Boeing Touts Chinook Production as Model of Acquisition Efficiency
RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — By the standards of military acquisition programs, Boeing Co.’s recent delivery of 15 helicopters to the Royal Canadian Air Force in only 12 months is a model of efficiency.
Company executives tout the Canadian program as an example of how future U.S. and international procurements could run more smoothly.
“Achieving first flight ahead of schedule on a developmental program like this is unusual … in this industry,” says Steve Parker, Boeing’s vice president for cargo helicopter programs and H-47 program manager. “It shouldn’t be. Unfortunately it has been.”
“Delivering 15 aircraft in 12 months … unheard of I’d say,” he adds. “To me, the message is, in America, we can do these things and we can make it repetitive, not just Boeing.”
Parker conceded that the aircraft have been in production for nearly 50 years, so cranking them out at a fast pace to satisfy international demand does not seem like a great achievement on the surface.
But the new aircraft incorporates the most advanced avionics systems and other technologies available. The 15 Canadian Chinooks also were tailor made to fulfill that nation’s need for an aircraft that can support humanitarian missions in its vast northern territories. The 15th of the lot was delivered to Canadian officials during a June 30 ceremony at Boeing’s Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, production facility.
“This has been a very successful program in that its contract signature is on schedule. It’s also on budget, so there are lessons that can be applied to Army and Navy programs and we are in close communication with our colleagues,” says Col. Andrew Fleming, project manager for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s medium- to heavy-lift helicopter program office
The program had remained on time and on budget since 2009. First flight was in June 24, 2012, and exactly one year later, Canada received its first CH-147F at the Philadelphia facility. It will become a model for future Canadian military procurement programs, Fleming says.
Canada decommissioned its heavy-lift helicopter capability in the 1990s and was reliant on allies until the military’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan highlighted the need to resurrect the program, Fleming says. Canada initially bought six D-model Chinooks from the U.S. government to fulfill its needs.
“That experience led the government of Canada to the conclusion that we should have the ability to transport troops and equipment on the scale that the Chinook can do on a regular basis,” Fleming says. The resultant MHLH program is tailored from scratch to the specific needs of the Canadian military based on the experience of Chinook pilots in Afghanistan.
The aircraft were modified to fit missions specific to the Canadian Air Force, such as a “robust self-defense suite” that improves the safety of passengers and crew, as well as long-range fuel tanks that “increase operational flexibility … in Canada’s vast north," he says.
“In Canada, at this time of year, we tend to have problems like floods or the need for disaster relief that tends to pop up in the spring,” Fleming says. “The aircraft and crews are available at this moment for those types of missions.”
The first major military event to include the CH-147s will be Operation Nanook later this summer, he says. Nanook is an exercise designed to assert Canada’s sovereignty over its northern territories and for the military to practice operations in an Arctic environment.
The U.S. Army is in the process of outfitting all of its active, National Guard and reserve Chinook units with the CH-47F, which comes standard with a fully digital cockpit and the most advanced electronics suite of any model, according to Mark Ballew, director of business development for cargo and utility helicopters programs for Boeing Military Aircraft.
The U.S. Army’s program of record is 464 aircraft that will serve as the service’s primary heavy lift rotary wing platform into the 2060s. The 300th U.S. Army aircraft is progressing through the production line. When the final Chinook is delivered, all Army units will be flying F models. Current orders can sustain the Ridley Park production line through 2019, though plans are in the works to extend production beyond that date, Ballew says.
Jim Folmar, director of operations for CH-47, says the facility is capable of producing six aircraft per month if demand increases. The factory recently completed a $170-million renovation to bring it up to modern manufacturing standards without halting production.
Boeing moved to the former Baldwin Locomotive factory in the mid-1960s to ramp up production in support of the Vietnam War. At that point the facility was cranking out one helicopter per day, Folmar says. It now produces five per month, up from just 10 per year before the Iraq War began in 2003.
Eight international contracts also support Boeing’s Pennsylvania plant. At least another five foreign military sales orders are expected in the next five years, Ballew says.
India is in discussion with Boeing to purchase a fleet of Chinooks. Ballew says talks are “making progress toward [a decision] being this year.”
The CH-47F with “fat tanks” that carry twice the fuel of a standard Chinook built for the U.S. Army is being marketed as the international, long-range variant, Parker says. The company is seeing interest from the U.S. government, as well, he says.
“In this case the U.S. government is benefitting from a lot of the foresight that the Canada Chinook has,” Parker says. The basic fuselage of the Canadian helicopter is the same as U.S. Special Operations Command’s MH-47G new-build aircraft use.
Boeing also hosts a worldwide Chinook operator’s conference, which was held most recently last month. The quarterly forum allows countries to provide Boeing with feedback and for owners to exchange information on operations, maintenance and potential upgrades. Boeing uses the discussions to guide its internal research-and-development investment, Parker says.
“It’s very enticing for customers, because the budget environments across the world are under pressure, as they are here,” Parker says. “So … if you can pool a requirement, get some industry investment in terms of IRAAD up front and then execute at a lower cost for everybody, it’s a win-win.”