RAF unveils first of 14 new Chinook helicopters

Chinook Image copyright PA
Image caption The 14 new helicopters will bring the RAF's Chinook force to 60

The RAF has received the first of its 14 new Chinook helicopters, as part of a £1bn scheme to provide a "significant uplift" to its helicopter fleet.

The Ministry of Defence announced plans for the helicopters in 2011. They will bring the RAF's Chinook force to 60.

The RAF said the new aircraft would be the "most advanced Chinook helicopter we have ever operated".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said they would be a "battlefield workhorse".

Three of the Mark 6 helicopters have already been delivered to the RAF, the MoD has said.

All 14 will be delivered before the end of 2015 and are on track to be fully operational by early 2017, it added.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Ministry of Defence says the helicopters will all be fully operational by early 2017
Image copyright PA
Image caption Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the aircraft would be the battlefield workhorse of the RAF

The helicopters have been equipped with a new digital autopilot. They can cruise at 135 knots and lift 10 tonnes.

Mr Hammond, who unveiled one of the first helicopters at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, said the strategic importance of the Chinook Mark 6 "should not be under-estimated".

"These helicopters will provide a significant uplift in helicopter capability, operating as the battlefield workhorse of the RAF on the frontline for decades to come."

The helicopters have offered support to British ground forces by carrying freight as well as troops, most recently in Afghanistan.


Caroline Wyatt, defence correspondent, BBC News

The MoD made the decision to order more Chinooks at a time British forces were still fighting hard in Afghanistan, and after years of public criticism of the previous Labour government over a shortage of heavy lift helicopters in Helmand.

Chinooks more than proved their worth in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and there had been many calls for more to be procured.

The order itself was placed in 2011, and announced by the then Defence Secretary Liam Fox following a period of intense criticism of the MoD for the 2010 strategic defence review which made significant cuts to the military's budget.

The announcement was an opportunity to deliver some good news, as well as ensure the continuation of a significant capability which is of enduring use to all three services well into the future, whether carrying out military operations, peacekeeping or humanitarian tasks.

Even as British combat forces enter their final months in Afghanistan, the need for the right equipment for all the armed forces in the coming years remains vital.

All three services need to remain ready for whatever conflict they may be called on to intervene in at short notice, and assets such as Chinooks are among the most useful military assets for transporting troops and equipment to wherever they may be needed in the years to come.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, said the aircraft was "the best helicopter around".

"Chinook has proved itself time and again on operations, most recently in Afghanistan, and the new Mark 6 will ensure the Chinook fleet continues to play a key role.

"From my experience you can never have too many Chinooks."

He added: "It brings levels of accuracy to things like the hover, at night, in the desert, in the snow and over water, which the earlier crews could only have wished for."

The UK's Chinook fleet is now the largest in Europe.

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