UK starts Chinook HC3 'reversion' work, amid criticism

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Qinetiq has begun modifying the first two of eight Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC3 transport helicopters for long-delayed service with the UK Royal Air Force, as a new report has again criticised the UK Ministry of Defence for the flawed procurement.

The aircraft were recently placed into so-called reversion work at Qinetiq's Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire under a subcontract with Boeing, with flight-test activities to start in the first quarter of next year and deliveries to run from mid-2009 through 2010.

Delivered in 2001 under an almost £270 million ($526 million) acquisition, the HC3s have been kept in storage due to certification problems with the type's bespoke software.

 
© Qinetiq

The new work will bring the aircraft close to the RAF's current Chinook HC2/2A configuration, while increasing programme costs to around £422 million, including interim work to provide a night enhancement package for the current fleet.

In its 4 June report into the reversion strategy, the UK National Audit Office criticised the MoD for abandoning a so-called "fix-to-field" initiative that it says was £85 million more expensive, but "well planned, technically mature, and affordable".

Delayed availability of the modified HC3 fleet will contribute to a planned increase in the RAF's Chinook fleet use from around 13,500 flight hours a year to an eventual 18,000h.

Another recently agreed measure will see the RAF and Chinook through-life customer support (TLCS) provider Boeing increase the period between scheduled minor and major servicing of the aircraft from 600 to 800 flight hours, and from 2,400h to 3,200h, respectively, says James O'Loughlin, Boeing's TLCS programme director at the Vector Fleetlands depth maintenance facility in Hampshire.

A major service now takes 140 days, versus 260 in 2004, and the two-year-old TLCS arrangement has cut the time needed to repair aircraft that have suffered major damage while on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq from 18-24 months to between three and eight.

"Over the past year we have proven that we can do repairs with maintenance," says Vector Fleetlands site director Graham Sargent. The former Defence Aviation Repair Agency facility conducted work on 29 Chinooks in 2007, he says.

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