Attrition: Huey Continues To Slowly Fade Away

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October 11, 2014: On August 28th the U.S. Marine Corps officially retired its UH-1N helicopter. Actually there are a few that will remain in use into 2015 but that was not mentioned. Introduced in 1971 the main users were always the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Other users were Canada and Italy. In the late 1960s a civilian version, the Bell 212 appeared. While UH-1N production ceased in the late 1970s the Bell 212 continued to be manufactured until 1998.

The U.S. Air Force is the only remaining military users of the UH-1Ns and is refurbishing the ones it owns for another decade or more of service. Several years of failed efforts to find an affordable replacement, and growing budget cuts, gave the air force little choice. At the same time the air force was encouraged by successful efforts by the U.S. Marine Corps to keep similar UH-1s flying. The air force has 62 UH-1Ns, used mainly for patrolling the large tracts of land surrounding ICBM silos in rural areas.

The main difference between the basic UH-1 and the UH-1N was the use of two engines in the latter. This made the five ton UH-1N safer and more reliable, which was the main reason the air force went with this model. The UH-1N could also carry a few more passengers. The air force has spent nearly a decade looking for 93 new helicopters to replace the UH-1Ns. That search failed because new birds that could match the UH-1N low cost, high reliability and performance were too expensive. It turned out to be cheaper to rebuild the UH-1Ns.

The marines have long used UH-1Ns and came up with a remanufacturing program for them, which converted UH-1Ns to UH-1Ys. A hundred UH-1Ns were to be rebuilt at a cost of about $4 million each. Instead it was decided to build the UH-1Ys new rather than using the elderly UH-1N airframes. The UH-1Y had new rotors, stronger airframes, and new electronics 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 UH-1Ys 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 carry 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. The soundless of the original marine refurbishment plan convinced the air force that there was life left in their old, but still useful, UH-1Ns. The air force, like the marines, don’t use their helicopters as intensively as the army.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army and Navy have largely replaced all their UH-1 transport helicopters, mainly with the UH-60 starting in the 1980s. This 10.6 ton helicopter could carry more and was safer to operate. Recently, the 3.6 ton UH-145 was introduced, this replaced the remaining UH-1s in army service. Only the marines and air force still uses the UH-1, in the form of the twin-engine naval version.

Meanwhile the half century old UH-1 ("Huey") is fading away. Over 16,000 UH-1s were built and over 4,000 were lost during the Vietnam War. About 2,000 UH-1s are still in 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 4.3 ton, single engine, UH-1 could carry 2 crew and 11 troops and was the first military helicopter to use gas turbine (jet) engines. This allowed a lighter helicopter to carry more weight. The UH-1 served the army for 50 years, although since the 1990s most served in reserve units. The twin engine UH-1 was originally developed for the Canadian military and later adopted by the U.S. Navy, Marines, Air Force, and many foreign countries who were willing to pay a premium for the additional safety of two engines.

 

 


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