CHINOOK FLEET BOOST WITH ARRIVAL OF Mk3s
By Yvonne Headington
Two of the RAF’s eight modified Chinook Mk3 helicopters have now been delivered and the new aircraft should be ready for Operational deployment in the Summer.
During a press conference at RAF Odiham on 13 Jan 10, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: “I’m delighted that the first of the Mk3s are now joining the Chinook fleet at RAF Odiham. They will provide a very welcome uplift in capability to support coalition efforts in Afghanistan…”. A third modified Mk3 is ready for delivery but its flight to Odiham was delayed by bad weather.
Defence Equipment and Support Minister Quentin Davies was also present and congratulated the contractors for achieving the Mk3 conversions in “record time”. Delivery of the Chinook Mk3 marks the end of a drawn-out procurement debacle which the Defence Secretary noted was “not our finest hour”.
The eight Chinook Mk3 were originally ordered in 1995, for use by Special Forces, but never entered service following their 2001 delivery (due to well publicised “technical problems”). Under a £115m contract awarded to Boeing in December 2007, the Mk3 aircraft are being converted to M2/2A standard. Working in partnership with QinetiQ and AugustaWestland, Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was achieved on 18 Dec 09 with delivery of the first ‘reverted’ Mk3 aircraft to the RAF.
Odiham Station Commander, Group Captain Steve Shell, confirmed that six modified Chinook Mk3 are due to be delivered by the end of the Summer with four available for deployment to Afghanistan. “I’ll have the first operational flight ready, should we want to deploy to Afghanistan, by July” he added. All eight aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2010. To date some 20% of engineers are Mk3 qualified and all are due to be qualified by the end of May. Instructor training should be completed in February. Following a short pilot conversion course, crews will be qualified to fly both Mk2/2A and Mk3 Chinook.
The RAF currently operates a fleet of 38 Chinook Mk2/2A, two having been lost in Afghanistan on 19 and 30 Aug 09 following emergency/heavy landings. (Recovery of heavy-lift Chinook aircraft from the operational theatre is not feasible and both aircraft were destroyed.) Delivery of the converted Mk3 will bring the available number of aircraft up to 46 by the end of the year.
An upgrade programme, under the banner of Project JULIUS, is currently underway in order to bring the whole Chinook fleet up to a common configuration. The Chinook Mk3 incorporates Honeywell’s T55-L-714A engine, which is being retrofitted to the whole fleet. The engine, optimised for ‘hot and high’ conditions, offers a 17% increase in power and a fuel consumption reduction of nearly 5%. Secure communications are being incorporated under Project BENIC while Project BAKER covers the fit of the defensive aids suite.
As announced on 15 Dec 09, a further 22 Chinook are being procured – in addition to two replacement aircraft for those lost in Afghanistan – to make an eventual fleet total of 70. The first 10 new-build Chinook are to be delivered in 2012 and 2013. The Defence Secretary expressed some concern about the capacity at Odiham and wondered whether they “can all fit in – I’m asking today”.