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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Forget Situation in Iraq; Look at the Chinooks

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

As the Mark 6 Chinook entered the hover above RAF Odiham, set in the Hampshire countryside, quite suddenly I became aware of the stability of the helicopter, seemingly unlike other Chinooks that I have been in, either during exercises or in Afghanistan. It was so stable that I thought to myself, “you could hold tea in a cup and saucer and not spill it – impressive.”

This was the end of a “take the press flying” so they can get nice pictures morning that the Royal Air Force (RAF) had organized as an official welcome for the first of 14 brand new RAF Chinook helicopters.

The event was considered so noteworthy that the United Kingdom’s Secretary of Defense, Philip Hammond, had been flown in by a Mark 4 Chinook from RAF Northolt, an airfield only a few minutes flying time from RAF Odiham but sufficiently far away to save a busy minister an extra hour in a car.

Once on the ground, he was walked over to the brand new Mk 6 to cast an approving eye over it for the cameras. Unfortunately, when he reached the media lines for the pre-arranged first interviews with broadcast media (’twas ever thus), the questioning was led off by whether or not the British would be sending “boots on the ground” back into Iraq to help counter the threat of the Islamic militant group ISIS that appeared to be swarming all over Iraq and committing atrocities as they went.

The questioning then moved on to the impending launch of the UK’s new aircraft carrier and whether the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would be ready in time (and whether the UK government would be able to find the extra £100 million per annum to operate a second carrier – together with the extra JSFs that would need.)

Only after these topics were exhausted did he manage to say the right things about the new Chinooks – that they were just what was needed and that at some point in the future all of the RAF’s Chinooks would look like this (they currently have a mixed assortment of Mk2s, Mk4s and now Mk6s).

In fact the UK will have the biggest fleet of modern Chinooks outside of the United States once Project Julius [the conversion of all CH-47s to a Thales digital glass cockpit] is completed to actually give British forces a wealth of support helicopter lift. However, now that those regular ground troops are downsizing to 82,500 (with 30,000 reserves), the question must be asked if they are now all required.

However, back to the present day and talking to Squadron Leader Adam Shave, commanding officer of the Chinook Development Flight, he said the aircraft provided a marked improvement in reducing pilot workload. “The inertial based sensors when combined with the GPS made the aircraft much easier to fly, particularly in demanding conditions such as “brownouts” and at night. “I can almost sit in a dust cloud, asking it to descend in one foot increments and just monitor what is going on,” he joked.

Having been with the project since its inception in 2011 when British government ordered the aircraft, he said that the Chinook had never flown better at low speeds and close to the ground. “As part of the crew’s familiarization with the aircraft, they place the nose wheels over a certain point below them, say a crack in the apron, get the helicopter to rise 500 feet, do a 360-degree turn, and when they descent they are back above the same point,” he said.

As a veteran of Northern Ireland (he began on Wessex helicopters), the second Gulf War with 18 Squadron and four and a half years with 7 Squadron (the UK’s Special Forces support squadron), Shave has enough experience to get the best out of the new Mk6 Chinook. Full operating capability is expected for all 14 Mk6 Chinooks in 2017.

Related: Military Heavylift News

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