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Special Operations unit on verge of fielding most advanced Chinook helicopter ever

The first new-build MH-47G Chinook, for use by U.S. Special Operations pilots, takes off from a Boeing plant in Ridley Township, Pa., on Sept. 29. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

Members of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are known for flying Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and other elite members of the U.S. military into combat at a moment’s notice, even when they might take fire themselves. But they sometimes do so with twin-rotor Chinook helicopters that have been in use for years, and are looking to modernize.

The regiment, famously known as the Night Stalkers, recently received the first of eight “new-build” MH-47G Chinooks from manufacturer Boeing as part of a $300 million contract. The helicopters include advanced flight controls, improved agility and a tougher airframe that is machined as one piece, rather built piece-by-piece from sheet metal. They also include larger fuel tanks that increase the aircraft’s range.

The regiment has flown the “G” model for about a decade, but this one is different, said Steve Parker, Boeing’s vice president for cargo helicopters and the manager of its H-47 production. Whereas other MH-47Gs were rebuilt from earlier MH-47 “D” and “E” models of the aircraft, these were built from the ground up, with Special Operations communications gear and avionics incorporated.

“It’s going to be a 100-year aircraft before it’s done,” Parker said of the Chinook during an interview at the annual conference of the Association of the United States Army in Washington. “We’re just continuing to implement new technology on it.”

The new “G” models include some advancements made in another Chinook line, Canada’s CH-147F, Parker said. It’s an extended-range version of the helicopter that includes larger fuel tanks and, laser-based missile countermeasures and three machine guns. The CH-147F can go more than 680 miles without refueling, Boeing said.

The Special Operations regiment will outfit them with weapons as they see fit, but benefit from the extended-range ability of Canada’s helicopters, Parker said. Boeing plans to deliver another new MH-47G in November, with the rest reaching the Army in 2015.