Airframe: MH-139A Grey Wolf

  • Published
  • By Airman Magazine Staff
  • Airman Magazine

In the age of technological modernization, vertical airlift missions provide defense, deterrence and support for the most important assets of the United States. Over time, advances in modern technology make safeguarding resources more effective and provide better aid to the Airmen accomplishing the mission.

The MH-139A Grey Wolf is a multi-capable twin-engine helicopter capable of providing a wide range of mission support depending on the aircraft’s assigned Major Command. While the platform provides search and rescue capabilities to all commands, it also is slated to provide emergency security response for nuclear security missions within Air Force Global Strike Command and contingency response and airlift to Air Force District of Washington.
Additionally, the MH-139A will provide support to secondary missions within Pacific Air Forces, Air Force Materiel Command and Air Education and Training Command, ranging from general operations support to medical evacuation.
The MH-139A is based on the Leonardo AW139, a commercially-available and proven helicopter. The craft is outfitted with additional capabilities including military communication capabilities, navigation and enhanced survivability features, including an armored cockpit and cabin, a missile warning and countermeasure system, two mounted M240s, and bolstered self-sealing fuel cells.
The Grey Wolf was designed to accomplish a three-hour flight time while cruising at 135 knots (155 mph) without the need for refueling. It’s also capable of carrying nine personnel with necessary combat and security response equipment.



The MH-139A was designed to be a direct replacement to the Air Force’s aging fleet of UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Grey Wolf provides the ability to cruise 50% faster and farther than the Huey, while also having a 30% larger cabin and capability to lift 5,000 pounds more.
In the interest of quality-of-life features, the MH-139A is equipped with full autopilot capability, as well as cutting-edge avionics that enhance situational awareness, reducing both pilot and crew workload.
Because the MH-139A is based on the commercial AW139, there is a wide availability of rotorcraft parts and previously established support systems. This redundancy leads to overall lower operating costs and increased reliability and maintainability, resulting in more than $1 billion in Air Force savings across the life of the helicopter. Additionally, the flight training transition is eased due to previously existing AW139 flight trainers.


Operational History

The AFGSC stood up Detachment 7 at Duke Field, Florida, to support testing and evaluation of the MH-139A. The detachment worked in conjunction with the 96th Test Wing’s 413th Flight Test Squadron.
The first two airframes were delivered for testing in 2019 and the first test flight occurred in February 2020. The first developmental flight after the Air Force took ownership of the crafts took place in August 2022, which marked the milestone for Air Force-only aircrew to test military mission capabilities.
In 2020, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, was selected as the preferred location to host the MH-139A Grey Wolf Formal Training Unit and the 908th Airlift Wing was tasked with the mission. Since then, members have been strategically preparing and anticipating its arrival.
During November 2022, 908th AW’s Unit Training Assembly, one MH-139A Grey Wolf from the 413th Flight Test Squadron in Duke Field, Florida, and two UH-1N Huey’s from the 23rd Flying Training Squadron in Fort Rucker, Alabama, made a stop at Maxwell AFB.
The primary purpose of the visit was for 908th Operations Group and 908th Maintenance Group members to get familiar with the incoming and retiring aircraft, communicate with the helicopter crew and build a closer relationship between each other. This was the first time 908th AW members observed and interacted with their future mission and the legacy they are now inheriting.
The acquisition was contracted through Boeing during a full and open competition at a cost of $2.38 billion — $1.7 billion under budget.
Gen. Timothy Ray, AFGSC commander, named the helicopter “Grey Wolf” during a naming and unveiling ceremony at Duke Field, Florida, Dec. 19, 2019, comparing the helicopter to the wild animal that bears the same name.
“It strikes fear in the hearts of many,” Ray explained. “Its range is absolutely inherent to the –[intercontinental ballistic missile] fields we have. As they hunt as a pack, they attack as one, they bring the force of many. That’s exactly how you need to approach the nuclear security mission.”
The helicopters will provide security and support for the nation’s ICBM fields, which span Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska, in support of U.S. Strategic Command’s nuclear deterrence operations aligned with the National Defense Strategy.


Did You Know?

  • The name Grey Wolf is derived from the wild species that roams the northern tier of North America, which also encompasses the ICBM bases in AFGSC.
  • The 96th Test Wing’s 413th Flight Test Squadron is the Air Force’s only dedicated rotary test unit.

Aircraft Stats

PRIMARY FUNCTION: Intercontinental ballistic missile field security and support, DV lift, aircrew survival training
CONTRACTOR: Boeing, Leonardo and Honeywell
POWER PLANT: Two Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67C turboshaft
THRUST: 1,100 shaft horsepower
LENGTH: 54.7 feet
HEIGHT: 16.3 feet
MAX CRUISING SPEED: 135 knots (155 mph)
RANGE: 225 nautical miles
CEILING: Up to 20,000 feet
ARMAMENT: Two M240 7.62mm machine guns
CREW: Two pilots, one flight engineer
INVENTORY: N/A, 84 planned
(Current as of February 2023)