Boeing has announced the signing of a contract worth $136 million with the United States Army for the first production CH-47F Block II Chinooks. In an October 1 press release, the manufacturer of the heavy lift helicopter stated that the Army had exercised options for the procurement of four contracted CH-47F Block II Chinooks, with deliveries expected to start in 2023.
Also announced was the Army’s awarding of a $29 million advanced procurement contract for the second production lot of CH-47F Block IIs. Andy Builta, Boeing vice president of Cargo & Utility Helicopters and H-47 program manager, said that the contract awards were a “big step” in the modernization of the Army’s Chinook fleet and supported its future multi-domain vision, adding: “The Block II technologies will drive commonality across the fleet and enable our soldiers to return home safely for decades.”
The 2021 NDAA had added an additional $136 million in funding for the procurement of five additional CH-47F Block IIs, as well as an additional $47.3 million for advanced procurement of further CH-47F Block IIs. The Army’s budget request had originally cut funding for the CH-47F Block II program beyond the testing of the three engineering and manufacturing development prototypes already built, limiting Block II upgrades to the special operations MH-47G fleet, favoring a future replacement for the Chinook as part of its Future Vertical Lift program and other “Big Six” modernization priorities.
However, Army Chief of Staff General James McConville endorsed the CH-47F Block II program during testimony to a House appropriations subcommittee on defense in May, saying that the upgrades would “put that aircraft in a much better place”. Similarly, he said that he was aware of the supply chain impacts should the program not proceed. Boeing has emphasized the centrality of the Block II program to its Philadelphia Chinook line, warning that the downsizing of the program would affect both the export viability of the Chinook and the employment of thousands throughout the supply chain.
Upgrades on the Block II helicopter include a new fuel tank system that carries more fuel and reduces weight, an improved drivetrain capable of handling 9 percent more power, as well as a reengineered airframe that can handle larger loads under more power and build commonality across the fleet. The first flight of a prototype CH-47F Block II took place in March 2019, with the first engineering and manufacturing development prototype delivered to the Army in September 2020.
However, Army testing has found that the composite Advanced Chinook Rotor Blades powering the Block II’s 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) increase in payload generate excessive vibrations across the Block II’s flight envelope, with a January report by the Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) stating that aircrews on a test flight using redesigned ACRBs experienced “prolonged fatigue and other physiological conditions” as a result of the vibrations. While a Boeing spokesperson contacted by Vertical stated that the company did not believe that the vibrations presented a safety of flight issue, further development of the ACRB to overcome the issue has delayed a Limited User Test originally planned for the third quarter of this year.