Army to purchase new Chinooks, upgrade fleet
January 19, 2005
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 19, 2005) -- All of the Army's CH-47 Chinooks will be upgraded to the new CH-47F models by 2018 as the result of a partnership between the service and Boeing, the helicopter's manufacturer.
The Army will buy 55 new CH-47F models, have 397 helicopters remanufactured into CH-47Fs, and have 61 remanufactured to the CH47G used by Special Forces units. Total procurement costs through 2018 will be $11.4 billion.
In a media round table Jan. 12, Col. William T. Crosby, project manager Cargo Helicopter, said the effort will keep the Chinook in the air even longer than the U.S. Air Force's B-52 bomber.
When the helicopters are remanufactured, they will be rebuilt from the ground up. The Chinooks will receive recapitalized depot-level repair components that are nearly "zero hour" or new. The aircraft will receive new airframes.
The new version of the Chinook features a modern "glass cockpit" avionics suite, in which computer displays replace the more traditional "steam gauges" seen on traditional control panels. Crosby said the CH-47s Common Avionics Architecture System is based on the MH-47G common core. The UH-60M program plans to use the same system.
"The software is different, but when you plug in the hardware, it checks to see which aircraft its in and installs the right software," Crosby said. "This is part of the Common Avionics Architecture System we've been working on."
Crosby said research showed that it was less expensive to replace the entire fuselage than to rebuild the 40-year-old airframes currently in service. Many of the new airframes interior formers and load bearing members are machined in one piece, much stronger than those used in the original airframes, which were built of numerous pieces riveted together. Crosby said the changes amount to a 50 to 60 percent reduction in part numbers for some components.
The upshot of these changes was a reduction in the price of a new helicopter from the $42 million to $30 million. The price for remanufactured helicopters is expected to be slightly lower than $30 million, but is still being negotiated. Crosby said the lower cost became possible when the Army agreed to fund non-recurring costs at a higher rate.
"By bumping up our non-recurring costs, we were able to avoid $12 million in the price of each helicopter. When the eighth helicopter roles off the line, we start making those non-recurring costs back," Crosby said. "We agreed with Boeing that we could remanufacture the 427 aircraft with new airframes at a price less than or equal to the price of rebuilding the original airframes. They were able to find the cost savings."
Jack Dougherty, director of Chinook Programs for Boeing, said the company was able to outsource the construction of some of features, and to redesign others using more modern methods, because of the increase in non-recurring funding.
He said the order for 55 new helicopters, even spread over several fiscal years, is most Boeing has received from the Army since 1973.
Sgt. 1st Class Gary Newton is the standardization instructor, and served with the operational test unit during the first phase of testing on the helicopter. He said the new aircraft makes his job easier.
"We flew about 90 hours in two different aircraft," Newton said. "The new airframe will reduce vibration and reduce our workload. The new intercom system makes it easier to communicate, and the two crewmembers in the back can now talk to each other independent from the pilots in the cockpit."
The new Chinook is also easier to prepare for loading onto a large cargo aircraft, Newton said.
"Our time to load on, say, a C-5 Galaxy has been cut in about half," he said. "It also decreases the time for unloading at the other end."
Chief Warrant Officer Brian MacDonald has flown the prototype, as well as the former CH-47D and MH-47E versions of the aircraft.
"The new avionics help improve our situational awareness," MacDonald said. "The integrated glass cockpit decreases our workload. You have a display screen showing you the map to your destination. You still have a paper map, but it's folded under your leg as a backup."
MacDonald said the more powerful engines in the CH-47F are the same that are being used to convert about 65 percent of the current fleet of CH-47Ds.
"The difference is like being on steroids," MacDonald said. "We've always been the most powerful heavy lift helicopter, but now we're making more power, and we're getting more power for less fuel."