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The Boeing Chinook is a tandem rotor helicopter operated by the Royal Air Force. A series of variants based on the United States Army's CH-47 Chinook, the RAF Chinook fleet is the largest outside of the United States. RAF Chinooks have been widely deployed including fighting in the Falklands War, peace-keeping commitments in the Balkans, and action in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Design and development

Chinook HC1

The Chinook CH-47A entered service with the United States Army in 1962. Following the retirement of the Bristol Belvedere in 1969, also a tandem-rotor design, the RAF required a new heavy-lift helicopter and ordered 33 HC.1s (Helicopter, Cargo Mark 1) in 1978. These aircraft, which entered service in December 1980, were comparable to the CH-47C, fitted with Lycoming T55-L-11E engines. Eight more HC.1s were delivered from 1984 to 1986 with the CH-47D's Lycoming T55-L-712 turboshafts.

The replacement of the HC1's metal rotor blades with glass fibre rotors saw these aircraft designated Chinook HC1B.

Chinook HC2

The US Army's next generation Chinook, the CH-47D, entered service in 1982. Improvements from the CH-47C included upgraded engines, fibreglass rotor blades, a redesigned cockpit to reduce pilot workload, redundant and improved electrical systems, an advanced flight control system (FCS) and improved avionics. The RAF returned their original HC1s to Boeing for remanufacture to CH-47D standard, the first of which returned to the UK in 1993. Three additional HC.2s were ordered with delivery beginning in 1995.

Six further Chinooks were ordered in 1995 under the Chinook HC2A designation. The main difference between these and the standard HC2 was the strengthening of the front fuselage to allow the fitting of an aerial refueling probe in future.

Chinook HC3

Eight Chinook HC3s were ordered in 1995 as dedicated special forces helicopters. By 2009 the helicopters were still to enter service. The procurement was described in 2004 by Edward Leigh, then Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, "as one of the most incompetent procurements of all time."

The HC3s were to be effectively low-cost variants of the US Army's SF Chinook, the MH-47E. The HC3s would include improved range, night vision sensors and navigation capability. The eight aircraft were to cost £259 million and the forecast in-service date (ISD) was November 1998 (defined as delivery of the first six aircraft).Although delivered in 2001, they could not be given airworthiness certificates because it was not possible to certify the avionics software to UK military standards. This was a result of poor risk analysis and crucial requirements being omitted from the procurement contract. A 2009 report in The Times claims that the Ministry of Defence planned to perform software integration itself, without Boeing's involvement, in order to reduce costs. Due to the lack of certification, the helicopters were only permitted to fly in visual meteorological conditions. They were subsequently stored and maintained in climate controlled hangars.

After protracted negotiations to upgrade them to allow entry to service, Air Forces Monthly reported in November 2006 that the Defence Aviation Repair Agency would likely receive a contract to install the Thales "TopDeck" avionics system on the Chinook HC3s. However, the Ministry of Defence announced in March 2007 that this so-called "Fix to Field" programme would be cancelled, and instead work would begin immediately in reverting the helicopters to Chinook HC2/2A specification, changing their rôle from special forces support to battlefield support. The programme was estimated to cost £50-60 million. In June 2008, the National Audit Office in the UK issued a scathing attack on the MoD's handling of the affair, going as far as calling it a 'gold standard cock-up', with the programme likely to cost a total of £500 million by the time the helicopters enter service.

On 6 July 2009 the first of the eight modified Chinook HC3s made its first test flight at MoD Boscombe Downmarker as part of the flight testing and evaluation phase of the HC3 "reversion" program.

Operational history

RAF Chinooks were widely deployed, serving in Operation Corporate (Falklands War).

Whilst the RAF has many types of helicopters in active service, the Chinook has proven itself one of the most effective. One particular example, serial ZA718 (Boeing construction number B-849) and also known by its original squadron code 'Bravo November', has seen action in every major operation the RAF has been deployed to in the helicopter's 25-year service life.

Bravo November went to the Falkland Islandsmarker in 1982 to spearhead the British landings there along with three other Chinooks, other helicopters, and all the second line repair and maintenance support equipment and stores. However, the container ship they were being transported on—the Atlantic Conveyormarker—was attacked on 25 May 1982 by an Argentine Navy Dassault Super Étendard with an Exocet sea-skimming missile. Although the other aircraft did not survive, Bravo November was airborne on a task, picking up freight from HMS Glasgow, at the time of the attack. Having survived the destruction of the ship, it managed to make it safely to the aircraft carrier and was nicknamed "The Survivor".

One Argentine CH-47C was captured during the war and placed in RAF service as an HC2.

Later in the conflict ZA718 was on a night mission when pilot Squadron Leader Dick Langworthy, unable to see clearly through a thick snow shower, hit the sea at around 100 knots (175 km/h) due to a faulty altimeter, throwing up spray and flooding the engine intakes. Langworthy and his copilot managed to get the helicopter back in the air. With the radio damaged and unable to navigate, Bravo November returned to San Carlosmarker and a quick inspection revealed the impact had caused little more than dents to the fuselage and damage to the radio systems.

ZA718 Bravo November went on to serve in Lebanonmarker, Germanymarker, Northern Irelandmarker, Kurdistanmarker and Iraqmarker, being the first British helicopter to land Royal Marines ashore in Iraq. ZA718 was the first RAF Chinook to be converted to Chinook HC2 standard in 1993/94. Three pilots have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions whilst flying ZA718, Sqn Ldr Dick Langworthy DFC (Op Corporate/Falklands), Sqn Ldr Steve Carr DFC (Op Telic/Iraq) and Flt Lt Craig Wilson DFC (Op Herrick/Afghanistan)

An RAF Chinook HC2 in 2009


Two Chinooks were operated by 78 Sqn as part of the Falklands Garrison but this was reduced to a single aircraft in the mid-1990s and the type was eventually withdrawn from the Falklands in 2006 to free up aircraft and resources for operations in Afghanistan.

RAF Chinooks have also served in Operation Granby (Gulf War, 1991), large peace-keeping commitments in the Balkans, the evacuation of Sierra Leonemarker, Afghanistanmarker, Operation Telic (Iraq 2003-), and the evacuation from Lebanon. They also provided routine support to the British military, particularly in Operation Banner in Northern Ireland. Since early 2006 seven Chinooks have been deployed to Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan in support of Operation Herrick. At any time at least two aircraft are forward-based at Camp Bastion

In July 2006, 3 Chinook helicopters of No. 27 Squadron deployed to RAF Akrotirimarker in Cyprusmarker to evacuate British citizens from Lebanon. The squadron also flew the EU foreign affairs representative Javier Solana to Beirutmarker at the start of the crisis.

In July 2009, the British government stated that a Chinook helicopter was rebuilt by combining the front of a crashed British Chinook and the rear of an Argentine one captured during Falklands war. The rebuilt helicopter was used in Afghanistan.

Variants

Chinook HC1
Chinook HC1B
Chinook HC2
Chinook HC2A
Chinook HC3
Chinook HC3A


Operators

Three RAF squadrons operate Chinook helicopters, No. 7 Squadron, No. 18 Squadron and No. 27 Squadron, all of which are based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, England. The day to day maintenance of 18 and 27 Squadron's aircraft being maintained by a joint ground crew known as Expeditionary Chinook Engineering Squadron (ExCES).

When deployed the detachment of 18/27 Squadron aircrew and ExCES groundcrew is known as No. 1310 Flight. The RAF has 46 Chinooks in inventory as of late August 2009.

Notable incidents and accidents

  • On 2 June 1994 RAF Chinook HC2 ZD576 crashed on the Mull of Kintyremarker, Scotlandmarker, killing all twenty five passengers and all four crew.


  • On 19 August 2009, the Ministry of Defence announced that an RAF Chinook made an emergency landing following an engine fire after a cargo drop off just north of Sangin in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. It is understood that the aircraft was brought down by enemy fire and made a hard landing, before the 4 crew members evacuated. None of the crew sustained any injuries and all evacuated the aircraft before they were rescued by a second Chinook on the same sortie. The broken aircraft was then destroyed by coalition air strikes to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taliban.


  • On 30 August 2009 the loss of another Chinook was announced. The helicopter made a hard landing while on operations near Sangin, Helmand province. The Chinook suffered damage to the undercarriage, nose and front rotor, but the crew and 15 soldiers on board were unharmed. According to the Ministry of Defence due to the location of the crash it was not possible to safely recover the aircraft and it was destroyed with explosives deliberately. The cause of the hard landing is being investigated, although it is not thought to have been shot down.


Specifications (Chinook)

See also

References

External links




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