Procurement: Huey Forever

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January 12, 2017: At the end of 2016 the United States delivered six UH-1H helicopters to Kenya with two more arriving in 2017. These were provided as military aid and cost about $5 million each, including spare parts, training and maintenance assistance. But why is a 1950s vintage helicopter design still exported to users glad to have it?

The UH-1s are inexpensive to operate, costing over a thousand dollars per hour in the air. They are durable, relatively inexpensive to rebuild and upgrade and easy to use. Meanwhile there are a lot of used, but well cared for UH-1s available. The U.S. Army retired all its UH-1s during the first decade of the 21st century and gave many away. While the army has phased out this Vietnam era design completely, many police, fire, and other governmental organizations were glad to get their hands on these retired helicopters. Even with the refurb cost, of about $1-2 million each, the UH-1s are still effective and a bargain at the price (free from the government, plus refurb expense).

The latest refurb version is the UH-1H which is also called the "Huey II" by the manufacturer. It’s a 4.7 ton aircraft, with a max range of 469 kilometers, max endurance of 2.8 hours, and the ability to carry over two tons of cargo. The UH-1 design is from the mid-1950s and is considered the first "modern" (gas-turbine engine) helicopter. The basic UH-1 is a 4.3 ton aircraft with a max speed of 217 kilometers an hour and range of 500 kilometers. Max sortie length is 2.5 hours. One can carry 14 troops, six stretchers or 1.7 tons of cargo.

Over 16,000 UH-1s (and variants like the AH-1 gunship and Bell 204 civilian model) were manufactured between 1956 and 1991. Despite over 5,000 being destroyed in Vietnam, several thousand are still in use. Many firms specialize in refurbishing and maintaining them. There are several American and Canadian firms that supply used UH-1s and refurbishment services. A refurbished UH-1 is good for about ten years of service. Oh, and why “Huey.” That’s because when it first entered service its official name was HU-1, with the HU quickly becoming “Huey” to operators and users. When UH replaced HU the cute nickname stuck.

 


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