US Air Force’s new Grey Wolf helicopter needs to watch its weight
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Air Force's new Gray Wolf MH-139 helicopter, which will replace the UH-1N Huey, which protects nuclear missile fields, is at risk of exceeding its weight limit, a congressional guard said earlier this month.
The Gray Wolf, built by prime contractor Boeing and based on the AW139 helicopter from the Italian aerospace company Leonardo, appears to be in its development phase after completing its critical design review five months earlier than expected in June 2019. However, the Government Accountability Office has expressed concerns that the final weight of the aircraft could be higher than expected and could result in some poor performance.
"The helicopter as it is being developed may not meet all performance requirements if the aircraft's final weight exceeds design parameters," said GAO in a June report on key defense acquisition programs. “If an appropriate weight is not achieved, the aircraft may not be able to meet the speed or range requirements. Air Force officials said they are expected to determine the final weight of the aircraft in December 2019. "
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When asked by Defense News, the Air Force said it has been aware of the risk of being overweight since it placed the order with Boeing in 2018 and is keeping an eye on the problem.
“The Air Force closely monitored Boeing's monthly weight reports. To date, the aircraft's weight has been within the requirements to meet the key performance parameters for speed and range, ”said Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Cara Bousie.
The MH-139 should be able to reach a cruising speed of 135 knots and fly for at least 3 hours - and a minimum distance of 225 nautical miles - without having to refuel. Like the UH-1N Huey before, the Gray Wolf will be able to carry nine fully loaded troops, although at some point the Air Force was considering a requirement for the transportation of a larger Huey replacement helicopter.
Weight gain could affect all of these features.
The Air Force plans to purchase 84 Gray Wolf helicopters as part of the program. The aircraft is used for a variety of missions, including defense of ICBMs, search and rescue, and other activities in the capital region.
The GAO identified another issue as a potential source of cost and schedule growth: a possible request by the Federal Aviation Administration for additional engine performance tests required to obtain the Airworthiness Certificate.
"After discussions with the FAA, however, the Air Force does not expect additional tests to demonstrate engine performance," said Bousie.
Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said the company continues to work with the FAA on MH-139 certification.
"We are working closely with our customers to implement the current joint flight test program in Florida that started in December 2019," he said. "As the Air Force mentioned, the test plan remains on track to support the milestones in the program."
The Air Force adopted its first MH-139 in December, a day after the first division was formed at Duke Field. The Air Force said at the time that Division 7 would eventually move to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and operate a total of four Gray Wolf helicopters to support testing and assessment activities.
Boeing won a $ 2.38 billion fixed price award for the Huey replacement in September 2018. The price was $ 1.7 billion below the program's original estimate. From this amount, the company has initially received $ 375 million for the first four helicopters and the integration of military-specific items required for the AW139 to meet the requirements of the Air Force.
The Air Force is expected to make a low production decision in September 2021, the GAO said.
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