58th SOW UH-1N reaches 20,000 flight hours – five times its original life expectancy

  • Published
  • By Britianie Teston
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A 58th Operations Group, Det 2, UH-1N “Huey” Helicopter achieved a significant milestone, logging an impressive 20,000 flight hours on March 18, 2024, at Kirtland Air Force Base. This is only the third Huey to reach this milestone, giving it one of the highest numbers of flight hours for Huey’s across the Department of Defense.

Reaching the 20,000 flight hours milestone is a significant achievement that reflects not only the enduring commitment of the aircrew who have operated it over the aircraft’s 55 years of service, but also the dedication of the aircraft’s maintenance crews.

“We have some of the finest mechanics from a wide variety of backgrounds. It’s a good diverse group that have worked on these aircraft,” said Bryon Lupton, Flight Line Lead Mechanic. “It’s a team effort with our uniformed crews and how well they also treat the aircraft.”

The UH-1N Huey helicopter holds a distinguished place in aviation history. Developed by Bell Helicopter in the late 1960’s, the UH-1N was specifically designed to meet the needs of the United States military for a utility and transport helicopter. It quickly became a workhorse for various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, serving in roles ranging from troop transportation and medical evacuation to search and rescue missions. The UH-1N saw extensive action during the Vietnam war, where its versatility and reliability earned it widespread acclaim among pilots and ground forces alike.

Over the years, it underwent several upgrades and adaptations to suit evolving mission requirements to extend the lifecycle of the aircraft. Beyond its military service, the UH-1N found application in civilian operations, including law enforcement, firefighting, and humanitarian aid missions. Its enduring legacy as a dependable and adaptable helicopter continues to resonate, cementing its status as one of the most iconic aircraft in history.

“This milestone is an opportunity to hit pause and reflect on the job the team has done,” said Maj. Gordon Blair, Commander 58th OG, Det 2. “It doesn’t happen without the people. The aircraft doesn’t have a purpose without the mission, and it can’t continue without our professional aircrew and our expert maintenance team.”

This record speaks volumes about the teamwork, rigorous maintenance protocols, and robust design of the UH-1N, which have enabled it to continue serving reliably despite the demanding operational environment.

“For the age of the aircraft to actually be in the shape that we are able to maintain these in is pretty significant,” Lupton said, describing how the UH-1N’s were initially designed for 4,000 flight hours. “And here we are at 20,000 hours still flying it.”

The 58th Operations Group, Det 2, on Kirtland AFB stood up in June 2023 and is the Air Force’s only UH-1N formal training unit, responsible for providing trained UH-1N helicopter pilots and special mission aviators to five major commands. Aircrew members are trained and qualified for worldwide employment in national security, VIP transportation operations, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training support.

The first UH-1N crossed the 20,000-hour threshold in January 2023 at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. All three Huey’s holding this record are currently at Kirtland AFB and are part of the 58th Special Operations Wing’s fleet. The 58th OG, Det 2, currently house six UH-1N helicopters and graduates approximately 120 students annually.

“Reaching this number of flight hours is a data point that clearly reflects how much we need these airframes and that the mission they accomplish is still valuable,” said Blair, noting how most of the aviators even prefer the UH-1N over any other aircraft. “It’s stood the test of time and continues to meet the requirements of the job.”

If the iron walls of these aircraft could talk, they would share stories of generations of aircrew, students, and maintainers, operations across the world, and even of some of the lives they’ve saved.  Once during routine training, this UH-1N performed a life-saving patient transfer from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico after a call came in from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. While this type of mission is not routine, the capability and professionalism of the crew and the aircraft were unmatched. 

One thing is clear—when the call of duty rings, Kirtland’s UH-1N’s, aircrew, and maintenance team alike, step up and meet the challenge.