Panorama: Boeing's H-47F Chinook Factory

RIDLEY PARK, Pa. -- Check out this panorama of Boeing's newly renovated H-47F Chinook production line here in Ridley Park. The company brought DT up here today for a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Chinooks first flight and the official ribbon cutting of the $130 million facility.

Among the dignitaries on hand for the ceremony was Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Army's top aircraft buyer and according to him, the only army aviator still on active duty who has flown every model of the Chinook from the CH-47A to the brand new CH-47F.

While Crosby repeated the mantra that the Army is going to have to take "an appetite suppressor" when it comes to buying tricked out new weapons during a time of reduced spending, he also told reporters that Army aviation modernization efforts will likely do "pretty well" in the coming years's budgets.

Aviation overall, knock on wood, has done fairly well. We're gonna take our share of cuts just like everyone else, our country's in trouble folks, we've all gotta tighten the belt but I will tell you overall, we've done pretty well. I haven't seen the final numbers so I can't tell you what that is but the bottom line is, our commitment to that modernization strategy is firm and I will tell you that the Army's and the Defense Department's is firm based on the amount of resources they're leaving in my line.
Notably, the service will move forward with its plans to buy 155 more CH-47Fs under five year contract set to be awarded in January of 2013 and it will hustle to secure similar multiyear contracts for new Black Hawks and Apache choppers. The trick here will be ensuring that the multi-years garner enough savings so as to convince "budgeteers" that they warrant locking away billions of dollars for five year blocks when there will be other important programs in need of scant Pentagon dollars, said the general. Though he did admit that he may have to "accept what they tell me that the budget realities are."

"We can't have everything that we want and need...as we look to the future we're going to have to pick those areas that we think are critical and focus on those," said Crosby.

Crosby said he'll focus on buying helo technology that will either improve soldiers' "ability to do their mission in combat" or "reduce their maintenance and sustainment burden, those are the top two when I'm doing my priorities."

Keep in mind that the Army is also going to figure out how to recapitalize its aging fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helos starting sometime in the middle of the decade.

Jean Chamberlin, vice president of Boeing's mobility division, told reporters here that the company plans to submit a bid for the 155-chopper contract in November. That proposal will save the Army 10-percent over what it would cost to buy the 155 Chinooks with single-year contracts spread out over five years, according to Chamberlin.

Crosby would prefer the deal to give him 15-percent savings, he added.

However, more long-term efforts to field an entirely new generation of light, medium and heavy choppers under the Joint Multirole Helicopter effort is less certain.

"Everybody's committed to it but the dollars needed, that's gonna be a roller coaster to be quite honest with you," Crosby told DT.

He went on to say that Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, chief of the Army's aviation branch has "painted a vision to go for it. There was just a letter sent in by all of the industry partners on the Joint Vertical Lift Task force, all committed to it so that's a big step in supporting it, as well. I think everyone sees the need for it and [shares] that passion. The struggle's going to be to keep it funded, let's just be honest."

Regardless of the effort to develop brand new choppers, the Army is going to have to look at replacing the F-model Chinooks with what he thinks will be an H-model around 2025.

The descision we'll have to make is, do we do an H-model [Chinook] or do we try and find a new airplane? I think the reality will be what we can afford and looking at that to determine with our industry partners what the next step is. My prediction is, and this is simply my opinion, is that the financial status that we're going to have in our country and our Defense Department is going to force us ... to take an appetite suppressor and what that means is that we're going to have to take some risk in some areas
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