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When One Rotor Just Doesn’t Cut It: The Chinook CH-47

Written by on Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Helicopters have a hard time keeping up with fixed wing aircraft because they’re slower, noisier, and they have a much lower maximum altitude. That makes it difficult for helicopters to deliver weapon payloads to a target location — their slow speeds and close proximity to the ground make them sitting ducks for enemy anti-air weapons. Attack helicopters like the Apache still have their uses, but loading up a helicopter with weapons and expecting it to perform as well as a fighter jet is unrealistic.

Your best approach with a helicopter is to focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Their vertical flight capabilities and impressive maneuverability make them unsurpassed aircraft for transporting troops and supplies over short distances. Fixed wing aircraft — even those capable of vertical take-offs, like the harrier jet, can’t even begin to match that kind of flexibility.

So, it was inevitable that the invention of the first helicopter would lead to the development of heavy-duty military transport aircraft. These choppers would still be outmatched over long distances by powerful transport fixed wing aircraft like the C-130 Hercules, but in locations without a runway the helicopter reigns supreme.

One of the first utility transport helicopters was the CH-37 Mojave, which served in the late ’50s, but it quickly became outdated with its piston engines as turbine technology took off. The US Army wanted to replace it with a beefier helicopter that would be able to serve in a committed transport role.

Vertol Boeing began working on a tandem rotor helicopter that would have a completely unmatched carrying capacity. The revolutionary tandem rotor design featured two rotors buying antibiotics rotating in opposite directions, thereby cutting out the need for an anti-torque rear rotor. These rotors also doubled the lifting power and allowed the helicopter to support a much larger fuselage. Thus, the Chinook CH-47 (pronounced “shin-ook”) was born.

The Chinook settled comfortably into its new role as a transport aircraft, and it quickly became an essential component in the army as a way to transport vehicles, squads of up to 55 troops, and other critical supplies. It proved itself time and again during the Vietnam War when it racked up record-setting flight hours and passenger transports. It’s been reintroduced in nearly a dozen different models to fulfill incredibly specific niches. The bulky CH-47F, for example, can carry 28,000 lbs of cargo, which is just enough to haul the dead weight of an F-15 fighter jet. Oh, and by the way, it can also float. How many other aircraft do you know of that can load a military boat out in the middle of the ocean and take off in less than five seconds?

Here’s the really crazy part: the Chinook CH-47 helicopter design is 50 years old. The Chinook represents technology that was around before the first moon landing, and we’re still using them today. More than 1,700 Chinooks have been produced, and they are active in over two dozen countries, including South Korea, the UK, Italy, Japan, and Canada. It’s easy to point to the Apache and call it the world’s most powerful military aircraft, but the Chinook CH-47 might trump as the world’s most all-around useful transport helicopter.


If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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