October 2017

October 2017

End of an era – US Army retires its last Bell Hueys
After six decades of service, the last of the Army’s venerable UH-1s is retired in October 2016

The Bell UH-1 Iroquois (nicknamed "Huey") was the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter production for the United States military, in 1960. More than 16,000 single-engine Hueys were produced for more than 40 countries over its production run from 1956 to 1987.

The Iroquois was originally designated HU-1, hence the Huey nickname, which has remained in common use, despite the official re-designation to UH-1 in 1962. This nickname became so popular that Bell began casting the name on the helicopter's anti-torque pedals. The UH-1 first saw service in combat operations during the Vietnam War, with around 7,000 helicopters deployed. The Bell 204 and 205 are Huey versions developed for the civil market; twin Hueys, four-bladed Hueys and Huey Cobra attack helicopters were subsequently derived.

Powered by a single prototype Lycoming YT53-L-1 (LTC1B-1) engine, the XH-40 first flew on October 20, 1956 at Fort Worth, Texas, with Bell's chief test pilot, Floyd Carlson, at the controls. Two more XH-40s and then six larger YH-40 pre-production aircraft were built. In March 1960, the Army awarded Bell a production contract for 100 aircraft, which was designated as the HU-1A and officially named “Iroquois” after the Native American nations.

The first UH-1A helicopters arrived in Vietnam in Fall 1962, but were underpowered at 860 shp (641 kW). The UH-1B had 44 ft (13 m) diameter wider-chord blades and a Lycoming T53-L-5 engine with 960 shp (720 kW). More than 1,000 Bravo models were delivered, with the first deployment in November 1963.

The UH-1C was specifically developed as a gunship version until the Bell AH-1G Huey Cobra was available, and to correct the deficiencies of the UH-1B when it was used in the armed role. The UH-1C was widely referred to as the "Huey Hog" in US Army service. Bell fitted the UH-1C with a 1,100 shp T53-L-11 engine with 1,100 shp (820 kW) to provide the power needed to lift all weapons systems in use or under development. A new rotor system — with blades with a yet-wider chord — was developed for the UH-1C to allow higher air speeds and reduce the incidence of retreating blade stall during diving engagements.

When the Army wanted a version that could carry more troops, Bell's solution was to stretch the UH-1B fuselage by 41 in (1 m) and use the extra space to fit four seats next to the transmission, facing out. Seating capacity increased to 15, including crew. The enlarged cabin could also accommodate a medic and six stretchers, two more than the earlier models. In place of the earlier model's sliding side doors with a single window, larger doors were fitted which had two windows, plus a small hinged panel with an optional window, providing enhanced access to the cabin. The doors and hinged panels were quickly removable, allowing the Huey to be flown in a "doors off" configuration.

The resultant Bell UH-1D/Model 205 prototype flew on August 16, 1961. Seven pre-production / prototype aircraft had been delivered for testing starting in March 1961. The rotor was soon lengthened to 48 ft (14.6 m). A total of 2,008 UH-1Ds were delivered to the US Army between 1962 and 1966.

In 1966, Bell installed the 1,400 shp (1,000 kW) Lycoming T53-L-13 engine to provide more power for the aircraft. The pitot tube was relocated from the nose to the roof of the cockpit, to prevent damage during landing. Production models in this configuration were designated as the UH-1H, which was the most-produced version, with 4,850 delivered to the US Army alone.

The UH-1 has long been a symbol of US involvement in Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, and as a result has become one of the world's most recognized helicopters. In Vietnam primary missions included general support, air assault, cargo transport, aeromedical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and later, ground attack.

As early as 1962, UH-1s were modified locally by the Army companies themselves, who fabricated their own mounting systems. These gunship UH-1s were commonly referred to as "Frogs" or "Hogs" if they carried rockets, and "Cobras" or simply "Guns" if they had guns. UH-1s tasked and configured for troop transport were often called "Slicks" due to an absence of weapons pods. Slicks did have door gunners, but were generally employed in the troop transport and medevac roles.

In air cavalry groups, UH-1s were combined with infantry scouts, OH-6 and OH-58 aero-scout helicopters, and AH-1 attack helicopters to perform various reconnaissance and security missions in fulfilling the traditional cavalry battlefield role.

The US Army phased out the UH-1 with the introduction of the UH-60 Black Hawk, although the Army UH-1 Residual Fleet had around 700 UH-1s, primarily in support of Army Aviation training at Fort Rucker and in selected Army National Guard units.

The UH-1 Huey was retired from active Army service in 2005. In 2009, Army National Guard retirements of the UH-1 accelerated with the introduction of the UH-72 Lakota. The final Guard UH-1s were retired in 2011.

Recently the final "Hueys" were retired from Army service after a distinguished career spanning six decades. Four of the Army's final eleven served until the very last at US Army Yuma Proving Ground, with their last YPG flight on October 20, 2016. All four of the aircraft will have active retirements, however, after distribution by the Defense Logistics Agency's Law Enforcement Support Office to police agencies, where the venerable “Huey” will soldier on.

Description: Pete Noell
Photo credit L-R: US Army, Horst Faas-AP, Horst Faas-AP, US Army, James K F Dung SFC, Main photo: Mark Schauer - ATEC

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