Goodbye Old Friend, Huey Retires After 30 Years of Service
These events are special and a great amount of other events are as well, but 1971 marks a significant date to the U.S. Marine Corps especially, the birth of the Huey known today.
"Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World," Christopher Columbus once said.
Following the light, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 prepares to depart Afghanistan with a piece of Marine Corps history. The UH-1N Huey helicopter retires after more than 30 years of Marine Corps service and this squadron will be the last to fully deploy with just the Huey.
The Huey flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan but what most people don't know is that it was introduced to the Marine Corps long before the War on Terrorism ever began.
The experiences of Vietnam throughout the 1960's showed the Marine Corps the need for armed escort helicopters to suppress enemy fire in landing zones. This encouraged the Marine Corps to purchase several Bell UH-1E and UH-1H helicopters for Marine Observation Squadrons, serving as the first generation of the Huey family in the Corps.
In the late 1960's, the Canadian military wanted a twin engine version of the Huey, so they worked with Bell and developed the UH-1N Huey.
The Marine Corps saw the twin engines as an advantage and adopted the UH-1N Huey in 1971, further enhancing the Marine Corps aviation combat element.
During the early adolescent years of the Huey, it could carry more than 5,000 pounds of cargo, had room for 13 Marines, traveled 125 miles per hour and had a range of 275 miles. The Huey was used for command and control, medical evacuations and utility purposes.
"It truly is a jack of all trades," said Ben Kristy, an aviation curator at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
As time went on, the Huey matured into the aircraft serving the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Since its entrance in the fleet, the Huey has undergone constant upgrade and modification. The engines, avionics, ballistic protection, have all been upgraded over the years," said Kristy.
In the early 1980's, the Marine Corps armed the Hueys with fixed mini guns, grenade launchers and 2.75mm rockets.
"Additionally, new sensors and targeting equipment, such as the 2nd Generation Navigational Thermal Imagining System/Forward Looking Infrared, made the UH-1N much more adept at locating targets," said Kristy.
The Huey is a seasoned Marine Corps rotor wing aircraft, involved in all major Marine Corps operations since 1971.
"You would be hard pressed to find a Marine Corps operation that had no UH-1N involvement," said Kristy.
After Vietnam, the Huey returned to its utility role but, the Marine Light Attack Helicopter squadrons developed "hunter-filler" tactics, in which an armed Huey would team up with one or two AH-1 Cobras. The Huey would locate targets and the AH-1 would destroy them. This same relationship carried on into Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although the Huey will inevitably retire, the next generation of the UH-1 family is ready to take its place.
"Over the years, the Huey has changed equipment and been upgraded per the needs of the Marine Corps," said Master Sgt. Jorge Alvarado, the maintenance chief with HMLA-169 and crew chief by trade.
With more than 18 years experience with the Huey, flying in more than ten countries, Alvarado has seen his share of the modifications and upgrades the Huey has undergone.
"They might have the same airframes but the fact is that they are well kept and are only as good as the Marines working on them," he said.
The youngest member of the UH-1 family, the UH-1Y Venom, is making its debut in combat with HMLA-367 when they arrive in Afghanistan later this year.
"They will definitely add value to the battlefield," said Maj. Jim Isaacs, executive officer of HMLA-169 and Huey pilot. "With better sensors, increased speed and increased lifting capacity they will perform very well here."
The legacy of the UH-1 family remains an active role in Marine Corps aviation.
"Whereas the UH-1N already does a great job, the UH-1Y will do even better," said Isaacs. "It will expand the envelope for Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan and be a true force multiplier."
For nearly 50 years the UH-1 family has been serving the Marine Corps with aviation assets and more than half of that time the support came from the Huey.