Cargo helicopter praised at aviation convention
The CH-47 Chinook’s reputation as the Army’s workhorse is built on solid ground as the government-contractor team behind the heavylift cargo helicopter continues to improve its capabilities.
During a media roundtable Thursday that was conducted with members of the media primarily on teleconference to the Army Aviation Association of America annual professional forum and exposition at the Fort Worth, Texas, Convention Center, both Army and Boeing officials said the Chinook continues to “perform superbly in combat operations” while at the same time it is being modified for more capabilities and costs are being reduced through manufacturing efficiencies.
“We continue to execute the multi-year contract with Boeing and we are getting the aircraft to units that subsequently deploy,” Col. Bob Marion, project manager for Cargo Helicopters, Program Executive Office for Aviation, said.
“We continue to get superior reviews of the aircraft and how it’s helping those units. It continues to perform superbly in combat operations. We are really proud.”
The Army is set to sign a multiyear contract with Boeing in May for the production of the next generation F-model Chinooks in a contract that represents about $810 million − or 19.2 percent – savings based on a single year estimate.
“It’s a really big development for the Army,” Marion said.
Currently, Chinook is fielded with about half of the Army’s units. The multiyear contract calls for the production of 155 aircraft – with 121 renews (upgrading of D models to F models) and 34 new builds – and another 60 optioned for foreign military sales. The new contract will field the second half of the Army, according to Lt. Col. Michael “Reese” Hauenstein, the Chinook’s product manager.
“We continue getting support from the Pentagon and we’re fielding these outstanding aircraft,” Hauenstein said.
The new contract will incorporate current post-production modifications that will allow Chinook pilots to “fly missions in different environments with much more confidence. ... Everyone wants more of them sooner,” he said.
The F-model Chinook is engineered with next-generation avionics, electronics, cockpit digital moving map displays and multi-impact dust armor for better situational awareness, improved door gun mounts, and an under-floor ballistic protection system. Future modifications incorporated into the F-model will include the Cargo On/Off Loading System that involves rollers built into the helicopter’s floor to better expedite on and off-loading of supplies and gear, composite rotor blades able to add 2,000-pounds of additional lift capability, and Condition-Based Maintenance that involves portable diagnostic devices that allow aircraft engineers to better predict maintenance needs and potential mechanical failures.
“We want to focus on the payload. We want the aircraft to be able to carry the Joint Lift Attack Vehicle and meet other payload requirements,” Lt. Col. Joseph Hoerchel, product manager for CH-47 Modernization, said.
“We look to maintain the aircraft’s ability while also reducing cost and increasing efficiency.”
The Chinook’s reputation has gained the admiration of foreign allies, with the United Arab Emirates receiving its first F-model in late 2012. The United Kingdom, Turkey, Australia and Canada are also customers. The Canadians will receive the first of 15 F-models this summer that will include modifications they have required, such as an extended range fuel system and electrical system enhancements.
“It’s a great testament to the product,” Hoerchel said.
Chinooks are manufactured at Boeing’s Philadelphia site, where investment in modernization and work force development has led to reduced costs for the new Chinook models. The company has also worked with its 400 Chinook suppliers located in 39 states and countries to help drive costs down, said Mark Ballew, Boeing’s director for Vertical Lift Tiltrotor and Cargo Helicopter Programs.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Army’s first CH-47 Chinook delivery. The oldest Chinook flying today was delivered in January 1963 and is based at Fort Lewis, Wash., with plans to be deployed back to Afghanistan in the near future. The Army and Boeing both expressed a sense of pride in the Chinook’s abilities as a battlefield game-changer when it comes to delivering troops, heavy equipment and supplies.
“We are proud of the excellent things our Soldiers and allies are doing with this aircraft around the world,” Ballew said. “It’s important to us to talk to the units and see what’s going well and what we have to improve for our Soldiers.”
The Army’s Marion expects the Chinook to be around for another 30 to 50 years, perhaps longer.
But to get there, “we have to continue looking at upgrades to keep this aircraft relevant and supporting the Army,” he said. “We are always looking at opportunities to make the F-model more relevant and to ensure we keep the sacred trust Army aviation has with Soldiers. We have to maintain the ability to support regardless of where the Army sends us. We’re keeping the aircraft viable, suitable and effective for Soldiers and the future.”