A Versatile Leader
By PHILIPPE CAUCHI
An outstanding, time-tested design: it’s the determining factor behind
the success of every great rotary aircraft, and in the case of the
Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook, it’s precisely why this versatile,
twin-engine tandem rotor heavy cargo helicopter continues to shine on
the world stage.
By PHILIPPE CAUCHI
An outstanding, time-tested design: it’s the determining factor behind the success of every great rotary aircraft, and in the case of the Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook, it’s precisely why this versatile, twin-engine tandem rotor heavy cargo helicopter continues to shine on the world stage. Lauded as one of the most efficient rotary aircraft in production – the CH-47 Chinook made its first flight in 1961 – it has performed (and continues to perform) a wide variety of military and civilian tasks, most notably filling troop and cargo transport; casualty evacuation; special forces infiltration; downed aircraft recovery; firefighting; disaster relief; and peacekeeping.
|Canadian military riggers at work in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, CH-47 Chinooks have enjoyed a strong presence in the military realm. The United States flew Chinooks extensively in the Vietnam War, and found them effective for artillery movement and troop transport used in assaults. Chinooks have also flown under the Islamic Republic of Iran during its war against Iraq in the 1970s, while England and Argentina both used CH-47s in the short-lived Falklands War in 1982. More than 160 Chinooks were used in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in 1991, and Chinooks from several countries have been used in operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. At last count, some 20 countries worldwide operated more than 900 Chinooks, led by the U.S. with 513, Japan (64), and the U.K. (48).
Seeds of Success
The development of the CH-47 Chinook dates back to 1956, when the U.S. Department of the Army sought to replace the CH-37 Mojave and its piston-powered engine, with a new turbine-powered aircraft. In June 1958, following a spirited design competition, a joint Army-Air Force selection board picked a tandem helicopter design from Philadelphia, Pa.-based Vertol, founded in 1940 by Frank Piasecki. The Vertol 107, with a capacity for 20 troops, was initially designated the YHC-1A, but after three aircraft were tested, the prototype was considered too heavy for the U.S. Army’s assault role and too light for the transport role. Yet, the YHC-1A was improved and adopted by the Marines as the CH-46 Sea Knight in 1962. The Sea Knight has since proven to be a successful aircraft and is still in service today.
|Canadian Forces CH-147 Chinook with a slung load. (Photos courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces)
An enhanced version of the model 107, the larger model 114, was developed, having the capacity to transport more than 40 combat troops. The YCH-1B was born, and it made its inaugural flight on Sept. 21, 1961. A year later, it was redesignated the CH-47A and given the “Chinook” name in honour of the Chinook peoples of the northwest.
Mark Ballew, a former U.S. Army CH-47 pilot and now senior manager, marketing and sales, with Tandem Rotocraft at Boeing, says the Chinook’s design “is the driving force” behind its outstanding performance, success on the world stage and longevity.
“The CH-47F and MHG are both technologically superior aircraft,” said Ballew. “They possess many unique advantages from being tandem rotor aircraft.” Some of the advantages include: increased performance at high altitude and temperatures, because all power goes to lift; increased stability in high wind conditions based on having two main rotor systems; superior loading and unloading areas from the aft ramp; and triple cargo hooks for more stable loads.
They also possess state-of-the-art avionics, digital automatic flight control to ensure continuing military effectiveness, relevance and long-term service for present-day and future war fighters.
Following the successful deployment of the Chinook CH-47 in 1961, new models were added over the next four decades. The CH-47 A, B, C, and D provided varying enhancements, culminating in the current CH-47F or “improved cargo helicopter” requested by the U.S. Army. The CH-47F rolled off the assembly line at the Boeing facility in Ridley Park, Pa., on June 2006, and had its first flight on Oct. 23, 2006. The improved version of the “D” features more powerful 4,868 shaft horsepower Honeywell 55-GA-714A engines, giving it “hot and high” performances; “Fly by Wire,” a new Rockwell Collins avionics suite; and a longer-life, all metal fuselage. With a top speed of 196 miles per hour and a cruising altitude of 20,000 feet, the CH-47F is a more powerful and versatile version of its predecessor. The CH-47F accommodates 44 combat troops or 24 stretchers, and sports a 52-foot fuselage and 99-foot rotors, giving it a maximum take-off weight of 50,000 pounds, significantly more than the original 33,000-pound CH-47A version. Thanks to its unique rotor configuration, the CH-47 needs just a small landing pad of 100 feet by 100 feet – underscoring its incredible ability to get into tight spots with ease.
The Canadian Connection
While military and civilian organizations worldwide have reaped the rewards of the CH-47 Chinook, Canadians have also had a strong connection with the aircraft – and it’s a connection that’s growing stronger each day. The CH-147, as it’s dubbed in Canada, has been part of the Canadian Forces since the acquisition of eight aircraft from October 1974 and October 1976. Although two crashed over that span – the first during its transfer from the U.S., the second in Rankin Inlet, N.W.T. – Chinooks have proven to be more-than-capable aircraft. They were first delivered to 450 Squadron of the 10 Tactical Air Group at CFB Uplands near Ottawa, notes Lieut.-Col. Roger Gagnon, who flew the CH-147 in the 1980s and was recalled to service and supervise the introduction of the CH-47D in Afghanistan. Some of the aircraft were later based at CFB Namao near Edmonton. This detachment became 447 Squadron in 1979, performing troop and cargo carrying, equipment and land forces training, as well as arctic base replenishment missions.
|Canadian Forces Griffon and Chinook helicopters fly in formation during a training mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Photo by Master Corporal Craig Wiggins, Flight Engineer, JTFK Afghanistan, Roto 8)
With the end of the Cold War, however, Chinooks were withdrawn from service due to cost concerns. The 447 Squadron was disbanded and the 450 Squadron inherited CH-135 Bell Twin Huey aircraft. The seven remaining Chinook helicopters were sold to the Netherlands government in 1992 and, for the next several years, Canada was without heavy helicopter lifting capabilities.
Fortunately, Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan changed the scenario. The war created an immediate need for a medium-lift tactical helicopter and, in 2006, after years of troops having to ride piggy-back with other foreign troops on CH-147 helicopters, the federal government issued an Advance Contract Award Notice (ACAN) for the Medium-To-Heavy-Lift Helicopter Project in order to acquire 16 helicopters. Boeing was among the contenders, which included the Sikorsky S92, AugustaWestland EH 101 and NH Industries NH101. On April 7, 2008, Public Works and Government Services Canada Minister Michael Fortier announced a request for proposal for Boeing for the acquisition of helicopters and logistics support for 20 years. Later that May, Defence Minister Peter McKay unveiled a new defence strategy for Canada entitled, “Canada First,” essentially enabling Chinooks to provide necessary military support both here and abroad.
Last June, the federal government signed a $1.156 billion contract with Boeing to acquire 16 brand new CH-147F Chinooks. Delivery is to start in June 2013 at a rate of one aircraft per month. This follows the additional purchase of six previously used CH-147D Chinooks in 2008 from the U.S. Army for $290 million, a more immediate solution for Canadian troops.
| CH-147 Chinook pilots Lt.-Col. Colin
Hudson (left) and Capt. Mat Bergeron (right) from the Canadian
Helicopter Force conduct a flight mission in Afghanistan. (Photo by
Master Cpl. Angela Abbey, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
As noted by Carl Trincia, director, International Chinook Programs at Boeing in Philadelphia, the Canadian Forces’ new CH-147 “would be able to perform any kind of mission from the remote part of the Canadian Arctic to the highest mountains of Afghanistan in the summer time.”
The Canadian version of the Chinook is notably different from other models. It will feature huge conformal tanks taken from the “G” model, giving it a range of 415 nautical miles. It is also going to be equipped with Directional Infrared Counter Measures (DIRCM) system, night-vision goggles and a high-output generating system. This version of the CH-47 can also be carried by a C-17 with the need of only 15 man-hours to dismount the main rotors. The new fleet is expected to fly 7,200 hours per year. “The program is on track for introduction into the factory during the second quarter of next year,” said Dennis Morris, Canada program manager for the the CH-47 Chinook.
A Fitting Tribute
The growing Canadian relationship with the veritable CH-147 was perhaps best displayed at 5 a.m. on March 7, 2010, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. While most of the garrison slept in their beds, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, the U.S. Army’s 2-2 Infantry Battalion and the Afghan National Security Forces prepared to board three Chinook helicopters – two British and one Canadian. Such air-mobile operations are old hat for the British Chinooks, but it marked the first time a Canadian helicopter flown by a Canadian crew would take Canadians into battle.
Flying in formation, the transport helicopters quickly and efficiently inserted the troops on their objective, which they immediately seized. It was a proud moment, and a sign of future successes, now that the versatile CH-147 is once again leading the way for the Canadian Forces.
|Training the troops
CAE to enlighten Chinook operators
The federal government’s decision to order more than $1.156 billion worth of CH-147 Chinook helicopters is great news for CAE Inc. The Montreal-based flight-simulation company has been awarded a $250-million contract to provide weapons-system training, tactical flight training, gunnery training and a virtual simulator for the military helicopters. As part of the agreement, 40 CAE employees will work on training and maintenance over the next 20 years, mostly at the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa, Ont.
The announcement was also big news for the base. CFB Petawawa will be home to the Canadian fleet once they begin arriving in the summer of 2013. It should provide industry benefits of $2 billion over 20 years. CFB Petawawa is expected to see various infrastructure projects to accommodate the helicopters, including new hangars, a new ramp, a refuelling facility and a fenced-in parking area. The project will create 440 jobs.
Petawawa was chosen because it provides the best support to army and special operations forces, many of which are co-located there, while minimizing the associated infrastructure costs for the new fleet. From this location, the Chinooks will maintain a high-readiness posture for rapid deployment, said General Walt Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff.