By Maj. James Lowe
4th Infantry Division public affairs
FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Slowly and smoothly, but unseen inside a billowing cloud of sand and dust, two pilots landed their new CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopter Nov. 11 on a landing zone at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.,.
The 4th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade is wrapping up aviation support training at the National Training Center with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, where pilots of the giant birds are conducting the operations with combat ground soldiers.
The $20 million cargo helicopters are a recent acquisition for the brigade, which is scheduled to have its entire fleet of Vietnam-era CH-47D models replaced with the new CH-47F helicopters by the beginning of 2008. The primary function of the aircraft is to transport equipment and soldiers.
“This aircraft is light years ahead in flight management systems compared to our older aircraft,” said Col. Patrick Tierney, brigade commander. “These ‘Fox’ model Chinooks have the same systems as the latest civilian aircraft.”
Boeing produces the advanced multi-mission helicopters for the U.S. Army and international defense forces. The new digital crew station is redesigned, most notably including a digital map, enhanced communications and navigation equipment for better situational awareness.
Additionally, the basic CH-47F configuration retains all the previous model’s features but has an integrated personnel cooling system along with a state-of-the-art missile warning system and an improved countermeasure dispenser, which comes standard on the new model.
Testing the aircraft in the simulated Middle East environment available at Fort Irwin builds confidence with the crew on how the aircraft will perform when units deploy the new equipment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Rotor wash, the down draft the rotors create when they push air violently downward to lift the Chinook, cause an intense dust cloud with greatly impedes visibility.
“The radar altitude hold keeps the aircraft a set number of feet off the ground and negates having to make multiple passes to land,” said Lt. Col. Dave Fleckenstein, commander, 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment. “The all digital cockpit gives us five displays —with each capable of showing several different pages of flight plans, alternate routes and data from different sources processed by the central processing unit.”
The cockpit has none of the traditional analog circular dials and gauges seen in older aircraft. Additionally, there are no longer any bulky radios to clog the surface area. Each individual crew member now has access to multiple radio channels, which are integrated into the computer system as well as text messaging. The digital screens also display moving maps, altitude and speed.
Another key addition of the aircraft will lengthen the crewmembers’ endurance during the desert nights full of pushing pallets at forward operating bases. A new electric pump for the helicopter’s auxiliary power unit will enable the teams to take off faster after a complete engine shutdown when delivering cargo. Without it, the crewmembers would have to manually pump-start the engine’s power unit when it would fail to start.
“This Fox model increases my confidence when we sling-load and carry heavy internal loads while we operate in high-dust environments,” said Sgt. 1st Class Noel Cabias, crew chief, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, in reference to carrying bulky and heavy loads underneath the aircraft on the cargo hooks. “I like that they beefed up all the parts with all-new modular framing and the way the dust landings work out with the ability to hover down slowly, automatically.”
After keeping an estimated 4,392 convoy trucks off Iraq’s bomb-laden roads last year in Iraq with the old Chinooks, the new helicopters are a great edition to the brigade.
“The amount of accomplishments we made there (in Iraq) were so great (with the old Chinooks),” said Sgt. Jace Pederson, a Bravo Company Chinook flight engineer. “Now we’re getting ready to possibly go back (to Iraq) with the new F models. That says a lot about us and our capabilities. The F model, with its newer avionics and designs, will make the Chinook a lot more maintenance-friendly for us. I think of it like a new car.”