Believe it or not, the CH-47F Chinook already has nearly four years of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan behind it.
It’s easy to think of the big twin-rotor hauler as the new kid on the block, but the 136 examples delivered to the Army have already gained significant operational experience. Since the F model’s first deployment to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade in May 2008, the “Fox” as it is commonly called, has performed everything from humanitarian aid missions in Pakistan to combat troop insertions in Afghanistan. Its value lies not only in its capacity to carry big loads of cargo or troops, but to land and lift them at altitudes no other aircraft can.
“We have documented missions above 16,200 feet,” says Mark Ballew, Boeing’s director of business development, U.S. Army and Special Operations. As impressive as the V-22’s range and speed are, it cannot go to the high altitude landing zones (LZs) the CH-47F reaches, the V-22 Program Office confirms.
“The twin rotor [design] gives you that hot/high performance. It also gives you stability in high winds. You’re able to do things in wind conditions which you could not do with a single rotor aircraft. Any mission going above 10,000 feet in Afghanistan is going to be operated almost exclusively by a Chinook because of the stability and the additional payload. You can not only fly and operate at that [high] altitude, you can bring useful equipment or soldiers, whatever needs to go,” Ballew says.
Equipment and personnel need to go almost everywhere by air in Afghanistan, owing to the country’s utter lack of infrastructure, mountainous terrain, and the constant threat to convoys from IEDs and ambush. Chinooks in general and the CH-47F in particular have proven to be vital logistical and tactical assets in the theater. Though tactical combat operations have always been part of the Chinook’s brief, the CH-47F is being asked to shoulder more of the tactical load in Afghanistan along with other missions, Ballew reports.
“What are our mission scenarios? Everything. The Chinooks serving in Afghanistan, based on the altitudes, are doing much more of an air assault type mission where you’re executing troop insertions. They’re going into high, austere locations that other aircraft cannot go into and land. They offer the same advantages for resupply of food, ammunition, water and fuel. The CH-47F is also doing search and rescue missions. If you’ve got wounded soldiers on high ground nobody else can get to, they’re going to need a CH-47F for recovery.”
Such capability makes Army CH-47Fs in-demand aircraft, carrying cargo and personnel for other service branches and U.S. Allies. Mark Ballew, a 20-year veteran Chinook pilot with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, confirms that the Fox serves a number of different customers.
“We do a lot of joint operations where we might have a U.S. Army F model operating with a British or Australian Chinook. We’ve done a lot of missions with F models flying Allied soldiers. Our allies are seeing the advantages of the Chinook and the development of the F model, and a number of them are interested in procuring F model or F model-like aircraft.”
The interested parties include the Netherlands, which has ordered six Fs, and which will be the first international customer to field the latest Chinook. Canada has contracted for 16 extended-range Fs (CH-147s), Australia has expressed a desire for seven F models, the U.K. is assessing a buy of 14 F-based Chinooks, Boeing is in discussions with Turkey, and the Fox is also a player in India’s heavy-lift helicopter competition. Japan has the second largest Chinook fleet behind the U.S. and has begun conversion to produce its own F models at a rate of one to three aircraft per year.