By Sgt. Nathan J. J. Hoskins, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsAugust 7, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - From the outside, the CH-47F Chinooks don't look much different from their predecessors, aside from the new paint job, but making that observation is like judging a book by its cover.
This new model is the latest chapter in a long history dating all the way back to the Vietnam War.
Now these new, technologically advanced, twin-rotor, heavy-lift helicopters are in the able hands of pilots and flight engineers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, who are only the third unit in the Army to field them, said Capt. Kevin Consedine, a Chinook pilot and the Commander of Co. B.
These aircraft are so new that they even have a showroom floor scent, said Emilio Green, a flight engineer for the Co. B "Black Cats."
"The way I like to describe the F-model is like getting in a brand new car. It's clean, doesn't have any dirt on it, got new tires, and got a nice shine to it," said Green, a Gaithersburg, Md., native.
A flight engineer is much like a specialized mechanic for the Chinook who not only takes care of a specific aircraft, but also trains up-and-coming crew chiefs. The FE also is in charge of all passengers and cargo onboard the aircraft.
The F-model definitely has a cleaner look and smell, but there is more to this aircraft than that, said Sgt. Chris Scharff, a flight engineer.
"I think it's a really nice airplane. It's definitely got some improved capabilities over the D-model," he said.
The F-model has a plethora of new advancements that affects the way crew chiefs and flight engineers do their job, said Scharff, from Brevard, N.C.
"You definitely have a better capability to be aware of what's going on around you with new radios, moving maps integrated in the cockpit and the new maintenance panel," he said.
The old radio system allowed the crew chiefs to communicate within their aircraft, but not to other aircraft or the ground, but the new system allows for that communication, said Scharff.
If something were to happen in combat where one pilot got hit, the remaining pilot can concentrate on flying, while a more senior flight engineer can take some of the radio traffic for him, he said.
The new maintenance panel is a definite upgrade said Scharff.
The maintenance panel, located near the loading ramp in the rear of the Chinook, is a board that gives critical information about different systems running the aircraft.
The old panel had unlit indicators that required the crew member to stand directly in front of it to be able to see them well. This was even more difficult at night, said Scharff.
Now, the panel is lit up with bright green indicators which can be seen throughout the aircraft without having the crew member leave his weapon, he said.
Scharff also looks at taking on the new aircraft a little differently.
As a flight engineer, Scharff is responsible for his aircraft - he even gets to name it when he gets his own. This brings on quite a bit of pride and responsibility, he said.
"I am the first person that's going to have a meaningful impact on the life of this airframe. Everything I do right will show. If I were to do anything wrong - everything that I do wrong will be inherited by everyone else," said Scharff.
"It's almost like an empowerment. You are charged with the responsibility of making sure that this airplane gets off on a good foot. That has a real big impact on me," he said.
Although there are many differences that help the crew members do their job better, they agree with the pilots when they say most of the changes happened in the cockpit.
"The main differences are in the cockpit and obviously in the frame. It's got a lot of new features that are mainly for the pilots, but anything that makes the pilots flight easier makes our job a little easier too," said Green.
Consedine said that, aside from the noticeable new paint job on the outside, most of the changes happened on the inside - specifically in the cockpit.
"In the D-model's cockpit you had all these old analogue gauges where the needles would bounce around and made it very (difficult) to determine what was actually going on with the aircraft," said the Harrisburg, Pa., native.
Now the Chinooks have a Common Architectural Aviation System, which is an upgraded cockpit layout that will be common throughout Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks, he said.
"We've gone from those bouncy little analogue gauges, which were questionable in their reliability, to five multi-functional displays ... It's pretty much like having five LCD televisions in your aircraft telling you exactly what's going on at any given time," said Consedine.
These multi-functional displays give the pilots the ability to track their position and plot their course on interactive maps - making that wrinkled old paper map nearly extinct, he said.
"It's coming to the point where gone are the days where we had to sit with our maps and measure the distances and do time-distance headings. The aircraft will do it all for us," said Consedine.
In fact, it is so advanced that a pilot can plug in a destination and the time they want to be there by and it computes all the routes and airspeeds to get them there on time. This is particularly important on air assaults where timing is at the utmost importance, he said.
These advancements will help the Black Cats work more effectively while deployed to dusty landscapes like Iraq, said Consedine.
One of these advancements that will help them while deployed to Iraq is the HSDH, or the Horizontal Situation Display (Hover), he said.
When pilots land in a dusty environment, say in the middle of the desert, they experience something they call brown-out. This is where their rotors kick up so much dust that they can't see the ground; this is even more difficult at night wearing night vision goggles.
"(HSDH) is basically a hover reference and it will tell us exactly where the aircraft is drifting and what we need to do as pilots to correct it. So, essentially, we don't need any ground reference at all to land the aircraft under (zero visibility)," said Consedine.
The new systems in the F-model almost add up to autopilot, but not quite yet, said the Black Cat commander.
Along with the internal systems, there are some changes to the structure of the aircraft, he said.
"In the D-model there were a lot of independently riveted parts and pieces, whereas now we have a lot of solid sheets of aluminum which stiffen the aircraft greatly and allow for a smoother ride," said Consedine.
It also has a new system that allows for the aft pylon - the structure at the rear of the aircraft that the rear rotor sits on - to be taken down more quickly, he said.
The lengthy process of taking this aft pylon off so that it can be strategically moved by fixed wing aircraft has been shortened significantly.
When Co. B was returning from Iraq, it took them an entire week to break down five aircraft. Now it would only take two days to do the same, he said.
Along with all this change comes learning the new systems. Experienced Chinook pilots are having some difficulty adjusting to the F-model, said Consedine.
"We've run into a situation where a lot of the younger guys that don't have a lot of previous experience in D-models are actually picking up these skills and putting them into practice sooner than guys who have 800, 1000, 2000 hours (in the D-model)," he said.
Consedine has a theory as to why this phenomenon is occurring.
"(The younger pilots) are coming from a generation where game system controllers have 16 different buttons and they're used to that sort of software," he said. "It's really turning into a video game, and it's all a matter of who knows what buttons to push and who can push them faster."
Still, all the pilots are picking it up fast enough to already have seven F-model crews up and running - which is quite a feat, said Consedine.
The F-model has opened a new chapter in the history of both the Chinook airframe and the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
And this new chapter is being written by the Black Cat pilots and crewmembers eager to write more and more.
Consedine not only believes this, but believes that they are flying the best aircraft - period.
"I find it impossible to believe that there's a better flying aircraft anywhere in the military. It is a sensational aircraft to fly."
He may be a little biased.