RAF Chinooks pass flight hour milestone in Mali ops

British CH-47 Chinook HC5 heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters deployed in Mali, West Africa, have flown more than 2,000 operational flight hours in support of French-led counterinsurgency missions.

The aircraft – based from RAF Odiham, Hampshire – have moved more than 1,000 tonnes of cargo and over 12,000 passengers since three examples were first deployed to assist the French military in July 2018. 

As of May 19, aircrew from No 18(B) Squadron are piloting the Chinook HC5s deployed in Mali under Operation Newcombe, supported by ground-based personnel from across the British Army Air Corps (AAC) and the RAF. The crew are deployed on three-to-four-month tours and are combined to make up No 1310 Flight, operating from Gao, Mali.

Wg Cdr Si Elsey, the current RAF detachment commander of No 1310 Flight, said: “We have not lost a sortie due to COVID-19 and the French have maintained a high tempo of operations throughout. Once their troops are in the field, we re-supply them and can lift vehicles in and out as required.

Chinook HC5 [MoD Crown Copyright] #1
MoD Crown Copyright

“The deployed personnel have endeavoured to maintain communications with their families and generate a level of mutual support for isolated loved ones back home during this period of worldwide turmoil caused by COVID-19. Unfortunately, terrorism does not recognise pandemics, so the deployed personnel have maintained their operational focus while observing COVID-19 measures,” Elsey added.

Since arriving in January, the latest detachment has contributed 340 flight hours, lifted 247 tonnes of freight and ferried 1,150 passengers, operating in temperatures up to 47°C (117°F) and frequent sandstorms.

When it began in 2018, the Mali mission marked the first operational deployment of the Chinook HC5 helicopters. Former detachment commander, Wg Cdr Matt Roberts stated that “with the Chinook [HC5], we can move a huge [number] of stores around the area of operations and increase the in-theatre manoeuvrability of the French.”

A total of eight Chinook HC5s are employed by the service, alongside 14 HC6s and 38 HC6As. These eight platforms were designated as HC3Rs before they received Boeing’s Digital Flight Control System (DAFCS) and upgraded avionics under Project Julius. The HC5 ‘fat tank’ variant of the CH-47 provides extended-range in comparison to its in-service counterparts, thanks to its larger fuel tanks.

The UK is currently seeking to procure 16 new-build Boeing CH-47F (Block II) Chinooks under the US’ Foreign Military Sale (FMS) programme.

A full report on deployed operations in Mali, including the RAF Chinook detachment, appears in the forthcoming June issue of AirForces Monthly.