Air Force's 'Grey Wolf' Huey Replacement Helicopter Goes Unfunded in DoD Budget Request

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MH-139A Grey Wolf lifts off for its first combined test flight, Feb. 11, 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base
The Air Force’s newest helicopter, the MH-139A Grey Wolf, lifts off from the flightline for its first combined test flight, Feb. 11, 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Samuel King Jr./U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force will not devote funding toward the MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter in its fiscal 2022 budget request because of a Federal Aviation Administration certification problem, service officials say.

The service will delay asking lawmakers for funding for the helicopter, which is scheduled to replace its UH-1N Huey, until next year, said Carlos Rodgers, the deputy for budget at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

"We are deferring the procurement of the MH-139 until 2023," Rodgers told reporters during a briefing Friday. "It's not in the budget in FY22 due to an FAA certification issue that we have experienced."

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In September 2018, the service picked Boeing Co. to build the replacement for the Huey, at a cost of approximately $2.38 billion. The service plans to buy 84 MH-139 aircraft.

Last year, the Air Force requested $212 million for the first low-rate initial production of eight MH-139 helicopters, manufactured in partnership with Leonardo. The aircraft is based on the AW-139, Leonardo's commercial version of the helicopter.

Air Force officials on Friday did not disclose the reason for the certification delays.

The service took delivery of its first MH-139 at Duke Field, Florida, in December 2019. The helicopter will be used for aerial protection of missile sites under Air Force Global Strike Command. The command's Detachment 7 is at Duke Field to support testing and evaluation of the new helicopter.

Military pilots began flight training in early 2019 on the commercial AW-139 to receive certification to fly the military helicopter. In February 2020, the service completed its first combined test flight of the multi-mission helicopter with a Boeing pilot at the helm.

But last June, Inside Defense reported that the MH-139 had not obtained another crucial FAA certification that dictates when the aircraft can begin additional military flight tests. That same month, the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, issued a report stating the helicopter's final speed and range requirement may not be met because of its weight.

"The program completed its critical design review in June 2019 -- five months ahead of schedule," the GAO said in the report. "However, the helicopter, as it is currently designed, may not be able to meet all performance requirements if the final weight of the aircraft exceeds design parameters.

"If an appropriate weight is not achieved, the aircraft may not be able to meet requirements for speed or range," it added.

The GAO said Boeing had noted that the FAA could require additional testing -- resulting in potential schedule delays and increased costs -- to demonstrate the engine's power before it can certify the helicopter's airworthiness.

Responding to the report at the time, Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Cara Bousie told Defense News the Air Force "does not anticipate additional testing will be required to demonstrate engine power" after discussing the matter with the FAA.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: More Than a Decade Later, the Air Force Finally Picks a Huey Replacement

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