Army Conducts User Demonstration on Modernized Chinook Helicopter

July 3, 2024
The purpose of the Cargo Helicopters Project Office-hosted User Demonstration was to operate the CH-47F Block II in a realistic operational environment and leverage the data gathered to inform future operational testing, evaluation, and development.

FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky — Screaming Eagle Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division completed testing a modernized version of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter during the recent exercise, Operation Lethal Eagle (OLE).

James Adams, with U.S. Army Operational Test Command’s Aviation Test Directorate, said the purpose of the Cargo Helicopters Project Office-hosted User Demonstration was to operate the CH-47F Block II in a realistic operational environment and leverage the data gathered to inform future operational testing, evaluation, and development.

“Aircrews of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade provided valuable input while testing the aircraft in a wide variety of common mission tasks, pushing the full capabilities of the system. Performing operational test events during large scale operations and exercises offers an opportunity to augment standard test events, at minimal cost,” he said.

To ensure the warfighter experiences new and modernized products in the most operationally-sound battle conditions, the testing community looks to leverage events such as Operation Lethal Eagle.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Nick Koeppen, 101st CAB Standardization Pilot and test participant, said the User Demonstration allowed him and his crew to observe the aircraft’s performance under actual operational conditions.

“It was a dynamic and invaluable experience, offering a stark contrast to the constraints of conventional, controlled testing environments,” he said.

The benefits of leveraging the unit’s exercise include a significant cost savings, improved resource availability, and operational quality in comparison to conducting separate independent test events which add undo strain to defense budgets and military units.

Collecting data and unit feedback during OLE avoided a stand-alone operational test.

Paul Zimmer, Deputy Director of the Aviation Test Directorate said, “Operational testing holds inherent truths, as Army leadership uses the results from such events to mitigate risks associated with product fielding.

“The evaluation of test articles doesn’t solely rest with the testing community but also incorporates input from the intended end-users on the battlefield,” he added.

“These test events are designed to ensure Soldiers have a voice in the acquisition and deployment of new and improved systems.”

Another test participant, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jordan Brooks, a 101st CAB Maintenance Test Pilot said, “While this testing environment provided limitations on nuanced data collection by lacking multiple iterations of similar tasks with different control variables, performing a myriad of mission set tests during OLE allowed us to provide feedback on a larger collection of missions and task types.”

He continued, “I feel as if this experience was the perfect storm for us to give our true thoughts and help shape the future of CH-47’s for the Army. The feedback from this User Demonstration will influence decisions regarding the future fielding of the modernized CH-47 to Army units.”

Lt. Col. Walter Thomas with the Army Evaluation Center (AEC) said the opportunity to conduct the unique operational event is a product of thorough developmental testing and program maturity.

“The Block II has undergone hundreds of hours of component and flight testing by Redstone Test Center Experimental test crews as well as multiple hardware and software updates throughout the program,” he explained.

“This previous testing enabled a confidence in the performance and safety of the system to allow operational Soldiers the opportunity to provide their feedback in a complex and realistic environment.”

The Army Evaluation Center will analyze and report the data collected during the event for the continued development of the CH-47F Block II program.

The Chinook has been the Army’s Heavy Lift aircraft for the past 62 years and has undergone considerable upgrades over that time.

It is a twin-turbine engine, tandem-rotor helicopter designed for transporting cargo, troops, and weapons in various environments, including day, night, visual, and instrument conditions.

According to Lt. Col James B. Hickey, the Army Product Manager executing the CH-47F Block II program, the Block II configuration is the most cost-effective procurement alternative to maintain heavy lift capability and reduce Operation & Support (O&S) costs.

The Block II restores payload capacity lost through years of mission equipment package (MEP) growth and enhances flight control systems, while delivering improved aircraft performance, reduced maintenance workload, and enhanced crew safety. The upgrade also supports efforts of future Chinook increments to meet combat requirements in anticipation that new MEPs will continue to add weight to the system over time.

Written by Archie C. Kinnebrew Jr., Test Officer, Aviation Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command