58th Special Ops Wing celebrates a UH-1H passing 15,000 airframe hours

58th Special Ops Wing celebrates a UH-1H passing 15,000 airframe hours

24-Jun-2011 Source: US Air Force

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — Forty years after it came into the Air Force inventory, the 58th Special Operations Wing celebrated a rare mark of longevity when UH-1H 69-6650 passed 15,000 hours in the air May 25.

“As only the second UH-1 to surpass that number of flying hours, we wanted to mark the occasion,” said Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Wichers, 512th Rescue Squadron assistant director of operations. “With only 62 left in active service, we wanted to capture the moment,” he said.

The 58th Special Operations Wing’s most senior UH-1 pilot, Mr. Ken Witte, employed by M1 Support Services as a maintenance test pilot for the wing, was chosen to fly the milestone mission.

“I was honored to be chosen. This mission was a capstone to my flying career, as well,” said Mr. Witte.

A retired Air Force pilot, Mr. Witte spent his entire career flying the UH-1 and has logged more than 4,200 hours at the controls of four different versions of the venerable airframe.
“I’ve heard it said that they didn’t expect to log more than 1,500 flight hours each,” Witte says about the aircraft, “certainly under wartime conditions like in Vietnam.”

With more than 7,000 Hueys used in that conflict and 10,000 produced since its inception in 1960, this rotary-wing aircraft has proven its versatility and lived up to its “utility” designation, added Mr. Witte.

While Mr. Witte missed the Vietnam War, he spent plenty of time flying missile field security, search and rescue, and instructing new pilots on the special nature of the “Huey.”

“It’s a real blue-collar aircraft, especially in comparison with the more modern helicopters in the inventory, like the UH-60 Blackhawk,” said Witte. The Huey was designed and is flown without the benefit of more contemporary fly-by-wire technology now in use, he said. While 15,000 hours is many lifetimes to the average UH-1, Mr. Witte said that he was impressed with how smooth it felt during the milestone flight.

Colonel Wichers said the longevity of tail number 69-6650 is “a real tribute to the wing’s maintainers who have spent countless hours ensuring it was ready to perform its mission. We on the high side couldn’t do it without those on the ramp and in the hangars. Of course, the great New Mexico climate probably didn’t hurt, either,” he said.

For a generation of men and women who fought in Vietnam, this adaptable workhorse remains a symbol of America’s commitment and the service each of them provided. Wherever they go, 58 SOW “Huey” crewmembers are often approached by those to whom the helicopter meant so much.

“Folks are attracted to it and want to share their remembrances,” said Colonel Wichers.
Manufactured by the Bell Helicopter Company in Fort Worth, Texas, tail number 69-6650 first saw duty with Military Airlift Command’s 1550th Aircrew Training and Test Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, which later relocated its mission to Kirtland AFB. While unit designations and training curriculum evolved, this aircraft continued to deliver critical training to crew members.

While officially designated the “Iroquois” by the U.S. Army, the UH-1N, as in “utility helicopter one,” was originally designated the HU-1 and became known as the “Huey” to its adherents. Because of its reliability and adaptability, the Huey would go on to be used by all branches of the U.S. military and 60 foreign nations.

In the 1960s, because of its widespread use in Southeast Asia, the “Huey” became identified with America’s involvement in Vietnam and. symbolized the American war strategy of bringing speed and mobility to the battlefield.

Tail number 69-6650 and others like it continue to fly and train for service they may be called upon to render – even at 40 years old.

HeliHub.com comment – is 15,000 hours really a major milestone?  Here in the UK we have a number of S61s with over 30,000 hours and the peak example well over 43,000 hours.

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