Six Chinook helicopters for the US Army Special Operations Command

The US Army Special Operations Aviation Command (USASOAC) has recently awarded the Boeing company a contract for six remanufactured MH-47G Chinook Block II helicopters, as a part of the US Army modernization programme.  

The latest deal, valued at 271 million USD, increased the number of already contracted MH-47G rotorcraft for the USASOAC to forty-two examples.  

´The Chinook has been a key player in the special operations domain for many years. USASOAC and international allies have used the unique capabilities of the Chinook to complete the most daring missions around the globe´, said Heather McBryan, vice president and programme manager, cargo programs. ´With the modernized MH-47G, USASOAC soldiers are well-suited to meet today’s challenging environment´. 

The MH-47 helicopter is a derivative of popular heavy-lift Chinook rotorcraft, tailored for special forces requirement. The first variant of the aircraft, designated MH-47D, was developed in the early 1980s. The helicopter was equipped with a fast rope-rappelling system, additional defensive modifications and a vibration reduction system. The MH-47D was also the first rotorcraft in the world equipped with refuelling probe. An interesting fact is the helicopter can be refuelled in mid-air in less than four minutes. That first version of the special operations heavy-lift rotorcraft was built in twelve examples. 

In 1991, prototype of MH-47E performed its maiden flight. It was an upgraded version of the D variant and featured, inter alia, bigger fuel tanks and terrain-following radar. The MH-47E was manufactured in twenty-six examples.  

Boeing MH-47G Chinook, 2019 (photo © Boeing)

At the beginning of the 2000s, another version of the special operations Chinook helicopter was developed. The rotorcraft, designated MH-47G, completed its maiden flight in 2004. The aircraft featured a digital avionics suite, including glass cockpit, as well as new configuration of defensive armament, with two 12.7 mm machine guns (later replaced by two 7.62 mm machine guns and two 7.62 mm miniguns) and possibility to carry air-to-air missiles. There were twenty-five G model rotorcraft built, all remanufactured from the existing aircraft of D and E version. 

In 2020, the Boeing company began with deliveries of another modernized variant of the Chinook helicopter to the USASOAC. The new standard was designated MH-47G Block II and included all the features of the initial G version plus long-range fuel tanks, increased cargo-handling capabilities, enhanced ability to operate in conditions of extremely poor visibility and adverse weather. 

The MH-47 special operations helicopters were, and still are, solely in service with the USASOAC, namely the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The only foreign operator that bought the MH-47 version was the United Kingdom – in 2001, the Royal Air Force acquired eight Chinook HC3 helicopter, an equivalent to the MH-47E. However, they were equipped with different avionics that turned out to cause several technical issues and the British special operations Chinooks never entered service. Lately, all the HC3 rotorcraft were converted into HC2 and HC5 common standards. 

According to the Boeing company and the US Army aviation, the new upgrade of the MH-47, called Block 3, is expected to be introduced into active service beyond 2025. That modernization is expected to include more powerful powerplant and lengthened fuselage. 

Cover photo: Boeing MH-47G Chinook Block II. All photos and quotations © Boeing. Information from The Boeing Company press releases were used.