The first Chinook entered service with the Royal Air Force more than 40 years ago, with the first helicopter of its kind landing at RAF Odiham on 22 November 1980.
The RAF last year celebrated the significant contribution the aircraft has made to defence over the decades.
Here, we take a look at why the Chinook has become the favoured workhorse helicopter for many Armed Forces including Britain’s RAF.
Chinook – All The Gen
Is there an any more distinctive sound than the powerful low-frequency buzz of a Chinook helicopter in flight overhead?
The repetitively thunderous ‘wokka wokka’ downwash of air as the twin-engined, tandem-rotor, heavy-lift helicopter powers through the skies is unmistakable to any aircraft specialist or aviation geek. It is a sound that has set the scene in many a military movie featuring troop-drops in overly-dramatised battle operations of the big screen.
Forget your Black Hawk Downs, your Apache attacks, or your dramatic Apocalypse Now ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ sweep of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois "Hueys” as they launch into action.
No, it is the boisterous clamour of the Chinook which often sets the scene for troops dropped into theatre.
In real military life too, the Chinook often sets the scene in a range of operational situations, mainly because of its speed, capacity to lift heavy gear, and its versatility.
What Is A Chinook Helicopter?
There are a variety of models of Chinook helicopter, developed over time since the 1960s, but the most common in service is the CH-47 – an American twin-engined heavy-lift helicopter with a tandem rotor that was developed by American company Vertol and is now manufactured by Boeing.
In the words of the manufacturer, the CH-47F is “an advanced multi-mission helicopter for the US Army and international defence forces”.
The Chinook houses a fully integrated, digital cockpit management system – what is known as a Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) Cockpit.
Its advanced cargo-handling capabilities are said to complement the aircraft’s mission performance and handling characteristics.
Where Are Chinooks Based In The UK?
RAF Odiham in Hampshire is the home of the UK Chinook Force – based within the front-line support helicopter base and within the Joint Helicopter Command.
The helicopter crews at RAF Odiham provide critical, rapid support for Britain’s military operations all over the world and three Chinook squadrons operate out of the base.
The RAF says that, since the 1982 Falklands War, the Chinook has been involved in every major conflict.
This has included action in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Perhaps one of its most notable roles has been with the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT), helping to evacuate wounded troops from the battlefield in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Chinook is also serving in the ongoing anti-insurgent operation in Mali and supporting the French in Op Barkhane.
The RAF says the Chinook is expected to stay in service beyond 2040.
Why Is The Chinook Favoured For Troops?
Put simply, there are few aircraft that have stood the test of time and endurance like the Chinook.
Born out of a commission in the 1950s, when the US Army tasked aviation company Vertol to come up with a new heavy-lift helicopter that could not only transport troops in a variety of environments but also housed a design spec that would allow it to transport heavy equipment, the first Chinooks were supplied to the American military in 1962.
It is the fact that the Chinook has undergone a series of upgrades and redesigns over the years, each one tweaked to improve its capability in the battlefield, that has kept the aircraft a favoured part of the fleet in operations ever since.
The result has been a helicopter that is relatively unmatched for its speed, capacity to lift heavy gear and its versatility.
In the words of the Royal Air Force:
“The Chinook is an extremely capable and highly versatile support helicopter that can be operated from land or sea bases into a range of diverse environments, from the Arctic to the desert or jungle.”
Add to this the fact that the Chinook can be armed and fitted with a suite of self-defence weaponry, it means it has long been a highly prized asset in the battlespace.
The Chinook’s versatility allows it to be used in everything from trooping, to resupplies and to evacuating casualties from the battlefield.
It is not only the battlefield where the Chinook has proved invaluable.
The helicopter’s diverse range of capabilities, including its ability to lift groups of people to safety or deliver large cargos of supplies, means it has also proved itself in humanitarian aid missions – equally adept at transporting troops into theatre as it is transporting civilians.
Which Countries Use Chinook Helicopters?
The Royal Air Force and the US Army have long used the Chinook as part of their fleets but various models of the helicopter are now in use in more than 19 countries including Canada, Japan, Italy, Greece, Spain, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the Indian Air Force (IAF) which inducted five of a scheduled 15 CH-47(I) Chinook helicopters from manufacturer Boeing earlier this year.
Here, we take a look at the Chinook design and specifications that make it one of the world’s fastest and perhaps most functional military helicopters.
How Much Can The Chinook Carry?
Not only can the Chinook carry up to 55 troops or about 10 tonnes of mixed cargo, but its triple-hook external load system, its roller conveyor platform, and its internal cargo winch mean that the chopper can lift a wide range of underslung or internal freight of differing shapes and sizes, which makes it an ideal component of a variety of operations.
How Fast Can A Chinook Fly?
Boeing says the Chinook’s maximum airspeed is 302 km/h or 170 KTAS (Knots True Airspeed).
However, unladen, pilots have reported that they have reached speeds of up to 310 km/h in some favourable conditions.
Why Is The Chinook So Fast?
There are a variety of technical factors that combine to make the Chinook one of the world’s fastest helicopters.
Without going into advanced technical details, the speed essentially comes from its two powerful Honeywell T55-GA-714A 4,700 shaft horsepower engines which each generate an impressive 3,529kW of power.
The two rotors move in opposite directions which means each rotor cancels out the other’s torque, or in other words, each rotation cancels the differential lift pattern of each rotor wing.
This takes a huge amount of fuel to allow the Chinook to fly for up to two hours and 30 minutes on a typical operational mission, with a helicopter carrying just over 1,000 gallons of fuel onboard.
It has an operational radius of about 370km.
What Weapons Do Chinooks Carry?
Chinooks can be fitted with a variety of armaments but many operational Boeing Chinook HC.MK 6 Chinooks are fitted with two 7.62mm M134 Miniguns and one 7.62mm M60D machine gun.
How High Can A Chinook Fly?
The Chinook’s ability to fly at a density altitude of 15,000ft, or up to 20,000ft in favourable conditions, means it is suited to a wide range of terrains including challenging mountainous regions such as Afghanistan and the Hombori Mountain range of Mali, where the RAF’s Chinooks have been operating.
Where Does The Chinook Get Its Name From?
The Chinook gets its name from the Chinook tribe of Native Americans, following a long-standing US military tradition.
Chinook derives its name from a strong westerly wind that blusters over the mountains of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming in America and the Native American Indians who lived by the Columbia River take their name from that weather formation.
The US military has a long tradition of naming helicopters after Native Americans.
In part, this comes from the warring history between the early US military and Native Americans but the tradition has gone on to respect the many Native Americans who have served with the US armed forces – not least the 32 Native Americans who have earned the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award.