THE Defence Secretary this week flew into RAF Odiham to unveil the first of the new Chinook helicopters.
Philip Hammond arrived at the north Hampshire airbase on Monday and took a close look at an Mk6 Chinook – one of 14 expected to be delivered by June 2015.
The arrival of the new helicopters means the base will have up to 60 Chinooks in a year, making the fleet the largest in Europe.
Mr Hammond told The Gazette that the new Chinook contains technology that will make it better at low-level flying than existing models, including a new auto-pilot feature.
He said: “It is a brilliant, fantastic aircraft. The Mk6 delivers capability that the Mk4 could not. I think it underscores the commitment we have to RAF Odiham as home of the helicopter force. This is the base of the joint helicopter command and it will continue to be so.”
Mr Hammond was flown by Chinook from RAF Northolt in London with Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff and a former Chinook pilot who was station commander at RAF Odiham in 2001.
Personnel at the base showed Mr Hammond around the cockpit of the aircraft before he answered questions from the media.
The Defence Secretary also announced a £115million agreement with Boeing Defence UK to maintain the engines of the Chinook fleet.
The first new Chinook arrived at the end of last year, and there are now three at the north Hampshire airbase undergoing modifications.
Group Captain Richard Maddison, station commander at RAF Odiham, told The Gazette that there will be a small increase in the number of personnel who will work with the new aircraft. A training simulator could also arrive in the next four to five years, he said.
He added: “I think we are all excited to have the new aircraft. It has most advanced technology which in turn will make it the safest (Chinook) so we are really happy to have it here.”
The station commander said personnel at the base were “coping as well as they can” following the deaths of four RAF Odiham servicemen in Afghanistan in April.
Captain Thomas Clarke, 30, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner, 39, and Corporal James Walters, 36, from the Army Air Corps, and Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, an RAF intelligence officer, died in a Lynx helicopter crash in the Kandahar province.
A fifth man, Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, from the Intelligence Corps and based in London, also died.
Grp Capt Maddison said: “I met with the families, I know the terrible shock it has been for them, and right now we are doing everything we can to support these families, and to make sure we continue to deliver on the tasks the country asks us to.”