5/2/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- For Marine Corps aviators at Robins, the past week has been a bit nostalgic.
That's because the Corps' fleet of UH-1N Huey helicopters is being replaced with the newer UH-1Y model. The first of the new upgraded, four-bladed variants is scheduled to be delivered to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 this summer.
But before that happens, pilots who fly the UH-1N knew the day would come when its reliable twin-blades would turn for one final flight above Middle Georgia.
"It's a bittersweet departure," said Capt. Brett Keller, HMLA-773 assistant aircraft maintenance officer. "Besides flight school aircraft, it's the only aircraft I've ever flown."
Keller, who has flown the UH-1N since 2007, said what he enjoyed most was the utility nature of the aircraft, capable of performing any task.
He described it as not only highly reliable, but easily recognized by sight and by the distinctive sound emanating from its rotor head.
"Usually when the Marine Corps doesn't know what mission to assign an airframe, the Huey guys get a crack at it because we fit into any mission set that's out there," he said.
Keller, along with Capt. Jared Housand, both piloted two UH-1N's as part of a final ordnance evolution on April 25. A crew of several Marines left the flight line last Friday afternoon for a trip to Moody Air Force Base, Ga.
A third UH-1N sat on the flight line. The first departed earlier in the day on a flatbed truck. All are destined to be retired to the 'boneyard' at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
"This aircraft has been going strong for the Marine Corps both with land and sea-based deployments since the 1970s," said Housand, who arrived at Robins to assist with the UH-1Y transition. "It's tried and true. It's tested - been there and done that in combat and training missions all over the world.
"It's a bit sentimental knowing we're going to be walking away from this aircraft. The next time it moves it will be on a truck," he said.
Maintainers and air crews from HMLA-773 have been regularly attending training events at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The UH-1Y will feature upgraded glass cockpit avionics, and increased performance in range, speed and payload.
Housand said he can already tell a difference in the way the two Hueys handle in the air.
"If feels similar ... but the newer one is just really smooth with plenty of power," he said. "While not difficult to fly, the older UH-1N just takes a bit more persuading."
HMLA-773, which falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 49, is the Marine Corps Reserve's only attack helicopter squadron. Including Robins, the Red Dogs squadron also includes sites in Louisiana and New Jersey. These units were some of the final ones to receive their first UH-1Y helicopters.
Lt. Col. David Steele, MAG-49 Det. A commanding officer, said the unit here will receive up to four UH-1Ys. He reiterated the aircraft's capabilities, which included increased dimensions and engine performance and an upgraded sensor.
"When these were first built and delivered in the early 1970s, I don't think anyone would have imagined that they would still be in service in 2014," said Steele, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot.
"The real story here is the Marines who extended the lifespan of these helicopters through their meticulous maintenance procedures during the past 40 years," he added. "The Marines have ensured this platform remained combat ready and relevant until the end.
"The new Huey will provide the lethality and survivability required to meet tomorrow's challenges. These Red Dog Marines are writing the closing chapter on the UH-1N and are starting a new book on an aircraft which will serve our country for years to come."
Lt. Col. Kyle Burress, HMLA-773 commanding officer, said that while the UH-1N has played a critical part in Naval aviation for more than 40 years, the new Huey will be a welcome addition to the fleet.
"Many generations of aviators have had the opportunity to cut their teeth in both combat and peacetime on just about any mission a helicopter pilot can expect to execute," he said. "However, as sad as it is to see it go, we're excited to welcome its successor, the UH-1Y, to the Marine Corps Reserves."
Editor's Note: To watch a video of the UH-1N Huey's final flight, visit www.robins.af.mil or Robins Facebook page.