RAF Odiham in Hampshire is home to the UK Chinook force and on Monday 16th June 2014, the brand new Boeing Chinook Mk6 was unveiled to the nation.
Back in 2011 an order was placed with Boeing for fourteen brand new Chinook helicopters of Mk6 standard to help modernise an aging fleet. Three years and £1 billion later, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has unveiled the first of fourteen new airframes to be based at RAF Odiham. There are currently three Mk6 Chinooks on base, with the rest of the order to be fulfilled by the end of 2015 and a target of being fully operational by early 2017.
With an all-digital cockpit and brand new Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DAFCS) that provides improved aircraft handling and stability; the Mk6 (RAF designation HC6) Ch-47F derived Chinook, is the most advanced heavy-lift helicopter that the RAF have ever operated.
Having had an in-depth tour of the aircraft, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
“The strategic importance of the Chinook Mk6 should not be underestimated. These helicopters will provide a significant uplift in helicopter capability operating as the battlefield workhorse of the RAF on the frontline for decades to come.The new aircraft are part of a £11bn investment to update, replace and support all of the MoD’s helicopter capability over the next decade that will sustain truly world-class Rotary Wing capabilities for the UK Armed Forces.”
The RAFs Chinook fleet has been involved in every major conflict since the Falklands and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford was keen to stress that will not change:
“The Mk6 represents the pinnacle of the RAF’s heavy lift capability and is the most advanced Chinook helicopter we have ever operated. These aircraft have proved themselves time and again on operations, most recently in Afghanistan, and the new Mk6 will ensure the Chinook fleet continues to play a key role.”
The fact that the Mk6 had been delivered on time wasn’t the only good news to come out of the morning – the Defence Secretary also announced that a new £115 million agreement had been signed with Boeing Defence UK to maintain the engines of the RAF’s increased fleet of 60 Chinooks under one large contract. Consolidating the maintenance contracts will effectively save the taxpayer somewhere in the region of £20 million.
One thing that still wasn’t clear from the day’s events was where the expanding fleet would reside. The delivery of new aircraft, returning airframes from Afghanistan and ‘Project Julius’ upgrades still taking place means that RAF Odiham will shortly become extremely busy. In the past it has been discussed that with the Merlin force leaving Benson to join the Fleet Air Arm, a Chinook Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) could easily reside at the Oxfordshire base. Although this hasn’t been confirmed, it looks increasingly likely that this option will be favoured over building additional hangars at RAF Odiham.