Boeing has received the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Supplemental Type Certifications (STCs) for the company’s MH-139A Grey Wolf to enter developmental testing, the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio said on Aug. 23.
AFLCMC said that the Air Force has accepted four MH-139As for flight testing–“mere weeks” after Boeing completed the final FAA STC “required for the MH-139A to achieve its military flight release.”
“These accomplishments allow the Air Force to conduct testing of critical military capabilities of the MH-139A as the program progresses towards Milestone C,” AFLCMC said.
Before the Air Force signed off on the four MH-139A test aircraft, they “went through rigorous acceptance test” by pilots from Air Force Global Strike Command Detachment 7 and the 413th Flight Test Squadron–both based at Duke Field, Fla., AFLCMC said.
Integration of two defensive systems on the MH-139A and FAA issuance of STCs on the MH-139A for those subsystems–the ALE-47 Airborne Countermeasures Dispenser System and the Northrop Grumman AAR-47 Missile Warning System–resulted in FAA STC delays for the MH-139A.
In June last year, the Air Force said that the fairing that connects the ALE-47 and the AAR-47 to the MH-139 had caused airflow anomalies but that Boeing had redesigned the fairing and was testing it to validate the fix.
Florida-based Extant Aerospace has said that, since 2001, it has been the Air Force’s prime contractor for the BAE Systems-designed ALE-47. Extant Aerospace said that it buys OEM designs for older products, or licenses them from the builders, to allow OEMs to focus on new product development.
In June, the company said that the FAA certification process had taken longer than expected due to the difficulties in getting hands-on examiners because of COVID-19 and due to the complexity of FAA certification of the military-unique systems.
A Boeing official said in June that an STC for an electronic box for the MH-139A’s Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) had “never gone through an FAA certification because it’s military.”
Commercial aircraft converted to military versions need FAA-approved STCs for military-specific equipment. For the MH-139, Boeing installs unique military equipment on the Leonardo-supplied AW139 commercial helicopter.
In June last year, Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, at the time the service’s top uniformed acquisition official, told a Senate Armed Services Committee panel that the MH-139 requires three STCs from the FAA. Richardson is the new head of Air Force Materiel Command.
Boeing is eyeing a possible low-rate initial production decision for the MH-139A next year.
The MH-139As are to replace the Air Force’s 63 Bell UH-1N helicopters to provide security and support of the U.S. military’s intercontinental ballistic missile fields, civil search-and-rescue capabilities, airlift support and doomsday VIP transportation.
The Air Force awarded Boeing a contract worth $2.38 billion in September 2018 to include up to 84 MH-139As.
Air Force Lt. Col. Josh Hallford, the chief of MH-139 standardization and evaluations for MH-139 Test Detachment 7, said in an AFLCMC statement on Aug. 23 that “the built-in system redundancies and physical performance” of the MH-139A “show great potential for improving on the myriad of missions that have been covered by the venerable Huey for so long.”
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