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A15 Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook

In 1969 the government approved the purchase of 12 medium-lift helicopters for the RAAF. The two contenders for the medium-lift helicopter role were the Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook and the Sikorsky CH-53 'Jolly Green Giant'. The CH-47C Chinook was selected, and this was announced by the Defence Minister on 19 August 1970. An order for 12 helicopters was placed on 6 March 1972, making the RAAF the first foreign customer for the Chinook.

The Chinook prototype, serialled 59-4982, first flew on 21 September 1961, and was an enlarged version of the Vertol 107. The unique twin-rotor design led to the "angry palm tree" nickname. The improved CH-47C model first flew on 14 October 1967.

Shortly after the Australian order was announced, the Chinook began suffering turbine failures in the twin Lycoming T55-L-11 engines. Other alternatives considered were the adoption of the General Electric T64 engine of the CH-53, or the lower-rated T55-L-7 of the earlier CH-47B. After delays in solving the problems with the T55-L-11, the RAAF was finally ready to accept the Chinook. The first of the RAAF Chinooks (or Chooks, as they were often called), A15-001, began its air trials at the Vertol Division of Boeing in Philadelphia, USA, during June 1973, and was accepted by the RAAF on 9 October. Meanwhile, No 12 Squadron had formed at RAAF Amberley on 1 September 1973 to become a dedicated Chinook unit. The 12 aircraft were serialled A15-001 to A15-012, and were known to Boeing by the model number BV-165.

The Chinooks were shipped to Australia on the Royal Australian Navy flagship, HMAS Melbourne, together with five new RAAF Iroquois helicopters. These aircraft were off-loaded in Brisbane in March 1974. After becoming operational in December 1974, the No 12 Squadron Chinooks provided the Army with logistic support in moving fuel, artillery, ammunition, stores and troops. Aeromedical evacuation was another capability.

Other varied missions for the Chinooks have been lifting Wessex helicopters for the RAN, and wrecks of wartime Boston bombers from the jungles in Papua New Guinea. Also lifted was an extremely large statue of Australian aviation pioneer Sir Lawrence Hargrave, onto Mt Keira at Wollongong, typical of many tasks undertaken for the civil community.

A15-011 crashed on 26 June 1975 when an engine turbine disintegrated and the aircraft made an emergency landing. The extensive damage presented a challenge to No 3 Aircraft Depot, with no previous experience in major Chinook repairs. After six years, A15-011 was finally returned to squadron service on 21 May 1981.

On 4 February 1985, disaster struck when A15-001 crashed into Perseverance Dam, near Toowoomba, resulting in the death of a RAF exchange officer. In 1986, this airframe was issued to Amberley Fire Section as a training aid.

In May 1989, the Defence Minister announced the withdrawal of the Tactical Transport Group Chinook fleet on cost grounds, and that Army Black Hawks would perform the essential roles of the Chinook. Consequently, No 12 Squadron was disbanded on 30 June 1989, with the RAAF Chinooks to be sold. It soon became obvious to the Army that the Black Hawk could not do the job of the Chinook. In late 1989, the Chinook sale was put on hold, and the option of exchanging the 11 CH-47Cs on a no-cost trade for between four and six CH-47D models was pursued.

The D-model modernisation involves composite rotor blades, new transmissions, upgraded engines and avionics, and a rebuilt airframe providing a 30-year life extension. On 30 May 1991, the Defence Minister announced that four to six upgraded Chinooks would be obtained. The "trade-in" deal of the eleven RAAF Chinooks went ahead, but with the expense of the modernisation, only four of the new D models could be afforded. The 11 aircraft were shipped back to the US in September 1993. Seven were sold to the US Army for $40m, which went part of the way toward funding the upgrade, however, there were the added expenses of spares, training and support equipment. Today, the CH-47D is in service with C Squadron of the Army's 5th Aviation Regiment, based in Townsville, after receiving the four CH-47D aircraft in May and June of that year. Two additional CH-47D were acquired under Project Air 130 in 2001.

While mainly used as a medium-lift helicopter throughout the world, Chinooks are also used for rappelling, parachuting and water operations with special forces.

TECHNICAL DATA: Boeing-Vertol CH-47C Chinook

DESCRIPTION:

Medium-lift helicopter

POWER PLANT:

Two 3750 shp General Electric T55-L-11C turboshaft engines

DIMENSIONS:

Rotor diameter 18.29 m (60ft); Fuselage length 15.54 m (51 ft); Height 5.68 m (18 ft 7.75 in)

WEIGHTS:

Empty 9736 kg (21 464 lb); loaded 20 865 kg (46 000 lb)

PERFORMANCE:

Max speed 235 km/h (127 kt); Cruise speed 210 km/h (114 kt); Ceiling 10,200 ft (3109 m); Mission radius 185 km (100 nm)

ACCOMMODATION:

33 fully-equipped soldiers or 24 litters

CREW:

Two pilots, one loadmaster, one aircrew

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