By J. D. Edwards
The last UH-1 Huey, tail number 74-22478, made its final flight as a U. S. Army operated aircraft Dec. 15, 2016.
This was the very last UH-1, one of the “Dirty Dozen”, to be proudly flown over southern New Mexico before it was transferred to the Louisiana State Police, where it will continue to serve the public with honor and dignity.
The UH-1 started its career as a replacement for the Bell H-13 “Sioux” used primarily during the Korean conflict. The H-13 demonstrated the utility of the helicopter in combat, saving multiple servicemen during the conflict. Although it proved useful, the H-13 had many shortcomings including range and payload deficiencies. In 1952 the U. S. Army developed the requirements for a turbine-powered helicopter with extended range and increased payload for medical evacuation and utility transport requirements.
Bell Helicopter designed what would be first designated as the HU-1 Iroquois, and in true aviator fashion was simply called “Huey” by its operators.
The UH-1 became the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter military service in 1960 where, through the innovation and advancement of the capability, it revolutionized warfare.
Shortly thereafter it was introduced to its iconic combat role in Vietnam. Over the next 16 years more than 16,000 UH-1s were produced with some 7,000 seeing combat action in Vietnam.
The other services saw the utility of the UH-1 and quickly adopted the aircraft. In all, this revolutionary aircraft was operated by all four services and over 35 countries. The UH-1 quickly evolved and was modified to fill a variety of roles from troop transport, medevac, command and control and armed gunship roles.
More importantly, it revolutionized the U. S. Army combat operations by providing the ability to rapidly mobilize large concentrations of troops en masse. This ability forever changed the face of warfare and gave a new name of “Air Mobile” to the concept of operations. It would serve in that role for several more years seeing combat once again during the invasion of Grenada and limited use during Gulf War I as a medevac platform.
Finally, age and performance limitations would see it replaced by the UH-60 in most active Army and National Guard units. By 2006 almost all had left the inventory. The only aircraft retained by the U. S. Army belonged to Army Test and Evaluation Center. Officially, 11 were retained, three at Redstone Arsenal, four at Yuma Proving Ground and four at White Sands Missile Range, where they would serve the country’s needs for test support assets.
This particular aircraft, the UH-1, 74-22478, was one of the last produced by Bell Helicopter for the U. S. Army. It rolled off the assembly line in early 1976 and was accepted by the Army. However, Bell Helicopter retained the aircraft at its Fort Worth, Texas, facility where it was used to further test modifications to the UH-1 fleet. While at Bell it flew approximately 2,300 flight hours. Following the end of Gulf War I and with limited utility in a combat role, the aircraft was transferred to White Sands Missile Range in 1992.
Since then, the aircraft has flown over 2,600 hours and supported a variety of test projects. With the ability to modify the aircraft, it has supported many major tests for White Sands Test Center.
Recently, it was the aircraft of choice that carried the seeker head, test data recording equipment and contractor personnel to execute over 3,000 individual “missile runs” during captive flight test for Small Diameter Bomb II development. The net results continually improved the seeker head performance without the cost of having to fire an actual missile. It was also used over the years as a Patriot Missile “target” to improve the radar system.
The last flight that was performed in December was the last flight for the National Guard, Reserve, or any active inventory. Launching as Nike 06, flown by myself, Chris Lowe as Copilot, Randall Gillespie as Flight Engineer and Art McKinney as our final passenger. This aircraft would not have been able to perform its job without the support of the maintainers who looked after it. They are the unsung heroes who were driven just to see it launch. This particular aircraft served the United States Army admirably for 42 years. Following the Huey’s final flight it was then transferred through the U. S. Army’s Law Enforcement Support Office to the Louisiana State Police where it will continue to serve. Fittingly, the transfer to the LA State Police took place Dec. 22 and the aircraft departed Holloman Air Force Base for the last time 20 minutes before the last flight of its partner, the F-4, during the Vietnam War. Together, two iconic aircraft closed the book on that portion of aviation history.