The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), has taken possession of its first MH-47G Block II Chinook from Boeing, according to a company press release of September 1.

Colonel Phil Ryan, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command (USASOAC), accepted the aircraft. It will be assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), also known as the “Night Stalkers.

Boeing also secured a $265 million contract for nine additional MH-47G Block II helicopters for Army Special Operations Aviation Command in July. This will allow USASOAC to completely equip the 160th SOAR(A)’s heavy-lift/long-range units. The regiment also operates MH-60 Black Hawks, MH-6 Little Birds, and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs. Boeing is contracted to produce 23 more next-generation Chinooks.

“This delivery marks a major step for the Chinook program,” Andy Builta, vice president and H-47 program manager, said in a statement. “The new Chinook will give U.S. Special Operations Forces significantly more capability for extremely challenging missions and will enable them to conduct those missions on the future battlefield.”

MH-47 Block II Special Operations Aircraft. (Boeing)

“The storm clouds rolled in around March and things got tough for everyone,” Builta said during the delivery ceremony. “There was uncertainty, risk, disruption, trepidation … and a whole lot of hand sanitizer. The team washed up, donned masks, and doubled down on getting her to where we are today. Seven days per week, for months and months, we built this aircraft through the pandemic.”

Boeing produced three aircraft for flight tests. The helicopter SOCOM has just received is the first production-grade aircraft to come off the line; it will be used in USASOAC’s operational missions.

The improved Chinook Block II will consist of a lighter, more structurally rigid airframe. Major changes to its improved drivetrain include Boeing’s advanced composite rotor blades (ACRBs) with swept tips that are designed to provide a 1,500-2000-pound (680-kilogram) increase in lift. The helicopter also has non-segmented fuel cells. These will allow the aircraft to bring on additional fuel internally to support refueling operations for ground combat vehicles operating in forward Special Operations bases. The range and load capacity of the improves Chinook is increased.

The helicopter is armed with two M134 7.62mm electrically operated, air-cooled miniguns, and two M240 7.62mm belt-fed machine guns mounted on either side of the fuselage at the forward and rear sections.

A Special Operations Chinook weighs roughly 54,000 pounds, while a conventional Chinook weighs 50,000 pounds. 

MH-47 Chinooks are flown as the heavy assault airframe by the 160th SOAR. They perform insertion and extraction of Special Operations Forces (SOF). The aircraft can also be used to resupply SOF troops in their forward areas and to act as an airborne C2 (command and control) platform.

The original MH-47G version has been in service for several years. It is the standard large helicopter operated by USASOC’s 160th SOAR.

In April 2017, the Army approved the Chinook Block II program moving into the engineering and manufacturing development phase. Development officially began in July 2017. 

The Army originally planned to buy 542 Block II Chinooks: 473 “F” models and 69 “G” models. However, it decided to scrap the planned acquisition from its fiscal 2020 budget request. Instead, it plans to purchase only G models for special operations aviation.

The Army has decided to cut the aircraft from the active force. It based the decision on the need to free up money to buy two new future vertical lift aircraft for long-range assault and attack reconnaissance missions.

Congress, however, has opposed the Army’s move, adding an additional $28 million in FY20 funding into the Chinook program to purchase F-model Block II Chinooks for the active Army.

The Army’s FY21 budget again provides no funding for the program.