Andrews Plans to Swap its Vietnam-Era Huey Helicopters for the New Grey Wolf

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The MH-139A Grey Wolf parks at Duke Field, Fla.
The MH-139A Grey Wolf parks at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019, before its unveiling and naming ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

The Air Force has chosen Joint Base Andrews in Maryland as the latest location to host its new Grey Wolf helicopters as it starts to retire aging Vietnam-era choppers from the fleet.

But the service still must conduct an environmental assessment in the summer of 2023 before the decision is finalized. If the study goes well, Andrews will join Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, as the latest installation to receive the modern helicopter.

Andrews currently has 21 UH-1N Hueys attached to the 1st Helicopter Squadron; the aircraft have been in operation by the U.S. military since the late 1960s.

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Since 1969, the 1st Helicopter Squadron has used the Huey to provide transport for high-ranking officials, emergency medical situations and search-and-rescue operations, often ferrying cabinet officials around the National Capital Region.

The Air Force announced this week that it will replace the squadron's Hueys with 25 MH-139 Grey Wolves, which offer increased speed, range and payload.

"The additional four aircraft will allow the base to execute continuation of government operations and distinguished visitor transport mission requirements without augmenting support units," the Air Force said in a press release.

Changing out the aircraft will require more airmen to provide maintenance and support to the Grey Wolves. The Air Force expects manpower needs "will grow from 235 personnel to approximately 310," according to the press release.

The Air Force's announcement is the latest development in a nearly five-year effort to replace its aging helicopter fleet. In 2018, the service picked Boeing Co. to build the replacement for its UH-1N helicopter, at a cost of approximately $2.38 billion, and plans to purchase 84 MH-139 helicopters, along with maintenance and support equipment, over the next decade.

In 2020, it was announced that Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, would be the preferred site to train pilots for the Grey Wolf.

But there have been some headwinds in recent years for the helicopter. In the 2022 budget, the Air Force didn't ask for any funds to purchase new MH-139s because “technical issues discovered during contractor testing” led to a certification delay by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Air Force Magazine.

The service, however, doesn't seem to be fazed by the issue and is recommending funds to purchase five MH-139s in its proposed fiscal 2023 budget.

The Huey reached legendary status when earlier versions were used during the Vietnam War to transport American service members in and out of jungle conflict.

Presently, roughly 60 UH-1N helicopters are attached to units at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and Yokota Air Base in Japan.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: It's Official: The Air Force's Huey Replacement Is Named 'Grey Wolf'

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