Preparing for the Chinooks

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If all goes according to plan – and there’s no really no need to doubt it, given Boeing’s delivery record – the distinctive tandem-rotor slap of Canada’s newest generation of Chinook helicopters will echo through the forested Ottawa River Valley next summer.

The first of the new CH-147F medium-to-heavy-lift helicopters is expected in June at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., a 140-kilometre flight from National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. It will be almost a year to the day since the aircraft rolled off the production line at Ridley Park, Pa., and was shipped to Mesa, Ariz., for flight testing and evaluation. The second helicopter was completed in late September, and is being put through its paces at U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

The new Chinooks are expected to arrive at the rate of about one a month to a resurrected 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron. Its 400 military personnel will be under the operational command of 1 Wing at CFB Kingston, Ont., which is tasked with providing combat-ready support to the Canadian Army. The new squadron’s first commanding officer is LCol Duart Townsend, the last Chinook pilot to be trained as part of the previous 450 Squadron before it was disbanded in 1998.

CFB Petawawa will see various infrastructure projects completed to accommodate the Chinooks. This includes new hangars that will incorporate training, maintenance, operational storage, and logistics. There also will be a new ramp, fuelling facility and aircraft parking apron. Petawawa was chosen because it provides the best support to army and special operations forces, many of which are collocated there, while minimizing the associated infrastructure costs for the new fleet, said Gen Walt Natynczyk, who recently retired as Chief of the Defence Staff. From this location, the Chinooks will maintain a high-readiness posture for rapid deployment.

The CH-147F Chinook is the latest iteration of a proven platform dating from the early 1960s. Designed and initially built by Boeing Vertol (but now produced by Boeing Rotorcraft Systems), some 1,200 Chinooks have now been sold to 18 countries, the largest orders coming from the U.S. Army and the Royal Air Force.

Its signature counter-rotating rotors (also seen on the venerable Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador, which eventually became the backbone of RCAF search-and-rescue operations) eliminate the need for the anti-torque vertical tail rotor found on most other rotorcraft, allowing all power to be used for lift and thrust. The ability to adjust lift in either rotor makes the Chinook less sensitive to centre-of-gravity shifts, critical for cargo slinging. And if one engine fails, the transmission linkage is such that the other can drive both rotors.

The Chinook’s name, by the way, has nothing to do with its massive rotor downwash, which might evoke the winds that storm through the Rockies. Rather, it was named for one of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

Boeing recently marked the 50th anniversary of the first Chinook delivery, as it neared completion of a $130-million renovation of its cavernous Ridley Park facility. The Chinook has served as the backbone of U.S. Army aviation since the Vietnam era, revolutionizing how we move troops and supplies in combat, and saving lives and delivering aid in times of need, said Col Bob Marion, who manages the U.S. Army cargo helicopter program. The latest F-model has ushered in a new era of heavy-lift capability for the U.S. Army. With continued technology insertions, I fully expect that 50 years from now there will be a centennial celebration for Chinooks still in service.

More than 800 remain in operation worldwide, and Leanne Caret, Boeing vice-president for vertical lift and H-47 programs, points out that the Chinook is the company’s longest continuous program. It’s in greater demand today than ever before, she said. Chinooks are being delivered on schedule and operating at a higher rate than any time in history, thanks to our team’s innovation, efficiency, and focus on meeting our customers’ needs.

The RCAF has had Chinooks in its rotary fleet on-and-off since the early 1970s, when it took delivery of eight C models. Those remained in service until 1991, when they were essentially upgraded to D specifications and sold to the Royal Netherlands Air Force, as part of sweeping budget cuts by the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Then came Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001 when Special Operations troops from Joint Task Force 2 were deployed. The first regular troops began arriving early in 2002, but Canada assumed a larger role in 2006 when it redeployed troops to Kandahar province. The 2,500 personnel included 1,200 in the main combat battle group, which bore the brunt of the battle and suffered many casualties from roadside bombs.

The almost daily headlines back home prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to appoint former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley to head a non-partisan panel to review the mission. Three and a half months later, in January 2008, the panel’s report proved politically embarrassing.

Canadians have carried a heavy burden, the panel said, citing the rising casualty and financial costs of the mission. The body count at that point was 80, but it eventually tallied 158, the largest loss of Canadian troops since the Korean War. The panel added that the course of the conflict has caused us all to question whether Canada’s involvement has been right or effective, and whether it will succeed.

Among its recommendations was the acquisition of new transport helicopters which would hopefully reduce the need for vulnerable ground transport. The government initially responded by trying to jump the queue in Boeing’s F-model order book, but that didn’t work for a number of reasons, notably due to attempts to customize what was supposed to be an off-the-shelf (OTS) aircraft. In the meantime, the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan found themselves begging their North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies for helicopter support. The Dutch came through with some of their Chinooks; in a cruel irony, those included some of the upgraded platforms sold by Canada more than a decade earlier.

That eventually prompted the government to acquire six U.S. Army D-models at an estimated cost of some $280 million, with the proviso that they would be sold when the combat mission wound down. The oldest was actually a 1965 A model upgraded to D specifications in 1986; but, they happened to be already at the NATO base in Kandahar.

One of those original Ds was lost in August 2010. It was forced to make a hard landing after Taliban small arms fire resulted in an onboard blaze, which destroyed the aircraft shortly after touchdown. Eight soldiers among the 21 personnel aboard suffered minor injuries. Although a helicopter has been lost, this incident highlights the skills of Canadian air crews deployed in Afghanistan, said BGen Jonathan Vance, Commander of Task Force Kandahar. That helicopter was subsequently replaced with another U.S. Army Chinook, this time leased.

The second one suffered extensive damage the following May, when it crashed while landing at night on a dry riverbed in a remote part of Panjwaii District. Four soldiers were injured, one seriously. Stripped of everything except rotor blades and engines, the carcass was recovered by Canadian and U.S. forces two days later, using Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461. A couple of armed Bell CH-146 Griffons delivered close air support during the mission, with Canadian Leopard 2 tanks providing ground support in the Taliban heartland.

That second aircraft was returned to Canada for use as a training aid for F-model crews, but the four others, together with all their spare parts, are now at the U.S. Air Force boneyard, mothballed at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance & Regeneration Group in the dry Arizona desert of Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson.

The Department of National Defence is pursuing various disposal options including the sale of the four remaining helicopters, DND told Canadian Skies in an email response to a series of questions. The helicopters are being marketed to allied governments by Public Works and Government Services Canada. As for the price, that will be determined by the market and, unlike those earlier Ds, they will be sold as is with no upgrades to enhance their marketability.

As for the new Fs, the first, which was an upgraded D, had its maiden flight in 2001. The first production F was rolled out at Ridley Park in June 2006, and first flew in October 2006. Boeing says it is designed to extend the service life of the Chinook class beyond 2030.

Canada’s commitment to a third generation of Chinooks was first announced by Defence Minister Peter MacKay in June 2006, as a key element of the five-month-old Conservative government’s Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). That set out a multi-billion-dollar agenda for major replacement of air and naval forces.

Two months later, MacKay and Industry Minister Tony Clement – who now as Treasury Board president is overseeing the latest round of budget cuts, which include a review of the CFDS – confirmed that The Boeing Company had been awarded a contract worth approximately $1.2 billion for 15 CH-147F aircraft, as well as a 20-year in-service support and maintenance contract worth some $2.2 billion. These helicopters are key to keeping Canadians safe and secure by giving our military a robust ability to operate in remote and isolated areas and respond to disasters or missions both at home and abroad, MacKay enthused.

DND says that while the new Canadian Fs are essentially OTS, they differ from the basic Boeing platform in three key areas: larger fuel tanks will double their range and endurance; a more comprehensive defensive suite has been installed; and, an improved electrical system will support the added requirements of the defensive suite and other aircraft systems. With a heavy-lift capability of up to 40 personnel or 11,363 kilograms of cargo, they will be able to deploy independently, including to the High Arctic. The operating range is increased to a basic 609 kilometres, with a mission radius of 370.4 kilometres.

The basic F features airframe alterations to reduce vibration, and there are other structural enhancements to the cabin, aft section and rear ramp, as well as to the cockpit. The latter features a Rockwell Collins digital suite with a common avionics architecture system that includes five multi-function displays, a moving map display, a BAE Systems digital advanced flight control system, and a data  transfer system for storing preflight and mission data. The more powerful Honeywell T55-GA-714A engines are fitted with full authority digital engine control and generate 4,733 shaft horsepower, or more than twice the power of earlier Chinooks’ engines.

In addition to giving the RCAF highly-enhanced operational capabilities, the Chinook contract is expected to bolster local economies by generating an estimated 5,500 jobs directly and up to 15,000 others indirectly. The government’s Industrial and Regional Benefits policy means that Boeing is committed to reinvesting the full contractual amount into the Canadian economy and several companies are already benefitting.

Boeing has been a major contributor to the Canadian economy since 1919, generating approximately $1 billion in business annually through direct employment in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, in support of its commercial and defence business units. Canada also is home to one of Boeing’s largest international supplier bases, with more than 200 companies in every region providing what it describes as a diverse mix of high-value goods and services to Boeing and its customers.

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The first group of work packages for in-service support of the CH-147Fs was announced by Boeing a year ago. They were awarded to L-3 Communications MAS of Mirabel, Que., for technical publications; Raytheon Canada Limited of Calgary, Alta., for supply chain support; and L-3 Electronic Systems of Enfield, N.S., for logistics support analysis. Another early beneficiary of the CH-147F commitment was Nova Scotia-based IMP Aerospace, which is under contract from Boeing to manufacture key components of not only the RCAF aircraft, but also others produced for export.

Raytheon Canada recently opened a facility in the Ottawa Valley town of Renfrew, from where it will service the aircraft at CFB Petawawa. We are known as the in-service support centre of excellence, Terry Manion, general manager of Raytheon Canada’s support services division, said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. We take extreme pride in getting supplies where they need to be when they need to be there. Whether it’s supporting a battlefield mission or a training mission, our focus remains on continuing to support our customer.

In late September, General Dynamics Canada (GDC) announced that it had a contract from Boeing to provide engineering support services on the CH-147F in-service support program. The newest agreement will have GDC working with Boeing on projects that include reliability, availability and maintainability support, as well as systems and support engineering, integrated logistics, and structural integrity engineering services. This is atop a maintenance training suite/contractor maintenance support package it won in July to provide materials, services and program management and other support. GDC will also be involved in transitioning maintenance training to Petawawa from Boeing’s own facilities.

We are pleased to have been selected once again by Boeing for in-service support to the Canadian CH-147F Chinook, GDC vice-president and general manager David Ibbetson said. This program will add to our current experience in supporting Canadian military platforms and provide value to our customer through the introduction and sustainment of the Chinook fleet.

About the same time as the GDC announcement, Héroux-Devtek Inc. of Longueuil, Que., which supplies landing gear and components to all the major aircraft manufacturers, confirmed that it had licence to fabricate parts and service the Chinook landing gear for nearly a dozen countries for an initial five years. In addition to generating recurring revenues throughout the life of the program, the licence will also allow Héroux-Devtek to maintain an optimal balance between new component manufacturing and aftermarket services, H-D president Gilles Labbé said. We are delighted to broaden our longstanding relationship with Boeing. The company already was under contract to fabricate, assemble, test and deliver landing gear for H-47F Chinooks delivered to non-U.S. customers.

All initial air and ground crew cadre training will be provided by Boeing, probably starting in early 2013 and running for about a year. Training during the in-service period will be provided by military personnel, while CAE Inc. of Montreal will provide and support training devices for aircrew, and Boeing will provide and support training devices for ground crew.

That being said, Boeing is working with companies across Canada to ensure the right infrastructure is in place, according to Jim O’Neill, vice president and general manager of Boeing Integrated Logistics. We will support the operational readiness of these Chinooks while managing overall life-cycle cost and providing long-term opportunities for the Canadian aerospace industry.

 

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