With a primary mission of moving troops, equipment and life-saving supplies on the battlefield, the Chinook helicopter remains the heavy lift workhorse for Army aviation.
The Cargo Helicopters Project Office is constantly striving to improve, upgrade and provide modifications to the Chinook in order to reduce the burden on the Soldier. One of those needed upgrades is the Cargo On/Off Loading System, or COOLS.
"COOLS is a system that provides a way to quickly load and unload aircraft," Lt. Col. Joseph Hoecherl, product manager for CH-47 modernization, said. "The primary purpose for the COOLS is to do a rapid reconfiguration in-flight within 15 minutes, allowing uninterrupted mission capabilities."
For a number of years, Chinook helicopters have had a regular flat floor system. A bolt-in system for rollers was developed to help Soldiers load and unload heavy pieces of equipment more easily. But the old system took several hours to remove or install, Hoecherl said. Additionally, it did not have the flexibility for crew members to easily and rapidly reconfigure the aircraft in the event of a mission change.
"So if you bolt in the roller system which then allows you to load pallets effectively, then if you want to switch and carry passengers as opposed to loading pallets, it's going to take a couple of hours to remove the roller system. If you don't remove the rollers, it's a hazard if you're carrying Soldiers," Hoecherl said.
He explained that Soldiers, especially in the last decade, were experiencing a high volume of back injuries associated with having to "manhandle" pallets without the aid of rollers. The reason for this, he said, is that often, it would take too long to put the roller system in, so Soldiers would manually load and offload cargo in order to expedite the process and complete missions in time.
"We had an Operational Needs Statement to do this," Hoecherl said. "The number one reason for COOLS is to take care of our Soldiers and keep them safe and two, to make their jobs easier."
COOLS is designed to be a total multi-purpose system. It can easily accommodate the 463L Pallet Cargo System, which is the standardized pallet system used for transporting military air cargo. Each 463L holds up to four wooden pallets, and the COOLS is designed to load three of the 463L system. COOLS can also load a combination of both large and small pallets.
Locking devices down the side of the COOLS makes it easy to secure equipment by a simple rotation of a lever. "It makes it easier on the crew members to secure cargo since it locks equipment in without having to use additional tie down straps, making a more secure and better approach," Hoecherl said.
COOLS also easily reconfigures in flight. For example, if a Chinook air crew were en route to pick up passengers then receive a call on the radio to change missions and pick up equipment, the crew members can now change the floor from flat to rollers or vice versa while en route to that location. "Rapid response is critically important especially when you have to pick up injured personnel if the rollers are in," Hoecherl said.
In addition, COOLS was designed to include a ballistic protection system. "We have an underfloor ballistic protection system that mounts to this (COOLS) floor," Hoecherl said. "That way it does two things: It puts the ballistic protection system underneath the floor so it's out of the way and therefore not a trip hazard for the Soldiers. The other is that modern technology has allowed us to leave the ballistic protection system in from the time the aircraft deploys until it returns to home base without having to change it out."
With the old roller system, crew members weren't able to place the ballistic protection system in with the protection blankets because they interfered with each other, Hoecherl explained.
The CH-47 Modernization Product Office is installing COOLS in its second F model aircraft. The Army will retrofit approximately 305 F model Chinooks, said Hoecherl, and by 2015, new F model Chinooks will have COOLS already built in when they roll off the production line.
As of December 2012, the Army has taken delivery of 220 CH-47F Chinooks. The current procurement objective for the CH-47F is 464, and the last CH-47F is scheduled to be delivered to the Army in 2020. All of the Army's CH-47F Chinooks are scheduled to have COOLS by 2018.
The CH-47 Chinook helicopter is capable of carrying up to 50,000 pounds of gross weight. A common load for the Chinook is 16,000 pounds and routinely carries 32 passengers inside the aircraft.
The CH-47 Chinook also conducts secondary operations including medical evacuation, disaster relief, search and rescue, aircraft recovery, firefighting and various other missions wherever and whenever needed.
"I'm really excited and pleased that we can reduce our Soldiers' burden with this system," Hoecherl said. "COOLS provides more flexibility and capability between missions. It makes it safer for transporting personnel. It reduces injuries. And because it is much more quickly reconfigurable, it significantly reduces the workload on our Soldiers."