Who Could Bid to Replace the Air Force’s UH-1 Hueys?

So, it’s looking more and more likely that the Air Force will hold a competition to replace its fleet of about 90 UH-1N Huey choppers. For a while there the Air Force was hell-bent on buying a chopper with zero competition. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley seems to have finally killed that idea.

From DoDBuzz:

Air Force Secretary Mike Donley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “absolutely sure competition will be involved” in the the purchase of the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform.

Since this is the case we here at DT thought we’d take a look at the likely candidates to replace the service’s Vietnam-era utility birds under the Common Vertical Lift Support (CVLSP) program.

First, let’s take a look at what the service says it wants in the new helicopters:

The helo must be able to cruise at about 100 knots, carry up to 13 passengers (depending on the situation), have protection from 7.62 mm weapons fire, electro-optical and infrared sensors, infrared countermeasures, secure satellite communications, be night vision goggle compatible and be able to carry enough weapons of its own to mow down several infantry squads worth of enemy troops.

But wait, there’s more. It’s also got to be able to carry nine passengers or 3,100 pounds of gear while flying at 135 knots at 6,500 feet. Oh, and it has to be able to stay airborne for at least three hours at that altitude.

So, who are the potential bidders?

Well, there’s the obvious one. The Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk. It’s in production right now, meets the requirements, the Air Force knows how to maintain it and the service could combine the CVLSP-buy with its plan to replace its lost and worn out HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue choppers. Air Force brass repeatedly expressed interest in buying these choppers from the Army and outfitting them for the CVLSP mission with no competition using something called the economy act of 1932 as justification. Now, however, it looks like Sikorsky will have to battle it out in a competition.

Next is AgustaWestland’s AW139M. The M model is a modified version of the AW139 chopper and could be built on the existing AW139 production line in Philadelphia, it meets the requirements and Agusta officials claim that it was purpose-built to replace the Huey and that it can be delivered quickly.

Next up; EADS subsidiary Eurocopter who is rumored to be considering offering a version of its Cougar chopper. This is a new version of an old design (the venerable Puma) and the company would have to establish a production facility here in the U.S. Still, EADS does build the U.S. Army’s Huey replacement, the UH-71 Lakota at a small plant in Mississippi. Who knows what it would cost to enlarge that facility to build the much larger Cougars. I’m guessing they’d be pretty pricey. Then again, look at how EADS was confident it could bid a very aggressive price with its bigger, newer A330-based tanker versus Boeing’s 767-based design in KC-X.

And speaking of modified versions of old designs. Let’s take a look at Bell, who might very well offer its UH-1Y Venom. A vast improvement over the UH-1N with 125 percent more cargo capacity than the UH-1N and nearly 50 percent greater range and speed over the older Hueys. It’s in production and is proving itself in combat with the Marines right now. Still, it’s a bit on the small side.

And finally, I’ve even heard rumors that Boeing may offer it’s giant CH-47 Chinook. This just seems like overkill for the mission. Although, if there happens to be a competition to replace the HH-60 fleet, this bird could have a shot. Especially since it won a round of the original CSAR-X contest years ago, I mean, buying more of them would help drive costs down. It’s super fast, can carry plenty of cargo and the latest versions of it keep rolling off Boeing Philadelphia production line. Still, it’s huge and strikes me as a bit overkill for the job of patrolling missile fields and ferry VIPs around Washington. And keep in mind, bigger, more powerful choppers often equal more cash.

Anything else you’d like to see in the competition? Sound off in the comments. Oh, and anyone recognize who that is sitting in the back of that Huey pictured above? C’mon, it’s almost too easy.

  • jamesb101

    Drop the foreign guys….People

    Congress will NOT approve them……
    Just give the damn contract to Sikorsky….

    What completion?

    • j_meyer

      Simple: apply a bit of pressure to the domestic vendors to make their offers cheaper. I think that is really needed

    • Jim

      I agree – production should be American made – using American companies. No more billion dollar contracts going to Brazil….

      And with American made computer chips to avoid another China induced fiasco…

  • STemplar

    Pretty easy if there is any common sense in the universe. Not a real overly complex missions set of reqs, all proven systems that are more than capable of meeting the reqs, so whichever one costs the least. Pretty simple from here on planet Earth where the po folk live.

  • theman

    You forgot the inevitable bid from US Aerospace-Antonov!

  • brian

    Perhaps we should consider a new design, so that we have upgrade path from the Blackhawk, though I doubt we have the money for it.

  • Chris Rapp

    Depends on what you want to do.

    Blackhawk or Huey if you want to cut down on logistics and supply a little bit. Even the Westland AW139M since it’s used by other government agencies (Coast Guard, etc) would help cut that down.

    I don’t see the Chinook winning – way overkill.

    I don’t think the Huey will win because it may be considered ‘old.’ Plus it’s used by the Marines and they always get the old shit.

    The Blackhawk is a toss up – no ideas.

    I could see the Puma winning because EADs lost the tanker round. Plus with a new plant being built somewhere or even an addition in Mississippi, more money for US politics.

    Westland could also possibly win with it’s chopper. Oddly, it does make a version of the Chinook for Italy, the Apache, and has it’s own tilt-rotor. I don’t know enough about them to say either way.

    I say Puma.

    • FormerDirtDart

      The US Coast Guard doesn’t fly any AW139s, and to my knowledge, never has. They did use, under lease, the AW109 for a while (completely different a/c) but no longer do.

      • paratus

        I believe the AW139 was selected by the USCG as a part of Deepwater until the whole Deepwater program got cancelled. i wish we still had those 109s for HITRON. they were butt kicking fast and maneuverable.

      • Chris Rapp

        Ah, my bad. Wish there was an edit button lol.

    • Guest

      This article is about them replacing the old Huey, and the UH-1Y is a completely new helicopter. So no, it is not old by any means. It is one of the newest helicopters in the military.

  • Marcase

    It’s Schwarz in the back.

  • I understand that these old helicopters must go right about now, but I wish they could wait until a larger version of Sikorsky’s X2 technology could be put together.
    Lets face it. the X2 technology makes all other designs obsolete.
    Granted many of these platforms talked about have proven track records and all the bugs worked out.
    But the X2 technology is much faster and has much farther range.
    Considering we actually use the equipment and put people in harms way with it, it would just be nice to see the military push forward with a better design.

  • chaos0xomega

    Maybe US Aerospace should try teaming up with Mil, I’m pretty sure the Mi-24 (or perhaps one of the numerous upgraded variants out there) meets these specs, and looks damn sexy doing it….

    Stick some upgraded engines in there, re-engineer the passenger compartments armor/safety features a bit, and provided you don’t arm our enemy with quality MANPADS, you’ll have a pretty good quality helo on your hands, capable of CSAR (literally), easily capable of mowing down more than a few infantry squads, maybe even an armored column or two. Can even be used as a CAS/attack platform when things get rough, and can stick around long enough to do all sorts of wonderful things…

    I can dream…

    In regards to X2 technology, Mil already has that down pat (latest generation of Russian attack helos are coaxial rotors), so Sikorsky shouldn’t be far behind…

  • Will

    The UH-60 has engines that are about 25% more powerful than the ones on both the AW-139M & the UH-1Y. If this is going to be used in combat, that horsepower translates into more flexibility (and higher operating costs). You go the route of something like the X2 & you’re likely talking 10 years & billions on development . This is 90 birds. Don’t make this harder – and more expensive – than it has to be.

  • blight

    The choice /should/ be simple.

    Blackhawk type helicopter, which is already used by the Air Force and the Army, or a Huey-type helicopter like the UH-1Y in use by the Navy and Marines. Make a choice and move on. They need to stop trying to buy new helicopters for everything.

  • Smashquail

    The Blackhawk is a great platform. I could be biased, but they would do well to replace them with a Sikorsky product.

    The Huey just needs to be retired all together. It’s old technology.

    If they do end up choosing a foreigh product, that Puma would do the trick. I, for one, do not think the U.S. military should support foreign companies for something as huge as an aviation contract.

    While the Chinook would be awesome, they are much too big to be practical.

    Edit: Also, keep in mind, most foreign helicopters have rotars that spin the other way. This could lead to problems in emergencies with pilots who are used to flying American helicopters. Of course, that’s nothing a little training can’t solve…

  • tomatojuice

    Thought that the “Venoms” that are being currently produced are actually on new frames, no upgrading exisiting platforms.

    So they might have a shot.

  • rotor

    why use a $25M blackhawk for a non-combat, non deploying CONUS support mission just for convienience? The Army faced with a similar mission intentionally moved away from the blackhawk and chose the Lakota, which was fielded on schedule and budget, and operates at a fraction of the cost of a blackhawk. Just because its in the inventory, doesn’t mean its the right tool for the job. i have flown as a pilot in the military, all the American made helicopters in the inventory, and it is an arrogant mistake to think that only american helos are the best, and have the best products for our military. Thanks to the V22 drying up R&D resources for almost 20 years, many non-US helps are a generation ahead. check it out for yourselves….

  • Milan

    In my point of view the Huey is a pretty good bird and ridden on it a few times. I would trust it with my life during combat time.

  • Jake

    Why not the UH-72 Lakota? I mean that it what is replacing the Army’s UH-1’s and OH-58’s state side.

    • FormerDirtDart

      Probably because of basic math. 8<13

      • asdf


  • Belesari

    Just go with the venom makes the cost per aircraft go down slightly and the logistics are already on hand as well as training.

    And in 5 to 10 years when the airforce demands a super stealthy, superfast, super powerful helicopter to replace them the marines will get new only slightly used Venoms :)

  • j_meyer

    Has anyone an idea why Eurocopter would offe the Cougar? It seems a bit too large, whereas the NH-90 seems to be the perfect fit. It is cheaper and more modern than the Cougar.

  • asdf

    the cougar is a mature platform, where the nh90 carries more development risk (other contestants, like the black hawk, don’t) have the same risk). it would be nice though to see the nh90 in service.

  • Huey CC

    Were talking 90 non-combat birds here. We already have enough budget problems, buy either the Y modle Huey or the HH60. Then in 5 or 10 years start getting the Sikorsky’s X2 on line.

    • Ontos

      Exactly. If it’s going to replace H-1’s and a substantial portion of the the training and maintenance could roll over into the new airframe, go Venom. If it would be cheaper and simpler to transition to the H-60, go with it. Seems the Air Force is making the process more difficult than it needs to be.

  • jamesb101

    I know I’m repeating myself……

    But the Lokota fits perfectly….
    And on time…
    And budget…
    Forget that…
    We don’t like that…..

    Look for a Bell 412 or Blackhawk replacement….
    Come on….Like someone said above take what you got….
    Not what ain’t even in diapers yet…

    In todays political climate NO foreign bird is gonna make the cut….

  • Rotor

    There is no military version of the S-92.

  • Anonymous

    How are things up in Stratford Greg?

  • Stan

    Canada is recieving the military version of S-92 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikorsky_CH-148_Cycl

  • jamesb101


    The Lakota’s get high marks also….

  • Tiger One

    Gee, I hope they don’t give the contract to China, or some other foreign country!

  • Brad

    CH-47 would be the best replacement…

    • blight

      Chinooks aren’t the most survivable birds. Roberts Ridge has demonstrated that much. If you armor them up, then it eats into weapons, which eat into fuel, eating into range…

    • Crash Hawk

      Cost…Cost…Cost…not in this political climate.

  • Matt

    Im hoping for AW139M…

  • Ripberger

    Could a modified, heavily-armed version of the V-22 Osprey work? That is, if it is possible to add front and possibly side weapons to it? The Wikipedia article on it mentioned that Ospreys with front turrets were being used in Afghanistan (if you can believe Wikipedia, anyway).

  • asdf

    but weak floor can be easily fixed (it adds more weight though) and those were prototypes afaik. too bad.

  • TinfoilHatter

    Missile field support should be a cost plus contract for Columbia Helicopters, PHI, or the like to operate, maintain and man the existing helicopters.

    Serious consideration needs to be given to the wartime requirement of the VIP support mission in Washington.

  • Helo 1

    The writer of the artical was clearly not well informed before writting the report ! EADS has a great track record and can produce an aircraft on time and on budget. I think the clear choice is a military version of the EC-175 or the EC-145. Rember on time and on budget! This is not something the military has seen in a while! And they will be built in the U.S.A. by AMERICAN Eurocopter. The second choice would be the Black Hawk Mike Model.

  • Operator

    All right. The 92 and 101 can’t get delivered on time, the Chinook is too big and expensive, and the Lakota is too small. See the requirements listed above. As to contracting missile support out and eliminating the DC mission, Tinfoilhatter is luckily non in charge and obviously doesn’t understand the mission. The missile support is more than ferrying parts and personnel, its about defending nuclear warheads. The DC mission is also more. From globalsecurity.org, the 1st HS has provides local airlift for the Executive Department, high-ranking dignitaries, and distinguished visitors, as well as support for emergency evacuation of key government officials. It is also tasked with search and rescue and emergency medical evacuation. If he truly understaood both zero-fail missions, he’d probably be singing a different tune. The 1st has done ALL of its mission, incuding emergency evacuation, and the missile squadrons have been called on for many of their missions and to augment other missions. Finally, their manning IS supporting the war and being deployed.

  • The best overall choice in my opinion would be the UH-60M. The most expensive would probably be the CH-47F. The least expensive would be to upgrade the same airframes to Bell 214 standards.

  • DW
  • DW