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History of the Huey

The Bell UH-1 was the US Army's first operational turbine helicopter, with over 16,000 built, the Bell UH-1 "Huey", would prove one of the most successful aircraft in aviation history.


Bell Model 204

February 23rd 1955, Bell Helicopters was awarded the contract for a new US Army "medevac" helicopter.  Bell designed the model 204 which was assigned the "XH-40" by the military and then changed to HU-1 Iroquois; the HU stood for Helicopter, Utility, quickly leading to the nick name “Huey”.  The designation was later changed to UH however, “Huey” remained the famous name for this helicopter both in and out of the service.  Civilian Models of the helicopter are designated by the number, ex: 204, 205 etc, and any military models of the huey are designated as the UH model (ex: UH-1B, UH-1H, etc).  All UH identified helicopters were ordered for, and or served in one of the branches of the military.

The 204 was Bell's first production turbine helicopter.

The first flight of the Huey was by Pilot, Floyd Carlson on October 22, 1956 in Fort Worth.


Model UH-1A
The first model of the 204 Huey was delivered to the Army on June 30, 1959 and a total of 183 were built, completing orders in 1961. 

The UH-1A was deployed to Vietnam and a number of them were field-fitted with machine guns on a fixed mount next to each side door and were armed with a total of 16 rockets.

Model UH-1B
The Army requested several specific improvements to the Huey, UH-1A and the result was a "UH-1B", produced in March 1961. The UH-1B had a stretched fuselage to provide accommodations for seven passengers; three stretchers, two sitting casualties, and a medical attendant; or 3,000 pounds of cargo.

Bell sold a commercial version of this variant called the "Model 204B.”  The Model 204B was completed in September 1960 and certified in April 1963.  The Navy also operated hand-me-down Army UH-1B gunships in Vietnam, in support of river patrol boats. The gunships would scout ahead of the patrol boats to look for ambushes and back up the boats during an attack. Various Huey models were also operated by "Air America", a front company operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency.


1,033 UH-1Bs and Model 204s were built in all.

The UH-1B saw extensive use in Vietnam, mostly as a gunship.  Transport versions of the UH-1 were known as "Slicks" because of their uncluttered appearance. They were generally armed with M-60 machine guns on a flexible mount in each door to provide covering fire for troops.

The use of dedicated helicopter gunships to escort "Slicks" or "DustOffs" (as medevac Huey’s were known) led to a demonstrable drop in combat damage. In fact, although some believed that helicopters were too fragile to engage in direct combat operations, Huey loss rates were found to be surprisingly acceptable.

The undoubted success of the bell UH-1B gave convincing proof that there was little wrong with the basic design of this utility helicopter.

Model HH-1K, TH-1L, UH-1L

Bell designed another variant of the UH-1B for Search and Rescue Duties for the US Navy, called the "HH-1K".  The US navy ordered 27 of the HH-1K’s in 1970. These rotorcraft were fitted with a Lycoming engine with 1,400 horsepower and had Navy-specified avionics. 90 more were built as training helicopters under the designation "TH-1L Seawolf", and eight were built as "UH-1L" utility rotorcraft.

Model UH-1C
The UH-1C was introduced in September 1965, but only about 750 were built, as by that time Bell was getting ready to introduce the AH-1 "HueyCobra" gunship, which was based on the technology of the UH-1B, and though it lacked some of the great features of the UH-1B, it was able to perform the duties of the gunship which it was intended.

Model UH-1E
In March 1962, Bell won a Marine Corps contract to supply the service with an assault support helicopter, resulting in the "UH-1E". The first flight of the UH-1E was in February 1963 and deliveries began in February 1964. The Marines obtained 250 UH-1Es, similar to the UH-1B but included an external rescue hoist and a rotor brake to keep the rotor in place during shipboard stowage. The Marines also obtained 20 "TH-1E" trainers.

Model UH-1F
In June 1963, Bell won a US Air Force contract for a helicopter to perform missile site support duties, resulting in the "UH-1F", a derivative of the UH-1B. The UH-1F had an even wider, 48 foot diameter rotor and a turboshaft engine with 1,290 horsepower. The first UH-1F flew on February 20th 1964, and deliveries to the Air Force began in September 1964. A total of 119 UH-1F models were ever built.
A number of UH-1F were converted to "UH-1P" psychological warfare rotorcraft, carrying loudspeakers over the jungles of Vietnam to call on the enemy to surrender.

A few "TH-1Fs", modified UH-1Fs,  were also built for instrument flying and hoist training for the USAF.

Model 205


Model UH-1D

Even while Bell was working on improvements of the model 204, in early 1960 Bell proposed another version of the Model 204, to be designated the Model 205 with a longer fuselage and additional cabin space resulting from relocation of the fuel cells, thus providing accommodation for a pilot and 14 troops.  It is easily distinguished from the Model 204 by the fact that the side doors have two windows, rather than one.

Bell proposed the concept to the Army in 1960, leading to the award of a contract in July 1960 for seven Model 205’s which were designated in service as the "UH-1D" prototypes.
The Model 205 first flew on August 16th 1961, and were introduced into service in August 9th 1963.  They were delivered to the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. 

The Model 205/UH-1D became the Army's primary combat transport and medevac helicopter in Vietnam. The smaller Model 204 variants were generally assigned to the gunship role. The Army bought a total of 2,008 UH-1Ds.  All remaining UH-1D’s which had not been destroyed in combat, were upgraded to the UH-1H

Model UH-1H

The UH-1D was followed into production, by the more or less identical UH-1H which differed only in the use of the more powerful engine as well as avionics for night and bad-weather operation, and a Decca radio navigation system.

The UH-1H was produced and delivered to the US Army in September 1967.  The UH-1H was the final production version for the military and remained in production for 20 years. The US Army obtained a total of 3,573 UH-1Hs, and many remain in service, mostly with Army Reserve / National Guard units. They have been kept current with new avionics, improved composite rotor blades, countermeasures equipment such as chaff-flare dispensers and infrared jammers.

Three UH-1Hs were modified to the "EH-1H" signals intelligence (SIGINT) standard. 220 UH-1Hs were converted to the "UH-1V" medevac standard, with a rescue hoist and revised avionics. The USAF also obtained 30 similar "HH-1Hs" with a rescue hoist for Search and Rescue.

The UH-1H was employed extensively on a very wide range of duties in South East Asia, and was regarded by many as the workhorse helicopter par excellence in Vietnam. In particular, the type played a major role in special warfare operations in Laos, Cambodia, and in some of the remote areas of South Vietnam.


UH-1 aircraft have totaled more than 27 million flight hours since Oct. 22, 1956 when the first model of the huey was flown.

Army UH-1's totaled 7,531,955 (Seven Million, Five Hundred Thiry One Thousand, Nine Hundred and fifty Five) flight hours in the Vietnam War between October 1966 and the end of 1975.

The Huey Cobra (AH-1G) had 1,038,969 (One Million, Thirty Eight Thousand, Nine Hundred and Sixty nine) flight hours in Vietnam

The Huey and the Cobra have more combat flight time than any other aircraft in the history of warfare.

Bell Helicopter built 10,005 Hueys from 1957 to 1975. Of the 10,005 production Hueys, 9,216 went to the U.S. Army, 127 to the U.S. Marine Corps, 79 to the U.S. Air Force and 42 to the U.S. Navy.  The rest went to other countries.

Today, There are only 113 B models registered. 9 E models, 12 F models, 10 Training F Models, 1 HH-1K, 8 TH-1L’s, 14 UH-1L, 3 M models, 1 P model, 5 civilian 205’s and 547 UH-1H’s.  

There are zero registered for all other makes and models of the military variant hueys, leaving only 723 Military Varient Huey models in all registered today.


The Huey remains a legend as the most successful rotorcraft in Aviation History.

Vietnam has been judged the "first helicopter war", and certainly the Huey remains a symbol of the conflict far more than any other weapon, from images of Hueys dropping troops into landing zones, to pictures of Hueys thrown off aircraft carriers during the frantic final evacuation.

The UH-1's will always be a common sight in many of the world's military forces, and still is in first-line service in the US Marines.

The USAF historians have claimed that nearly all battlefield casualties were evacuated by UH-1 helicopters.



, Gary Roush

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