An Italian-American for guarding the Nukes

By Paolo Valpolini

On 24 September 2018 the US Air Force announced that the new helicopter selected to replace the UH-1N Huey in service at nuclear missile bases was the Boeing-Leonardo MH-139, a militarised version of the AW139, over 1,000 helicopters of such type flying worldwide with 250 customers in 70 nations, having totalled over 2 million flight hours. The initial Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) contract was worth 375 million US$ and included four helicopters, the integration of non developmental items, training devices, pre-operational support, spares, support equipment and site activation, as well as training. The shift from AW139 to MH-139 include expanded mission performance, cabin structural modifications, ballistic protection panels, military avionics replacing the standard one, defensive aids suite, the M240D pintle-mounted weapon system, crashworthy and self-sealing fuel tank. Another modification is the baggage door, which size has been increased in order to allow loading specific mission equipment. The AW139 is produced at Leonardo Helicopters facility located at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, thus close to the Boeing facility where the MH-139 will be assembled.

“The first MH-139 will be delivered to the US Air Force in 2020,” Rick Lemaster, Director International Sales  at Boeing Defense, Space and Security says. Once the RDT&E phase completed Boeing will receive an initial 12-year fixed price contract worth 2.38 billion US$ for the production of 84 helicopters and the full sustainement of the programme. The Air Force plans to fly 480 hour per year per aircraft, the delivery of the first operational helicopter being planned for late 2020, early 2021.

The original cost estimate for the Huey replacement programme was 4.1 billion US$, thus the choice of the MH-139 allowed the service to save around 1.7 billion US$.

Photos courtesy Boeing