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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: Last U.S. Army Operational UH-1 Huey Gone

By Douglas Nelms

MILITARY/AIRFRAMES

The last of some 10,000 UH-1 Hueys built for the U.S. Army has now left operational service, ending a four-decade run as the “workhorse” of U.S. Army Aviation and solidifying forever the role of the helicopter in military operations. The last Huey—a UH-1H, tail number 0-21776 in operation with the 121st Medevac Company of the DC National Guard—was flown out of Fort Myer, Va. following “farewell” ceremonies on October 2. The UH-1 Huey is not, however, out of the DC National Guard. Two Hueys have been kept as part of the Joint Force Headquarters for use as needed, according to LTC Maureen Bellamy, the DC Guard’s state aviation officer. The Joint Force Headquarters is not considered an “aviation operational unit.” Other former operational UH-1s are also being used in non-operational unit status, such as with civilian engineers at the Aberdeen Proving Ground or other government agencies such as law enforcement or firefighting. Numerous Army Hueys have been converted to civilian use.

UH-1H tail number 0-21776 belonging to the DC National Guard’s 121st Medevac Co., the last UH-1 to serve in a U.S. Army operational unit. Inset shows LTC Maureen Bellamy, state aviation officer for the DC National Guard.

Also, the U.S. Air Force is still flying UH-1Hs and the U.S. Marine Corps is not only still flying the UH-1N, but busily replacing that aircraft with the UH-1Y. The Corps has programmed a total of 123 UH-1Ys to be added to its rotary-wing fleet. Replacement of the UH-1 as the Army’s primary utility helicopter began in the mid-1970s with development of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. A second, light utility helicopter, the UH-72A Lakota, was added in 2006 for non-combat operations, primarily with National Guard units. The Lakota is the military version of the Eurocopter EC-145.

In March of this year the DC unit became the first Guard organization in the nation to receive the UH-72 configured for medevac missions. The 121st Medevac Co. has now received six UH-72s to replace its Hueys, and will be getting two more in 2012 for its Service and Supply Co.

According to Bell, almost 11,000 UH-1 helicopters were built between 1960 and 1991, of which 9,784 were for the U.S. Army. Another 2,208 AH-1 Cobras, a purpose-built gunship, were built between 1967 and 2000, and all variants of the UH-1 bring the total number to 16,000. That makes it the second-highest production military aircraft on record, behind only 18,482 B-24 Liberators built by Consolidated Aircraft during WWII, Bell said.

Floyd Carlson flew the first prototype Huey—initially designated the XH-40—on Oct. 22, 1956 at Bell’s Fort Worth, Texas plant, according the Gary Roush of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA). The first six test aircraft were designated the YH-40, delivered to the U.S. Army for testing in August 1958. When full production was ordered, the designation was changed to HU-1, thus the name “Huey.” In fact, the official designation for the UH-1 is the “Iroquois,” a name virtually never used. The first production HU-1 was delivered to the Army on Oct. 29, 1958, according to Bell. In 1962, the Iroquois became the H-1 in the new tri-service designation system and the HU-1A became the UH-1A, Roush said. VHPA figures indicated a total of 7,013 UH-1 Hueys served in Vietnam along with 4,814 AH-1 Cobras. Of those, a total of 3,305 Hueys and 1,781 AH-1s were destroyed.

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