Last Thursday evening at an event organised by 27 Squadron at its home base of RAF Odiham, I was honoured and delighted to be a guest of Peter Williamson, Founder and Director of Secure Cloud +, an important and very interesting Reading based company that provides specialist secure information systems, to attend a superb dinner at RAF Odiham celebrating the 40th anniversary of in-service operation of the superb Boeing Chinook rotary heavy lift capability with the Royal Air Force .
There can be few members of the military or indeed, the wider public that fail to recognise a RAF Chinook when they see one flying above them in the air. To say that the Chinook is distinctive and very different from all of the rest would perhaps be an understatement but since that day when the capability was commissioned into RAF service all those years ago and operated in more recent years through what is known as Joint Helicopter Command based at RAF Odiham and by 27 Squadron,
Capable of transporting up to 55 personnel or 10 tonnes of cargo, the UK Chinook Force rotary heavy lift capability has through the past 40 years deployed around the world in conflict areas including the Falklands, the Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo), Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently supporting French forces in Mali with logistics and moving troops.
Here at home, RAF Chinooks have frequently been called upon for humanitarian missions such as during the peak of the Covid-19 response, delivering NHS paramedic, equipment and patients along with support efforts to save the town of Whaley Bridge from flooding back in 2019, delivering aid and fuel to the north, flood relief.
For those interested below is a rough timeline of RAF Chinook operation:
- 1978 – The UK Ministry of Defence orders the Chinook for the RAF.
- November 1980 – The first RAF Chinook arrives in the UK.
- April 1982 – Four Chinooks deploy to the Falklands Islands. Three are lost onboard the MV Atlantic Conveyor after it was hit by an Argentine Exocet missile and Bravo November is the only surviving aircraft to return to the UK.
- 1984-1986 – Eight more Mk1s are delivered to the RAF with upgrades to engines and cockpits.
- January 1991 – The Chinook becomes a vital transit tool during the Gulf War.
- 1993-1999 – The Mk2 comes into service and sees extensive service in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.
- June 1999 – The Chinook transports troops to join NATO forces serving in the Balkans.
- Early 2000s – The Mk3 comes into service intended for a variety of specialist operations.
- March 2002 – Chinooks based in northern Afghanistan undertake humanitarian relief flights, following an earthquake.
- May 2002 – Chinooks carry out first British troop insertion at Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan and undertakes continuous deployment on Op HERRICK until 2014.
- October 2005 – When an earthquake hits Pakistan, Chinooks are deployed for a bespoke disaster relief operation.
- May 2006 – A 34-year agreement for Through Life Customer Support (TLCS) is signed between Boeing and the RAF.
- December 2008 – The fleet begin Project Julius, a glass cockpit upgrade to bring them up to Mk4 and Mk5.
- December 2015 – RAF takes final delivery of 14 Mk6 with the Boeing DAFCS, which revolutionises the Chinook capability and takes the fleet to 60.
- March 2016 – The Boeing site in Yeovil, Somerset, is named Piasecki House, after the innovator of the Chinook design.
- August 2019 – Chinook Force is called upon to join the efforts to save the town of Whaley Bridge from flooding.
2020 – future
- March 2020 – Chinook is tasked with moving people and supplies across the UK in support of the fight against Covid-19.
- April 2020 – Chinook is recognised for its work at Whaley Bridge by the Vertical Flight Society.
- November 2020 – Boeing and Royal Air Force partnership marks 40 Years of Chinook flying in the UK.
- Jan 2021 – The DAFCS upgrade, the most in-depth and complex aviation modification performed to date by Boeing colleagues in the UK on the RAF’s Chinook Force, is completed.
- May 2021 – The MOD confirms the purchase of 14 new chinook extended range models. The UK will be the first international operator of a Block II Chinook. Deliveries are scheduled to start in 2026.
- Sep 2021 – The MOD announced new and renewed agreements for the UK’s Chinook fleet of 60 helicopters, including the Through Life Customer Support (TLCS) contract, the Chinook Engine Support Arrangement (CESA), the Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DAFCS) upgrade programme and the Infra-Red Suppressor System (IRSS) upgrade.
One footnote to the above is that following decommissioning by the RAF last year, the oldest surviving member of the fleet ZA718/Bravo November which had seen service in the Falklands was earlier this year donated to the RAF Museum and was delivered the RAF Museum Midlands at Cosford. Arriving in the UK in 1980, this aircraft came to prominence during the Falklands conflict in 1982, and was nicknamed ‘The Survivor’ due to the fact that it was one of four Chinooks that were on the MV Atlantic Conveyor, a Royal Navy ship that was hit by an Argentine Exocet missile on 25 May 1982. When that missile struck, Bravo November was on a test flight and was able to divert and land on HMS Hermes. The other three Chinooks went down with the ship.
The RAF operates approximately 60 Chinook aircraft of various types and as mentioned above, with the already announced purchase of 14 new Block 11 Chinook capability which will enter service from 2026, these will begin to replace older aircraft in the fleet.
Boeing CH-47 Chinook History
Aviation pioneer Frank Piasecki built the world’s first tandem rotor helicopter, the precursor to the Boeing Chinook we know today.
Born in 1919, Piasecki grew up with a fascination for aviation and the technology behind it. After studying aeronautical engineering at university, he founded the P-V engineering Forum and designed the PV-2 helicopter.
By 1945, he was contracted to design a large, tandem rotor helicopter for the U.S. Navy, who wanted it to carry heavy loads. It was fondly called the ‘Flying Banana.’
Boeing acquired the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation in 1960.
More than 1,179 Chinooks are currently thought to be operational worldwide. Boeing has delivered more than 480 CH-47D Chinooks to the US Army and National Guard.
Boeing also exported the helicopter to military and commercial operators in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, Spain, the UK and three Far East countries.
Chinooks are under licensed production by Italian defence technology company Leonardo (formerly known as AgustaWestland) and Japanese firm Kawasaki. Chinooks built by AgustaWestland were exported to Egypt, Greece, Iran, Libya, and Morocco.
Chinook rotary capability is equipped with two T55-L-712 turboshaft engines from Honeywell (formerly AlliedSignal), which are pod-mounted on either side of the rear pylon under the rear rotor blades. The engine provides a continuous power of 3,000shp and maximum power of 3,750shp. The Honeywell T55-714 engine, which is being fitted to CH-47D, F and G models, is equipped with FADEC (full authority digital electronic control) from Goodrich.
Chinook Block 11
Having first flown in 1961, Chinook will not only still be flying in 2061 but more than likely still being built at the Boeing Philadelphia facility which I have myself visited.
The Boeing Chinook Block 11 programme of which the next 14 aircraft to be acquired by the RAF will, just as the C130J Hercules variant had been, make the RAF its first international customer.
The Block II programme involves upgrading the aircraft to increase its lift capability. The upgrades include advanced blades, improved fuselage and fuel system, and a new drivetrain. In addition to delivering improved operational capability and reduced maintenance cost, the new Block II will ensure commonality across the fleet.
The cockpit accommodates two pilots and an observer. An advanced digital cockpit has been developed by Boeing and Honeywell. The cockpit is equipped with multifunction liquid crystal displays and electronic flight instruments. The crew is equipped with ANVIS-7 night-vision goggles from Elbit and the cockpit is night-vision-goggle (NVG) compatible.
The communications suite includes jam resistant HF and UHF radio systems developed and supplied by Rockwell Collins and Raytheon. The helicopter is equipped with an AN/APX-100 identification friend or foe (IFF) interrogator from AlliedSignal.
CHW (London – 27th June 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785