Boeing this week is set to deliver the fuselage components for Japan’s 100th CH-47 heavy lift helicopter, which are completed in that country by Kawasaki Heavy Industries under a partnership that has lasted 30 years.
“For both Boeing and KHI, performance has been exemplary,” Leland Wight, Boeing’s H-47 international programme manager, tells Flightglobal. “I don’t think we’ve ever delivered anything late through this entire program. That’s something to be heralded. Typically we would struggle to bridge our business practices and our cultures.”
The fuselage components and associated Boeing-supplied kits for the 100th aircraft are currently in production at Boeing’s factory outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The cabin sections are complete and due for delivery in January to Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which finalises production in Japan.
Japan CH-47 Chinooks are co-produced jointly by Boeing and KHI under a licensing agreement. Boeing completes major assembly of airframe parts and KHI populates the aircraft with avionics and mission equipment unique to Japan’s military.
Boeing provides major fuselage components like the cabin crown and bottom, aft section, aft pylon and ramp, nose enclosure, avionics pods, main fuel pods, and cockpit structures. The company also supplies the rotor blades, shafts and transmission along with engineering and manufacturing technical support.
KHI performs cabin side-panel, cockpit and final aircraft assembly, then tests each aircraft and delivers them to the Japanese Ministry of Defense (JMOD).
KHI has manufactured and delivered 95 Chinooks to the Japanese Ministry of Defense. Nine aircraft are currently in various stages of production at Boeing and KHI, which will assemble and the 100th aircraft for the JMOD in mid-2016.
Japan has the second largest operational fleet of Chinooks after the US Army. It has taken delivery of an average three per year since 1984 in order to maintain an active fleet of around 70 aircraft total between the army and air force.
“Japan is an island nation and the Chinook was tailor-made for that application. This aircraft fits their bill really well,” says Alan Aleixo, H-47 program manager for Japan.
While Japan traditionally keeps its military activities close to its own shores – until recently it was legally bound to use force only in self defence ‑ Japan has used its Chinooks in several high-profile humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions in the past decade. The Japanese were among the first nations in 2010 to respond to massive flooding in Pakistan and in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines.
The aircraft allowed the Japanese to be the first in and the last out after the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in Southeast Asia. They aircraft also allowed the Japanese army and air force to provide long-range support and evacuation for their own citizens when a similar tidal wave wreaked havoc on the home islands in 2011, Aleixo says.
Japan’s Chinooks are designated as the CH-47JA+.They have the long-range fuel tanks that come standard on the CH-47F configuration to which the US army is transitioning. The aft section, pylon and ramp are similar to the F-model.
“Some parts are the same, but I wouldn’t call it an F-model,” he says. “We are continuing to work with them to convert their fleet to full F-models.”
Japan’s aircraft are powered by the Honeywell T55-714A that come standard on the F-models, but lack some of the advanced flight control and mission package features the US army and other CH-47F operators enjoy, says Aleixo.
Boeing sees the continued business with Japan as validation that its dual-rotor Chinook is one of the world’s premier heavy-lift helicopters. The company is counting on the international market to keep its Pennsylvania production line open past 2019, when US army orders run out.
The UK, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Canada, Australia and Italy have so far signed on to buy the aircraft in the F-model configuration, which Boeing is marketing as the international variant.
Italy received the first two of its ICH-47F Chinooks in October through a similar arrangement with AgustaWestland, which serves as the prime contractor for that nation. Canada received the first of its custom CH-147s earlier in the year.
A major order is expected within weeks from India, but the deal has been in the works for years.