Boeing [BA] brought home a $276 million contract to equip three CH-47 helicopters with power and lift upgrades the Army eventually plans for all of its F-model Chinooks.

Under the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract announced July 27, Boeing will remanufacture three Army CH-47Fs with Block II upgrades.

Block II was designed to achieve specific performance enhancement metrics, including a 22,000 pound payload and “high/hot” hover performance at 4,000 feet on a 95-degree Fahrenheit day. Maximum takeoff weight is boosted to 54,000 pounds with the goal of carrying a Joint Light Tactical vehicle. 

Included in the upgrade package are improved avionics, speed enhancements and a beefier drivetrain that will transfer greater power from the 20 percent more powerful Honeywell [HON] T55 engines to all-new, swept-tip Advanced Chinook Rotor Blades. Without any other upgrades, the blades are designed to provide an additional 1,500 pounds of lift.

“The Army’s only heavy-lift helicopter exists to deliver decisive combat power for our ground commanders,” said Col. Greg Fortier, the Army’s cargo helicopters program manager. “Increasing payload capacity today enhances battlefield agility and prepares the Chinook for even greater performance gains in the future.”

The CH-47F’s six fuel tanks – three on each side of the airframe – are consolidated into two tanks, allowing the aircraft to carry more fuel and shed weight. The aircraft fuselage is beefed up in critical areas to support the additional payload allowed by weight reduction and boosted lift capacity.

The first of three EMD aircraft is scheduled to receive Block II upgrades in 2018 at the Philadelphia manufacturing facility where Boeing continues to build the CH-47F for U.S. and international customers and the MH-47G for U.S. Special Operations Command.

Upgraded to Block II configuration, those three helicopters in 2019 will begin an extensive testing in preparation for a decision to start low-rate initial production in 2021.

First delivery of the Block II Chinook is expected in 2023. The Army plans to eventually upgrade more than 500 Chinooks – its entire fleet of CH-47Fs – to Block II configuration. The Army is still in the process of bringing all of its Chinooks to F-model configuration.

Boeing will bring in an estimated $14 billion and change to bring the Army’s entire fleet to F-model configuration. The first CH-47F fielded in 2007. Boeing delivered its 400th total CH-47F in December, according to spokeswoman Megan Galvin.  

The modernization effort to bring all the Army’s Chinooks to Block II configuration will likely bring another two decades of work to the company’s Philadelphia site, the company said. Once the Army has proven the technologies included in the Block II upgrade package, Special Operations Command plans to ride its coattails to overhaul its MH-47Gs, which include all F-model features, an all-glass Common Avionics Architecture System cockpit, an aerial refueling boom and other classified sensors and capabilities.

Introduced in 1962, Chinook likely will become the Army’s first 100-year aircraft. To keep it in service for another half century, it must be continually upgraded, as it has been from A-model to F-model and now to Block II configuration.

“This latest upgrade for the Chinook fleet is a tribute to the robustness of its original design and exemplifies its 55-year legacy of technological advancements,” said Chuck Dabundo, Boeing’s vice president of cargo helicopters and H-47 program manager. “The fact that the U.S. Army continues to use and value this platform and they are intending to continue to upgrade it to keep it flying for decades to come is a testament of the capabilities the Chinook team continues to bring.”