It is rare for any product that was first delivered 50 years ago to be still selling “like hot cakes,” but that is the story of Boeing’s H-47 Chinook. This is the 50th anniversary year of Boeing delivering its first H-47 helicopter and the defence/aviation media have been busy speculating whether it could make its centenary celebrations with further updates and the lack of any, as yet, innovative rotary solution to replace this heavy-lifter.
The first aircraft was delivered to the U.S. Army on Aug. 16, 1962. More than 1,200 have been built to date with 800 still in service across 18 nations. Boeing is so confident it its future that it is nearly completion of a $130-million renovation of the production line at Ridley Park in Philadelphia, Pa.
It is somewhat ironic that its first and current missions are both concerned with counter-insurgency warfare: Vietnam to Afghanistan.
The following is a simple selection of viewpoints about how the aircraft is used and why it is still in demand:
“The Chinook has served as the backbone of U.S. Army aviation since the Vietnam era, revolutionizing how we move troops and supplies in combat, and save lives and deliver aid in times of need. The latest F-model has ushered in a new era of heavy-lift capability for the U.S. Army. With continued technology insertions, I fully expect that 50 years from now there will be a centennial celebration for Chinooks still in service.”
-Col. Bob Marion, U.S. Army Cargo Helicopter program manager, Aug. 16, 2012
“The CH-47s are fundamental to the entire Afghanistan campaign. It is one of two or three battle-winning capabilities. We are delivering vital food, water, ammunition and fuel to remote places. Without this delivery service the campaign can’t carry on.”
-Maj. Mark Hammond DFC, Royal Marines, from his book Immediate Response. Hammond was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions during operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006.
“It was not only the men and the supply chain that were being pushed to their limits: equipment was suffering too. Every Chinook helicopter was working close to, or in excess of its servicing failure limits to meet the exacting demands of flying near-constant combat operations and their ground crews worked tirelessly to keep them in the air.”
-Col. Stuart Tootal DSO OBE, 3 Parachute Regiment. From his book Danger Close. Tootal was commanding officer of 3 Parachute Battalion during operations in Helmand Province, 2006.
“Though the MERT can deploy on a Merlin helicopter, the preferred platform is the Chinook CH-47. The MERT is usually accompanied by a four-man protective force who also assist with casualty care while in flight. The nurses serving with MERTs are highly experienced in emergency medicine. They act as the link with the aircrew, wearing the communications gear. The Chinook can accommodate eight stretchers and 20 walking wounded. Medical gear is stowed in three modular packages; one is kept on the helicopter.”
-Part of a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) TACEVAC overview by Lt. Col. Rob Russell, Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, British Army. Russell was speaking at a Defence Health Board Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care, in Texas on April 5-6, 2011.
“The MH-47G is large and provides good accessibility to the casualties, thus facilitating care enroute. It is the primary airframe used in Afghanistan because of its ability to operate in higher altitude terrains. The Black Hawk has been used more in Iraq. Hypothermia is a problem in the Black Hawk because it is a doors-open airframe. The Little Birds are rarely used for anything medical.”
-TACEVAC in the 160th SOAR CPT Kyle Faudree/SFC John Dobbins. The speakers were at the same meeting of Defence Health Board Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care.
“Our forces on the frontline in Afghanistan repeatedly tell me that Chinooks are indispensable on operations. I am therefore delighted to announce plans to deliver more of these robust, effective and proven battle-winning helicopters.”
-UK Government’s then Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth Announcing the Future Helicopter Strategy in December 2009.
“The Chinook has over the years proven itself to be a true workhorse for the Netherlands Air Force. The aircraft proved to be ‘the right tool’ for a difficult and challenging job, especially in austere environments and during the combined air and ground operations in Afghanistan. Both ground troops and aircrew speak highly of it.”
-Air Commodore Theo ten Haaf, Commanding Officer Defence Helicopter Command of the RNLAF. The RNLAF ordered six more CH-47Fs to supplement their 11 CH-47Ds.