Netherlands opts to sell retired CH-47Ds over Ukraine transfer

The Dutch Ministry of Defense (MOD) recently announced plans to sell six of its ‘obsolete’ Boeing CH-47D Chinook heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters to the Billings Flying Service in Montana, after evaluating that it would be difficult to transfer these specific airlifters to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Headquartered in Billings, Montana, the family-owned Billings Flying Service specialises in providing aerial firefighting and disaster relief services across the continental US and already operates a fleet of Chinook helicopters, which will be increased by a further six airframes with this proposed second-hand sale.

The move – which was announced by the Dutch MOD on March 9 – comes after the Dutch State Secretary for Defence Christophe van der Maat considered transferring the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) already retired CH-47D fleet to Ukraine now that Defence Helicopter Command (DHC) is actively receiving its 20 new-build CH-47F MYII CAAS Chinook rotorcraft. However, due to the unique cockpit setup of these CH-47Ds – which is only used by the RNLAF and Republic of Singapore Air Force – it was ultimately decided that such a transfer would be untenable.

An RNLAF-operated CH-47D Chinook (serial D-103) gets airborne. This aircraft remains in storage with No 298 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen Air Base.
An RNLAF-operated CH-47D Chinook (serial D-103) gets airborne. This aircraft remains in storage with No 298 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen Air Base. RNLAF

Commenting on why the unique cockpit situation makes the transfer of these aircraft to Ukraine difficult, Van der Maat said: “This makes it difficult to provide education and training in an international context. In addition, the unique cockpit makes future maintenance more difficult, because international cooperation is not possible. Billings has been operating CH-47D Chinook helicopters for some time now, which have been disposed of by the US military.”

The Dutch MOD states that the proposed sale – which also includes the provision of spare parts and aircraft-specific test equipment – was approved by the interdepartmental Defense Materiel Sales Committee in December 2022, adding that it aims to sign the contract with the Billings Flying Service by the end of March. A delivery schedule will be determined after the acquisition contract has been signed.

The six CH-47Ds being sold to the Billings Flying Service are not the first Dutch Chinooks to be sold to an aerial firefighting services provider in the US. In 2020, the Dutch MOD sold four CH-47F(NL) helicopters to Coulson Aviation (USA), which is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. These helicopters (serials D-891; D-893; D-894 and D-896) are currently in storage at San Bernardino in California.

The RNLAF’s No 298 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen Air Base withdrew its final CH-47Ds from operational service in December 2021. Since then, the majority of these helicopters have been stored inside hangars at the base. The RNLAF has almost received all of its new-build CH-47F MYII CAAS Chinooks and the air arm is looking to sell its older CH-47Ds quickly to free up hangar space for the new helicopters. The new Chinooks are operated by No 298 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen and No 302 Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas.