Huey Among Hercs
In late August 1945, the last of the 668 B-29 Superfortress bombers built under license by Bell Aircraft was taxied off the B-4 Ramp at what is today the Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Georgia. On 30 August 2016, an aircrew in another Bell-built aircraft, a UH-1H helicopter, air taxied in. This particular Huey arrived in the land of the Hercules to start a new career as a ground-based laboratory asset.
During World War II, the newly built B-29s were towed out of the 3.4 million square foot main assembly building and prepared for first flight and delivery in a 218,000 square foot hangar designated B-4. In 2008, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training (now Rotor and Mission Systems, or RMS) opened a small command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) laboratory in the corner of B-4, about 100 yards from the end of the Hercules assembly line.
Known as the Raven Works, a primary purpose of this laboratory is to test and integrate Universal Communications Platform, or UCP, equipment that translate and extend communications with existing infrastructure over IP networks. The lab uses demonstrations, field experimentation, and in-theater assessments to dramatically shorten the time it takes to develop and field new communications technologies that enhance end user capabilities.
“We focus on our comms gear working with common tools that everyone has, like cell phones,” noted Ed Balunas, the Raven Works program manager in Marietta. “We operate our equipment in real environments on field exercises with groups like Special Operations Command, Department of Homeland Security, and Customs and Border Protection.”
Over the years, the Raven Works has accumulated a number of platforms, such as Humvees, trailers, trucks, mobile command posts, and even a boat to field test new equipment. “About the only thing we don’t have now is a submarine and a tank,” added Balunas.
Sikorsky, now a part of Lockheed Martin, has an entire helicopter advanced development division at its main Stratford, Connecticut, facility augmented by the Mission Systems division in Owego, New York. A natural migration from the Huey to an H-60 Blackhawk testbed is being studied to reduce risk on existing and proposed helicopter programs.
“Rather than send this Huey to a museum, we worked out a deal to bring it to Marietta and use it in the lab,” said Balunas. “Although it won’t fly again, we’ll roll it out on the ramp as needed and we can communicate over the air with an actual air asset.”
The UH-1 utility helicopter is officially nicknamed Iroquois, following the US Army’s tradition of naming helicopters after Native American tribes. The more than 16,000 military and civilian variants of this helicopter type are still today universally referred to as Huey, which comes from the original pre-1962 designation, HU-1.
This particular Huey began its career as a UH-1D in 1963. It saw service in Vietnam, including the November 1965 battle in the Ia Drang Valley, the first major engagement between the US and North Vietnamese armies chronicled in the book (and later movie) We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young. It later received an upgraded T53 engine and airframe upgrades and was redesignated UH-1H.
After Vietnam, it was assigned to the Army National Guard and then passed through two civilian owners (where it appeared in the movie Apocalypse Now) before Lockheed Martin bought it in 2002 and converted it into a flying test bed.
“Over the fourteen years we flew it, we used it on dozens of programs and product tests,” noted Steve Colby, who holds the unique position of being both a test pilot and a business development representative for RMS. “We could modify it ourselves and we used it for everything from TF/TA (terrain following/terrain avoidance radar) to active millimeter wave programs to antenna pattern testing work on the new Presidential helicopter.”
The Huey that Colby and copilot Mark Stuart landed in Marietta in 2016 was a far cry from the helicopter that rolled off the Bell assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas, fifty-two years earlier.
This helicopter featured a full glass cockpit, universal sensor mounts in the nose and below the nose to test forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and electro-optical (EO) turrets, active radars, and is equipped to run five different GPS systems simultaneously to provide navigation state data to the aircrew and the flight test team that sat behind the flight crew. It was configured with exceptionally powerful mission computing resources that allowed active or passive TF/TA flight. This Huey also was equipped with a separate dedicated power conditioning rack to provide tailored electrical power for the sensors, equipment or antennae being tested. It even had LED navigation lights installed.
The aircraft also had significant structural modifications to improve tail rotor authority over the legacy UH-1H design. A modified tail design called a Fast Fin allowed the tail rotor wash to go around the vertical stabilizer, rather than be blocked by it. The tail boom structure itself was redesigned to use the main rotor downwash to augment the tail rotor anti-torque properties, making the tail boom essentially a wing whose lateral lift increases with increases in main rotor power and downwash.
The tail rotor driveshaft cover is made of nanotube composites formulated by the RMS Advanced Nano Structures group. The male side of the cover’s piano hinge is integral structure, which reduced part count and weight while increasing structural strength. Because the drive shaft cover is composite, conformal antennae could also be tested.
The final flight from New York to Georgia covered about seven flight hours with stops in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Charlottesville, Virginia, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina before arriving in Marietta. This UH-1 ended its flying career with about 8,700 flight hours, which Colby noted is “pretty low time for a fifty-three year old Huey.”
“This was an incredibly useful aircraft,” Colby concluded. “And it will be a very useful tool for us in the future,” Balunas added.
Written by Jeff Rhodes, editor of Code One.