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New Chinooks boast autopilot features but best tech may be yet to come

A longtime military workhorse, the Chinook helicopter has undergone a tech overhaul. The newer CH-47F models can be programmed to fly and will soon be able to stream live video feeds from drones in the cockpit.

James Martin/CNET

If you've spent any time flying, you've seen plenty of iPads propped up on tray tables providing entertainment and distraction. Turns out they play another crucial in-flight role beyond keeping kids quiet during cross-country flights: military pilots also use them as flight aids. No surprise then that the newest Chinook helicopters to take to the skies, the CH-47F models, have been described as aircraft for the iPad generation. CNET visited the California National Guard in Stockton, Calif., for a closer look at its new fleet of Chinooks, which will replace their aging, though still highly functional, CH-47D helicopters. Watch the CNET News video to learn about the CH-47F's digital cockpit and other high-tech features.

Now playing: Watch this: Digital cockpits bring Chinooks closer to flying themselves

As powerful as the new Chinooks are, the helicopters will soon boast even more sophisticated features. Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Harvey, who serves as the Aviation Maintenance Officer in Stockton, told CNET that in the coming year the Chinooks will have the ability to view live video feeds from predator drones. "In a combat theater the big deal about that," says Harvey, "is if we're going to do an assault on a target -- for example an HVT, high value target, takedown -- it allows that predator sitting up at 60,000 feet to film the exact area that we're going into and give us live enemy position and data live."

The benefits translate on US soil, too. For the National Guard, a live video feed could help Chinooks fly directly to a search-and-rescue target, for example. If troops were sent on a firefighting mission, they could reduce the possibility of miscommunication by seeing exactly where they should make water drops, instead of relying on an accurate description from another party.

Another feature pilots are looking forward to using? Direct communication with other Chinooks. "In the new system coming down to us in the near future, the aircraft can communicate to each other through data links," explains Harvey, "We don't have that currently...Right now everything is downlinked, so it's minutes old. In the future, we'll see where everything is." Making it all the more likely that the mission is a success.