A CH-47F Block I Chinook helicopter with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade maneuvers to pick up an M119A3 howitzer during sling load operations on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Converting a Boeing [BA] CH-47 from a cargo transport with the Helicopter Internal Cargo Handling System (HICHS) to a passenger helicopter used to take up to six hours, but the Collins Aerospace [UTX] Cargo On/Off Loading System (COOLS) installed by the U.S. Army in the helicopter over the last three years has curtailed that time to less than an hour.

The old transition from cargo to transport or vice versa was “really cumbersome,” said Cheryl Gorman, the vice president of mechanical systems at Collins Aerospace.

The Army completed integrated testing of the CH-47F COOLS in December 2012 when aircrews flew four end-to-end internal cargo missions during which they loaded and unloaded 20 cargo pallets, and on two missions reconfigured the COOLS in flight–a task not permitted by HICHS.

“Whether in-flight or on the ground, COOLS gives Chinook operators the ability to convert from a flat floor for troop transport to a cargo floor with rollers in less than 15 minutes,” Collins Aerospace said. “As a result, COOLS provides operators with the ability to quickly respond to mission changes without returning to base for conversion while also allowing them to load and unload troops and cargo in an efficient manner.”

COOLS is standard on the CH-47F and is available as an upgrade on the CH-47D. Collins Aerospace also builds the Ballistic Protection System (BPS) for the aircraft.

In addition, Collins Aerospace last fall debuted the Lightweight Ballistic Protection System (LBPS) for COOLS. Depending on the level of protection selected, the lightweight system “can provide operators with up to 20 percent weight savings, helping to increase fuel efficiency or allow operators to add weight elsewhere on the platform,” Collins Aerospace said. “In addition, the LBPS is completely qualified and interchangeable with the CH-47F’s existing COOLS under floor Ballistic Protection System.”

Gorman said that LBPS offers “significant weight savings without sacrificing performance.”

Army CH-47 crews at last month’s Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference in Nashville spoke highly of the flexibility afforded by COOLS and of the aircraft protection offered by the Ballistic Protection System.

Those crew members also said that they would like their aircraft to receive increased lift from the CH-47F Block II upgrades. Yet, the fate of the latter is uncertain. Boeing executives have been in discussions on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon to sustain the CH-47F Block II upgrade program.

The crew members said that the increased lift slated for the Block II aircraft would help compensate for about 4,000 pounds of weight added to the CH-47F Block I model aircraft due to required Mission Equipment Packages, including COOLS and BPS.

“The CH-47F Block I aircraft has increased in weight by almost 4,000 lbs since it was initially fielded in 2007,” said Army Col. Greg Fortier, the cargo helicopters project manager for the Army Program Executive Office for Aviation.  “The weight increase is due to a number of required modifications that enhance aircraft capability and survivability in support of worldwide missions against an evolving threat. The single largest component of the increased weight is ballistic protection for the aircraft, a portion of which is underfloor armor associated with COOLS.  There are many other smaller modifications and mission equipment packages that comprise the total weight increase.”

Gorman said that “Collins [Aerospace] is squarely focused on helping the Army reduce weight on the CH-47.”

“We designed COOLS to be lighter than the legacy system it replaced,” she said. “Our recently introduced LBPS provides additional weight savings and we are in active discussions with the Army on how to continue to reduce the system’s weight.”

The Army’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal funds the purchase of nine Special Operations Command MH-47G Chinooks, and the service plans to buy only that Block II variant, not the CH-47F Block II, in the out years. The service had scheduled CH-47F, Block II production to begin in fiscal 2021.

The Army had planned to upgrade 542 Chinooks to Block II configuration — its entire fleet, including 473 planned CH-47F and 69 MH-47G Special Operations variants.

Boeing has said that CH-47F Block IIs are able to lift Army heavy equipment that no other Army aircraft is able to carry, including the new Oshkosh Defense® [OSK] armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and the BAE Systems M777 Extended-Range howitzer.