UK Beefs Up Chinook Fleet to Handle Rough Afghan Terrain
The Chinook CH-47 is the UK’s “aircraft of choice in Afghanistan for heavy lift,” says Pete Worrall, director general helicopters at the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Defence Equipment & Support organization.
The high altitude of the rugged Afghan terrain takes its toll not only on troops but also on aircraft. The air at higher altitudes is less dense and that means less lift, which reduces helicopter carrying capacity. Smaller helicopters have problems carrying useful loads in Afghanistan, and most helicopters used there are medium size or larger.
To enable its Chinook fleet to handle the combat environment in Afghanistan, the UK MOD is spending GBP 408 million ($652 million) on an upgrade program…
New Engines and Cockpits
The UK’s Chinook upgrade program includes retrofitting more powerful T55-714A engines, which will improve lift at higher altitudes, and new “glass cockpits,” which will improve pilots’ ability to fly under low-light conditions – a key feature of operations in Afghanistan.
Commenting on the upgrades, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Quentin Davies said:
“The Chinook is the cornerstone of our helicopter support effort in Afghanistan. These improvements will increase its capability and ensure it can play an even more valuable role in supporting our forces and NATO coalition allies in tackling insurgency in Afghanistan. Upgrading the Chinook is part of a series of improvements to our battlefield helicopter force and is powerful evidence of our commitment and determination to give our forces the very best equipment.”
The T55-L-714A engine upgrades deliver 4,868 horsepower each, enabling the Chinook CH-47F to reach speeds in excess of 175 mph and transport up to 21,016 pounds. As a point of comparison, the original CH-47A’s twin T55-L7 engines generated 2,650 SHP each, and the CH-47D’s T55-L-712 turboshaft engines produced 3,750 SHP. This power increase is especially useful in hot and high-altitude conditions.
As Group Captain Andy Taylor, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, noted:
“The fleet fit 714 upgrade is an essential and very welcome step change in UK Chinook capability. It will increase the lift capacity of our aircraft in Afghanistan, broaden safety margins when the aircraft is heavy, reduce operating costs and equip the aircraft through to its out of service date. Our early appreciation of what the engine will offer is enormously positive and I am confident that the proven joint collaboration between RAF Odiham, MOD, Helicopter Engines Project Team and industry will deliver this vital upgrade in record time.”
The RAF Chinook Wing, which forms the heavy-lift element of the Joint Helicopter Command, is based at RAF Odiham, which supports 3 operational squadrons – No 7 Squadron, No 18 Squadron and No 27 Squadron – and the Operational Conversion Flight.
Loss of 2 Chinooks
Following the loss of 2 RAF Chinooks in Afghanistan in August, the British fleet currently stands at a total of 38, all of which will be upgraded with the new engines.
There were no casualties in the recent Chinook loses. Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Quentin Davies revealed that in the second incident, the helicopter was able to continue flying and reach safety despite being damaged by a rocket-propelled grenade. This was because the helicopter was one that had been fitted with the new engine. All crew and passengers were then extracted on a 2nd Chinook taking part in the mission.
The Chinooks lost were replaced in theater within 72 hours, resulting in no loss of operational capability, according to Davies.
The refits of both the engines and cockpits will be made as part of the maintenance cycle of the aircraft, with the new cockpits being fitted from November 2009.
Contracts & Key Events
Aug 17/10: Honeywell announces that it has delivered the first 28 Honeywell T55-L-714A engines and fielding kits for the Britain’s Chinook helicopters, as part of the $185 million contract to upgrade their existing engines.
Sept 25/09: Boeing receives a contract to retrofit Chinook cockpits from the UK Ministry of Defence. Boeing is acting as prime contractor, with Thales UK and Vector Aerospace as subcontractors. The retrofit is part of a larger GBP 408 million ($652 million) upgrade program to improve the helicopters’ performance in Afghanistan. The program also includes retrofitting Chinook engines and spares (see Aug 12/09 entry). RAF Chinooks to be upgraded for AfghanistanUK MoD.
Aug 12/09: Honeywell receives a contract from the UK Ministry of Defence to provide 55-L-714A engines and spares to retrofit the RAF’s fleet of Chinook helicopters under a contract valued at $185 million. The 55-L-714A is the international customer upgrade for the T55 turboshaft engine. The upgrade increases the engine power by 17%, increases the maintenance intervals and reduces fuel consumption by nearly 5%, according to Garrett Mikita, president of defense and space at Honeywell Aerospace. The MOD will acquire the Chinook engine upgrades over the next 5 years. Vector Aerospace at Fleetlands, Gosport, UK, will perform the fleet upgrades. Honeywell.
- UK MOD – Chinook HC2/2A/3
- Boeing – CH-47D/F Chinook
- Honeywell – T55 Turboshaft Engine [PDF]
- Chinook-Helicopter.com – Boeing CH-47 “Chinook”: Model Comparison and Usage
- Chinook-Helicopter.com – A Fight in Afghanistan
- DID – Britain Ordering More Chinooks. This will bring the fleet to 60, including some “CH-47 Mk6” helicopters.
- UK MOD (Sept 25/09) – RAF Chinooks to be upgraded for Afghanistan
- Honeywell (Aug 12/09) – Honeywell to Provide New T55 Engines for U.K.’s Ministry of Defense Chinook Fleet
- DID (March 13/06) – Honeywell Gets $71.5M for CH-47F’s T55-714A Engines