The MH-47E Chinook is a long-distance, heavy-lift helicopter, which is equipped with aerial refueling capability, a fast-rope rappelling system and other upgrades or operations-specific equipment. The MH-47E Chinook is a modified CH-47D with an integrated cockpit, upgraded engines, aerial refueling capability, forward looking infrared (FLIR), terrain following/terrain avoidance (TF/TA) radar, upgraded navigation and communication systems, integrated aviation support equipment (ASE), and external rescue hoist. Included with other modifications is a significantly increased fuel capacity with modified main and auxiliary fuel tanks. The aircraft has modified integrated avionics suites and multi-mode radars and is intended to provide adverse-weather infiltration/exfiltration and support to US military forces, country teams, other agencies and special activities.
The MH-47E helicopters are used for long range transport missions. The MH-47E is required to complete a 5.5-hour covert mission over a 300 nautical mile (555 kilometer) radius, at low level, day or night, in adverse weather, over any type of terrain, and do so with a 90 percent probability of success. To help it carry heavy loads long distances, the MH-47E had it's engines upgraded and more fuel capacity added. Two Textron Lycoming T55L-714 engines rated at over 4,000 shaft-horsepower were added, replacing the 3,750 shaft-horsepower model 712's of the standard CH-47D.
The MH-47E combines many proven Chinook systems and features. Notable among these are fuels tanks providing twice the capacity of the CH-47D and an in-flight refueling system. MH-47Es are remanufactured in the CH-47D production line, with most E-model systems installed during the final stages of completion. Many of the MH-47E's technologies, such as its integrated cockpit displays, FLIR and multimode radar, were flight-tested in the Boeing Model 360 Advanced Technology Demonstrator. They were subsequently tested in the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.
The MH-47E's integrated avionics system (IAS) permits global communications and navigation. The IAS was the most advanced system of its kind ever installed in a US Army helicopter at the time of its introduction. The IAS includes forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and multimode radar for nap-of-the-earth and low level flight operations in conditions of extremely poor visibility and adverse weather. The Army requires MH-47E and MH-60K avionics systems to be common and interchangeable. Critical IAS components, basic radios, mission computers and multifunction displays, for example, can be exchanged between an MH-47E and an MH-60K in minutes. Switching avionics between different makes and models of aircraft is unique. This capability means that missions conducted far from normal supply channels have a much higher probability of successful completion.
A contract issued in December 1987 provided for the development and flight-testing of a single MH-47E prototype, and 25 production aircraft. A contract allowing for long-lead purchases and the induction of the first 25 production aircraft was awarded in June 1991. In separate contracting activities, the Army selected IBM Federal Systems, subsequently purchased by Lockheed Martin, as directed IAS subcontractor to Boeing and Sikorsky.
A total of 26 MH-47E were produced of the 51 initially planned, due to high expense (at least $14 million and as much as $40 million apiece). All of the special operations Chinooks were modernized aircraft, having been converted from earlier-model CH-47 airframes. Delivery of the twenty sixth MH-47E to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) took place in May 1995. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment had been operating the new rotorcraft since 1994, while flight crews completed training with the Special Operations Chinook's sophisticated integrated cockpit control system.
The MH-47E were CH-47C helicopters that had been re-manufactured and modified with a mission-equipment package and cockpit similar to those of the MH-60K. The MH-47Es were fielded with 2 full-motion, high-fidelity flight simulators. In 1995, the MH-47Es were modified with the addition of M134 "Miniguns," FRIES, and 2 800-gallon Robertson auxiliary fuel tanks. The MH-47E was subsequently upgraded between 1995 and 2001 including modifications identical to those of the MH-60K.
In 1996, a US Army MH-47E operated by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment crashed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the loss of 5 members of the unit. A subsequent investigation concluded the most likely cause to be loss of electrical power due to the presence of water in the helicopters primary (electrical) distribution panels (PDPs). Following the accident, changes were made to protect PDPs from water intrusion.
The first MH-47E Chinook served as a flight test prototype, and aircraft numbers 2 and 3 were utilized initially for electromagnetic environmental effects and aircraft survivability equipment testing at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, Maryland. MH-47E testing was limited to the major changes to the aircraft that affected vulnerability. In the case of the MH-47E, this was the addition of an 800 gallon Robertson Auxiliary Fuel Tank in the cabin and Boeing designed sponson tanks with expanded capacity and honeycomb shell construction. Analyses conducted during the test planning phase revealed that the largest potential vulnerability was associated with projectiles entering the fuel tanks in the volume above the liquid fuel. Such impacts could ignite the fuel vapors and cause explosions and/or fires with serious consequences. During test planning, USSOCOM decided to add an inerting system to the fuel tanks to avoid such fires/explosions. This would be a lead-the-fleet system that would be available for similar helicopter variants in other fleets as well.
The Live Fire Testing on these systems was completed in May 1998. The MH-47E fuel tanks demonstrated exceptional ability to withstand ballistic impacts of projectiles associated with small arms, automatic weapons, and anti-aircraft artillery. The tanks were designed to be self-sealing against .50 caliber projectiles. However, the live fire tests indicated that the tanks designs were effective against much larger non-exploding projectiles, even with multiple impacts on the same tank. The designs also proved to be effective in mitigating the fuel loss from impacts by high-explosive incendiary (HEI) projectiles. In addition, there were no fires in the 23 shots except for one, which self-extinguished before any significant damage was done. One of the reasons for the strength of this design against ballistic threats is in part due to the fact that the tanks are designed to be crashworthy and this adds to the robustness against the ballistic threat.
One system fielded largely because of the Army's Airborne Engineering Evaluation Support Branch (AEESB) research efforts, a proponent of the US Army Communication and Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, was the Personnel Locator System. It allowed search and rescue aircraft to find downed crewmembers without giving away the aviator's location. One of AEESB's most important projects was a prototype for the 'glass cockpit' in special operations aircraft. Most aircraft cockpits contain lots of buttons, gauges and dials that can be very confusing. AEESB's 1985 tests of a digital avionics system led to digital cockpits in the MH-47E Chinook and MH-60K Black Hawk special operations aircraft. The glass cockpit essentially replaced all the many instruments a pilot previously used to fly the aircraft with computer screens. The MH-60K and MH-47E special operations helicopters were fielded with the digitized cockpits. The desktop trainer was an interactive software program that supplemented the MH-47E and MH-60K manuals. It was used to familiarize transitioning pilots to the "glass cockpits" of these 2 special operations aircraft airframes.
On 29 December 1999, Boeing Helicopters, a Division of the Boeing Company was awarded a letter contract with a not to exceed amount of $5,500,000. The estimated total contract amount upon definitization would not exceed $11,000,000. This contract called for the purchase of long lead components necessary to construct a replacement MH-47E helicopter for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, plus engineering services prerequisite to construction of the aircraft. Engineering services would be performed during the period from 1 January 2000 to 31 August 2000.
On 28 September 2000, the Boeing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was awarded a $25,675,595 modification to a previously awarded contract (USZA95-C-0002) to modify a US Army CH-47D helicopter to the special operations forces MH-47E configuration to include the BGAD III model. Work would be performed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was expected to be completed by 30 April 2003. The US Army Aviation Center's CH-47 Chinook, nicknamed "Bearcat 3," had been utilized to test and evaluate new aircraft systems and configurations. After its arrival at Boeing Philadelphia's manufacturing facility in early October 2000, the helicopter was stripped, inspected and repaired in preparation for remanufacturing as an MH-47E Special Operations Chinook, nicknamed the "Dark Horse." The modernization, to be completed in 2003, would restore the full complement of MH-47Es authorized for the Special Operations Forces.
During Operation Anaconda in northeast Afghanistan in 2002, the MH-47Es proved their combat mettle. Taliban and Al Qaeda forces zeroed in with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades on Chinooks of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment as they landed troops during the battle. One Chinook took off and flew out of the trap set by the enemy to safety, with wounded crew and badly damaged electrical and hydraulic systems. Unfortunately, enemy gunfire killed a Navy SEAL, who fell from the aircraft during its escape. Attacks also damaged a second MH-47E as it unloaded troops sent to search for him, and brought down a third as it landed reinforcements, 5 of whom were killed in action. Both pilots and one gunner in the third aircraft were wounded, and the second gunner lost his life. Later, Chinooks returned to pick up the American troops, who destroyed the enemy stronghold. Despite severe combat damage, all but one of the MH-47E involved are expected to return to flight.
The Commander in Chief, Special Operations Command directed the US Army Special Operations Command to replace the Air Force Special Operations Command MH-53J helicopters in the Pacific Command and European Command areas of responsibility with MH-47E helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) by 2001 and 2005 respectively.
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