The UK Royal Air Force has begun flying its first two of eight Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC3 transport helicopters, and says the type "will gradually join the routine rotation of aircraft through operational deployment in Afghanistan".
Introduction of the long-range HC3s was marked during an event at RAF Odiham, Hampshire on 13 January, although the first example had arrived at the service's Chinook main operating base early the previous month.
All images © Andrew Linnett/Crown Copyright
"By the end of this year we expect to have all eight of these refitted aircraft in service, increasing our Chinook fleet to 46 aircraft," says defence secretary Bob Ainsworth.
"These aircraft will be vital in helping us expand our ability to train our crews and to support operations," adds Rear Adm Tony Johnstone-Burt, commander of the UK's Joint Helicopter Command.
The HC3s were originally delivered from 2002 under a disastrous procurement that saw the model equipped with bespoke avionics that could not subsequently be certificated for operational use. They had been kept in long-term storage before it was decided in 2007 to put them through a so-called "reversion" programme.
Led by Boeing and including AgustaWestland, GE Aviation Systems and Qinetiq, the modifications have resulted in the aircraft receiving analogue cockpit displays and other equipment of a standard comparable to the RAF's 38 Chinook HC2/2As.
However, the new type can be easily distinguished by its extended-range external fuel tanks, which could offer an operational advantage in Afghanistan. Around eight RAF Chinooks are deployed in the country to support the activities of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The UK Ministry of Defence also last year announced its intention to buy 22 new CH-47Fs, plus replacements for two Chinooks lost during combat operations in Afghanistan last year. The first 10 of the new aircraft will be delivered by 2012-13.