UK's Chinook upgrade nears operational milestone

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The UK's Project "Julius" to modernise up to 46 Boeing CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters has made steady progress during the past several months, with initial operational capability likely to be declared in March.

Two upgraded Chinook HC4s were delivered to Odiham air base in Hampshire last December, to support pre-acceptance checks by the Royal Air Force. A third is being used to support ground crew training at the site, said an industry source.

Flight-test activities involving another three HC4s are being conducted at the Ministry of Defence's Boscombe Down test centre in Wiltshire, while three others are undergoing modification or flight testing in Gosport, Hampshire. The programme's tenth aircraft is also due to arrive in Gosport "imminently", the source said.

Project Julius - a modernisation programme for the RAF's legacy Chinook HC2/2As involving Boeing, Qinetiq and Thales - includes replacing analogue cockpit instruments with digital displays and the fleet-wide use of more powerful Honeywell T55-714 engines.

 

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The RAF's Chinook HC2/2A fleet is being upgraded under Project Julius

The glass cockpit work is also being performed as a so-called "reversion" measure on the RAF's eight Chinook HC3s, which had been prevented from entering service because of certification issues.

Speaking on 1 March, Peter Luff, UK minister for defence equipment, support and technology, described flight-test activities with the upgraded aircraft in 2011 as "largely successful", but confirmed "some technical issues were identified".

"The Ministry of Defence and industry have an established plan to resolve these issues and deliver the aircraft to service shortly," said Luff. "Once introduced into service, their use and deployment will be determined by prevailing military needs and priorities."

An industry source said this month's approval of initial operational capability will be swiftly followed by formal release to service approval for the HC4 in April.

An upgraded Chinook HC4 simulator is already available at the CAE-run Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

The RAF's operational fleet of upgraded Chinooks will also be expanded from 2015, with Boeing under a £1 billion ($1.6 billion) contract to deliver 14 new aircraft in a so-called HC6 configuration..