After more than 40 years of service, the Marine Corps retired the aging UH-1N Huey helicopter during a “sundown ceremony” Aug. 28, 2014, aboard Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans.
The UH-1N Huey is a twin engine, utility helicopter manufactured by Bell Helicopters in 1969. Bell began the delivery of 205 UH-1N helicopters to the Navy and Marine Corps in 1971. For more than 40 years of service, the UH-1N has been operationally employed in Vietnam, Grenada, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. The UH-1N flew its last combat flight in 2010 in Afghanistan.
“Over the years, the Marine Corps has developed a number of upgrades for the aircraft including improved avionics, aircraft survivability equipment and a forward looking infrared sensor,” said Maj. Joseph C. Begley an AH-1W pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 Detachment A, Marine Aircraft Group 49, during the ceremony opening remarks.
The UH-1N holds sentimental value for many who attended the final flight. During the ceremony, many shared their personal accounts about the aircraft.
“The UH-1N is American history; it’s a touch tone aircraft of combat for a full generation,” said Col. Philip M. Pastino, commanding officer of MAG-49. “I was a lieutenant at the El Toro airshow in 1990 manning my Huey, [during] a static display, when an older gentleman stood back and stared for a good while. After a pause, he asked me in a shaky voice if he could touch the Huey. He slowly approached the aircraft and placed his hands on the cargo deck and he started to cry. I didn’t know what to do, so I put my hand on his shoulder. He told me that his brothers that didn’t come home, and were now on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, flew their last flight in a UH-1N. I knew then that it wasn’t my Huey at the airshow, it was his and a whole generation’s.”
The UH-1N platform flown by HMLA-773, has been replaced by the new UH-1Y Venom platform which provides drastically improved capabilities to its predecessor in terms of range, airspeed, payload, survivability and lethality.
In 1996, the Marine Corps launched the H-1 upgrade program, signing a contract with Bell Helicopter for upgrading 100 UH-1Ns into UH-1Ys. The largest improvement was the increase in engine power. Replacing the engines and the two-bladed rotor system with four blades, the Y-model will return the Huey to the utility role for which it was designed. Originally, the UH-1Y was to be remanufactured from UH-1N airframes, but in April 2005, approval was granted to build them as new helicopters.
“A big thing for us is training and the UH-1Y is really going to help us be combat ready and have a more predominant place in Marine Corps aviation,” said Lt. Col. Mark Sauer, commanding officer of Det. C, MAG-49.
Though the UH-1N has retired, the Marine Corps and HMLA-773 have great expectations for their new platform, the UH-1Y Venom.
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