WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is taking a year off from buying the MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter due to ongoing delays in getting the platform certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, service officials said Friday.
“Basically what we are doing is we are deferring the procurement of the MH-139 until [fiscal 2023]. It’s not in the budget in FY22 due to an FAA certification issue that we have experienced,” said Carlos Rodgers, Air Force associate deputy assistant secretary for budget.
The MH-139 is built by a Boeing-Leonardo team based on the latter’s commercial AW139 helicopter. Because the MH-139A contains military-unique equipment, it must go through the process of obtaining an updated FAA airworthiness certification, the Air Force said in a statement.
“Technical issues discovered during contractor testing have caused the certification delay,” the service stated. “The program office is currently evaluating courses of action and will have a better understanding of the program impact in the coming months.”
The MH-139A is set to replace the UH-1N Huey, which is used for a wide variety of missions such as monitoring intercontinental ballistic missile fields, conducting search and rescue, and transporting VIPs in the national capital region.
The service purchased eight MH-139As in FY21 and anticipated buying another eight Grey Wolf helicopters in FY22. The first MH-139 was delivered to the Air Force in December 2019. The service intends to procure 84 Grey Wolfs over the program of record.
The Air Force provided no further information about the “technical issues” that caused the delay to FAA certification. However, the Government Accountability Office warned in June 2020 that the program was in danger of delays or cost overruns if the FAA required additional engine power tests. At the time, the Air Force did not believe that additional testing would be necessary.
A Boeing spokeswoman declined to provide additional information about the cause of the schedule delay.
“Boeing, in conjunction with its supplier partner Leonardo Helicopters, continues to move forward to complete certification testing of the MH-139A Grey Wolf aircraft in coordination with the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration,” she said. “The aircraft currently in Florida are performing well during the initial stage of the joint flight test program.”
Boeing won a $2.38 billion firm, fixed-price award for the Huey replacement in September 2018, offering a price of $1.7 billion less than the program’s initial estimate. The company has 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.
According to budget documents, the MH-139 is expected to start operational test and evaluation beginning in FY22.
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.