Efforts to bring the UK Royal Air Force's fleet of Boeing CH-47 transport helicopters to a common configuration have been launched, with funding secured to start modernisation work on eight of its 40 Chinook HC2/2As.

Dubbed Project Julius, the work includes the integration of digital avionics and an engine upgrade to Honeywell's T55-714 standard, and builds on existing efforts to provide Bowman battlefield communications connectivity and successor identification friend-or-foe equipment.

Meanwhile, so-called reversion work on the RAF's eight previously stored Chinook HC3s is on track, with the first extended-range aircraft to soon arrive at RAF Odiham in Hampshire for trials of its replacement analogue cockpit, integrated by Qinetiq.

UK RAF Chinook 
 © Craig Hoyle/Flight International

Originally intended to support special forces operations, the aircraft will be formally delivered for squadron service between May 2009 and February 2010, and will be operated for up to five years before also undergoing modernisation under Project Julius.

The RAF plans to perform a further life enhancement modification to its 48-aircraft fleet after 2015, says Chinook force commander Gp Capt Andy Turner.

Twelve crews from the RAF's Odiham-based 18 and 27 squadrons are participating in the three-week Exercise Jebel Sahara near Marrakesh, Morocco until 28 October. Focused on tasks including rapid reaction deployment and environmental training in hot and high conditions, the manoeuvres represent the first occasion since 2005 that the Chinook force has trained alongside the RAF's AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin-equipped 28 and 78 squadrons.

Three Chinook HC2/2As and two Merlin HC3s have been committed to the exercise, operating as Joint Helicopter Force (Morocco). The aircraft are also providing support to training activities involving the British Army's Royal Gibraltar Regiment and Moroccan ground forces.

The RAF expects to next year increase its overseas training activities with the Chinook to also include arctic operations in Norway and amphibious work in the Mediterranean. Turner says this work will "build a broader capability base and give more balanced crews" than the current training emphasis on supporting combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Source: Flight International