Air Force Names Its Newest Helicopters “Grey Wolves” Because They Will Fly in “Packs”

The name is also meant to reflect the helicopter’s “ability to roam large distances” while guarding America’s ballistic missile silos.

byJoseph Trevithick|
U.S. Air Force photo


The U.S. Air Force has officially named its new MH-139A light utility helicopter the Grey Wolf. The name is meant to evoke how many of the MH-139As will operate in "packs" to defend America's ballistic missile silos, as well as possessing the endurance necessary to complete that mission set.

U.S. Air Force General Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), announced the name at a ceremony that also marked the delivery of the first MH-139A at Duke Field in Florida on Dec. 19, 2019. There had been some confusion earlier in the week about whether the helicopter's official nickname might be Striker, which is actually just how AFGSC refers to personnel assigned to the command. You can read more about that and the Air Force's naming conventions for helicopters and other aircraft in this recent War Zone story.

This is the first time AFGSC had taken delivery of a new type of aircraft or helicopter and is also the first time the Air Force has had to choose a name for a helicopter that it is the sole U.S. military operator of, at least at present. In a press release, Boeing, which is building the MH-139As in cooperation with Italian defense contractor Leonardo, described the symbolism of the name as such:

The Boeing MH-139A pays homage to the grey wolf, an extremely adaptable species known for its power and endurance, which contributes to its ability to roam large distances. The name falls in line with the geographical areas of the United States represented by Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Force District of Washington. As a pack animal, the Grey Wolf represents the Air Force’s mission sets, which bring multiple aircraft to the fight.

The Air Force is set to take delivery of a total of 84 MH-139As, which are variants of the Leonardo AW139 design, in the coming years to replace its fleet of aging UH-1N Twin Huey helicopters. Boeing and Leonardo first won the contract, which is worth up to $2.8 billion, in September 2018. This was an unexpected choice, something you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone story.

Beyond supporting Air Force Security Forces guarding ballistic missile silos, MH-139As will also take over a host of other support functions that the UH-1Ns have been performing, including VIP transport, local base rescue, disaster relief, and training tasks. The Air Force District of Washington, Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Materiel Command, and Pacific Air Forces, will all eventually become operators of the new Grey Wolves.

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