The first combat operation of the UH-1 was in the service of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The original designation of HU-1 led to the helicopter’s nickname of Huey. In September 1962, the designation was changed to UH-1, but “Huey” remained in common use. Approximately 7,000 UH-1 aircraft saw service in Vietnam.
In 1952, the Army identified a requirement for a new helicopter to serve as medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), instrument trainer and general utility aircraft. The Army determined that current helicopters were too large, underpowered, or were too complex to maintain easily. In November 1953, revised military requirements were submitted to the Department of the Army. Twenty companies submitted designs in their bid for the contract, including Bell Helicopter with the Model 204 and Kaman Aircraft with a turbine-powered version of the H-43. On 23 February 1955, the Army announced its decision, selecting Bell to build three copies of the Model 204 for evaluation, designated as the XH-40.
Powered by a prototype Lycoming YT53-L-1 (LTC1B-1) engine producing 700 shp (520 kW), the XH-40 first flew on 20 October 1956, at Fort Worth, Texas, with Bell’s chief test pilot, Floyd Carlson, at the controls. Two more prototypes were built in 1957, and the Army had previously ordered six YH-40 service test aircraft, even before the first prototype had flown. In March 1960, the Army awarded Bell a production contract for 100 aircraft, which was designated as the HU-1A and officially named Iroquois, after the native American nations.
The helicopter quickly developed a nickname derived from its designation of HU-1, which came to be pronounced as “Huey”. The reference became so popular that Bell began casting the name on the helicopter’s anti-torque pedals. The official U.S. Army name was almost never used in practice. After September 1962, the designation for all models was changed to UH-1 under a unified Department of Defense (DOD) designation system, but the nickname remained.
While glowing in praise for the helicopter’s advances over piston-engined helicopters, the Army reports from the service tests of the YH-40 found it to be underpowered with the production T53-L-1A powerplant producing a maximum continuous 770 shaft horsepower (570 kilowatts). The Army indicated the need for improved, follow-on models even as the first UH-1As were being delivered. In response, Bell proposed the UH-1B, equipped with the Lycoming T53-L-5 engine producing 960 shp (720 kW) and a longer cabin that could accommodate seven passengers, or four stretchers and a medical attendant. Army testing of the UH-1B started in November 1960, with the first production aircraft delivered in March 1961.
Bell commenced development of the UH-1C in 1960, to correct aerodynamic deficiencies of the armed UH-1B. Bell fitted the UH-1C with a 1,100 shp (820 kW) T53-L-11 engine to provide the power needed to lift all weapons systems in use or under development. The Army would eventually refit all UH-1B aircraft with the same engine. A new rotor system was developed for the UH-1C to allow higher air speeds and reduce the incidence of retreating blade stall during diving engagements. The improved rotor resulted in better maneuverability and a slight speed increase. The increased power and a larger diameter rotor required Bell’s engineers to design a new tail boom for the UH-1C. The longer tail boom incorporated a wider chord vertical fin on the tail rotor pylon and larger synchronized elevators.
Bell also introduced a dual hydraulic control system for redundancy, and an improved inlet filter system for the dusty conditions found in southeast Asia. The UH-1C fuel capacity was increased to 242 US gallons (920 liters) and gross weight was raised to 9,500 lb (4,309 kg), giving a nominal useful load of 4,673 lb (2,120 kg). UH-1C production started in June 1966, with a total of 766 aircraft produced, including five for the Royal Australian Navy (given serial prefix of N9) and five for Norway.
While earlier “short-body” Hueys were a success, the Army wanted a version that could carry more troops. Bell’s solution was to stretch the HU-1B fuselage by 41 in (104 cm) and use the extra space to fit four seats next to the transmission, facing out. Seating capacity increased to 15, including crew. The enlarged cabin could also accommodate six stretchers and a medic, two more than the earlier models. In place of the earlier model’s sliding side doors with a single window, larger doors were fitted which had two windows, plus a small hinged panel with an optional window, providing access to the cabin. The doors and hinged panels were quickly removable, allowing the Huey to be flown in a “doors off” configuration.
The Model 205 prototype flew on 16 August 1961. Seven pre-production/prototype aircraft had been delivered for testing at Edwards AFB starting in March 1961. The 205 was initially equipped with a 44-foot (13.4 m) main rotor and a Lycoming T53-L-9 engine with 1,100 shp (820 kW). The rotor was lengthened to 48 feet (14.6 m) with a chord of 21 in (53 cm). The tailboom was also lengthened, in order to accommodate the longer rotor blades. Altogether, the modifications resulted in a gross weight capacity of 9,500 lb (4,309 kg). The Army ordered production of the 205 in 1963, produced with a T53-L-11 engine for its multi-fuel capability. The prototypes were designated as YUH-1D and the production aircraft was designated as the UH-1D.
In 1966, Bell installed the 1,400 shp (1,000 kW) Lycoming T53-L-13 engine to provide more power for the aircraft. The pitot tube was relocated from the nose to the roof of the cockpit, to prevent damage during landing. Production models in this configuration were designated as the UH-1H.
In 1962, the United States Marines Corps held a competition to choose an assault support helicopter to replace the Cessna O-1 fixed-wing aircraft and the Kaman OH-43D helicopter. The winner was the UH-1B, which was already in service with the Army. The helicopter was designated the UH-1E and modified to meet Marine requirements. The major changes included the use of all-aluminum construction for corrosion resistance, radios compatible with Marine Corps ground frequencies, a rotor brake for shipboard use to stop the rotor quickly on shutdown and a roof-mounted rescue hoist.
The UH-1E was first flown on 7 October 1963, and deliveries commenced 21 February 1964, with 192 aircraft completed. Due to production line realities at Bell, the UH-1E was produced in two different versions, both with the same UH-1E designation. The first 34 built were essentially UH-1B airframes with the Lycoming T53-L-11 engine producing 1,100 shp (820 kW). When Bell switched production to the UH-1C, the UH-1E production benefited from the same changes. The Marine Corps later upgraded UH-1E engines to the Lycoming T53-L-13, which produced 1,400 shp (1,000 kW), after the Army introduced the UH-1M and upgraded their UH-1C helicopters to the same engine.
The United States Air Force’s (USAF) competition for a helicopter to be used for support on missile bases included a specific requirement to mandate the use of the General Electric T58 turboshaft as a powerplant. The Air Force had a large inventory of these engines on hand for its fleet of HH-3 Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters and using the same engine for both helicopters would save costs. In response, Bell proposed an upgraded version of the 204B with the T58 engine. Because the T58 output shaft is at the rear, and was thus mounted in front of the transmission on the HH-3, it had to have a separate offset gearbox (SDG or speed decreaser gearbox) at the rear, and shafting to couple to the UH-1 transmission.
Twin engine variants
The single engine UH-1 variants were followed by the twin-engine UH-1N Twin Huey and later the UH-1Y Venom. Bell began development of the UH-1N for Canada in 1968. It changed to the more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T twin-engine set. The U.S. also ordered the helicopter with the U.S. Air Force receiving it in 1970. Canada’s military, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Navy first received the model in 1971.
In 1996, the USMC began the H-1 upgrade program by awarding a contract to Bell Helicopter for developing the improved UH-1Y and AH-1Zs variants. The UH-1Y includes a lengthened cabin, four-blade rotor and two more powerful GE T700 engines. The UH-1Y entered service with the USMC in 2008.
The UH-1 has a metal fuselage of semi-monocoque construction with tubular landing skids and two rotor blades on the main rotor. Early UH-1 models featured a single Lycoming T53 turboshaft engine in versions with power ratings from 700 shp (522 kW) to 1,400 shp (1,040 kW). Later UH-1 and related models would feature twin engines and four-blade rotors.
All aircraft in the UH-1 family have similar construction. The UH-1H is the most-produced version, and is representative of all types. The main structure consists of two longitudinal main beams that run under the passenger cabin to the nose and back to the tail boom attachment point. The main beams are separated by transverse bulkheads and provide the supporting structure for the cabin, landing gear, under-floor fuel tanks, transmission, engine and tail boom. The main beams are joined at the lift beam, a short aluminum girder structure that is attached to the transmission via a lift link on the top and the cargo hook on the bottom and is located at the aircraft’s center of gravity. The lift beams were changed to steel later in the UH-1H’s life, due to cracking on high-time airframes. The semi-monocoque tail boom attaches to the fuselage with four bolts.
The UH-1H’s dynamic components include the engine, transmission, rotor mast, main rotor blades, tail rotor driveshaft, and the 42-degree and 90-degree gearboxes. The transmission is of a planetary type and reduces the engine’s output to 324 rpm at the main rotor. The two-bladed, semi-rigid rotor design, with pre-coned and under-slung blades, is a development of early Bell model designs, such as the Bell 47 with which it shares common design features, including a dampened stabilizer bar. The two-bladed system reduces storage space required for the aircraft, but at a cost of higher vibration levels. The two-bladed design is also responsible for the characteristic ‘Huey thump’ when the aircraft is in flight, which is particularly evident during descent and in turning flight. The tail rotor is driven from the main transmission, via the two directional gearboxes which provide a tail rotor speed approximately six times that of the main rotor to increase tail rotor effectiveness.
The UH-1H also features a synchronized elevator on the tail boom, which is linked to the cyclic control and allows a wider center of gravity range. The standard fuel system consists of five interconnected fuel tanks, three of which are mounted behind the transmission and two of which are under the cabin floor. The landing gear consists of two arched cross tubes joining the skid tubes. The skids have replaceable sacrificial skid shoes to prevent wear of the skid tubes themselves. Skis and inflatable floats may be fitted.
Internal seating is made up of two pilot seats and additional seating for up to 13 passengers or crew in the cabin. The maximum seating arrangement consists of a four-man bench seat facing rearwards behind the pilot seats, facing a five-man bench seat in front of the transmission structure, with two, two-man bench seats facing outwards from the transmission structure on either side of the aircraft. All passenger seats are constructed of aluminum tube frames with canvas material seats, and are quickly removable and reconfigurable. The cabin may also be configured with up to six stretchers, an internal rescue hoist, auxiliary fuel tanks, spotlights, or many other mission kits. Access to the cabin is via two aft-sliding doors and two small, forward-hinged panels. The doors and hinged panels may be removed for flight or the doors may be pinned open. Pilot access is via individual hinged doors.
While the five main fuel tanks are self-sealing, the UH-1H was not equipped with factory armor, although armored pilot seats were available.
The UH-1H’s dual controls are conventional for a helicopter and consist of a single hydraulic system boosting the cyclic stick, collective lever and anti-torque pedals. The collective levers have integral throttles, although these are not used to control rotor rpm, which is automatically governed, but are used for starting and shutting down the engine. The cyclic and collective control the main rotor pitch through torque tube linkages to the swash plate, while the anti-torque pedals change the pitch of the tail rotor via a tensioned cable arrangement. Some UH-1Hs have been modified to replace the tail rotor control cables with torque tubes similar to the UH-1N Twin Huey.
The HU-1A (later redesignated UH-1A) first entered service with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the 57th Medical Detachment. Although intended for evaluation only, the Army quickly pressed the new helicopter into operational service and Hueys with the 57th Medical Detachment arrived in Vietnam in March 1962.
The UH-1 has long been a symbol of US involvement in Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, and as a result of that conflict, has become one of the world’s most recognized helicopters. In Vietnam primary missions included general support, air assault, cargo transport, aeromedical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and later, ground attack. During the conflict, the craft was upgraded, notably to a larger version based on the Model 205. This version was initially designated the UH-1D and flew operationally from 1963.
Infantry 1-9 US Cavalry exiting UH-1D
During service in the Vietnam War, the UH-1 was used for various purposes and various terms for each task abounded. UH-1s tasked with a ground attack or armed escort role were outfitted with rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and machine guns. As early as 1962, UH-1s were modified locally by the companies themselves, who fabricated their own mounting systems. These gunship UH-1s were commonly referred to as Frogs or Hogs if they carried rockets, and Cobras or simply Guns if they had guns. UH-1s tasked and configured for troop transport were often called Slicks due to an absence of weapons pods. Slicks did have door gunners, but were generally employed in the troop transport and medevac roles.
UH-1s also flew hunter-killer teams with observation helicopters, namely the Bell OH-58A Kiowa and the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse (Loach). Towards the end of the conflict, the UH-1 was tested with TOW missiles, and two UH-1B helicopters equipped with the XM26 Armament Subsystem were deployed to help counter the 1972 Easter Invasion. USAF Lieutenant James P. Fleming piloted a UH-1F on a 26 November 1968 mission that earned him the Medal of Honor.
In Cavalry troops (companies), there were three platoons. The blue platoon had aero-rifle soldiers and their organic UH-1 troop transports for feet-on-the ground reconnaissance and to support other platoons. The reconnaissance or observation helicopter platoon was known as the Whites. The attack helicopter platoon was called the Reds. The red platoon had Huey or Huey Cobra attack helicopters. Mixed-platoon teams were often used. Purple teams had one or two Blue slicks dropping off scout troops, while one or two Red attack helicopters provided protection. Another highly effective team was the Pink Recon/Attack team, which had a single scout helicopter and a single attack helicopter to defend the scout and to attack discovered enemy troops.
During the course of the war, the UH-1 went through several upgrades. The UH-1A, B, and C models (short fuselage, Bell 204) and the UH-1D and H models (stretched-fuselage, Bell 205) each had improved performance and load-carrying capabilities. The UH-1B and C performed the gunship, and some of the transport, duties in the early years of the Vietnam War. UH-1B/C gunships were replaced by the new AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter from 1967 to late 1968. The increasing intensity and sophistication of NVA anti-aircraft defenses made continued use of UH-1 gunships impractical, and after Vietnam the Cobra was adopted as the Army’s main attack helicopter. Devotees of the UH-1 in the gunship role cite its ability to act as an impromptu dustoff if the need arose, as well as the superior observational capabilities of the larger Huey cockpit, which allowed return fire from door gunners to the rear and sides of the aircraft.
During the war 7,013 UH-1s served in Vietnam and of these 3,305 were destroyed. In total 1,074 Huey pilots were killed, along with 1,103 other crew members.
The US Army phased out the UH-1 with the introduction of the UH-60 Black Hawk, although the Army UH-1 Residual Fleet had around 700 UH-1s that were to be retained until 2015, primarily in support of Army Aviation training at Fort Rucker and in selected Army National Guard units. Army support for the craft was intended to end in 2004. The UH-1 Huey was retired from active Army service in 2005. In 2009, Army National Guard retirements of the UH-1 accelerated with the introduction of the UH-72 Lakota.
U.S. Air Force
In October 1965, the USAF 20th Helicopter Squadron was formed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, equipped initially with CH-3C helicopters. By June 1967 the UH-1F and UH-1P were also added to the unit’s inventory, and by the end of the year the entire unit had shifted from Tan Son Nhut to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, with the CH-3s transferring to the 21st Helicopter Squadron. On 1 August 1968, the unit was redesignated the 20th Special Operations Squadron. The 20th SOS’s UH-1s were known as the Green Hornets, stemming from their color, a primarily green two-tone camouflage (green and tan) was carried, and radio call-sign “Hornet”. The main role of these helicopters were to insert and extract reconnaissance teams, provide cover for such operations, conduct psychological warfare, and other support roles for covert operations especially in Laos and Cambodia during the so-called Secret War.
The US Navy began acquiring UH-1B helicopters from the Army and these aircraft were modified into gunships with special gun mounts and radar altimeters and were known as Seawolves in service with Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) (HA(L)-3). UH-1C helicopters were also acquired in the 1970s. The Seawolves worked as a team with Navy river patrol operations.
Four years after the disestablishment of HA(L)-3, the Navy determined that it still had a need for gunships, establishing two new Naval Reserve Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadrons as part of the newly formed Commander, Helicopter Wing Reserve (COMHELWINGRES) in 1976. Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) Five (HA(L)-5), nicknamed the “Blue Hawks”, was established at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California on the 11 June 1977 and its sister squadron, Helicopter Attack Squadron (Light) Four (HA(L)-4), known as the Red Wolves, was formed at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia on 1 July 1976.
The Royal Australian Air Force employed the UH-1H until 1989. Iroquois helicopters of No. 9 Squadron RAAF were deployed to South Vietnam in mid 1966 in support of the 1st Australian Task Force. In this role they were armed with single M60 doorguns. In 1969 four of No. 9 Squadron’s helicopters were converted to gunships (known as ‘Bushrangers’), armed with two fixed forward firing M134 7.62 mm minigun (one each side) and a 7 round rocket pod on each side. Aircrew were armed with twin M60 flexible mounts in each door. UH-1 helicopters were used in many roles including troop transport, medevac and Bushranger gunships for armed support. No. 35 Squadron and No. 5 Squadron also operated the Iroquois in various roles through the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1982 and 1986, the squadron contributed aircraft and aircrew to the Australian helicopter detachment which formed part of the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. In 1988 the RAAF began to re-equip with S-70A Blackhawks.
In 1989 and 1990 the RAAF’s UH-1H Iroquois were subsequently transferred to the 171st Aviation Squadron in Darwin, Northern Territory and the 5th Aviation Regiment based in Townsville, Queensland following the decision that all battlefield helicopters would be operated by the Australian Army. On 21 September 2007, the Australian Army retired the last of their Bell UH-1s. The last flight occurred in Brisbane on that day with the aircraft replaced by MRH-90 medium helicopters and Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters.
The Royal Australian Navy’s 723 Squadron also operated seven UH-1B from 1964 to 1989, with three of these aircraft lost in accidents during that time. 723 Squadron deployed Iroquois aircraft and personnel as part of the Experimental Military Unit during the Vietnam War.
The RAAF primarily operated the Bravo and later Hotel models (for a full history of 9 Squadron and airframes, go to the full history here). The flollowing is a brief summary of the B and H variants:
The HU-1B was an improved model that was equipped with the Lycoming T53-L-5 engine of 960 shp (720 kW), revised main rotor blades of 44-foot (13 m) diameter and 21-inch (530 mm) chord, 13 inch higher rotor mast and a longer cabin that could accommodate seven passengers. This version was redesignated UH-1B in 1962.
Later production UH-1Bs were equipped with Lycoming T53-L-9 and L-11 engines of 1,100 shp (820 kW). Gross weight was 8,500 lb (3,900 kg) and the standard empty weight was 4,513 lb (2,047 kg).
Army testing of the “B” model started in November 1960 with first production aircraft arriving in March 1961. A total of 1010 “Bravo” models were delivered to the US Army. First deployment was in November 1963 when eleven were sent to Vietnam to join the “Alpha” models already in use by UTTCO.
The UH-1H was an improved UH-1D, with the Lycoming T53-L-13 engine of 1,400 shp (1,000 kW) installed, plus the pitot tube relocated from the nose to the roof, to reduce ground damage to it. “Hotel” models were created by upgrading “Deltas” with the more powerful engine. The first YUH-1H flew in 1966 with deliveries of production models starting in September 1967.
The “Hotel” model Huey was produced in larger numbers than any other model, with 4,850 delivered to the US Army alone. The “Hotel” model was widely exported and was also built under license in Germany, Italy, Japan and Taiwan.
Ten were sold to Canada for use under the designation CUH-1H with the first one was delivered on 6 March 1968. These were evaluated by the Canadian Forces and found unsuitable for Canadian tactical use, which resulted in the Canadian government sponsoring the development of the twin-engined version of the “Hotel”, the UH-1N Twin Huey. The ten CUH-1Hs were re-equipped for search and rescue use, redesignated CH-118 and served until 1995.
Bell developed a certified version of the UH-1H for the civil market. The aircraft incorporated minor changes for safety, such as dual sliding door locks and a baggage compartment in the tailboom. It was marketed by Bell as the Model 205A and later the improved 205A-1.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force currently has an active fleet of 13 Iroquois serving with No. 3 Squadron RNZAF. The first delivery was five UH-1D in 1966 followed in 1970 by nine UH-1H and one more UH-1H in 1976. All of the UH-1D aircraft were upgraded to 1H specification during the 1970s. Two ex-U.S. Army UH-1H attrition airframes were purchased in 1996, one of which is currently in service. Three aircraft have been lost in accidents.
The RNZAF is currently in the process of retiring the Iroquois. The NHIndustries NH90 has been chosen as the replacement aircraft. This process is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.
The 352 licensed German UH-1D variants built by Dornier between 1967 and 1981 saw service with the military (Bundeswehr) by the German Army and German Air Force as light utility as well as search and rescue (SAR) helicopters. In addition the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) made extensive use of the UH-1 before replacing them with newer Eurocopter EC135 helicopters.
UH-1s were operated by El Salvador Air Force, being at its time the biggest and most experienced combat helicopter force in Central and South America, fighting during 10 years and being trained by US Army in tactics developed during the Vietnam War. UH-1M and UH-1H helicopters used by El Salvador were modified to carry bombs instead of rocket pods.
During the battle of Nahr el-Bared camp in North Lebanon, the Lebanese army, lacking fixed-wing aircraft, modified the UH-1H allowing it to carry 500 lb (227 kg) Mark 82 bombs to strike militant positions. Each Huey was equipped on each side with special mounts engineered by the Lebanese army, to carry the high explosive bombs.
Very late in the Rhodesian Bush War the Rhodesian Air Force was able to obtain and use eleven former Israeli Agusta-Bell 205As, known in service as Cheetahs. After much work these then formed No. 8 Sqn Rhodesian Air Force and took part as troop transports in the counter-insurgency fight. One was lost in combat in September 1979, when hit in Mozambique by a RPG. At least another three were lost. The survivors were put up for sale in 1990.
Nine Argentine Army Aviation UH-1Hs and two Argentine Air Force Bell 212 were included with the aircraft deployed during the Falklands War. They performed general transport and SAR missions and were based at Port Stanley (BAM Puerto Argentino). Two of the Hueys were destroyed and, after the hostilities had ended, the balance were captured by the British.
Israel withdrew its UH-1s from service in 2002, after thirty three years of service. They were replaced by Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters beginning with an initial batch of 10 delivered in 1994. While some were passed on to pro-Israeli militias in Lebanon, eleven other UH-1Ds were reportedly sold to a Singapore based logging company but were, instead, delivered in October 1978 to the Rhodesian Air Force to skirt the UN endorsed embargo imposed during the Rhodesian Bush War.
The Philippine Air Force employs the UH-1 for transport and search and rescue. The PAF also used the UH-1 Helicopters during the 2000 Campaign Against Terrorism of the Philippine Government.
Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–)
UH-1Hs have been used by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in counter-narcotics raids in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. Operated by contractors, these Hueys provide transportation, surveillance, and air support for DEA FAST teams. Four UH-1Hs and two Mi-17s were used in a raid in July 2009 which led to the arrest of an Afghan Border Police commander.