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US Air Force’s MH-139A Grey Wolf Helicopter Achieves Remarkable First Snow Landing

The U.S. Air Force’s MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter stood out amidst the stark scenery of evergreen trees and snow. As it descended, the five-rotor downwash generated a flurry of snow that engulfed both the aircraft and the aircrew inside. The horizon was barely discernible amidst the snowy haze upon landing. This remarkable touchdown marked the culmination of the 413th Flight Test Squadron’s austere landing trials conducted in February at Malmstrom AFB, Montana. Air Force Global Strike Command’s Detachment 7 provided invaluable support during the testing phase. The 413th FLTS examined the MH-139A’s capability to land in unprepared locations, including fields, which is a fundamental skill for any rotary-wing aircraft.

“Snow presents a naturally unstable surface, and one can never be certain of what lies beneath it. When dealing with deep snow, you’re never fully grounded as you would be on other surfaces. You must be prepared for the possibility of surface shifts. It simply means that you must approach the landing with greater caution and respect the potential for changes in the terrain,” stated Palka, one of the pilots involved in the snowy missions.

“Since you can land on almost any surface, you must be prepared for potential ground obstacles and variations in the terrain, such as slopes. The landing surface is assessed from the air, and the approach is typically executed with more care compared to a controlled, paved surface like a runway,” explained Maj. Jonathan Palka, a test pilot from the 413th FLTS.

Following the tests at Duke Field, the 413th Flight Test Squadron and Global Strike Command’s Detachment 7 aircrew traveled north with the Grey Wolf to mountainous regions with elevations exceeding 9,000 feet and single-digit temperatures. Considering that the helicopter will eventually be stationed at bases in northern areas, the stakeholders of the Grey Wolf were interested in assessing its performance in cold weather and snowy conditions, which it will encounter for approximately 4-6 months each year. The aircrew recorded the landings using helmet-mounted cameras and ground-based cameras. Through these trials, the squadron gathered valuable insights about the aircraft, provided data to their clients, and successfully returned the helicopter ahead of schedule, prioritizing safety.

The Boeing MH-139A Grey Wolf is a versatile helicopter, based on the proven AW139 commercial model, designed to safeguard intercontinental ballistic missiles and transport U.S. government officials and security forces. The MH-139A is intended to replace the aging UH-1N Huey fleet of the Air Force. This new helicopter effectively addresses the UH-1N’s shortcomings in terms of speed, range, endurance, payload, and survivability, thereby supporting the Air Force Global Strike Command’s ICBM missions. Manufactured in the United States, the MH-139A offers an off-the-shelf solution that is readily available, combining exceptional performance, operational flexibility, and safety. The Boeing MH-139A guarantees unparalleled affordability, supportability, and reliability, resulting in significant life cycle savings.

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