Unleashed: Grey Wolf flies with all-Air Force crew for first time

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.

Lt. Col. Mary Clark stepped out to the MH-139A Grey Wolf with confidence.

Confidence gained from taking part in and leading in the developmental efforts of the Air Force’s first acquisitioned helicopter.  Those early labors from concept to reality culminated as she climbed into one of the pilot seats for the MH-139A’s first flight under Air Force ownership here Aug. 17.

“This milestone really represents the beginning of Air Force testing for the Grey Wolf,” said Clark, a former requirements officer with the Grey Wolf program, now at the 96th Operations Group.  “We can now open up those test points for the military and push the envelope more to ensure we’re delivering that operational capability the units need out of the helicopter.”

The Grey Wolf achieved this milestone after earning its military flight release, Aug. 12.  The new status allows Air Force-only aircrew to conduct testing on military capabilities of the MH-139A as the program moves forward.  Prior to the military flight release, military and Boeing contractors shared the flight duties since the aircraft’s arrival here in December 2019.

During that two-and-a-half-year period, the military testing fell to the 413th Flight Test Squadron and the AFGSC Detachment 7, in which Clark was a former commander.  The 413th FLTS is the Air Force’s only rotary-wing developmental test unit.

“We learned a lot over the last two years,” Clark said.  “That experience allowed us to shape our test plans and ultimately save time.  We already know some baseline foundational things we don’t have to re-establish in our own program.”

The aircraft’s first flight under its new call sign, Lycan, meaning werewolf, took place above and around Duke Field, an auxiliary field North of Eglin.  The goal of that flight was to validate processes, checklists, maintenance, emergency procedures and aircrew communication and coordination.

Tech. Sgt. Alexander Graves, an AFGSC Det. 7 special missions aviator, was part of both MH-139 first flights with Boeing in early 2020 and now the all-Air Force flight.  The Airman said he hadn’t reflected on his place in Grey Wolf history as the first enlisted to fly in and instruct on one of the Air Force’s newest aircraft.

“What an honor,” said Graves, a former C-130 loadmaster, who was chosen to be part of the Grey Wolf program.  “I never thought in my career I’d be in a position to do something like this.  It’s so rewarding to finally test the things we’ve been building up and to see that work we put in over the last two years pay off now.”

The goal for the next 15 months of testing on the four MH-139As here will be to validate the safety of the aircraft and define the limits and maneuvers that can be performed.  The developmental testing here will make sure the MH-139A meets AFGSC requirements for operational missions and define baseline operational capabilities upon which to build tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The MH-139A will replace the Air Force fleet of UH-1N aircraft, increasing capabilities in speed, range, endurance, payload, and survivability. The Air Force will acquire up to 80 helicopters, training devices, and associated support equipment. The aircraft will provide vertical airlift and support to four major commands and other operating agencies.

From those humble beginnings in concept to feeling the MH-139A’s wheels leave the pavement, Clark said it was truly a magical moment.

“It’s just extremely satisfying to now own and fly something we worked so hard to get,” she said smiling.  “Today the leash was off and we could finally run with the Grey Wolf.”