The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) stood up Detachment 7 on Dec. 18, at Duke Field, Fla., to support testing and evaluation of the command’s new MH-139A helicopter.
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 Detachment 7, comprised of pilots and special mission aviators, will manage four MH-139 helicopters, with the first scheduled to be delivered on Dec. 19 at the naming and unveiling ceremony. The second aircraft is due to arrive mid-January 2020, while the third and fourth aircraft are scheduled to arrive in February.
“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.”
The detachment will work in conjunction with Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC)’s 413th Flight Test Squadron (413 FLTS), the Air Force’s only dedicated rotary test unit. 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.
The MH-139A is the first service-unique helicopter acquired by the U.S. Air Force and the first aircraft ever acquired by the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC).
The helicopters were acquired from Boeing through a full and open competition at a cost of $2.8 billion ($1.7 billion under budget) for up to 84 aircraft under the USAF UH-1N replacement program. The MH-139 derives from the Italian Leonardo/AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter and is the AFGSC’s first commercial “off-the-shelf” purchase, adding military-unique modifications.
The helicopters, which will replace the early 1970s UH-1N “Hueys”, will provide security and support for the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields which span Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. 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 intercontinental ballistic missile missions. Other mission capabilities include civil search and rescue (SAR), airlift support, National Capital Region (NCR) missions, as well as survival school and test support.
Current UH-1N Huey locations include Eglin Air Force Base’s Duke Field, Florida; Fairchild AFB, Washington; FE Warren AFB, Wyoming; Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility Washington, Maryland; Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; Malmstrom AFB, Montana; and Minot AFB, North Dakota. Each of these existing Huey bases will receive replacement aircraft, the service announced last year.
The MH-139A helicopters will also provide vertical airlift and support the requirements of four other Air Force major commands and operating agencies: Air Force District of Washington (AFDW), Air Education and Training Command (AETC), Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) and Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). AFGSC is the Air Force lead command and operational capability requirements sponsor.