Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, is slated to swap its iconic Vietnam War-era helicopters for a modern fleet of MH-139 Grey Wolf rotary aircrft in the coming years, the Air Force announced Tuesday.
Andrews expects to bring in 25 new helicopters, built by a Boeing-Leonardo team, to replace its 21 UH-1N Hueys under the 1st Helicopter Squadron. The four extra helos would boost the base’s capacity to support VIP transport missions, and to help ensure continuity of government by shuttling officials around in an emergency.
The Air Force-run joint installation plans to bring in about 75 more employees to staff the MH-139 fleet. Andrews is likely to pass its environmental inspection next summer, a requirement before the Air Force can finalize its decision.
Andrews, a Washington-area military travel hub for U.S. presidents and other federal leaders, is one of four bases named as future homes of Grey Wolf helicopters so far. The MH-139 was primarily purchased to patrol intercontinental ballistic missile fields at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; and Malmstrom AFB, Montana.
About 60 Hueys are spread across active duty units at Fairchild AFB, Washington; Eglin AFB, Florida; Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; and Yokota Air Base, Japan. They have been in the Air Force inventory since 1970, when they arrived as a search-and-rescue helicopter and took on other roles like nuclear missile support. Their successor is designed to fly faster and farther than the older helos, carry heavier loads and better withstand attack.
Airmen at Eglin received the first helicopter for testing in late 2019, and the Air Force named Kirtland as the main training unit in 2020.
In total, the Air Force plans to buy 82 Grey Wolves for $3 billion.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.