A Chinook can carry 55 troops in addition to its crew of three to five: two pilots, plus one to three air crew, or ‘loadmasters’. But in combat, RAF Chinooks are known to have transported more than 70 troops at a time. “We’ll usually bulk out before we weight out,” a loadmaster told us.The Chinook’s cargo bay is 9.3m long, 2.29m wide and 1.98m tall, so big enough to take a vehicle, and it has a 10-tonne load capacity. It can hold up to 24 stretchers, or be fitted with a roller flooring system to make it easier to load pallets. It can also be fitted with rubberised Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) f looring – blood mats, informally – when evacuating casualties, partly for hygiene but also because bodily fluids can be corrosive to the airframe. Ultimately, whatever needs transporting, if they can, they’ll carry it. “We’ve taken everything from Range Rovers, pallets of dollars and gold bars to donkeys,” we were told.
Loaded from the outside, but controlled by a loadmaster from the cabin, are the three load hooks, rated for more than the Chinook is meant to lift. The forward and rear ones have a capacity of 7711kg each or 10,433kg together. The centre hook, visible directly beneath the opening hatch in the f loor, through which the loadmaster will supervise operations while giving instructions to the pilots, is rated for 11,793kg. All three loads can be jettisoned by the loadmaster in an emergency: “We wouldn’t put anything underneath that we wouldn’t give to the enemy.”
Access to the cockpit from the cargo hold is through an open doorway, but it’s a delicate step across low-mounted switch panels and into the seats. Once in, forward visibility is very good from the two side-by-side seats. To the back, not so much, hence the importance of the air crew.
Early Chinooks had analogue displays and controls but all have been upgraded to digital glass cockpits, and this year the last of them was also upgraded with Boeing’s DAFCS (Digital Automatic Flight Control System). Behind the right-sided pilot is another jet-fuelled turbine, but this one is a cabin heater.