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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Boeing Celebrates Chinook 50th at Ridley Park β€Š

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

The Chinook H-47 is 50 years old—a veritable Douglas DC-3 Dakota of the rotary wing world (which was actually rivaled by Boeing’s 247 in its early years). On September 21 at Ridley Park, near Philadelphia, the great and the good from the Chinook’s present and past gathered at a ceremony in the newly refurbished factory to mark the occasion.

On hand was U.S. Army Aviation Program Executive Officer (PEO) William (Bill) Crosby, himself an ex-Cargo Program Manager (PM), the current Cargo PM Col. Robert Marion, Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commanding general at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE).

Seniors from Boeing included Jean Chamberlin, vice president and general manager of Boeing Mobility, and Leanne Caret, vice president, H-47 Program, Mobility.

The CH-47 Chinook’s first flight occurred on September 21, 1961, with the first helicopter delivered to the U.S. Army just short of a year later in August 1962. The Chinook first flew in combat in 1965 with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. Forty-six years and several modifications later, the current version, the CH-47F, is the mainstay of the heavy lift requirement in Afghanistan.

Boeing is waiting for budget approval on the U.S. Army’s Multi-Year II acquisition of a further 155 CH-47Fs. A draft RFP (request for proposal) surfaced in June with a final version in August. Boeing is expected to respond by November. The Multi-Year II would begin in January 2013.

Boeing engineers conducting modification work on a new U.S. Army CH-47F at Millville. Photos by Andrew Drwiega

Jean Chamberlin explained that the recent $130-million upgrade to the Ridley Park facility would allow increased production, and together with the multi-year contract, would result in savings of around $400 million for U.S. taxpayers: “Multi-year contracts enable double-digit percentage savings for the taxpayer, and allow industry to make long-term investments in people, facilities and technology,” he said.

Boeing recently confirmed a long-expected order from the UK Ministry of Defence for 14 Chinooks (12 new additional aircraft and two replacements).

“We are currently delivering four aircraft per month,” said Leanne Caret. “Next year we go to five aircraft per month through international sales and then on to six. But we still need contracts in place before we move to six—so we are looking at the 2013 timeframe.”

In terms of the ongoing development of the CH-47, questions have arisen about the possibility of a CH-47H in the future. This, of course, is a next step question linked to the Department of Defense directive to seek Joint Multi Role (JMR) helicopters across all services for 2030+.

The JMR vision breaks down into the four categories: light, medium, heavy and ultra heavy. However, Boeing believes that the CH-47F now has the capability to get the U.S. Army through to this timeframe, adding modifications that are developed along the way.

Honor Guard of Chinook Veterans at the Ridley Park ceremony.
Two potential modifications to the CH-47F Boeing is currently exploring involve a new rotor blade that could provide up to 2,000 lbs extra lift in hot and high conditions, as well as a cargo onload/offload system (COOLS) that would (if accepted) enter into the CH-47Fs modifications sometime during 2013.

However, any CH-47H included in the JMR offering would need work to begin relatively quickly. One important consideration in this respect is the stated requirement for a new heavy lift aircraft from the European Defence Agency (both France and Germany have identified a need). However, the thrashing of European defense budgets seems that government investment in such a project is highly unlikely in the short term.

Although Boeing and Eurocopter have been in discussions on this very subject for at least a year, and on how they might work together on such a project, they are highly unlikely to progress much further on such a large undertaking their own dime without any significant government commitment.

Chamberlin said that Boeing “was prioritizing its investments going forward and looking at specific technologies” that could make a difference to existing programs. She added that she was not at liberty to discuss precisely where and how much Boeing was spending on rotorcraft science and technology (S&T) going forward.

Millville Mod Shop

The Millville facility, an old P-47 Thunderbolt airbase that can track its history back to 1941 during World War II, is around an hour’s drive from Ridley Park but only a few minutes flying time. It offers around 80,000 square feet of space including offices, storage and aircraft parking and it is where modifications are currently made to each new aircraft once it has left the production line and before it is delivered to the Army’s aviation units.

As each new aircraft is finished it is flown to Millville for an additional 14 modifications: “This is a pretty high volume for a mod center,” said Sebastion Arrigo, Millville site manager of this part of Boeing’s Global Services & Support business.

The operation works out of two hangars, one where the modifications are installed on the new aircraft, and a second for pre-flight checks and any further post-modification work that may need to be done.

Cutting the ribbon on the newly refurbished factory while honoring the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Chinook are (left to right): Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, Leanne Caret, Col. Bob Marion, Maj. Gen. William “Tim” Crosby and Jean Chamberlin.
“We have around 50 people here and another 50 come and go—some of whom are U.S. Army,” noted Arrigo. Each hangar can accommodate maintenance on four Chinooks at one time, with an additional 13 tie-out points outside the buildings.

Millville was established as a modification center in April 2010 and is a temporary facility. Presuming the U.S. Army’s CH-47F Multi-Year II procurement is approved, all modifications will be taken back to Ridley Park and integrated into the production line at the start of its cycle in January 2013. Only Chinook F models going to the units are modified in this way, with the CH-47G modifications done by the Special Forces customer.

The ongoing lease for the facility runs out in 2014 but it is renewed on an annual basis with the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

Modifications to the CH-47Fs include new crew seats, AN/ARC231 communications system, common missile warning system and a gun mount, among others.

The team at Millville works to a master schedule over 20 days, said Arrigo, with the full modification including flight testing taking around one month. Around one aircraft has been received per week although, in line with the perceived ramp up in production at Ridley Park, this is set to increase to five per month. While technically the CH-47Fs become Army property as soon as they fly from Ridley Park, the aircraft are released back to Boeing for modifications, although Army personnel are also at Millville including members of the new equipment training (NET) teams that accompany the aircraft when they are finally delivered to their new home units.

A Sting in the Tail

Unfortunately, the Chinook 50th anniversary celebrations were overshadowed soon after when police, working with the full cooperation of Boeing management, raided the Ridley Park plant and arrested 37 people in connection with selling illegal drugs, 23 of whom were later charged. The plant employs a workforce of around 5,400. Boeing’s communications spokesman Damien Mills stated that the company had worked closely with the authorities. The investigation lasted four years and looked at sellers and buyers.

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