The Air Force’s newest helicopter, the MH-139A Grey Wolf, completed its first combined test flight on Feb. 11. With a Boeing pilot in command, this test flight allowed the Air Force its first in-flight look at the capabilities of the aircraft. The flight also made Maj. Zach Roycroft, 413th Flight Test Squadron lead test pilot for the program, the first Air Force pilot to fly the MH-139A.
“This first flight with Boeing was a critical step for the MH-139A program and allows us to establish a foundation for government testing,” said Roycroft. Boeing completed extensive flight-testing on the MH-139A to satisfy FAA requirements prior the introduction of mixed contractor/Air Force crews. The MH-139A program should complete initial military ground testing later this month.
“This flight represents a tremendous amount of work and we are all very excited to see it happen,” said Andrew Whitten, the MH-139 flight chief, who was also on the flight. Staff Sgt. Alex Graves, Air Force Global Strike Command Det. 7 special mission aviator, was also on board for the historic flight.
The MH-139A is set to replace the Air Force’s aging UH-1N “Huey” fleet. The new helicopter closes the capability gaps of the UH-1N in the areas of speed, range, endurance, payload and survivability in support of the command’s ICBM missions. Other mission capabilities include civil search and rescue, airlift support, National Capital Region missions, as well as survival school and test support. Based on the italian Agusta Westland AW139 civilian helicopter, the MH-139A is the first service-unique helicopter acquired by the Air Force and the first aircraft ever acquired by AFGSC – Air Force Global Strike Command.
The MH-139 helicopters will provide vertical airlift and support the requirements of five Air Force major commands and operating agencies: Air Force Global Strike Command, Air Force District of Washington, Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Materiel Command and Pacific Air Forces. AFGSC is the Air Force lead command and operational capability requirements sponsor.
The United States Air Force selected the MH-139A, based on the Leonardo AW139 and offered by Boeing as prime contractor, to replace its fleet of UH-1N “Huey” helicopters. The programme awarded today is valued at $2.4 billion for up to 84 helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment.
The MH-139A is the right-sized aircraft for the mission, exceeds the Air Force’s speed, payload, range, armament and survivability requirements for protecting ICBM bases, and is perfect for VIP transport. The type features modern design and the best level of affordability with a savings of $1 billion in acquisition and lifecycle costs over the life of the fleet. The AW139 is assembled at the Leonardo northeast Philadelphia plant, with additional components to be integrated into the military MH-139 at the Boeing Philadelphia facility in Ridley Township, Pa.
The AW139 is rated for a cruising speed of 130-140 knots with a max speed of 167, compared to 90-100 knots for the aged Huey. Range is about 778 miles vs. just over 300 miles for the Huey, according to the US Air Force. These characteristics will play a large part in how the MH-139 can protect convoys and respond when needed at the Air Force’s expansive missile ranges. The MH-139 is also outfitted with an improved four-axis autopilot, a forward-looking infrared camera system, is armored and has countermeasures on board, along with a pintle-mounted machine gun capability. Its modern avionics enable flying in poor weather.