WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force accepted its first MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter Thursday, paving the way for the replacement of the aging UH-1N Huey helicopters that have patrolled missile fields for almost five decades.

Air Force Global Strike Command head. Gen. Timothy Ray announced the name of the aircraft during a ceremony commemorating the first M-139 delivery on Dec. 19 at Duke Field, Florida.

Boeing won the $2.38 billion Huey replacement contract in September 2018. The company’s offering — a militarized version of the commercial AW139 helicopter made by Italian firm Leonardo — beat out Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Sierra Nevada Corp. in an upset.

Both Lockheed and SNC had proposed UH-60 Black Hawk derivatives, but Boeing shaved $1.7 billion off the Air Force’s expected program cost to nab the award. As such, the Grey Wolf is the first Air Force helicopter to be of a completely different airframe than ones owned by the other services.

So far Boeing has received an initial $375 million award for the first four helicopters and the integration of military-specific items necessary for the AW139 to meet the Air Force’s requirements. The company will deliver a second Grey Wolf in mid-January, with the third and fourth aircraft following in February.

The formal designation of the MH-139 comes a day after the Air Force stood up the first detachment, which will be supporting test and evaluation of the helicopter. Lt. Col. Mary Clark took command of Detachment 7 during a Dec. 18 ceremony at Duke Field.

According to Air Force Global Strike Command, Detachment 7 will own four helicopters and will be comprised of pilots and special-mission aviators. The detachment will be temporarily located at Duke Field before moving to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.

The Air Force plans to buy 84 helicopters over the course of the program. The aircraft will be used for a wide variety of missions, including defending intercontinental ballistic missile fields, search and rescue, and missions in the capital region.

The Grey Wolf will be able to carry nine fully loaded troops. The aircraft should be able to hit a 135-knot cruise speed and fly for at least 3 hours — and a minimum distance of 225 nautical miles — without needing to be refueled.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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