CH-47 Chinook: why the timeless helicopter design is still a heavy-lift contender on the modern battlefield
The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is an iconic twin-engine, tandem-rotor heavy-lift transport helicopter that has served as a workhorse on military and civilian operations since its debut. Revered for its remarkable lifting capacity, endurance and adaptability, the Chinook has left an indelible mark on modern aviation history.
The origins of the Chinook date back to the early 1950s when the US Army recognised the need for a rotorcraft capable of carrying heavy loads and troops over long distances. In 1956, Vertol (later acquired by Boeing) won the development contract and designed an innovative heavy-lift helicopter.
The company's breakthrough design featured a tandem configuration, where two large rotors mounted at the front and rear provided greater lifting efficiency and stability. This design also allowed for a larger cargo bay and easy access through a rear loading ramp, streamlining the loading and unloading process.
Evolution and upgrades
Over the decades, the Chinook has undergone several upgrades with new variants evolved to keep up with changing operational requirements. Improvements in avionics, engines and materials have increased its lifting capacity, range and reliability.
The CH-47D introduced in the 1980s featured more powerful engines, improved rotor systems, and advanced avionics. It played a significant role in many military operations, including the Gulf War and various humanitarian missions.
The CH-47F model, introduced in the early 2000s, brought further advancements, including a digital cockpit, enhanced survivability features, and improved maintenance systems. Its digital flight control system and advanced communication capabilities made it even more adaptable to modern warfare scenarios.
The US DoD awarded Boeing a $277 million contract for CH-47F Block II engineering and manufacturing development in 2017. The upgrade was developed to add an additional 4,000lb of lift capability.
Block II enhancements included Advanced Chinook Rotor Blades, an upgraded fuselage, a new fuel system, and a new drivetrain, according to a Boeing press release published in 2018. However, the company informed Shephard in May 2023 that: 'The US Army decided to not move forward with the advanced rotor blades in 2021. Even without the blades, the Block II aircraft meets all of the key performance indicators set out by the US Army.'
Honeywell received a five-year contract from the US Army in 2020 to provide a full overhaul and repair for its T55-GA-714A engines that power the F variants. The engine improvement programme for the T55 is said to increase shaft horsepower from 4,777 to 6,000. This will allow the CH-47F to increase its useful load at higher density altitudes and will further reduce maintenance hours with the introduction of a newly designed compressor and accessory drive gearbox.
The MH-47G is a special operations variant of the Chinook in service with US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). The first new-built MH-47G helicopter was delivered to USASOC in September 2014.
|Subcategories||Military helicopters - transport/heavy lift||Military helicopters - transport/heavy lift|
|Suppliers||Boeing Defense, Space & Security||Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Kawasaki Heavy Industries – Aerospace|
|Region||NORTH AMERICA||NORTH AMERICA|
|Unit Cost (US$)||27000000.00||15000000.00|
|First Delivery Date||2007||1979|
|Out Of Service Date||2065||2022|
|Status||In production||Out of production|
|Length 1 (overall)||25.55m||U|
|Width 1 (overall)||3.78m||U|
|Height 1 (overall)||5.69m||U|
|Diameter 3 (rotors)||18.29m||U|
|Weight 1 (overall)||22.68t||U|
|Weight 4 (empty)||11,148kg||U|
|Weight 2 (Amount can lift)||10,886kg||U|
|Speed 1 (maximum)||170.09kt||U|
|Speed 3 (cruise)||119.87kt||U|
|Range 1 (overall travel)||630km||U|
|Altitude 2 (HOGE)||5,500ft||U|
|Altitude 3 (HIGE)||7,900ft||U|
✅ This data has been verified by the same team that brings you Defence Insight. Want to learn more?
The German Parliament's Budget Committee made an announcement confirming its decision to proceed with the acquisition of 60 CH-47F Block II Chinook helicopters on 5 July. The deal will be worth up to €8 billion ($8.7 billion), including associated equipment and infrastructure.
A Boeing spokesperson told Shephard that the approval of the order confirms confidence in the Chinook’s battle-tested capabilities and the company.
Germany first floated the idea of buying 60 Chinooks last year to replace its ageing CH-53 fleet. Originally, €6 billion had been budgeted for the helicopters.
Boeing's director of BD for cargo and utility helicopters and Future Vertical Lift programmes, Heather McBryan, told Shephard at the end of May that all German Chinooks will have in-flight refuelling capability, but the country will not receive 60 probes.
Boeing is also contracted to modernise the UK's Chinook fleet over the next ten years under a £1.4 billion ($2 billion) deal that was signed in 2021. The new variant, known as the H-47(ER), will primarily be used for special forces operations. All 14 Chinooks for the UK will have refuelling capability, and the aircraft will enter production in 2025. Deliveries will commence in 2026.
Boeing delivered the 20th CH-47F Chinook helicopter to the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the company announced on 15 November 2022. The handover marked the conclusion of the Netherlands’ latest fleet update for its Chinooks.
Egypt meanwhile is replacing its 19 CH-47D helicopters with CH-47Fs. On 3 January 2023, the US Army awarded Boeing a $426 million FMS contract to produce 12 new CH-47F Chinooks for the Egyptian Air Force, with deliveries expected to begin in 2026.
At the beginning of July 2023, Boeing received its last orders for the Chinook CH-47F Block I helicopter as the company transitions all work onto Block II aircraft in the expectation of delivering the last of the Block I variants in 2027. The order of a single aircraft to supplement Spain’s current fleet of 17 and 18 for South Korea is part of a $793 million FMS deal agreed with the US DoD.
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