UK’s Royal Air Force Orders More Chinook Helicopters

 - June 24, 2021, 6:02 AM
One of the most important upgrades for the RAF’s long-serving Chinook fleet was conducted under Project Julius from the late 2000s, which installed a Thales TopDeck avionics suite and “glass” cockpit. (Photo: David Donald)

Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) has placed an order worth over $580 million for Boeing to deliver 14 Chinook helicopters, exercising an option on an existing contract. The contracting agency for the Foreign Military Sales deal is U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

To be delivered by July 2026, the new Chinooks will be to the latest Block II standard, making the UK the first overseas customer for the variant. Block II builds on the existing CH-47F aircraft with a series of improvements that enhance range, load-carrying ability, and electrical capacity for onboard equipment. The most notable difference is the fitment of the Advanced Chinook Rotor Blade (ACRB), which features a symmetric airfoil and advanced tip geometry to increase lifting ability. The Honeywell T55-715 engines provide around 20 percent more power.

Internal changes in the fuel sponsons either side of the fuselage increase capacity by reducing the number of cells from three to one, while the nose is more pointed to provide additional volume for sensor and other systems. A new drive system is installed, and an active parallel actuator system is fitted to enhance the Digital Advanced Flight Control System (DAFCS) by ensuring a precise division of torque between the two rotors.

“These Chinooks are the future of heavylift, built on an existing foundation of advanced capability and life cycle affordability,” said Andy Builta, Boeing vice president and H-47 program manager. “This contract for Block II aircraft sets the stage for the next 60 years of Chinook excellence on the battlefield.”

Boeing delivered the first Block II, an MH-47G optimized for special forces support, to USSOCOM in September 2020. Later this year, on September 21, the company will celebrate the CH-47’s first flight. The RAF was the first export customer for the CH-47, and has recently marked the 40th anniversary of the delivery of its first Chinook. The fleet has been heavily utilized and seen considerable action from its combat debut in the Falklands in 1982, through the 1991 Gulf War, to intense operations in Afghanistan. In 2018 a detachment also began operating in Mali. Some of the first aircraft to be received are still in service, albeit having undergone a series of upgrades and improvements, and in the UK’s latest defense and security review published in March the Ministry of Defence announced that nine of them would be retired.

The latest RAF order for the CH-47F Block II is likely to be delivered for special operations in a configuration close to that of USSOCOM’s MH-47G. In the meantime, the remainder of the fleet is being brought up to a common Chinook HC.Mk 6A standard, with the DAFCS replacing the original analog flight control system. The Mk 6A conversion program is due to be completed this year.