The Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, today visited RAF Odiham to unveil the RAF’s latest variant of the Chinook. Gordon Jones reports for GAR.

In 2011 it was announced that the RAF would acquire 14 new Chinooks (based on the CH-47F but with UK-specific equipment) at a cost of £1 billion. The order was made up of 12 new aircraft to offset the Agusta Westland Merlins being transferred to the Royal Navy for the Commando Helicopter Force, and two attrition replacements for airframes lost in Afghanistan. These additional aircraft takes the fleet to a total of 60 airframes, the biggest in Europe and second only to the USA on a worldwide scale.

Gordon Jones ©

RAF Chinook HC6 – Gordon Jones ©

The new Chinooks are designated HC6 by the RAF and should all be delivered by 2015 and in operational service by 2017. The RAF has so far taken delivery of three airframes with one flying on a Release To Service, allowing training flights so that the aircraft can build flying hours towards its Interim Operating Capability, which is expected by the middle of next year.

The HC6 features a full glass cockpit based on the Thales Topdeck system and this is integrated with a new Digital Advanced Flight Control System (DAFCS). The DAFCS provides a number of impressive improvements to the Chinook fleet, such as automatic descent and hover, allowing the aircraft to be placed in position with total precision, even in brown-out conditions.

Gordon Jones ©

Glass cockpit – Gordon Jones ©

Inside the cabin the most noticeable of the improvement is the aforementioned full glass cockpit which provides the pilots with multi-function displays, a moving map and a tablet based pre-flight planning system that can either be operated from the cockpit or by the crewman, from a new, crash resistant, seat position behind the pilots. Speaking to aircrew who have flown either the HC6 or HC4 (see below), it is apparent just how impressed they are with the new cockpit, to say nothing of the ease with which flight planning can now be carried out with the tablet system, even in flight.

The HC6 will take its place in a fleet that is already undergoing a number of upgrade programmes, which will eventually produce a common standard across the HC2 / HC2A and HC3 Chinooks already in service. Under Project Julius, Honeywell T55-GA-714A engines and the glass cockpits are being retrofitted, and this will see the HC2 / HC2A become HC4, and the HC3 become the HC5. Further upgrade programs will see the self-defence suite upgraded under Project Baker and the communication systems under Project Benic.

Gordon Jones ©

The Secretary of State for Defence – Gordon Jones ©

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, himself a former Chinook pilot said:

“The Chinook Mark 6 represents the pinnacle of the RAF’s heavy-lift capability and is the most advanced Chinook helicopter we have ever operated.

“Chinook has proved itself time and again on operations, most recently in Afghanistan. The new Mark 6 variant will ensure the Chinook fleet is able to continue to play a key role in future operations, wherever they may be.”

Global Aviation Resource would like to thank RAF Odiham for its assistance