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Boeing is providing a militarized version of Leonardo's AW139 helicopter, the MH-139, to replace the Air Force's aging UH-1N Huey fleet. Boeing photo.

The Air Force will receive its first MH-139 helicopter for testing in December, as it enters the next phase of the $2.4 billion effort to replace the Vietnam-era UH-1N Hueys, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command said Sept. 18.

Boeing and Leonardo are teaming up to provide the MH-139s, a new military variant of a civilian helicopter the Air Force chose one year ago. The fleet of up to 84 airframes will replace Bell-made UH-1 Hueys at nuclear missile fields across the US and for other transport and VIP missions. After years of trying to get a helicopter on contract, the Air Force required that Boeing deliver the first two aircraft by the end of 2019.

“We have a very good helicopter, and everything is on track,” AFGSC Commander Gen. Tim Ray told reporters at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference. “I’m knocking on wood, but I’m very pleased to see that we’re getting ready to have the first aircraft for test delivered here in December.”

He added that airmen expect to receive operational helicopters in fiscal 2021. In fall 2018, the Air Force said it planned to accept ready helos through fiscal 2027.

“We have the military construction lined up, and so we’ll be working at Malmstrom [AFB, Mont.,] to do that,” Ray said. “There are no concerns at this time.”

Some AFGSC operators are working with the test organization at Eglin AFB, Fla., to streamline developmental and operational vetting. The MH-139 requires less strenuous testing because it is based on a proven commercial product, Ray said. All that’s needed is to ensure the helicopter can meet its mission requirements.

“We’re not doing a lot of development testing to prove that the helicopter’s safe to fly,” he said. “At the end of the day, that combined test team with Air Combat Command, who’s the primary lead for test, and then as we look at the beddown game plan up at Malmstrom and as we flow through the command, I’m very pleased with where we are.”