The newest model CH-47F Chinook helicopter produced by Boeing [BA] is meeting the mission and its advanced equipment continue to improve safety and performance, the Army Cargo Helicopter Office project manager said.

“In Afghanistan units were flying on average for a five month period, 80 to 90 hours per aircraft per month and still maintaining an operational readiness rate in theater of about 80-90 [percent] on the F models,” Col. Newman Shufflebarger said yesterday at a briefing in Arlington, Va. The older D-model Chinooks, also in Afghanistan, are operating at nearly the same hours, with operational readiness rates in the “mid to high 70s.”

“From a theater standpoint of Chinooks, we’re maintaining those operational readiness rates…we’re meeting the mission over there,” he said.

Boeing recently announced that a fifth Army unit has fielded the newest CH-47F Chinook helicopter. The 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., completed all required training and officially assumed operation of 12 CH-47F Chinooks on Dec. 8.

“I am proud of B Company for completing the CH-47F New Equipment Fielding and Training Program. Together, the Pachyderms and Boeing worked extremely hard to accomplish all the required tasks to make this happen in preparation for our next deployment,” Lt. Col. Brad Ninness, commander, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, said in a statement. “The technological advantages and improvements in the CH-47F increase our capabilities and allow us to better support the soldier on the ground.”

“The kids love it,” Shufflebarger said. “You really can’t get lost or be late in this aircraft.”

The F-model program now is in the third year of a five-year multiyear contract.

The new CH-47F has an all-new airframe, a Rockwell Collins [COL] Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) cockpit and a BAE Systems Digital Advanced Flight Control System (DAFCS).

CAAS greatly improves aircrew situational awareness, while DAFCS provides dramatically improved flight-control capabilities through the entire flight envelope, significantly improved performance, and safety in the harshest of environments.

In one vignette of F-model action, Shufflebarger said a pilot was caught in a sandstorm and lost his spatial orientation. He could hit the hover hold button, which gave him time to recover, something particularly important for that pilot who had 66 passengers on board at the time.

CAAS also incorporates an advanced digital map display and a data transfer system that allows storing of preflight and mission data.

Improved survivability features include the Common Missile Warning and Improved Countermeasure Dispenser systems.

With two, 4,733-horsepower Honeywell [HON] engines, the CH-47F can reach speeds greater than 175 mph and transport more than 21,000 pounds. The CH- 47F, with its Robertson Aviation Extended Range Fuel System, has a mission radius of more than 400 nautical miles.

The Army plans to build 472 F-model Chinooks. To date, 290 have been delivered, Shufflebarger said. The first four units equipped with the F have already been fielded to Iraq or Afghanistan and the fifth unit is now able to deploy.

Boeing is investing $130 million to improve a production line that has been producing Chinooks since the A model in 1962, Mark Ballew, Boeing manager for tandem rotor helicopters, said. Upgrades will double production from the current three per month to six in 2013.

The first four international F-models rolled off the line to an international customer in December, he said. The Chinook is making a difference in Afghanistan and allies see that, and are interested, he said.

“The CH-47F is proving its exceptional capability every day in combat operations,” said Leanne Caret, vice president, Boeing H-47 Programs. “This advanced aircraft significantly increases the unit’s capability in harsh environments and high-altitude operations to meet a growing range of mission demands.”