The long, painful fiasco surrounding the UK Royal Air Force’s Boeing Chinook HC3 helicopters should come to an end next year when the first aircraft are due to be deployed to Afghanistan.

The HC3s, initially destined for special forces use, have been sitting in a hangar since delivery in 2001 as their avionics software could not be demonstrated to meet new UK military airworthiness standards. This was despite Boeing fulfilling its contractual obligations on the aircraft.

A Boeing press conference at the show on UK Chinook through-life customer support (TLCS) heard that the first HC3 was now being ‘reverted’ to standard support configuration. The eight aircraft are due to start emerging from the process next May and will be dispatched to theatre towards the end of the year.

The HC3 programme has been the subject of searing criticism from parliamentary and governmental oversight bodies for several years. The chairman of the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) once described it as “one of the most incompetent procurements of all time”.

Questioned on the affair at the press conference, Pete Worrall, the UK Ministry of Defence’s director-general, helicopters, said: “What happened in the past happened in the past. I’m not going to comment on that.”

Turning to maintenance of the main, 40-strong Chinook fleet, he said he had flown in the aircraft in Afghanistan two months ago and was aware how important it was to have the heavylift helicopters available for operations. Under the TLCS programme headed by Boeing, a major maintenance cycle has dropped since 2005 from more than 250 days to around 145 days, leading to increased availability for the Chinook fleet.

Source: Flight International