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Lt. Col. Mary Clark emerged confidently from the MH-139A Gray Wolf.

Confidence gained by participating in and leading the development efforts of the first helicopter acquired by the Air Force. This early work from concept to reality culminated when she climbed into one of the pilot‘s seats for the MH-139A’s first flight under Air Force ownership here on August 17.

“This milestone really represents the start of Air Force testing for the Gray Wolf,” said Clark, a former Gray Wolf program requirements officer, now with the 96th Operations Group. “We can now open up these test points for the military and push the boundaries to ensure that we provide that operational capability that units need off the helicopter.”

The Gray Wolf reached this milestone after being released from military flight on August 12. The new status allows Air Force-only crews to test the MH-139A’s military capabilities as the program moves forward. Prior to the release of the military flight, military contractors and Boeing had shared flight duties since the plane arrived here in December 2019.

During this two-and-a-half-year period, military testing was assigned to the 413th Flight Test Squadron and AFGSC Detachment 7, of which Clark was a former commanding officer. The 413th FLTS is the Air Force’s only rotary-wing developmental test unit.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past two years,” Clark said. “This experience allowed us to shape our test plans and ultimately save time. We already know some basic fundamental things that we don’t have to re-establish in our own program. »

The aircraft‘s first flight under its new call sign, Lycan, meaning werewolf, was over and around Duke Field, an auxiliary field north of Eglin. The purpose of this flight was to validate processes, checklists, maintenance, emergency procedures, and crew communication and coordination.

Technology. sergeant. Alexander Graves, an AFGSC Det. 7 Special Missions Airman, was part of both the first MH-139 flights with Boeing in early 2020 and now the all-Air Force flight. The aviator said he didn’t think about his place in Gray Wolf history as the first draftee to fly and instruct on one of the Air Force’s newest planes.

“What an honor,” said Graves, a former C-130 loadmaster, who was chosen to be part of the Gray Wolf program. “I never thought in my career that I would be able to do something like this. It’s so rewarding to finally test the things we’ve built and see that the work we’ve done over the past two years is paying off now.

The objective of the next 15 months of tests on the four MH-139As here will be to validate the safety of the device and to define the limits and achievable maneuvers. Development testing here will ensure that the MH-139A meets AFGSC requirements for operational missions and define the basic operational capabilities on which to build tactics, techniques and procedures.

The MH-139A will replace the Air Force’s fleet of UH-1N aircraft, increasing speed, range, endurance, payload and survivability capabilities. The Air Force will acquire up to 80 helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment. The aircraft will provide vertical airlift and support to four major commands and other operating agencies.

From those humble concept beginnings to feeling the wheels of the MH-139A leave the pavement, Clark said it was truly a magical moment.

“It’s just hugely satisfying to now own and ride something we’ve worked so hard to achieve,” she said with a smile. “Today the leash was cut and we could finally run with the gray wolf.”

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