Friday, October 2, 2009

Royal Air Force Chinooks To Receive Engine and Cockpit Upgrade for Afghanistan Deployment

RAF Chinook helicopters operating in Afghanistan will receive a £408m upgrade to deliver more powerful engines and more advanced, digitised cockpits, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, announced yesterday, Thursday, 24 September 2009.

Mr Davies travelled to RAF Odiham in Hampshire which is the home of the RAF Chinook fleet to announce the upgrade and he also met pilots and engineers involved in operating the helicopters.

The upgrade will give the whole Chinook fleet a significant boost by fitting a more powerful engine, enabling the Chinooks to operate more effectively in the hot summers and high altitudes of Afghanistan.

The new modern, fuel efficient engines also mean that the fleet will be able to fly further without refuelling and therefore spend longer supporting the front line, before needing re-servicing.

The Chinook pilots will also benefit from improved visibility thanks to new 'glass cockpits', which will improve their ability to fly the aircraft under demanding low light conditions – a key feature of operations in Afghanistan.

Quentin Davies said: "The Chinook is the cornerstone of our helicopter support effort in Afghanistan.

"These improvements will increase its capability and ensure it can play an even more valuable role in supporting our forces and NATO coalition allies in tackling insurgency in Afghanistan.

"Upgrading the Chinook is part of a series of improvements to our battlefield helicopter force and is powerful evidence of our commitment and determination to give our Forces the very best equipment."

Mr Davies was joined by Group Captain Andy Turner, Station Commander at RAF Odiham, who explained the environmental and operational challenges facing the Chinook in Afghanistan and how the improvements would increase capability.

Gp Cpt Turner said: "This is an essential and very welcome step change in the UK Chinook capability. It will increase the lift capacity of our aircraft in Afghanistan, broaden safety margins when the aircraft is heavy, reduce operating costs and equip the aircraft through to its out of service date.

"We already feel positive about what the engine will offer and I am confident that the proven joint collaboration between RAF Odiham, the MOD helicopter Engines Project Team and industry will deliver this vital upgrade in record time."

Chinooks are crucial to the efforts of British forces in Afghanistan; delivering troops, extracting casualties, supplying Forward Operating Bases and supporting logistical efforts.

Following the loss of two RAF Chinooks in Afghanistan in August the British fleet currently stands at a total of 36, all of which will be upgraded with the new, more powerful engines producing 16 to 20 per cent more horsepower.

Fortunately there were no casualties in the recent Chinook loses and Mr Davies revealed that in the second incident the helicopter was able to continue flying and reach safety despite being badly damaged by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). This was because the helicopter was one of the vehicles fitted with the new engines. All crew and passengers were then safely extracted on a second Chinook taking part in the mission.

The Chinooks lost were replaced in theatre within 72 hours, resulting in no loss of operational capability.

Flight Lieutenant Dan Padbury, Chinook pilot on 27 Squadron based at RAF Odiham, who is currently flying Chinooks in Afghanistan, highlighted the benefit of the new engines: "It's early days, but the new 714 engines have already performed as anticipated and will certainly increase our operational capability in theatres such as Afghanistan.

"Having flown a Chinook fitted with the new engines, I noticed a marked improvement in performance."

Chinook engineer Corporal Tim Bruinsma of 18/27 (Eng) Squadron, who has done five tours in Afghanistan said: "The improvement to the engine is absolutely fundamental. The operating altitude and the temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees Celsius in summer months mean the new engines effectively bring the operating altitude down to a new level and increases the payload capability.

"With increased performance we can go further, we can lift more, we can take more troops and get more ammunition delivered. It also takes away some of the maintenance burden. It's not just words, it is real value."

Flight lieutenant Rich Elford of 27 Squadron, a Chinook pilot who has also done five operational tours in Afghanistan added: "The terrain and the climatic conditions, as well as the Taliban, all combine together to give us enormous challenges. It makes it a very difficult and demanding environment to work in."

"In a way it is a relief to hear we are getting an upgrade to the engines which offers more performance in theatre. In particular it allows us to carry more and to fly at altitude with loads in a safer configuration if we lost an engine, so the engine upgrade is particularly important.

"The cockpit upgrade is more geared toward the night element and any improvement is a good improvement.

"I flew with the new engine yesterday and it will give us a significant improvement in flight safety terms. While I haven't had a go with the new cockpit, from what I have heard it sounds like it will be a very worthwhile upgrade and give us a much more capable aircraft."

The refits of both the engines and cockpits will be made as part of the natural maintenance cycle of the aircraft, with the new cockpits being fitted from November this year.

The cockpit enhancement programme will see Boeing as the prime contractor, working with Thales UK and Vector Aerospace, which has long experience of Chinook maintenance and upgrade work.


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