An additional upgrade to the flight control systems of the UK Royal Air Force’s legacy Boeing CH-47 Chinooks is being contemplated by the nation’s Ministry of Defence.
Already being brought to the enhanced HC4 and HC5 standards under the Project Julius programme – which sees the older platforms receive a new glass cockpit – a further modification would add similar digital flight controls to those installed on the brand-new HC6 variant.
Adrian Baguley, director helicopters at the Defence Equipment and Support procurement body, says achieving a notional HC6 standard for the entire Chinook fleet would be “nirvana”, as it looks to "coalesce" the fleet around a minimum number of variants.
Around half the older HC2 and HC3 variants have been upgraded under Julius, which has another two years left to run.
Any further enhancement work could take place as part of regular maintenance activity, says David Pitchforth, managing director of Boeing Defence UK, and would mainly involve switching out several inertial navigation sensors.
The airframer has already carried out feasibility studies into the potential flight control upgrade, he says. “It is definitely doable. The customer then needs to take a decision on whether they want to do it,” he adds.
The first three of 14 new HC6 helicopters were delivered to RAF Odiham last year, with the next example due to arrive in July, Pitchforth says. Two more will follow later this year and the remainder handed over next year, under the £1 billion ($1.7 billion) contract finalised in 2011.
Grp Capt Richard Maddison, station commander of RAF Odiham, says he is “over the moon” with the three helicopters received so far.
“We have had them here a little while, but we kept a little quiet about it while we were rebuilding them. But it’s great to have them ready for the job,” he says.
Feedback from the pilots and crews has been “overwhelmingly positive”, says Maddison. “The real trick here is not Mk6, but what more we can do with it, how do we adapt our procedures.”
Initial release to service was achieved in early April, and training of instructors at Odiham is progressing, says Sqn Ldr Adam Shave. He has accumulated around 35h on the new platform, and says the HC6 is “everything we expected it to be and more”.
He says: “Most people in aviation get excited about performance and speed, but [the HC6] is most exciting in the low-speed and low-height environment.”