Before the revered UH-60 Blackhawk, there was Huey, the first turbine-powered helicopter in service with the US military, and pioneered the air cavalry, which delivered a battalion into the hostile soil of Ho Chi Minh during the peak of the Vietnam War. Even after the war, the utility aircrafts continued to serve, notably in Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-1991).

An Icon Was Built

The US Army, with the support of the Air Force, looked into acquiring new medical evacuation and/or general utility helicopters in the mid-to-late 1950s to replace its then-current aircraft, the Piasecki H-21 “Shawnee” and Sikorsky CH-34 “Choctaw,” which were either too large, underpowered, or too complicated to maintain. Of all the design submissions, Bell Helicopter’s Model 204 was selected for the contract in early 1955.

UH-1 Prototype
Bell XH-40, a prototype of the UH-1. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

It was the first turbine-powered aircraft, but it made its maiden flight as the Army’s XH-40 in October 1956 and was even stretched slightly as the YH-40. After the successful prototype development and testing, the Army awarded Bell the green light to produce 100 aircraft in 1960. Then, the designation was changed to HU-1A, bearing the official name “Iroquois” to keep up with the Native American tribe naming tradition—though it was famously known for its “Huey” nickname. The nickname stuck even when the Department of Defense (DoD) redesignated it to UH-1 in September 1962.

The Army’s Workhorse

While Huey was mass produced for civilian use, it has predominantly served in the military—notably in the Vietnam War. It significantly played a role in that war as a “helicopter ambulance” and pioneered the “air cavalry,” where troops were easily and quickly mobilized, flying from one warzone to another.