Air Force Global Strike Command has acquired its first ever aircraft, the MH-139A Grey Wolf, the command's first major acquisition in its 10-year history. The Grey Wolf will replace the UH-1N Huey, which entered the operational Air Force during the Vietnam War in 1970. The purchase is also unique as it's an "off the shelf" purchase of an existing airframe modified to meet military requirements.
The acquisition was contracted through Boeing during a full and open competition at a cost of $2.38 billion — $1.7 billion under budget.
Gen. Timothy Ray, AFGSC commander, named the helicopter "Grey Wolf" during a naming and unveiling ceremony at Duke Field, Florida, Dec. 19, 2019, comparing the helicopter to the wild animal that bears the same name.
The name Grey Wolf is derived from the wild species that roams the northern tier of North America, which also encompasses the intercontinental ballistic missile bases in AFGSC.
"It strikes fear in the hearts of many," Ray said. "Its range is absolutely inherent to the ICBM fields we have."
"As they hunt as a pack, they attack as one, they bring the force of many," he continued. "That's exactly how you need to approach the nuclear security mission."
The helicopters will provide security and support for the nation's ICBM fields which span Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska in support of U.S. Strategic Command's nuclear deterrence operations aligned with the National Defense Strategy.
Members of the 54th Helicopter Squadron fly near a missile alert facility near Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, July 26, 2018. The 54th HS members provide swift transportation for 91st Security Forces Group defenders whenever the time arrives.
The new helicopter closes the capability gaps of the UH-1N Huey 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.
The Air Force will procure up to 84 MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment from Boeing.
According to Boeing, Grey Wolf is 50% faster than the Huey helicopters currently serving Air Force security forces. It can also fly 50% farther and carry 5,000 more pounds of cargo. Boeing says that Grey Wolf will save up to $1 billion in life cycle costs.
"When I think about the issue in front of us, about moving forward in nuclear deterrence, when I stare down a wave of acquisition for essentially everything we do, I hope this particular program is a harbinger of very successful stories to follow not just for our command but for the good of the nation and for the good of our allies and partners," Ray said.
Two UH-1N Twin Hueys from the 1st Helicopter Squadron fly by the Washington Memorial, Washington D.C., Aug. 28, 2015. The helicopters flew for the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association Memorial Service Flyover.
The MH-139A Grey Wolf will provide vertical airlift and support the requirements of five Air Force major commands and operating agencies: AFGSC, Air Force District of Washington, Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Materiel Command and Pacific Air Forces. AFGSC is the lead command and operational capability requirements sponsor.
AFGSC stood up Detachment 7 at Duke Field, to support testing and evaluation of the MH-139A.
Maj. Zach Roycroft, of the 413th Flight Test Squadron, climbs into the cockpit of a UH-1N helicopter in preparation for a test flight at Duke Field near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Sep. 16, 2019. The squadron received its first MH-139 helicopters, which will replace the UH-1N, for flight test in Dec. 2019.
Lt. Col. Mary Clark assumed command of the detachment with Brig. Gen. Andrew Gebara, AFGSC A5/8 director, presiding over the ceremony.
"I'm here to tell you, this is a big deal," Gebara said during the ceremony. "It is hard to overstate just how much blood sweat and tears have gone into getting this helicopter into our United States Air Force (and) standing up this detachment. We are very excited in Air Force Global Strike Command. We cannot wait to get this out to the missile fields and the National Capital Region where it needs to be."
The MH-139A Grey Wolf lands at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019, before its unveiling and naming ceremony. The aircraft is set to replace the Air Force's fleet of UH-1N Huey aircraft and has capability improvements related to speed, range, endurance and payload.
The detachment received the first MH-139A helicopter during a naming and unveiling ceremony.
The detachment will work in conjunction with the 96th Test Wing's 413th Flight Test Squadron, the Air Force's only dedicated rotary test unit. Detachment 7 brings vital aircrew manning to the test effort and is comprised of pilots and special mission aviators.
From right, test pilots Maj. Zach Roycroft and Tony Arrington, of the 413th Flight Test Squadron, and their flight crew pose in front of a UH-1N helicopter on the Duke Field flightline near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., after a test flight, Sep. 16, 2019. The squadron received its first MH-139 helicopters, which will replace the UH-1N, for flight test in Dec. 2019.
Currently, the unit resides in temporary administrative and hangar facilities on Duke Field. The detachment will eventually move to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, to perform additional testing and evaluation of the aircraft.
"I want you all to know you are special," Clark said, speaking to those Airmen under her charge during the ceremony. "You were selected to fly, test and field this aircraft, literally writing the book on this helicopter for aviators that will follow us for 50 years or more."
Detachment 7 will manage four helicopters. The second aircraft is due to arrive mid-January 2020, while the third and fourth aircraft are scheduled to arrive in February.
"We're going to put this helicopter through its paces," Gebara said.
The UH-1Ns will continue to support five commands and numerous missions, including operational support airlift, test support and intercontinental ballistic missile security support, until the replacements are ready.