Airframer Boeing expects to deliver the first example of its latest Block II CH-47F Chinook helicopter in the coming weeks.

Speaking at the US Army’s annual aviation summit in Denver, Colorado on 24 April, executives with Boeing’s vertical lift division said the company has already flown the first Block II Chinook and will turn that aircraft over to the US Army in short order.

“The first production F Block II aircraft did take its first flight,” says Heather McBryan, Boeing’s CH-47 programme manager.

“We are in the process now of finalising the documentation for delivery to the army,” she adds.

Boeing is currently under contract with the US Army for six examples of the latest Chinook variant. The company expects to deliver four aircraft, representing the entirety of Lot 1, before the end of this year.

Those Chinooks will be used by the army for operational testing, with the goal of informing a Milestone C production decision sometime in late 2024 or early 2025.

Chinook Block II-c-Boeing

Source: Boeing

With its decision to procure the latest Block II variant, the US Army now plans to operate the CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopter into the 2060s

The fifth and sixth Block II CH-47Fs fall under Lot 2. Boeing and the army are currently negotiating contracts for Lots 3 and 4, with the goal of delivering six aircraft per year starting in 2025.

Compared to existing Chinooks, the Block II variant offers an extra 1,810kg (4,000lb) of lift and increased range, owing to an improved drivetrain, reinforced airframe and redesigned fuel tanks.

The CH-47F Block II programme is separate from the MH-47G special operations heavy-lift model that Boeing has been delivering to the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), although the two aircraft share a high-degree of commonality.

SOCOM has orders in place covering 42 MH-47Gs, which are produced at the same Philadelphia facility where Block I- and Block II-standard Chinooks are assembled.

CH-47F Block II Chinook

Source: Boeing

The army’s procurement decision will provide decades of new work for Boeing’s Block II assembly line in Philadelphia, which has been operating at the minimum level needed to sustain production

Boeing received a major boost in February, when the US Army announced a significant reorientation of its long-term aviation strategy.

The service cancelled the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft development programme and announced it would make substantial investments into existing rotorcraft lines, including the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47.

Ending years of uncertainty over the future of its heavy-lift fleet, senior army officials said the service would seek a full-rate production agreement with Boeing for the latest Block II Chinook.

“The army is deeply committed to our aviation portfolio and to our partners in the aviation industrial base,” said secretary of the army Christine Wormuth, the service’s civilian administrator.

“These steps enable us to work with industry to deliver critical capabilities as part of the joint force, place the army on a sustainable strategic path and continue the army’s broader modernisation plan,” she adds. 

That decision came as Boeing was fighting to maintain the minimum production level necessary to sustain the CH-47F Block II assembly line – relying on low-rate orders of the MH-47G variant from US Special Operations Command and the small number of Block II Chinook orders that were mandated by Congress, including the Lot 1 aircraft to be delivered this year.

“We’ve been in kind of an uncertain territory the last couple of years, as we’re looking toward ending Block I production and waiting for the army’s decision on Block II,” says McBryan.

She notes that Boeing’s ideal CH-47 production rate is between 30 and 36 aircraft annually, including all three variants currently being assembled.

Block I Chinook production is expected to conclude in 2027, covering orders for Egypt, South Korea and a final example for Spain.

With the army’s decision to procure the Block II variant, and a deal with Germany for 60 aircraft, the Chinook assembly line has a new lease on life.

Following the completion of Block I deliveries in 2027, McBryan says the Philadelphia plant will adjust its workflow to have two lines producing Block II aircraft, with one of those handling the MH-47G SOCOM variant.

The facility currently operates three Chinook assembly lines – one each for Block I, Block II and MH-47G configurations.

Boeing will continue to provide long-term sustainment support for Block I operators. The army has said it plans to continue flying the CH-47 type into the 2060s.