The UK's non-operational fleet of eight Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC3 transport helicopters has moved a significant step closer to entering service, with a first example flying for the first time after undergoing a so-called "reversion" package of modifications.
Chinook ZH897 performed its first flight on 6 June, after being equipped with replacement avionics equipment similar to that used on the Royal Air Force's 40 Chinook HC2/2As.
Delivered to the UK in May 2002, the extended-range aircraft was originally planned for use in support of operations involving Special Forces personnel, but along with the RAF's other HC3s was placed into storage after it became clear that the type's flight software could not be properly certificated.
Work to prepare the stored aircraft for operational use began in June 2008, with the reversion project to increase the acquisition's cost of almost £270 million ($435 million) to around £420 million. The current effort involves Boeing, GE Aviation Systems, Qinetiq and the RAF, with the aircraft being modified at Qinetiq's Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire.
The first modified HC3 airframe will be delivered to the RAF's Chinook main operating base at Odiham in Hampshire before the end of the year, with the other seven scheduled for service introduction by late 2010.
UK operations of the Chinook are expected to continue until at least 2040, with the expanded fleet to contribute to an increase in planned flying hours from next year to more than 18,000h.
The RAF currently maintains a detachment of eight Chinooks in Afghanistan, where the type provides vital support to British and coalition personnel in the fight against the Taliban.