The Royal Air Force’s fleet of battle winning Chinooks has today been boosted by the arrival of two new Mk3s. These are the first of eight new aircraft to be delivered to RAF Odiham this year.
The Chinooks have been modified by Boeing and now have more powerful engines, enabling them to deploy to Afghanistan to boost air support on the frontline.
This latest announcement follows a series of improvements made to helicopter capability:
-- an announcement that the MoD plans to buy 22 brand new Chinooks, with the first 10 being delivered by 2012 /13;
-- a £408M upgrade to the existing Chinook fleet with new engines and digitised cockpits;
-- the first upgraded Merlin helicopters deployed to Afghanistan;
-- an upgrade to Lynx helicopters engines;
-- a £300M upgrade to the Puma fleet to extend its service until at least 2022; and
-- a 95 per cent increase in helicopter flying hours, which is what commanders use to plan.
Welcoming the Mk3s, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said:
“I am delighted that the first of the Mk3s are now joining the Chinook fleet. They will provide an uplift in capability to support coalition efforts in Afghanistan, where Chinooks fly under very challenging conditions, proving their worth daily on operations. By the end of this year we expect to have all eight of these refitted aircraft in service, increasing our Chinook fleet to 46 aircraft.
“The arrival of these aircraft is further evidence of the measures we have taken to strengthen our Support Helicopter force and follows my announcement three weeks ago that we plan to buy up to 22 more Chinooks.”
Commander of Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, said:
“The arrival of the first Mk3s to RAF Odiham is excellent news. This marks the start of a major and long-term enhancement to our Support Helicopter capability. These aircraft will be vital in helping us expand our ability to train our crews and to support operations. I am very grateful to those who have worked so hard in recent months to deliver these converted aircraft to us. They really will make a difference.”
David Pitchforth, Managing Director, Boeing UK Rotorcraft Support said:
"Working with our industry partners, we were able to better align and integrate our schedules to deliver the first two aircraft as promised to the MoD. This will also allow us to deliver the third aircraft ahead of schedule. Together we will have all eight aircraft delivered this year, in 2010."
The Mk3 Chinooks will gradually join the routine rotation of aircraft through operational deployment in Afghanistan.
-- RAF Chinooks are used for a variety of roles, including carrying up to 55 troops or 10 tonnes of freight. The crew comprises two pilots or a pilot and a weapon systems operator, and two air loadmasters.
-- Currently employed on essential support duties to NATO forces in Afghanistan, the aircraft have been heavily employed on a wide range of operations in recent years, including Iraq, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, the Gulf War and the Falklands.
-- The RAF currently operates a fleet of 38 Chinook Mk2/2a support helicopters in three operational squadrons (7, 18 & 27) and an Operational Conversion Unit, based at RAF Odiham. The Chinook Wing forms the heavy-lift element of the Joint Helicopter Command.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The unhappy history of the RAF’s Chinook Mk. 3 program is recounted in a March 2009 report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.)