USS IWO JIMA -- It starts as a faint whisper in the calm of the sea. Gaining speed, it rumbles low across the swells like the beating of an ogre’s heart before it materializes into one of the most distinct and recognizable sounds in modern warfare – the rotor beat of the UH-1N Huey, the Marine Corps’ all-purpose aircraft.
Since the Huey’s genesis in the 1950s, some 40 countries have flown more than 9,000 of the helicopters, making the aircraft the most widely used helicopter in the world. For the Aviation Combat Element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, working toward its Special Operations Capable, or “SOC,” designation during its Certification Exercise, the Huey aids in the Marines’ ability to handle missions ranging from command and control to close air support, said Capt. Patrick M. Klein, a Huey pilot assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced).
“There’s not one other aircraft that can shoot and pick someone up,” said Klein. “It’s a true utility aircraft.”
“The Huey is a very capable airframe,” added Capt. Darin J. Fox, also an HMM-365 (Rein.) Huey pilot. “It’s an agile aircraft that has the ability to carry personnel and cargo as well as provide close air support and a forward firing capability.”
Most noted for its starring role in nearly every Vietnam-ear war film, the Huey continues to be a reliable airframe partly due to its solid design but mostly because of the dedication of crew chiefs who continue to keep it flying, said Gunnery Sgt. Brian Stenberg, HMM-365 Quality Assurance Representative staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge and 14-year Huey crew chief.
“We can do it all, and the reason why is the guys that work on the aircraft,” explained Stenberg. “They’re a great bunch of Marines and they do a lot of work. It’s also a great aircraft and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The Huey’s utility status allows it to share in hunter-killer teams that work in conjunction with the AH-1W Super Cobra, said Klein. Because of the limited view from the cockpit of the Super Cobra, the Huey compliments the attack helicopter by providing a 360-degree view that allows the teams to rain down unparalleled destruction on enemy forces, helping leatherneck shock troops on the ground accomplish their mission.
In addition to its ability to carry 2.75-inch rocket pods and a host of crew-served weapons, the Huey is also capable of seating up to 13 Marines, extracting as many as six casualties from the battlefield, and providing area reconnaissance. Because of its versatility and overwhelming success in combat, the Marine Corps is currently working to upgrade the aircraft by adding the UH-1Y series, which is scheduled to start production this year. Initial deliveries are expected in 2008.
Recently, the four blade UH-1Y made its first shipboard landings May 7, while conducting “sea trials” aboard the USS Bataan. According to Stenberg, the new upgrades are going to give the Huey the only thing it could use more of – power.
“More power and more lift is what we really need more than anything,” said Stenberg. “The Huey is an excellent platform, and the upgrades are going to help us be a lot less maintenance intensive.”
“Most people don’t realize how skilled you have to be to fly the Huey,” added Klein. “We don’t have the excess power that some of the other aircraft have, so we just can’t pull power to get out of problems.”
It’s clear that the future of the Huey is secure, not only because of the contributions of its current pilots and crew chiefs but because of the legacy of those Marines that flew before them. For an aircraft steeped in history, the constant push to improve and its proven record of combat success ensures that the distinct sound of the Huey will continue to be the answer to the prayers of the wounded and the soundtrack to the nightmares of the enemy.
“It’s great just being a part of the history and flying on an aircraft that flew in Vietnam,” said Stenberg. “The systems may have changed, but the sound of the Huey has never changed.”