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Air Force marks delivery of first service-specific helicopter with ceremony at Duke Field

Gen. Timothy Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, gives thumbs up after disembarking his first ride in the MH-139A Grey Wolf with Col. Michael Jiru, Air Force Materiel Command. The Grey Wolf was unveiled and named during the ceremony at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019.

SAMUEL KING JR./U.S. AIR FORCE

By JIM THOMPSON | The Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: December 19, 2019

EGLIN AFB (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force got an early Christmas present Thursday, from defense contractor Boeing and Leonardo Helicopters.

Delivered to Duke Field in front of a crowd of hundreds of military personnel and contractors' representatives, the MH-139A is the Air Force's first service-specific helicopter, and the first helicopter acquisition by the Air Force's Global Strike Command.

The MH-139A is a military version of Leonardo's AW-139 commercial helicopter outfitted for military use by Boeing. The Air Force is paying $2.38 billion for up to 84 helicopters, $1.7 billion less than had originally been projected.

"We may not have a reindeer," said Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, as the crowd inside a Duke Field hangar awaited the arrival of the new helicopter, "but I'm willing to bet that what comes next will be even better."

Moments later, the first of four MH-139A helicopters set for delivery to Duke Field over the next three months for testing and evaluation made a wide circle around the installation before touching down about 100 yards from the crowd.

"It still has that 'new-car' smell," joked Gen. Timothy M. Ray, after he exited the helicopter to address the crowd.

Ray commands the Air Force Global Strike Command, which will use the MH-139A for security and support for U.S. missile installations across North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Nebraska.

Also as part of the unveiling, the new helicopter got its official nickname, "Grey Wolf."

The name, which now will be applied to all MH-139A helicopters, references the wolf that is native to much of the area hosting the U.S. nuclear missile arsenal, Ray explained.

Like the security mission set for its namesake, the wolf will "attack as one, but bring the force of many," Ray told the crowd.

The Grey Wolf is replacing the Air Force's aging fleet of the venerable UH-1N "Huey" helicopters, a Vietnam-era rotorcraft. The Grey Wolf will bring improvements in speed, range, endurance and payload over the Huey, according to the Air Force.

In addition to providing security for America's nuclear missiles, the Grey Wolf also will have a role in providing security in the nation's capital. Additionally, it is slated to be used in civil search and rescue, survival school and test support.

Noting the Grey Wolf's security-related uses, Ray said, "This mission set is the cornerstone of the security structure of the free world."

It is not clear how long the Grey Wolfs will remain at Duke Field for testing and evaluation. The work will be done by a new unit, Detachment 7, as part of the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Duke Field, the only helicopter testing and evaluation unit in the Air Force.

The detachment comprises 11 people — five pilots and six special mission aviators, who will perform a variety of functions aboard the aircraft, said Lt. Col. Mary Clark, the detachment's commander.

Some of the pilots will be from Boeing, Clark explained, as the Air Force works together with the contractor on testing and evaluation of the helicopter.

Testing will be split into two phases, Clark said. Developmental testing will ensure that Boeing produced an aircraft that meets the Air Force's requirements, and operational testing will ensure that the Grey Wolf can perform its assigned missions effectively.

Detachment 7 will be at Duke Field for "as long as testing takes," Clark said.

Steve Parker, vice president and general manager of the vertical lift program at Boeing, said the company chose the Leonardo helicopter because more than 1,000 of the commercial rotorcraft have been sold and proven to be reliable.

The Grey Wolf is being built in Philadelphia, where both Leonardo and Boeing have facilities. The two companies have "a very tight relationship," Parker said.

Parker said he foresees no serious issues during testing and evaluation of the Grey Wolf.

"I'm expecting it to be very benign," he said.

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©2019 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
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