The U.S. Air Force (USAF)’s newest helicopter, the MH-139A Grey Wolf, has completed its first combined test flight at Eglin Air Force Base 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 had completed extensive flight-testing on the MH-139A to satisfy FAA requirements prior to 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 Grey Wolf 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.
The Air Force received its first MH-139A helicopter at Duke Field, Fla. on Dec. 19, 2019, following which a naming ceremony was conducted officially naming the helicopter “Grey Wolf”.
A day before the arrival of the new helicopter, the AFGSC stood up new detachment, called Detachment 7, at Duke Field to support testing and evaluation of the MH-139A helicopter. The Detachment 7, comprised of pilots and special mission aviators, will manage a total of four MH-139 helicopters.
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.