April 2, 2010:
The U.S. Army's new CH-47F helicopter has gotten its first sustained experience in a combat zone, and performed well. A company of 20 CH-47Fs has been in Afghanistan for a year now, often flying eight missions a day, day after day. The CH-47Fs have had a 90 percent availability rate. Although the CH-47F has been flying since 2001, and were first delivered to the army nearly two years ago, it takes sustained use in a combat environment to smoke out the last bugs and maintenance problems. There were some problems with the flat panel displays, but these were quickly worked out. There were several other minor problems, mostly having to do with all the dust in the environment, and the temperature extremes (often below freezing in Winter, and over 45 degrees/113 Fahrenheit in Summer). This was tough on the maintainers and manufacturers' reps initially, but after a year, maintenance is no longer an issue. This is important, because in Afghanistan, the CH-47 is a critical form of air transportation, including combat assault.
For the last two decades, the U.S. Army used the its UH-60 "Blackhawk" helicopter for combat assault missions, while the larger CH-47 "Chinook" was used just for moving cargo. But the army found that, in the high altitudes of Afghanistan, the more powerful CH-47 was often the only way to go in the thin mountain air. While doing that, the army found that the CH-47 made an excellent assault helicopter. In many ways, it was superior to the UH-60, mainly because the CH-47 carries more troops and moves faster and farther. The CH-47F has even more powerful engines, and is even more valuable for high altitude assaults.
The Blackhawk can only carry eleven troops, and max speed is 285 kilometers an hour, with endurance of 2.1 hours. The CH-47F can carry ten tons of cargo, or up to 55 troops, and has a maximum range of 426 kilometers. Its max speed is 315 kilometers an hour. Typical missions last no more than 2.5 hours. This means that one CH-47 can carry 40-50 combat troops, and all their gear. For most air assaults, one CH-47 does the job that would otherwise require five UH-60s.
The first CH-47s entered service in 1962, able to carry only five tons. Some 750 saw service in Vietnam, and 200 were lost in action. Between 1982-94, 500 CH-47s were rebuilt to the CH-47D standard. SOCOM operates 31 MH-47Ds and Es, which have additional navigation gear. These are being upgraded to MH-47F standards, and the fleet expanded to 61 helicopters. As a result of all this, the CH-47 will end up serving at least 75 years. The CH-47F upgrades and new builds will not be completed until 2018. New CH-47Fs cost about $35 million each.