Boeing’s First US Army CH-47 Block II, “is nearly completed, with the other two moving ahead of schedule as well”
The primary goal of the US Army’s CHINOOK Block II is to restore payload capacity to the warfighter so that they can effectively move troops and the new equipment that the service needs to support its operations on future battlefields. Over time, the army has added critical mission equipment to the aircraft, which also adds weight.
Chuck Dabundo, Boeing’s Vice President of Cargo & Utility Programmes and H-47 Program Manager, noted together, “Boeing and the US Army have been developing the Block II as a solution to this payload challenge, and a solution that provides some major benefits to our soldiers.”
Key enhancements in US Army CH-47 Block IIs include: advanced CHINOOK rotor blade – a composite rotor blade with a new airfoil and swept-tip wing, which has already proven to give the Army more than 1,700lbs (771kg) of additional lift; improved drivetrain – to allow the aircraft to transfer more power from the engines to the rotor system and improve lift; redesigned fuel tanks – the Block II CHINOOKS will feature a single-piece composite fuel system to help redistribute weight, increase onboard fuel, and simplify operation; and a sturdier fuselage – which improves maximum weight capability of the aircraft and provides commonality between US Army and Special Operations CHINOOKS to make maintenance easier and sustainability greater.
Further, the maximum takeoff gross weight of the CH-47F is increased from 50,000-54,000 pounds. Mr Dabundo pointed out: “These upgrades also set the stage for a roadmap that will keep CHINOOKS as a US Army workhorse for decades to come. Beyond the specific changes, in true CHINOOK fashion we’re progressing ahead of schedule to deliver these key upgrades to the Army quickly.”
The CHINOOK industry team is comprised of supplier partners who have been with the programme for many years. A few of the key suppliers include Northstar (transmissions), Collins Aerospace (mission system components), Crestview (center fuselage), and BAE (digital flight control system). The CHINOOK is a Total Force Army helicopter and is in service in more than 19 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan, Italy, Greece, Spain, South Korea, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
To that end, while the Block II is currently a US Army programme, Boeing is, “always looking at the most effective ways to bring new technology and capabilities to all of our customers. We are confident that we will be able to offer some or all of these capabilities involved in the Block II programme to our international customers regardless of the contracting means that they chose (direct commercial sales or foreign military sales contract). Those decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis based on customer requirements,” the Boeing programme leader added.
With respect to the US Army effort, Mr Dabundo recalled, Boeing has, “had a busy and successful year-and-a-half since the Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract was awarded in July of 2017. We went from EMD contract award to loading the first aircraft in final assembly in less than a year. The first aircraft is nearly completed, with the other two moving ahead of schedule as well. We expect first flight for the aircraft soon and flight testing shortly thereafter. We will go from EMD contract award to flight test in less than two years. This is a real testament to the combined US Army – Industry team that has a long track record of meeting and exceeding commitments.”
Of significance, Boeing is working on the CH-47F Block II program in concert with the Special Operations Forces MH-47G aircraft. Mr Dabundo concluded: “SOF will receive Block II aircraft as well, on an accelerated timeline because of the need to upgrade the fleet. We are already under contract for eight MH-47G Block II aircraft to be delivered in the 2020-2021 timeframe.”
[Editor’s note: US Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy said on 13 March that the army will buy 10% fewer CH-47F Block II upgrades than planned in order to fund top modernisation priorities, such as Long-Range Precision Fires, Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, and Boeing said the decision, if implemented, would decrease army readiness. The US Army originally planned to upgrade 542 CHINOOKs to Block II configuration, its entire fleet, including 473 planned CH-47F and 69 MH-47G Special Operations variants.]