US Special Operations Command aviators already fly a highly advanced version of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter, but not until 29 September did they have one built from scratch.
The command’s MH-47Gs, as they are designated, have previously been heavily retrofitted CH-47C, D and E models. Building the aircraft from the ground up allowed for a monolithic, machined airframe rather than sheet metal, which cuts down on vibration fatigue and subsequent maintenance.
Design work began in 2011 and first flight of the first new-build of a total eight on order took place in late September. The helicopter is slated for the 160th special operations aviation regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, and was delivered at Boeing’s Ridley Park facility on 29 September.
Steve Parker, Boeing’s cargo helicopter and H-47 programme manager says it is “without a doubt the most capable Chinook that Boeing has ever built.”
“This will ensure that the Chinook will remain relevant for the conventional army and special operations through the 2060s,” Parker says.
The new-build aircraft has a machined airframe mated to extended fuel tanks that double its range over the standard CH-47. It includes a digital advanced flight control system (DAFCS) and extensive sensor suite and electronic warfare capabilities, the details of which are classified. Its engines are outfitted with infrared-signature suppressors and it sports a terrain-scanning radar pod. The aircraft also has an aerial refueling boom, which is unique to special operations.
The first aircraft must undergo strain and vibration flight testing, so it will not deliver to the 160th until August 2015, says Helen Miller, H-47 product manager at the army’s technology application programme office (TAPO). The following seven MH-47Gs will not have to undergo that testing and so will deliver faster once production is complete.
“Our intent was to capture as many of the modifications here in the factory, but our configuration never stops evolving. There are things that we will go to a post-production facility to catch these aircraft up for.”
Col Dean Heitcamp, deputy commander of US Army Special Operations Aviation., says “This aircraft inherently incorporates the best capabilities that our special ops air crews are demanding.”
The aircraft also represents a convergence of conventional and special operations aviation within the army. The conventional force’s CH-47Fs are scheduled to return to the Boeing facility beginning in 2018 for Block-2 upgrades that will improve their lift, speed and avionics. Special operations command also plans to perform Block-2 upgrades on their MH-47Gs to increase the commonality of parts and systems with the conventional aircraft, says Colonel Paul Howard, TAPO programme manger. Commonality among the various H-47 fleets reduces the logistics and maintenance burdens on maintainers in the field. Special operation will lean on the conventional army’s existing research and development effort that will result in the Block-2 upgrades.
“This aircraft very well may be the first stepping stone on which the army, both conventional and special operations, will base the future of the CH-47 fleets,” he says.
Block-2 upgrades include advanced rotor blades that could add 680.38-816.46kg (1,500-1,800lbs) of lift, among other weight-saving modifications.
“If this vision of greater commonality is realized, the H-47 Block II effort, we can all benefit from greater lift, capacity, structural enhancements, torque loading ,” Howard says.