USAF Considers Extending Huey 30 Years

Marine UH-1Ns lifting from a field outside Baghdad on 10 April 2003. The UH-1N Huey has been a fixture in the U.S. Air Force since ...

Marine UH-1Ns lifting from a field outside Baghdad on 10 April 2003.

The UH-1N Huey has been a fixture in the U.S. Air Force since the 1970s. And that won’t be ending any time soon.

Air Force Global Strike Command is looking at flying the helicopters for another 30 years, meaning some could fly until they are 70 years old.

The Air Force is asking defense companies for suggestions on how to increase the venerable Huey’s endurance, range, speed, survivability, navigation and communications capabilities to meet Pentagon requirements for guarding nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile fields in the northern U.S.

The Air Force also wants to be able to fly the choppers in all types of weather, states an April 17 request for information. The goal is to install these capabilities on UH-1Ns between 2014 and 2018.

The Air Force had wanted to buy a new commercial helicopter to replace the Huey. But funding for that effort, called the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform (CVLSP), was eliminated in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

“Until a long-term replacement is possible, the Air Force will consider other strategies to mitigate aircraft safety and capability gaps,” Maj. Gen. Robert Kane, director of global reach programs in the service’s acquisition directorate, told the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee at a March 27 hearing.

In the meantime, the Air Force has been evaluating “safety and capability improvements, specifically the installation of crashworthy seats and night-vision kit-compatible cockpits,” Kane said.

Although CVLSP has been canceled, the Air Force has maintained that requirements for the stateside mission still exist.

In addition to missile field security, Hueys are used to shuttle government officials and visiting heads of state around Washington. They are also responsible for evacuating top-level government officials out of Washington following a disaster or attack in the region.

In recent months, the Air Force has received three operational loss replacement UH-1s from the Marine Corps. Future UH-1 transfers from the Marine Corps to the Air Force are possible, but a decision will not be made until the first three aircraft go through depot maintenance.

“The intent is, we run these through the depot, bring them up to a standard with the rest of our UH-1Ns and then rotate them out,” Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said during a Feb. 24 briefing with reporters at an Air Force Association-sponsored conference. “What we are going to do is, we’re watching them as they go through depot to see what kind of shape they’re in.”

The Air Force also is “looking at things like enhancing the security at the missile sites by enhancing ... surveillance capabilities,” Kane said. “We’re looking at the potential for changing the way the mission and the [National Capital Region] is tasked, and we’re looking at exploring other excess defense articles that might be modified into a platform that could satisfy that requirement better.”

The Huey is analog, meaning it does not use digital displays and flight controls installed in newer, modern aircraft. This means aviation companies large and small possess the know-how to do this type of work, one defense official said.

But modernizing the current aircraft could prove challenging because adding weight to the helicopter through new equipment or engines could reduce its range, speed and endurance.

USAF 930808627192749185

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