The new Bell UH-1Y Huey, assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), prepares to take off from the flight deck of amphibious assault ship Boxer in October as another UH-1Y flies overhead. Boxer is the first ship in the fleet to have the new helicopter aboard as part of its rotary wing aircraft augmentation for deployment. (MC3 Daniel Barker / Navy)
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CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Its distinctive "whoop-whoop" will soon disappear from the flight line at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Air Station, but the Vietnam-era Huey utility helicopter technically isn't going anywhere.
The Corps is replacing its UH-1N Hueys with the next generation UH-1Y "Yankee," which debuted this past summer, and now the first three are preparing for their initial operational deployment overseas, joining the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group when they leave San Diego in January.
With four rotor blades instead of two, the Yankee produces a faster, higher pitched "chop-chop" sound, similar to the Navy's four-blade S-60 Seahawk helicopters. "The tradeoff," said Maj. Christopher Chown, a Huey pilot leading the H-1 transition team at Pendleton's Marine Helicopter Training Squadron 303, "is you don't hear them coming — but that's a good thing."
But there is much more to the new Huey than its sound signature. It will provide the Corps with enhanced capabilities: more lift, greater speed, longer range and better survivability. Coupled with a "glass" cockpit, integrated avionics and heads-up helmet displays for the pilots, this bird is a utility helicopter for the 21st century, officials say.
It has been more than 10 years since the Corps' top officers decided to upgrade the H-1 fleet, which includes the AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter and, soon, the new and improved AH-1Z. With the first upgraded Hueys arriving this summer, the program is two years ahead of its fielding schedule.
A transition team at Camp Pendleton is getting Marines into the new helicopters about as quickly as it can accept the new aircraft into the Corps' inventory. The service, which has 91 UH-1Ns in the fleet, plans to field 123 Yankee models by 2015, said Col. Scott McGowan, H-1 transition manager at Marine Corps headquarters. But the "November" models aren't going away yet.
"I think we're going to maintain them in the fleet," he said.
On a roll
The upgraded helicopters, built by Texas-based Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., are assembled and tested at Camp Pendleton by Marine Helicopter Light/Attack Training Squadron 303, the fleet readiness squadron that teaches and trains H-1 pilots, aircrews and maintainers.
About a dozen Yankee models have arrived, and HMLAT-303, which still has to train crews in the UH-1N and AH-1W, expects to transition additional pilots and aircrews throughout the winter.
"We are watching this transition very closely to see what kinds of lessons-learned we can gain," McGowan said. "It seems to have gone much smoother than anticipated."
Each HMLA squadron has 18 Super Cobras and nine Hueys, a ratio that will remain with the new helicopters. The "Whiskey" model Cobras will be replaced by the AH-1Z, which will have upgrades similar to the Yankee. They are expected to start joining the fleet in 2010. HMLA-267, a Camp Pendleton-based squadron of Hueys and Cobras that provides detachments to deploying Marine expeditionary units, is the first operational squadron to receive the Yankees. HMLA-367, scheduled to deploy next fall, will be the first line squadron to fully transition, McGowan said.
East Coast HMLA squadrons will get the upgraded helicopters starting in 2012, once West Coast squadrons field all their birds.
Like its counterparts in the Army and Air Force, the Corps' November Hueys have been workhorses. But new combat systems and weapons added over the years, coupled with heavier protective armor, have taxed the engines and maxed out its power.
"It just got heavier and heavier. It just doesn't have that much capability in the [air]," said McGowan. "You're flying at the raggedy edge."
Not so with the new skids.
"This aircraft is a beauty," McGowan said. "It's a lot more capable. It's got a lot more power."
A better bird
The suite of onboard computers makes the new Huey "easy to fly," McGowan said, though Chown, with HMT-303, is quick to point out that the Yankee "is still a Huey."
"The tactics are still the same," he said. "… It [just] makes better use of technology in order to do the same utility mission."
This bird takes full advantage of modern aviation advancements, including:
• More lift. The "Yankee" has 76 percent more lift than existing November Hueys. Along with extra troops — up to 8 combat-loaded Marines can fit comfortably aboard along with the pilots and crew — it can haul more fuel for longer-range missions, and it can fly at higher altitudes.
• Greater speed. With a top speed of 228 mph, the Yankee goes almost 80 percent faster than the UH-1N. Chown noted that door gunners firing .50-cal. machine guns have had to adjust when firing their weapons at those faster airspeeds.
• Improved survivability. Seats are built to better withstand impact, and reduced heat signature from the engines, along with faster speed and better maneuverability, increases the Yankee's ability to evade an enemy.
• Modern cockpit. Two sets of dual monitors display satellite and secured communications, global positioning navigation, digital moving maps, and performance and attitude indicators. Pilots can even plan missions or revise waypoints en route.
• More backups. The auxiliary power unit "is one of the biggest improvements that we've got," Chown said. "You can get up on the radios, and you don't have to worry about running out the batteries."
The UH-1Y also will share more parts with the AH-1Z, which will ease maintenance and repairs and lighten the logistical load on squadrons.
"I love the November Huey, just like I love a '65 Mustang," said Chown, who's logged more than 500 hours so far in the new aircraft. "It's classic. You never mess with a good thing.
"But … if I had my choice, I'd want all the amenities."