CHINOOK UPGRADE UPDATE
By Yvonne Headington
24 Sep 09. During a presentation at RAF Odiham on 24th September, DE&S Minister Quentin Davis marked the award of Chinook upgrade contracts worth £408m.
The upgrade includes a £128m contract with Honeywell to retrofit the whole RAF fleet of 46 Chinook with the T55-L-714A engine, providing enhanced capability to operate in the hot summers and high altitude of Afghanistan. At the time of contract announcement in August 2009 Garrett Mikita, Honeywell President for Defense & Space, described how the upgraded engine “increases power by 17%, increases maintenance intervals and reduces consumption by nearly 5%”. The new engines will enable the Chinook fleet to fly further without refuelling and to spend longer supporting the front line before re-servicing
In addition, UK Chinook are receiving upgraded cockpits under a £280m contract to Boeing, with Thales as the principal supplier of the new ‘glass cockpits’. Under Boeing’s Through Life Customer Support (TLCS) contract, sustaining the Chinook fleet through to 2040, work began on installing upgraded cockpits into eight Chinook aircraft in December 2008. The decision to extend the upgrade to the entire fleet was taken in August 2009.
Vector Aerospace of Gosport, which has long experience of Chinook maintenance and upgrade work, is undertaking the installation of both engine and cockpit upgrades.
Commenting on the progress of the Chinook upgrades, Quentin Davies said: “The Chinook is the cornerstone of our helicopter support effort in Afghanistan. These improvements will increase its capability and ensure it can play an even more valuable role in supporting our forces and NATO coalition allies….”. RAF Odiham Station Commander Group Captain Andy Turner added: “This is an essential and very welcome step change in the UK Chinook capability.”
The RAF currently operates a fleet of 38 Chinook Mk2/2A, two aircraft having been recently lost in Afghanistan. On 19th August a Chinook was forced to make an emergency landing north of Sangin following an engine fire. The four crew were unhurt and the aircraft was subsequently destroyed. Another Chinook suffered a heavy landing east of Sangin on 30th August. Again, there were no casualties and the aircraft was destroyed. (The cause of this incident has yet to be determined but is not thought to have involved enemy fire.)
An additional eight Chinook Mk3 are being reverted to M2/2A standard (giving a fleet total of 46 aircraft) under a £115m contract awarded to Boeing in December 2007. Working in partnership with QinetiQ and AgustaWestland, Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is due to be achieved in December 2009, with the delivery of three ‘reverted’ Mk3 Chinook. These aircraft are to be deployed to RAF Odiham for use in training and Operations. The remaining five aircraft are to be delivered in 2010.
The effort to bring the whole Chinook fleet up to a common configuration comes under the banner of Project JULIUS. A number of in-service Chinook have already received the upgraded engine under Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) arrangements; including one of the aircraft recently lost in Afghanistan, as well as the ‘reverted’ Mk3 aircraft.
The first ‘new fit’ JULIUS standard Chinook is expected to be available by the end of 2011 and the majority of aircraft should be fitted-out by the end of 2015.