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A U.S. Air Force pilot recently wrestled with the Grey Wolf, becoming the first uniformed flier to tackle the MH-139A that will replace an aging fleet of UH-1N Hueys guarding America’s ground-based nuclear missile fields.
Maj Zach Roycroft of the 413th Flight Test Squadron and lead test pilot for the MH-139 program took the aircraft through a test flight on Feb. 11 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, with a Boeing test pilot in command.
“This first flight with Boeing was a critical step for the MH-139A program and allows us to establish a foundation for government testing,” Roycroft said in a prepared statement.
The first MH-139 arrived at Eglin on Dec. 19 to begin testing. Flight testing is scheduled to continue through late 2022 with a decision on whether to enter low-rate initial production, called Milestone C, by the end of 2021.
Boeing has completed much of the flight-testing required to satisfy Federal Aviation Administration requirements before the introduction of mixed contractor and Air Force crews, according to the Air Force. The program should complete initial military ground testing later this month.
“This flight represents a tremendous amount of work, and we are all very excited to see it happen,” said Andrew Whitten, MH-139A flight chief, who was also on the flight.
The MH-139 Grey Wolf is an off-the-shelf Leonardo Helicopters aircraft built in Philadelphia, then modified across town by Boeing to military specifications before delivery to the Air Force.
It will replace the Bell UH-1N fleet that entered service with the Air Force in 1970 and represents a significant boost in speed, range, endurance, payload capacity and survivability over the legacy aircraft.
The Air Force plans to buy 84 of the helicopters, based on the Leonardo commercial AW139 built on the same line in Philadelphia. Boeing is playing prime contractor on the $2.38 billion deal to replace the UH-1N fleet.
The current $375 million contract awarded in September 2018 covers the first four aircraft that will be used for operational test and evaluation. The first operational MH-139 is scheduled for delivery in 2021.