A CH-47F Block I Chinook helicopter with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade maneuvers to pick up an M119A3 howitzer during sling load operations on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, May 4. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army
NASHVILLE--Boeing executives are in discussions on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon to sustain the CH-47F Block II upgrade program.
The Army's fiscal 2020 budget proposal funds the purchase of nine Special Operations Command MH-47G Chinooks, and the service plans to buy only that Block II variant, not the CH-47F Block II, in the out years. The service had scheduled CH-47F, Block II production to begin in fiscal 2021.
The Army had planned to upgrade 542 Chinooks to Block II configuration — its entire fleet, including 473 planned CH-47F and 69 MH-47G Special Operations variants.
"We've been talking a lot to Army leadership and to Congress," Chuck Dabundo, the Boeing H-47 program manager, said on April 16 in an interview during the Army Aviation Association of America's annual conference.
Dabundo has warned that delaying CH-47F Block II production "would have significant detrimental impacts for fleet readiness, the defense industrial base and taxpayers and hamper soldiers’ abilities to carry critical payloads."
On Apr. 16, Dabundo said that delaying the CH-47F Block II production carries a high risk of putting six program suppliers out of business and a medium risk of shuttering another 10 suppliers. Such a delay would also eliminate a full production line's economies of scale and increase the costs of parts and maintenance, he said.
A major component of the Block II upgrades is the advanced Chinook rotor blade, designed to provide more than the Army-required 1,500 pounds of lift at 4,000 feet elevation in 95-degree temperatures. Boeing has demonstrated 1,750 pounds of additional lift with its new composite blades in "high, hot conditions," Dabundo said.
CH-47Ds and Fs carry the UTC Aerospace Cargo On/Off Loading System (COOLS) and Ballistic Protection System, which together add about 4,000 pounds of weight, but the advanced Chinook rotor blade on the CH-47F Block II is designed to provide more lift to compensate for the additional weight.
"We're all for the Block II, but we'll make do without it, if we have to," said Army Maj. AJ Hager, a member of the Illinois National Guard and the flight facility commander for Army Aviation Facility #3 in Peoria, Ill. who recently returned from a deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Boeing said that CH-47F Block IIs are able to lift Army heavy equipment that no other Army aircraft is able to carry, including the new Oshkosh Defense® armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and the BAE Systems M777 Extended-Range howitzer.
Included in the Block II upgrade package are redesigned fuel tanks, a sturdier fuselage, a beefier drivetrain, and the new, swept-tip advanced Chinook rotor blades.
The CH-47F Block I already has Boeing's digital automatic flight control system, which aids pilots in making safe landings during brownout conditions, and the CH-47F Block IIs are to feature BAE Systems' active parallel actuator subsystem, which is to provide pilots with tactile cues to inform the pilot of potential performance limitations and help reduce pilot workload.