If you have ever watched a Vietnam movie, then you will recognise this helicopter. The familiar ‘wap wap’ of its large chord main blades gave many soldiers hope of either being rescued, medically evacuated, resupplied with ammo or taking out the enemy with its guns and rockets.
This helicopter has so many uses and is the benchmark of what a helicopter should be capable of. Even today, nearly 64 years since its first flight in October 1959, this helicopter is still around, making it the longest continuous helicopter in service ever.
Originally designed as the UH-1 Iroquois by the American Bell Helicopter company as a medical evacuation and utility helicopter for the United States military, this helicopter soon got the nickname of ‘Huey’ from its original designation as the HU-1.
The Huey was also the first production turbine-powered helicopter in service with the United States. Early models were underpowered with the Lycoming YT53-L-1 engine only producing around 700shp, around 520kW. However, by 1966, the newer Lycoming T53-L-13 engine capable of 1,400 shp (1,000 kW), was installed. This changed the performance of this helicopter dramatically.
Bell built a stretched version of the UH-1 in response to Army demands for a version than could accommodate more troops. This helicopter was first flown during August 1961, just in time for the deployment in Vietnam in March 1962.
In all, around 7,000 Huey helicopters were deployed in the Vietnam theatre, with sadly over 3,300 believed to have been totally destroyed.
The Huey is a true utility helicopter as its uses included general support of operations, air assault, cargo, medical, search and rescue (SAR), electronic warfare and ground attack. Many helicopters were modified in the field to suit other specific operations, often carrying rockets, grenade launchers, machine guns and even loud speakers for propaganda use.
One funny but true story tells how extra-large condoms were dropped from the helicopter over enemy troops, trying to emphasise that American troops were superior in ‘ALL’ aspects over the enemy. Whether this had the desired effect of destroying moral on enemy troops is not known.
Besides the Vietnam War, the Huey has seen service in other conflicts, including the Rhodesian War, Afghanistan, Falklands and the 2007 Lebanon conflict.
A little unknown fact is that the Huey was the pre-cursor of the famous Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.
The Bell 204 and 205 Iroquois versions are models specifically designed for the civilian market.
In response to demand from customers, a twin-engine model, called the UH-1N Twin Huey was developed, first flying in the late 1960s.
In the early 21st century, a four-bladed model known as the ‘Venom’ was also developed. Today the US Army has gradually replaced the Huey with the US built Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and the UH-72 Lakota, built by Eurocopter.
Today, In excess of 16,000 Iroquois have been built, with many still serving in other military air forces and army units. A number of ex-military helicopters are now in civilian service being used in fire-fighting and SAR roles.
Long live the HUEY.