Good news from Boeing and the MoD this week. The Boeing UK Rotorcraft Support team has begun flight testing the first Chinook Mk4 helicopter for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Project Julius is the MoD’s name for the effort to modernize the current Royal Air Force Chinook fleet
Project JULIUS will modify 38 Mk2/2A Chinooks into the Mk4/4A configuration and eight Mk3 Chinook’s into the Mk5 configuration.
The Mk3 aircraft are of course the world’s most expensive helicopters due to the MoD’s cost saving methods.
A major part of the modification for both the Mk4/4A and Mk5 aircraft is the Thales TopDeck cockpit which will provide improved situational awareness, increased safety and options for capability enhancement. The Thales UK’s TopDeck cockpit suite includes an onboard mission planning system providing crew with extensive tactical flexibility and the capability to optimize the mission profile to suit real-time circumstances. A ground mission support system completes the tactical mission capability and a fully secure data transfer system guarantees security. Critical flight data, including primary flight and tactical data, is continuously presented on the four main 6″ x 8″ displays, easing cockpit workload and allowing a significant increase in situational awareness.
The first of the upgraded aircraft will be available for operations towards the end of this year
The entire Mk2 fleet will be fitted with the JULIUS cockpit by early 2015, followed by Mk2A and Mk3 modifications by 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The modifications also include the addition of a third crew-member seat, upgrades to the Honeywell T55-714 engines and an update of Airworthiness & Safety Certification and Qualification for the modernized Chinook. Tablet computer ‘electronic flight bags’ will also be provided as part of the project.
The existing engines are being replaced with Honeywell T55 L714A engines, although a couple of RAF Chinooks do use this engine. The engine upgrade improves power by approximately 20%, increases fuel efficiency and reduces maintenance requirements. The net result will be improved performance and greater availability.
The aircraft are being modified at the Gosport Fleetlands facility operated by Vector Aerospace, Boeing’s principal subcontractor for deep support of the RAF Chinook fleet.
This programme will still see a fleet within a fleet but the commonality benefits will be significant, ruthless commonality in action, especially for maintenance and training.
The project was announced in 2009 at a cost of £408 million, the engine element cost £128m and the avionics the balance although work first started on the project definition in 2008.