Corrected on 8/4/2021 at 8:48 a.m. to clarify that the Milestone C decision is linked with low-rate initial production.
WASHINGTON — Boeing’s MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter will enter production later than expected, a U.S. Air Force program executive said Tuesday.
The Grey Wolf program was initially scheduled for a Milestone C decision by the end of fiscal 2021, which would trigger the start of low rate initial production.
However, ongoing delays in certifying the aircraft with the FAA will force the service to push off the milestone, said Col. William Rogers, the Air Force’s program executive officer for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and special operations forces.
“We are in the process of revisiting our acquisition program baseline, and will be briefing the [service acquisition executive, Darlene Costello] in the near future,” he told reporters during a media roundtable.
Rogers declined to provide further details on when the Milestone C decision could be made, saying it will be up to Costello to approve new target and threshold dates.
The MH-139A is a militarized version of Italian aviation firm Leonardo’s AW139 commercial helicopter, which has already been certified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. However, the Grey Wolf’s military-specific technologies need to be tested and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Air Force and Boeing underestimated how long it would take to obtain supplemental type certifications (STCs) for the MH-139, which are necessary to begin developmental testing and make a production decision, Rogers said.
On top of that, Boeing is also having to redesign one of the sensor fairings on the front half of the aircraft, which have been discovered to impact the airflow to the helicopter’s pitot tubes — potentially leading to incorrect airspeed readings that can trigger a crash.
“There’s pitot tubes on both sides of the aircraft, so in certain conditions, the pitot tubes would not have the same airspeed readings,” Rogers said. “Boeing is right now in the process of testing the redesign. They have a couple of options and they’re doing the company testing now.”
The Grey Wolf has already obtained one supplementary type certificate and will obtain another two before Christmas, said Matt Beck, the Air Force’s MH-139A system program manager.
“That will get us into [developmental tests], which is good. Then we can really start making progress on the program and testing our military equipment,” he said. “The other STCs will close in FY22.”
The Air Force intends to buy 84 MH-139As to replace the UH-1N Huey. The Grey Wolf will take on missions such as monitoring intercontinental ballistic missile fields, conducting search and rescue, and transporting VIPs in the national capital region.
Boeing won a $2.38 billion firm, fixed-price award for the Huey replacement program in September 2018 after submitting a proposal that clocked in at $1.7 billion lower than the program’s initial estimate. The company received an initial $375 million for the first four helicopters and the integration of military-specific items necessary for the AW139 to meet the Air Force’s requirements.
The service purchased eight MH-139As in FY21 and anticipated buying another eight Grey Wolf helicopters in FY22. However, during the FY22 budget rollout, Air Force officials announced that the service would pause Grey Wolf procurement that year to allow for FAA certification.
In December 2019, Boeing delivered the first Grey Wolf helicopter to the Air Force, and the service set up its first MH-139A detachment at Duke Field, Florida.
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.