Boeing/Vertol CH-47D Chinook (c/n M-3666, D-666 ´the Beast´ of the 299th Squadron, the Royal Netherlands Air Force), static display during the 40th Sanicole International Airshow, Hechtel-Eksel, September 2017.
On 21st September 1961, a new American heavy-lift helicopter, performed its maiden flight. The aircraft was based on Model 107, a tandem-rotor rotorcraft developed in the late 1950s by Vertol Aircraft Corporation. The company was formerly known as Piasecki Helicopter and designed a few successful first-generation rotorcraft.
Initial design of the Model 107 aroused interest of the US Army that ordered a prototype series of the helicopter, then designated YHC-1A. In 1960, Vertol was acquired by the Boeing company, nevertheless development of the new rotorcraft was still continued. About the same time, the US Army changed its requirements and wanted the manufacturer to create a larger and heavier helicopter. The new concept, still based on the Model 107, received an internal designation Model 114, as well as the US Army code YCH-1B.
In 1962, the helicopter was officially approved for serial production and named CH-47A Chinook, in accordance to the new US aircraft designation system that was implemented recently.
Approximately four years since the maiden flight, the first Chinooks began their operational service with the US Army. In November of 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division and the 147th Aviation Company (Medium Helicopter) took their CH-47 rotorcraft to Vietnam, thus opening the Chinook combat record.
Shortly after, the Chinook became one of the most popular heavy-lift rotorcraft in military service. It was sold to several armed forces around the world, with the USA and the United Kingdom being the two largest operators.
In the late 1970s, a civilian variant of the helicopter was developed, designated Model 234. It shortly gained considerable recognition among customers and proved to be a versatile platform that could be used for cargo and passenger transport, fire-fighting duties, offshore logistics operations, as well as support during heavy construction works.
There were more than 1,200 examples of the Chinook rotorcraft built until today. The newest variants – CH-47 Block II and its derivatives – are still offered by the Boeing company. It is estimated that currently there are approximately 950 Chinooks in active service worldwide. The manufacturer plans to develop further upgrades of the helicopter, therefore it is likely that the CH-47 may stay in active service until its 100th anniversary of the type introduction.
The Royal Netherland Air Force (RNLAF) acquired its first CH-47 helicopters only in 1993. The purchase was related with the end of the Cold War. In the aftermath of changes in the world politics, the Dutch armed forces implemented a new doctrine that included greater commitment to operations outside Europe, thus needed new, larger and heavier rotorcraft to support such missions.
The first purchase included seven used CH-147 helicopters from the Canadian Armed Forces. Shortly after, it was expanded with another six, newly manufactured Chinooks. The ex-Canadian rotorcraft were all of C variant, so their upgrade to D version was ordered at Boeing. The company delivered those modernized CH-47s between 1995 and 1996, while the new helicopters – also of the D variant – were delivered in 1998. The ex-Canadian helicopters with the RNLAF received codes from D-661 to D-667, while the new rotorcraft were designated D-101 to 106.
During their operational service, the Dutch Chinooks were deployed to several foreign operations, including Operation Allied Harbour (Albania), UNMEE mission (Erytrea), the Kosovo Force, the SFOR force (Bosnia), Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), MINUSMA (Mali) and Iraq Stabilization Force. During the mission in Afghanistan, two Dutch CH-47s were written off.
An interesting fact is that all the Dutch CH-47 helicopters received their own names. The aircraft D-666 featured today within our Photo of the Week series was, quite obviously, named ´the Beast´. That CH-47 was in active service with the 298th Squadron ´Grizzlies´ of the RNLAF and, in 2020, received special livery to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the unit.
In spring of 2020, ´the Beast´ toured the Netherlands within long navigation flight to present the livery to aviation enthusiasts and general public. It was the only way to do so, as the anniversary event planned at Gilze-Rijen air base was cancelled due to covid-related restrictions.
Regrettably, it was also one of the last public presentations of the Dutch CH-47D helicopters. Due to their age and technical fatigue, all the ex-Canadian rotorcraft of the D variant were retired in December of 2021.
Currently, the heavy-lift helicopter service with the RNLAF is secured by twenty CH-47F rotorcraft. Fourteen of them were purchased in 2016 and are newly manufactured aircraft. Another six are the CH-47D delivered in 1998 but, according to the agreement signed between the RNLAF and Boeing in 2017, they have been upgraded to the newest F standard.