The US Air Force (USAF) has placed an order for seven more MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopters with Boeing in a $178m contract. This will increase the number of units in their wider framework agreement to 26 rotorcraft in total.

According to GlobalData intelligence, the framework was originally awarded to Boeing to deliver 84 units that amounted to $3bn in September 2018.

Based on Leonardo’s AW139 commercial helicopter model, the militarised variant developed by Boeing and Leonardo will replace the 59 UH-1N Huey helicopters in the USAF acquired from as early as 1970.

A batch of eight MH-139A helicopters were initially procured in fiscal year 2021. Since then, the USAF delayed further procurement of the helicopters until 2023 due to an issue in the Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness certification.

The award comes on the heels of the first production aircraft taking its initial flight in December 2023. With the first production aircraft currently undergoing additional testing and other aircraft in various stages of production, Boeing is on track to deliver the first low rate initial production aircraft to service in summer 2024.

Grey Wolf role and features

Grey Wolf will support the intercontinental ballistic missile missions of the US covering Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, and Nebraska while complementing the country’s nuclear deterrence operations in line with the National Defence Strategy.

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As a multi-mission helicopter, Grey Wolf can also be used for transporting US Government officials and security forces, civil search and rescue missions, airlift support, National Capital Region missions, and survival school and test support.

It is a dual-piloted, twin-engine helicopter integrated with survivability enhancement features as well as military communication and navigation systems.

The 54.63 foot long MH-139A helicopter is designed to carry nine combat-equipped troops and security response equipment.

Grey Wolf has a cruising speed of 135 knots (kt) and a maximum speed of 167kt. It can reach a minimum range of 225 nautical miles without the need for refuelling. The maximum endurance of the rotorcraft is three hours.

It provides improved operational flexibility and performance with 50% faster cruise speed, 50% better range and 30% larger cabin than the existing platform. It can lift a load of 5,000 pounds more than the standard platform and is incorporated with full autopilot capability to reduce the pilot’s workload.