U.S. Air Force Welcomes the Grey Wolf

 - December 20, 2019, 5:03 AM
The U.S. Air Force's first MH-139A Grey Wolf arrives at Duke Field for the handover and naming ceremony. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force has received its first example of the militarized version of the Leonardo AW139 helicopter. In the December 19 welcoming ceremony for the first machine at Duke Field, Florida, General Timothy Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), announced that the aircraft will be known as the MH-139A Grey Wolf.

AFGSC is the lead procurement agency for the type, announcing a $2.4 billion order for up to 84 MH-139As in September 2018. An off-the-shelf solution was sought to answer an urgent need to replace the USAF’s aging Bell UH-1N Twin Huey, the first of which entered service in 1970. Leonardo is assembling the helicopters in Philadelphia, with prime contractor Boeing installing military equipment, including a door-mounted machine gun, at its nearby Ridley Park facility. The MH-139A buy is AFGSC’s first major equipment procurement program since the command was formed to parent the USAF’s nuclear assets in August 2009.

The primary role of the MH-139As will be providing security for the Minuteman ICBM silo sites that are distributed across the northern Midwest, for which it brings greater speed, range, payload, and survivability than the outgoing Twin Huey. In addition to the nuclear security role, the MH-139As will provide a search-and-rescue capability, airlift support, and National Capital Region missions, as well as supporting test activities and the USAF's survival school.

General Ray likened the new helicopter to the animal that bears its name: “It strikes fear in the hearts of many. Its range is absolutely inherent to the ICBM fields we have. As they hunt as a pack, they attack as one, they bring the force of many. That’s exactly how you need to approach the nuclear security mission.” It was further noted that the Wolf’s distribution overlaps the ICBM fields in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

The first MH-139As are allocated to Detachment 7 of the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Duke Field. The 413th FLTS is responsible for test and evaluation for the Air Force’s helicopters and recently began flying the HH-60W Rescue Hawk at Duke Field. The squadron established Detachment 7 to conduct MH-139A testing on December 18, the day before the first delivery. In preparation for the first deliveries, 413th FLTS pilots and maintainers underwent training on the civilian AW139 at Leonardo’s training academy in Morristown, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, where the first pilots gained FAA type ratings in late July.

Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mary Clark, Det 7 is due to receive its second MH-139A in January, with two more arriving in February to complete its four-helicopter allocation. Operational deliveries are to be made to 20th Air Force’s three ICBM wings at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (90th Missile Wing), Malmstrom AFB, Montana (341st MW), and Minot AFB, North Dakota (91st MW). Training will be conducted at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, while MH-139As will most likely be assigned to Fairchild AFB, Washington, to support survival training. VIP/staff transport duties will also be undertaken by the type from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and Yokota AB, Japan.