August 16, 2011:
Canada is finding it’s easier to buy new helicopters, than find the people it needs to operate and maintain them. Such is the case with a new CH-47 transport helicopter squadron, which will require 482 pilots, maintainers and support staff. Pilots are in training, as are some of the maintainers.
The problems is that the Royal Canadian Air Force has only 14,500 personnel and it’s difficult to round up 482 specialists for a new squadron. The new unit does not reach full strength until 2014, and three years is believed sufficient to recruit or transfer the people needed for the new unit. But maybe not, because it’s always a problem with smaller armed forces in this age of ever evolving technology. The U.S. Air Force has 330,000 personnel, and has been downsizing for the last two decades. All those people give you a lot more flexibility, and fewer problems in forming new units.
Canada has been leasing and trying to buy CH-47s for the past four years. That’s because the CH-47 is the best helicopter for use in Afghanistan, having proved able to deal with the dust and high altitude operations better than other transport choppers. The CH-47 has been engineered, over the years, to deal with the dust, and always had the engine power to handle high altitude operations. For these reasons, Canada is buying fifteen more CH-47Fs and forming another air force squadron to operate them. Canada expects to use the CH-47s on peacekeeping missions.
The 22 ton CH-47 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 about three hours. 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.
From 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, just for the bare aircraft. The CH-47F is more durable and easier to maintain than the CH-47D, and most D models will be upgraded to the F standard.