WASHINGTON — The US Army’s next block of major upgrades for its CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters is moving quickly through the approval pipeline, Army officials said this week.
The CH-47F program office had a “successful” Army Systems Acquisition Review Council meeting on Wednesday and is now waiting for Army acquisitions chief Heidi Shyu to sign the acquisition decision memorandum that will allow the service to release a request for proposals for its “Block II” upgrade program, Col. Rob Barrie, the Army’s project manager for cargo helicopters, told Defense News Thursday at the Association of the US Army’s aviation forum in Arlington, Virginia.
It remains to be seen if she will sign the memorandum before she retires at the end of the month or if the approval process will pass to her successor.
Maj. Gen. Michael Lundy, the commanding general of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama, told an audience at the same forum that the analysis of alternatives (AOA) for the Chinook Block II upgrades is complete “and we’ve made a choice in the direction we are going and we are moving out on that.”
Barrie said the Army briefed the study advisory group chaired by the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office on the AOA findings in November and the final report was recently approved.
While Barrie could not detail the AOA’s findings he said it found the Army is on the right path to pursue the engineering changes it is planning for Block II and that it would “provide a good value back to the [Army].”
At a high level, the key objective for the Block II program is to restore payload lost over the years as the Chinook has gained about 4,200 pounds of mission equipment, Barrie said.
The secondary goal for Block II is “to set conditions with the foundation of these [engineering change proposals] to make future upgrades affordable on the aircraft.”
The specific future upgrade the Army is eyeing is a potential new engine. The Boeing-manufactured Chinook flies with the Honeywell-made T55 engine that has been upgraded over the years.
Barrie made it clear there is no requirement yet for a new engine, but Block II would prime the helicopter for the possibility of changing out the engine for a new one down the road.
Some of the planned changes in Block II will be upgrades to the electrical system, transmission and rotor system.
Lastly, Block II intends to align the conventional Army Chinooks more closely with the MH-47s that Army Special Operations fly.
“Over time those two have kind of diverged, we are going to converge the design,” Barrie said. “They are not going to be common,” he added, but where the Army can achieve commonality, it will.
For example, the MH-47 is a heavier aircraft due to the mission equipment that has been added to the airframe over the years. Special operations Chinooks weigh 54,000 pounds while a conventional Chinook weighs 50,000 pounds. The conventional Chinooks will be increased to a gross weight of 54,000 pounds to align with the special operations version in order to accommodate more payload.
“We will both operate the aircraft at 54,000 pounds and learn lessons from each other,” Barrie said. The upgrades include strengthening the airframe to be able to accommodate the added weight.
“There’s the qualitative benefits we have from being more common whether it’s from ordering parts and the ability to be more interactive with SOCOM,” Barrie added.
Lundy noted at the forum that the round of upgrades would help solve the problem of aging airframes in the Army special operations fleet as well.
“They are going to fix aging G-models and they are going to get some new frames on this,” he said.
While other helicopter pilots are envious of the technology on a special operations Chinook, its bones are old. Many of the 61 MH-47G aircraft airframes are from the 1960s, 70s and 80s.