meeting all of the criteria specified by the organization, said Boeing representatives. Negotiations with the BAAINBw are ongoing. Best and Final Offer should be submitted in October and parliamentary vote is expected in Q1 2021. Germany is looking at 44 to 60 aircraft. Boeing is offering Germany the H-47 Extended Range, a model similar to that operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force with an air-to-air refueling probe.

Boeing is working closely with the BAAINBw to provide a tailored solution that meets the German capability needs at minimum cost. Boeing is committed to having the sustainment and training as well as part of the production done in Germany and will continue to build on and expand the Germany Chinook Industry Team. In 2018, Boeing announced a partnership with 10 German companies for the STH competition and continues to build a strong German team that will provide sustainment and maintenance of the Chinook over the next 40-50 years, said TJ Jamison.

The French MoD and Special Forces Command have shown concrete interest in the heavy transport helicopters capability: an internal working group was set up in January 2019 at the Ministry of the Armed Forces with representatives from the DGA, the Air Force and the Special Operations Command. “We are seeing the full benefit of hélicoptères de transport lourd (HTL) or heavy transport helicopters (HTL) in the context of Operation Barkhane, where our British friends have extended the engagement of their three (HC5 Chinook) helicopters until the summer of 2020”, said the Chief of French Air Force in the 2020 defence budget hearing in October 2019. The UK MoD announced last June that the deployment will be further extended for an undisclosed period. “In liaison with partners like Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom we are examining the possibility of training pilots and are also considering leasing this type of capacity”, he continued during the same hearing. Boeing confirmed to EDR On-Line that French Air Force and Special Operations Command requested information on the Chinook heavy-lift capability. Boeing hasn’t provided further details, but the French MoD is reported to be looking for leasing the latest Extended Range version of the Chinook in advance to a potential acquisition in the post LPM 2019-2025 period.

The H-47 continues to attract interest and is being offered worldwide out of Europe and NATO countries, for new-production tenders as well as upgrading and support programmes, said Mark Ballew, Director Global Services & Support – Global Sales & Marketing. Israel is a significant market and Boeing continues to engage with the customer, industry and key stakeholders, said TJ Jamison. Boeing is offering the H-47 Extended Range, Block 2 aircraft to Israelconfigured with the required Israeli equipment, mission kits and modifications, said TJ Jamison.

The solid backlog of Chinooks on order combined with potential new orders will maintain the production line for many years to come, obviously with fluctuations in quantities depending on sales for each year, said Randy Rotte. Looking to the future, Boeing considers having many opportunities across the globe in addition to current sales campaigns, either for new aircraft or upgrade as well as support programmes around the world, including Morocco, UAE, Norway, Egypt, Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Qatar and Korea, said TJ Jamison.

Photos courtesy Boeing