PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 26, 2011 -- While most platforms are normally scheduled to retire after 50 years, the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was recognized for its 50th year in service during an anniversary ceremony Sept. 21, exactly 50 years since the Army's first flight of the aircraft.

The ceremony in the new H-47 production facility at the Boeing plant in Ridley Park, Philadelphia, included a throng of distinguished guests. Former Army and Boeing program managers of the system from the late 1950s to present attended, along with local and congressional representatives, Army Aviation leaders and the Boeing workforce .

Originally designed to haul the Honest John missile, the Chinook helicopter continues to prove its importance and relevance every day in combat operations.

"My mission was to keep this thing in service longer than the B-52," said Maj. Gen. William "Tim" Crosby, program executive officer for Army Aviation. "We've succeeded because it's that good of a system."

"It's a great day to recognize what's going on with the history of the program for the last 50 years," said Col. Bob Marion, project manager for the Army's cargo helicopters. "We owe it to the people who worked on it before us for 50 years to the people who are serving today, people in the future, to maintain that same vision, to maintain that same perseverance every day. There are Soldiers that use this system every day to save lives."

The CH-47 Chinook is the U.S. Army's only heavy lift helicopter and continues to be vital to Overseas Contingency Operations and America's Homeland Security needs. The CH-47 is a critical asset for transporting troops, supplies, and providing various combat support, and combat service support operations. Its secondary missions include MEDEVAC, aircraft recovery, disaster relief, and search and rescue.

"Today is about perseverance to field this system," said Marion. "It's a testament to the people who work in this building, it's a testament to the Soldiers who are flying this system around the world. It's a testament to all the perseverance and vision that got us to where we are."

The Army has continued to make updates to the Chinook fleet in order to improve combat effectiveness. On Aug. 30, PEO Aviation stood up the CH-47 Modernization Product Office under the leadership of Lt. Col. Joe Hoecherl, whose role is to do all the non-recurring engineering for all Chinook models.

At the top of the priority list is a new flooring system used to load pallets and other cargo onto the aircraft.

"The flooring is an old design that needs modernizing," said Marion during a roundtable with news media members after the event. "We're currently working on the Cargo Onload/Offload System." The Critical Design Review for COOLS is scheduled to be complete at the end of the year, so the Army anticipates that the new flooring system will be out sometime in fiscal year 2013.

In addition, the Cargo Project Office is also looking into a new blade configuration to add about 2,000 pounds of lift capability in high/hot conditions and a new armor that will be configured with COOLS and add to the safety enhancement of the aircraft.

"Obviously when an aircraft is flying is when it's most vulnerable," said Marion. "So we're going to develop a ballistic protection system that's made together with COOLS and combine it into one system."

The CH-47F, the newest Chinook model, incorporates key reliability and maintainability improvement modifications, such as a new machined airframe, vibration reduction, digital source collectors, T55-GA-714A engine, Common Avionics Architecture System, or CAAS, enhanced air transportability, Digital Automatic Flight Control System, or DAFCS, and is compatible with joint digital connectivity requirements.

The other major components that make up the F besides the combination of the CAAS and DAFCS is the machine frame, said Marion. The older models are more susceptible to cracking and corrosion. "With the F model, we're just not seeing that," he said.

Lt. Col. Brad Killen, product manager for the CH-47F, explained that in the D model, the airframe is actually put together with rivets.

"With the 47-F, it has a monolithic airframe. Anytime you have rivets and vibration, over the years you're going to have a crack, and we're not seeing any of that in the Fs that are coming back from theater."

"We don't have enough of them," said Crosby. "Everybody wants more."

In addition to modernizing the aircraft, the Cargo Project Office has been successful in implementing the New Equipment Training system, which takes the training of D model pilots to F model pilots, to where the Soldiers are located, thus increasing their dwell time and allowing Soldiers to spend more time with their families.

"The Army came to the PM and asked if they could help with the NETT training," said Marion. Killen's team came up with a solution which saves two months in training time compared to when Soldiers had to travel to Fort Rucker, Ala.

"We have two separate teams training units on the CH-47Fs," said Killen. "We live with that unit for about six months and train those Soldiers."

The NETT program has had such tremendous success in the Army that the Project Office has been asked to train some of the National Guard units. "Every CAB (Combat Aviation Brigade) commander that I've talked to loves NETT," said Marion.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Franzen, a maintenance test pilot with the Defense Contracting Management Agency, oversees the flight testing of the aircraft before it is fielded to Soldiers. He said that being in the ceremony after 18 years of flying Chinooks was a great joy.

"I bleed Chinook because I've worked on it for so long," he said.

The most significant improvements with the F model, according to Franzen, are the capabilities of where it can go and how it can get there.

"The cockpit has changed, being all digital now with digital DAFCS and CAAS system that allow it to fly into places that maybe we may not have done before, especially in zero-visibility situations where I can bring this aircraft to a hover and beep it to the ground," said Franzen.

He has been in hard landings and survived. "It's phenomenal," he said.

During his speech to the workforce, Crosby said, "Our Soldiers don't know you, they don't know who you are. All they know is that there are great Americans back here building a system that they have confidence in. It is doing what it is designed to do."

No matter what the Army needs to do in the future, from peacekeeping, counterinsurgency, disaster relief or regular warfare, the CH-47 Chinook is vital to missions around the globe. It is absolutely critical for the Army to continue its modernization efforts on this crucial helicopter.

When asked about how he felt on being able to usher the 50-year-old airframe to another lifetime, Crosby offered one word: "Pride."

"To see the improvements and what we've done with this aircraft over the years, the fact that that design is so valid again today -- this aircraft designed to haul something that we don't even have anymore," said Crosby. "This thing is so versatile in altitude, in its internal and external loads."

Crosby added that the Chinook is also capable of landing in water and floating like a boat. "What makes it so good is its versatility. That's what the Soldiers love. I loved flying it, I loved doing a different mission every day, and I miss it."