Flying the CH-47F Chinook Helicopter: A Contracting Officer’s Journey

Jean Hodges

When I started out in contracting, doing construction for the Kansas Army National Guard in the late 1980s, not a week went by that I wasn’t out at the job site climbing ladders, examining pipes, or doing aircraft hangar walk-throughs. But for many of us in contracting today, our phones, computers, and videoconferences wall us into our offices and chain us to our desks, as we try to keep up with an ever-growing workload. Touching what we procure has become a treat, and when it comes to systems, actually operating one is even more of a rarity.

I recently had the opportunity to sit in a helicopter simulator that my office procured. I felt the rumble of the cockpit seat and experienced the thrill that those CH-47 Chinook pilots whom I support experience every day.

FROM CALIFORNIA TO AFGHANISTAN
My “co-pilot,” Dennis Booth, CH-47F Transportable Flight Proficiency Simulator Device Manager, guided me expertly through the simulator’s displays, stick and thrust controls, pedals, and flight modes as I took off from Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, CA, cruised over the hills, and dodged the skyscrapers of San Diego—maneuvers made possible with projectors and mirrors right here at Program Executive Office Aviation in Huntsville, AL.

Just as I was wondering what happens if the Chinook’s computer goes down, Dennis demonstrated the manual and fail-safe displays and controls familiar to me from Hollywood re-creations. At this point, Dennis suggested that I land “somewhere.” I opted against the water landing Chinooks can make for my first try, and since we headed inland, I decided instead on an uneven grassy hillside. Pushing downward on the thrust with my left hand while pulling back on the stick with my right, I was able to reduce my speed and altitude without losing alignment with the quickly approaching ground, as shown on the three different glowing displays in front of me.

Not to be undone by this little setback, we restarted the program and were soon heading out over the desert plain in pursuit of the lead helicopters.

When Dennis asked if I wanted to go to Afghanistan, of course I couldn’t pass that up. Two minutes later, against the natural forces of time and space, we were on the runway in Jalalabad, powering up to accompany three other Chinooks on our mock mission. Were it not for a moment of panic when Dennis left his co-pilot seat to adjust the computer, I think I could have executed another perfect takeoff. But, alas, I pitched right, then overcompensated—straight into the holographic hangar. With red flashing before my eyes, my death was instantaneous.

Not to be undone by this little setback, we restarted the program and were soon heading out over the desert plain in pursuit of the lead helicopters.

Dennis, still behind me at the “real” helm, suddenly created a thunderstorm at my 2 o’clock. It doubled and then tripled in size, the lightning fierce and the black clouds truly ominous. As if that weren’t bad enough, Dennis and his computer took us from noon to midnight in a split second. I could see the lights of two of my brethren, but not the third.

As my allotted time ended (because Dennis was scheduled to be the co-pilot for another lucky adventurer) we emerged back into the comfort and safety of the simulator cockpit. I first thought of the skill, bravery, and pride of real pilots who fly every day. My second thought was, Wow! I buy not only these simulators that are part of pilots’ training, but also the actual helicopters they use to carry cargo and save Soldiers’ lives.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing more important than getting that helicopter pilot what he needs, when he needs it.

‘NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT’
By afternoon, I was back to the four walls of a conference room, listening to a debate about identifying and obtaining parts and kits and waiting anxiously for that little nugget of contracting information that makes those meetings worthwhile.

Lo and behold, my ears perked up when someone mentioned “CAAS.” Before today, my brain would have immediately interpreted this as “Contract Administration and Audit Services.” Now, when someone says CAAS, I imagine myself in that cockpit, following the instructions from the Common Aviation Architecture System to safely take off, fly, and land a CH-47F helicopter, albeit simulated.

And when I review a Statement of Work or negotiate a contract for the CAAS component, I have a point of reference that brings to life the words and numbers in front of me. At that moment, I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing more important than getting that helicopter pilot what he needs, when he needs it.


  • JEAN HODGES is the Director for Program Executive Office Aviation’s CH-47 Contracts. She holds a B.A. in psychology, human development, and crime and delinquency from the University of Kansas, an M.A. in contract management from Webster University, and an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Hodges is certified Level III in contracting and Level I in program management and in business, cost, and finance. She is a Competitive Development Group/Army Acquisition Fellowship graduate and a U.S. Army Acquisition Corps member.