The US Army’s decision to delay Block II upgrades to its CH-47F Chinook fleet for five years has left a sizable hole in Boeing’s production schedule.
The company had anticipated contracts for 473 CH-47F and 69 MH-47G Block II upgrades, with the first units delivered in 2023. Boeing is under contract to develop three remanufactured CH-47F Block II aircraft as engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) examples.
However, the US Army plans to delay its order of CH-47F Block II helicopters in favor of shifting that funding to its Future Vertical Lift programme. The 69 MH-47G Block II orders are going forward.
Block II upgrades for the Chinook include single-cell composite fuel tanks with increased capacity, a new drivetrain and a new blade that promises extra lift in high and hot environments. Overall, the aircraft's payload capacity will increase more than 1,814kg (4,000lb), Boeing says.
The timing of the US Army’s delay is difficult for Boeing as the company’s Block I Chinook production is waning. The airframe manufacturer was hoping to sustain its production line with orders for 87 Block I helicopters, which it received over the past three years from foreign militaries, including India and Spain. However, even if it wins more contracts from foreign customers, such as Germany or Israel, there will likely not be enough orders to replace the Block II upgrades it had anticipated.
“Our original plan was to ramp down Block I production and ramp up Block II production,” says Chuck Dabundo, Boeing H-47 programme manager. “The reality is this is a line that relies heavily on US Army production.”
The total US Army Block II programme could bring 15 to 20 years of production to its Philadelphia, Pennsylvania facility, Boeing says.
Boeing says it is now worried that the delay could impact its workforce and lower quantities could hurt suppliers, causing some to break from the programme. The company is also concerned that the programme could be scrapped entirely.
The company is lobbying the US Army and the US Congress to reconsider the Block II delay.