With its heavy-lift capacity severely depleted, the Indian Air Force (IAF) station here is preparing itself to become the base for the first of the 10-tonne capacity Chinook CH-47 helicopters from the United States. The double-rotor Chinook helicopters, four of which have already arrived at the Mundra port in Gujarat in a semi-knocked down condition, are likely to be ferried to Chandigarh. The helicopters will reach the Chandigarh Air Force station by the first week of March, officials here said.
"After being re-assembled here, especially with the twin rotor blades, the Chinooks will be formally inducted into the helicopter squadron by the end of March," an IAF officer told IANS. The 'Featherweights' (No. 126 Helicopter Flight), which has been flying the massive Soviet-era Mi-26 helicopters for the past many years, will be flying the Chinooks from the Chandigarh base.
Work is already at an advanced stage as the Air Force base prepares to receive the first four Chinooks. This includes providing infrastructure like refurbished hangars and maintenance facilities for the Chinooks. Chandigarh is a military airport which also handles commercial flights. "Seven Chinook helicopters will be based in Chandigarh," the officer said.
India had in September 2015 finalised its order with aircraft manufacturer Boeing for 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinooks. Both are the newest models of these helicopters. The induction ceremony of the Chinooks is likely to be attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, senior IAF officers, senior officials of Boeing and US diplomats.
IAF helicopter pilots were sent to Delaware in the US in October last year for being trained to fly the Chinooks. "This acquisition enhances the Indian Air Force's capabilities and offers us an opportunity to further accelerate the Make in India initiative. Large sections of the Chinook fuselage are already manufactured in India and discussions are ongoing with our Indian partners to make Apache parts," the Boeing website states.
(With inputs from agencies.)