Refitted Chinooks operational after eight-year delay

The first of eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters have been unveiled following a refit in Wiltshire after standing idle for more than eight years because of a blunder.

The two helicopters are the first of eight to be refitted by Boeing at Boscombe Down, to increase air support for the front line in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said at the unveiling at RAF Odiham: "I am delighted that the first of the Mk3s are now joining the Chinook fleet.

"They will provide an uplift in capability to support coalition efforts in Afghanistan, where Chinooks fly under very challenging conditions, proving their worth daily on operations.

"By the end of this year we expect to have all eight of these refitted aircraft in service, increasing our Chinook fleet to 46 aircraft.

"The arrival of these aircraft is further evidence of the measures we have taken to strengthen our support helicopter force and follows my announcement three weeks ago that we plan to buy up to 22 more Chinooks."

Commander of Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, added: "These aircraft will be vital in helping us expand our ability to train our crews and to support operations. They really will make a difference."

The Mk3 Chinooks were originally purchased at a cost of £259 million and fitted for special forces operations but were never used because the avionics software was unable to meet airworthiness regulations.

The helicopters were delivered by Boeing, which had met its contractual obligations, to the MoD in December 2001.