USAF welcomes Grey Wolf to the pack

The USAF's new MH-139A utility helicopter has been officially christened Grey Wolf, following a naming and unveiling ceremony at Duke Field, Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida.

The ceremony - held on December 19 - saw the first MH-139A delivered to Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), which officially stood-up Detachment 7, which will work directly with the Air Force Materiel Command's (AFMC's) 413th Flight Test Squadron - the only dedicated rotary test unit in the USAF. 

The MH-139A Grey Wolf will replace the ageing Bell UH-1N Huey fleet in USAF service, which is currently employed to support and protect intercontinental ballistic missile fields - located in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming - and off-base nuclear weapon convoys. The MH-139A will also take over the Huey's roles providing search and rescue, training and disaster response operations, along with serving as a VIP transport to US security and government forces. The Grey Wolf will operate in support of the AFGSC, Air Force District of Washington, Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Materiel Command and Pacific Air Forces.

Boeing Defense MH-139A
The MH-139A Grey Wolf in flight. Boeing Defense

Lt Col Mary Clark took command of Detachment 7 on December 18 and said: "It is a unique and exciting opportunity to lead some of the best air force aviators in the acquisition and testing of the MH-139A. The entire unit hopes to deliver a safe, robust helicopter that improves the mission to our teammates and the airmen who follow us."

The Grey Wolf has the unique distinction of being the first helicopter to be solely acquired by the USAF and is not operational with other branches of the US military. It is also the air arm's first commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) rotary acquisition, prior to military modification. The MH-139A is based on Leonardo Helicopters' AW139 commercial helicopter and was pitched under a joint venture between Boeing Defense and Leonardo in 2017. In September 2018, the USAF announced that it favoured the MH-139A over the UH-60 Black Hawk offered by Sikorsky and Sierra Nevada Corporation. The air arm contracted Boeing Defense/Leonardo Helicopters to produce up to 84 examples for US$2.38bn - coming in more than $1.5bn under the estimated budget. 

AFGSC MH-139
AFGSC

The first helicopter was delivered to the USAF at the December 19 ceremony, with the second set to arrive in mid-January and both the third and fourth examples due in February, to join Detachment 7 at Eglin and eventually move to Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

According to Boeing Defense, the MH-139A "cruises 50% faster, flies 50% farther, has a 30% larger cabin, and can lift 5,000 more pounds than the legacy platform." It also features an autopilot system - thus reducing pilot workload - along with modern, state-of-the-art avionics.