Boeing’s Philadelphia plant has delivered the first example of the MH-47G Block II helicopter to U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). The delivery was made “recently”, and was “on time” according to a September 1 company release.
“This delivery marks a major step for the Chinook program,” said Andy Builta, V-P and H-47 program manager. “The new Chinook will give U.S. Special Operations Forces significantly more capability for extremely challenging missions.”
Based on the CH-47F variant used by regular forces, the special forces version has inflight refueling capability, a comprehensive defensive aids suite and low-level/adverse weather piloting aids, such as forward-looking infrared and multi-mode/terrain-following radar. It is armed with two 7.62mm M134 Miniguns and two M240 7.62mm machine guns.
Features of the latest Block II variant, which was officially launched in 2017, include advanced rotor blades with swept tips that increase payload by 1,500 pounds while reducing maintenance costs. The airframe has been re-engineered to increase its strength. The fuel system has been redesigned, with the former six individual tanks giving way to two lighter tanks of increased capacity. An improved drivetrain transfers power more effectively from the Honeywell T55 engines to the rotors, offering a nine percent increase in torque carrying capability.
These improvements increase the Block II’s payload from 20,000 to 22,000 pounds. Moreover, the upgrade significantly improves hot-and-high performance. This was one of the drivers behind the program, based on operational experience from Afghanistan. The weight-saving and performance improvements of the Block II also offset the steady weight-creep of operational equipment.
The original MH-47G version has been in service for some years and is the standard large helicopter operated by USASOC’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). The fleet was produced by both the procurement of new-build helicopters and the upgrade of earlier MH-47 versions, with the result that some of the airframes operating today date back decades. The re-equipment of the 160th SOAR(A) is viewed as a priority for the U.S. Army.
To date, three production orders have been placed. The latest, announced on July 31, added nine helicopters with a value of $265 million, to bring the currently contracted total to 24. USASOC plans to ultimately buy 69 to completely equip the 160th SOAR(A)’s heavylift/long-range units. The regiment also operates MH-60 Black Hawks, MH-6 Little Birds, and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs.
Block II Chinook improvements are applicable to “regular” CH-47Fs, and Boeing began flying a Block II CH-47F trials aircraft on March 28, 2019, albeit initially lacking the new rotors. Originally the Army planned to procure 473 CH-47F Block IIs for regular forces, but funding was not included in the service’s FY20 or FY21 budget requests, a result of the Army’s desire to maintain momentum with its Future Vertical Lift program that includes the FARA armed scout and FLRAA medium-lift assault helicopter. However, the U.S. Congress has inserted funds into the FY20 budget to cover a limited amount of long-lead items for CH-47F Block II production, and may also add money for further procurement in FY21.