A CH-47F Chinook helicopter assigned to 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade maneuvers with a sling loaded M1114 Up-Armored Humvee from 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team during a sling load training event at Saunders pick-up zone on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army
The first of three U.S. Army CH-47F Chinook Block II test aircraft was loaded into final assembly Wednesday, marking a major milestone in the effort to dramatically overhaul the Boeing-built heavy-lift helicopters.
Boeing developed and is now producing the evolutionary upgrade package for the U.S. Army and Special Operations Forces under a $276 million contract awarded in 2017.
Under the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract announced June 27, Boeing will remanufacture three Army CH-47Fs with Block II upgrades. The Army eventually plans to convert about 500 of its CH-47Fs to Block II configuration.
“The CH-47F Block II represents tomorrow’s heavy lift readiness for the United States Army and her allied partners,” said Col. Greg Fortier, the Army’s project manager for cargo helicopters. “Whether it is increasing total payload, improving the transmission, advancing the Chinook rotor blade, or setting the conditions for supervised autonomous flight, this aircraft provides ground tactical commanders immense capability to win in the multi-domain battle.”
The first Block II Chinook entered final assembly at the Philadelphia manufacturing facility where Boeing continues to build the CH-47F for U.S. and international customers and the MH-47G for U.S. Special Operations Command.
Upgraded to Block II configuration, the three EMD helicopters in 2019 will begin extensive testing in preparation for a decision to start low-rate initial production in 2021.
Block II was designed to achieve specific performance enhancement metrics, including a 22,000 pound payload and high/hot hover performance at 4,000 ft on a 95-deg F day. Maximum takeoff weight is boosted to 54,000 pounds with the goal of carrying a joint light tactical vehicle.
First delivery of a production Block II Chinook to the Army is expected in 2023. The Army plans to eventually upgrade more than 500 Chinooks — its entire fleet of CH-47Fs — to Block II configuration. The Army is still in the process of bringing all of its Chinooks to F-model configuration. Boeing will bring in an estimated $14 billion and change to bring the Army’s entire fleet to F-model configuration.
Included in the upgrade package are improved avionics, speed enhancements and a beefier drivetrain that will transfer greater power from the 20 percent more powerful Honeywell T55 engines to all new, swept-tip advanced Chinook rotor blades. Without any other upgrades, the blades are designed to provide an additional 1,500 pounds of lift.
“Our progress from contract award to final assembly in less than a year is a direct result of the efficiency and reliability of the program,” said Chuck Dabundo, VP of Boeing Cargo Helicopters and H-47 program manager. “Block II upgrades will help keep Chinooks in operation for the U.S. Army into the 2060s.”
The modernization effort to bring all the Army’s Chinooks to Block II configuration will likely bring another two decades of work to the company's Philadelphia site, the company said. Once the Army has proven the technologies included in the Block II upgrade package, Special Operations Command plans to ride its coattails to overhaul its MH-47Gs, which include all F-model features, an all-glass Common Avionics Architecture System cockpit, an aerial refueling boom and other classified sensors and capabilities.