The Royal Air Force (RAF) has applied a special Union Jack-themed scheme to one of its Boeing Chinook HC6A heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters in celebration of the type’s 40 years of operational service.
Sporting its new commemorative livery, the aircraft – serial ZD984 (c/n MA041/M7015) – was revealed by the RAF on May 5, after being rolled out from the paint bay at RAF Odiham in Hampshire. The air force states the paint scheme was applied during regular scheduled routine maintenance and came at no additional cost to the taxpayer. It added that a team from Serco worked over several weeks to apply the 40th anniversary scheme.
The RAF noted that the design process behind this commemorative livery required two years of ground work and engineering preparation before the aircraft could enter the paint bay at RAF Odiham. The newly-painted helicopter has since re-entered operational service with No 27 Squadron and will resume routine training missions for operations both domestically and abroad. ZD984 will also be used to support the RAF Chinook Display Team at airshows and commemorative events throughout 2021.
AVM Nigel Colman, commander of the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command, said: “For most of its time in service, the RAF Chinook has been part of the Joint Helicopter Command, where its incredible capability has been in great demand, both at home and overseas. All those involved with Chinook operations, both past and present, should take great pride in what they have achieved. The Chinook will continue to be a familiar sight and sound in the years ahead and we all look forward to the next chapter in the Chinook’s illustrious history.”
Manufactured by Boeing, the Chinook entered operational service with the RAF on November 22, 1980 and has supported UK military operations in every major conflict since it made its combat debut during the Falklands War. The platform has also proved useful closer to home, supporting communities across the UK that have been affected by floods and other emergency situations that have occurred over the years. RAF Chinooks are also currently deployed in Mali to support the French-led Operation Barkhane – an anti-insurgency operation against militant organisations in Africa’s Sahel region.
Gp Cpt Nick Knight, RAF Odiham’s station commander, added: “Since receiving the Chinook in 1980, its contribution to defence has been profound. From [its] first deployment to the Falklands to current operations in West Africa, the Chinook has continually delivered on operations. Offering a capability second to none, the Chinook emotes a sense of pride built on this long and illustrious history.”
AirForces Intelligence data states that – as of May 7, 2021 – the RAF maintains a fleet of 60 Chinooks, comprising 38 HC6As, 14 HC6s and eight HC5s. On July 28, 2020, a single HC6A was damaged following a wire strike and is currently being repaired. These heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters are operated by No 7 Squadron, No 18 (Bomber) Squadron and No 27 Squadron from RAF Odiham.
The type is also employed by No 28 Squadron at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, which serves as an Operational Conversion Unit for the Chinook and the UK’s Westland Puma HC2 medium-lift tactical transport helicopter fleet. The Chinook HC5s that are deployed to Mali are operated by 1310 Flight from Gao.
In the last decade, the RAF’s Chinook fleet has been heavily modernised to HC5/HC6/HC6A standard, bringing them up-to-date with the more modern versions of the type. In total, 38 examples were upgraded to HC6A standard but 24 of them are based on the original HC1 airframe, which was originally designed in the 1960s. These aircraft have been continuously modernised since they entered operational UK service in 1980.
In October 2018, the US government approved the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of 16 extended-range Boeing CH-47F Chinooks to the UK in a deal worth US$3.5bn. As per the notification from the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) at the time, the deal would include the provision of 40 M240H machine guns and 40 M-134D-T miniguns for the UK. It is anticipated that these helicopters would boast a significant role in supporting special forces operations. No contract in relation to this particular FMS has been officially signed.
On April 16, 2020, the MoD announced a new Through Life Customer Support (TLCS) contract had been signed with Boeing Defence UK – a deal which will last for 20 years. This agreement refreshes the previous MoD-Boeing TLCS contract, allowing it to continue meeting defence qualifying contract (DQC) needs, which were outlined in the 2014 UK MoD Single-Source Pricing Regulations (SSPR).
The first six-year pricing period agreement is set to cost GBP£590.4m and is based on the fleet’s flying hours from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2026. As per the online contract details, no future acquisitions look to be included. All of the UK’s Chinook airframes are overhauled by StandardAero in Gosport, while Honeywell Aerospace’s T55 turboshaft engines – which power the platform – go back to the firm’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
In March 2021, the UK government released its Integrated Review and subsequent Defence Command Paper. These publications specified that some of the RAF’s oldest Chinooks, which have remained in operational service since the early 1980s, will be replaced by the latest variant of the type – the CH-47F. This acquisition process will be conducted alongside the US to enhance interoperability, as well as the aircraft’s overall efficiency and capability.
On April 20, it was confirmed that the UK would procure 14 newly-built CH-47Fs in a US$2bn deal, seemingly reducing the number of aircraft it initially sought back in 2018. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, initial deliveries of the new variant will not take place before 2024. The final aircraft is slated to be handed over to the RAF by 2030. It is not yet known what this new Chinook variant will be designated as in UK military service.