July 15, 2012: Military equipment has long been popular among antique collectors. World War II stuff is particularly popular, especially original aircraft that can still fly. Now this phenomenon is catching up with the more recent Vietnam War (1965-72). Thus it should have been no surprise to see a 1965 vintage U.S. Marine Corps UH-1E "Huey" helicopter for sale on Craigslist. The asking price is $175,000. Only 192 UH-1Es were built, to serve as transports and gunships. Two-thirds of these aircraft survived the war and the one being sold ended up working for the USDA (Department of Agriculture) forestry service in Florida. The current owner bought it when the USDA retired the elderly chopper and restored the aircraft to its UH-1E appearance, but with inoperable weapons, and used it in fundraising events for veterans.
While several thousand UH-1s are still operational, they are fading away fast. Over 16,000 UH-1s were built, and over 4,000 were lost during the Vietnam war. The 4.3 ton, single engine, UH-1 could carry two crew and eleven troops and was the first mass produced military helicopter to use gas turbine (jet) engines. This allowed a lighter helicopter to carry more weight. The UH-1 served the U.S. Army for fifty years, although since the 1990s, most served in reserve units. Twin engine UH-1s were originally developed for the Canadian military and later adopted by the U.S. Navy, Marines, and many foreign countries who were willing to pay a premium for the twin engines.
Most of the American UH-1s were replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s. This 10.6 ton helicopter could carry more weight and was safer to operate. Recently, the 3.6 ton UH-145 was introduced, and this replaces the remaining UH-1s in army service. The UH-1 was actually a military version of a civilian helicopter (Bell 204) design. Both remained in production through the 1980s, with over 12,000 204/205s being produced.
The U.S. Marine Corps still uses the UH-1N and have a remanufacturing program for them, which converts UH-1Ns to UH-1Ys. A hundred UH-1Ns are being rebuilt at a cost of about $4 million each. New rotors, rebuilt airframes, and new electronics will make the aircraft more capable and eventually bring maintenance cost savings of about $14 million per aircraft. Part of this is achieved by installing sturdier and more reliable components. The marines expect the refurbished aircraft to be as effective as the successors to these designs (the UH-60). For the marines this is probably true. Marines don't have to move their helicopters as far, or carrying as much, as the army does. So for most jobs the older helicopters, with new engines and electronics, can do the job just as well, without the longer range and greater carrying capacity of the UH-60.