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Army’s UH-1H choppers retired after 52 years of service, replaced with Korean-made “Surion” fleet

Army’s UH-1H choppers retired after 52 years of service, replaced with Korean-made “Surion” fleet

Army’s UH-1H choppers retired after 52 years of se

"Farewell, Huey!": The Army’s UH-1H helicopters have been retired after 52 years of service. "Mission Complete, Nothing is Wrong!" After completing their final flight of the UH-1H (Huey), two pilots — Warrant Officer Shin Jin-woo and Suh Kyung-hwa — stepped out of the cockpits to report the news to Aviation Operations Command Commander and Chief of Aviation Branch Kang Sun-young: The Army’s UH-1H helicopters had completed their final flight, after 52 years of service in the airspace of the Republic of Korea (ROK).

Officially retired on July 31, the UH-1H helicopters are being replaced with a fleet of Korean-made mobility helicopters, the Surion (KUH-1). “UH-1H will be with us forever in our hearts”: On July 27, the Army held a retirement ceremony for the UH-1H helicopters at the 203 Aviation Battalion of the 17th Air Wing Group, presided over by Commander Kang, to commemorate 52 years of service defending the country and the people.

The ceremony started with a progress report on the management of the UH-1H helicopters, and was followed by farewell flight and offering of flowers, awarding men of merit, a retrospective address, and a commemorative address by the Chief of the Aviation Branch. "Having been retired, leaving an honorable legacy in ROK Army Aviation history, UH-1H’s dignified flight to defend the country and the people will be with us forever in our hearts," Commander Kang said in her address, stressing that she wanted to express her "heartfelt respect to UH-1H, which has made significant achievements in the history of Army Aviation despite difficult conditions, and all members of the Aviation Branch who performed their duties with it."

"I express my congratulations to the UH-1H, which has contributed to the Army, on its final flight and retirement," Chief of Staff of the Army Suh Wook said in his congratulatory telegram, stressing that "its legacy will fill a page in the history of our Army." Pilots, who had performed their duties with UH-1H helicopters for up to 30 years, also said farewell to them. "UH-1H has been a fellow soldier and part of my life since 1989, for 31 years. I would like to thank UH-1H for its hard work. Its record of flight safety has been an excellent achievement," Shin said after the farewell flight.

"From on-duty pilots to flight instructors, we all have taken pride in and felt rewarded by our work to defend the country and the people, while sharing joys and sorrows with UH-1H helicopters. Although the UH-1H helicopters’ service in the Army is complete, I believe that they will remain, standing at attention somewhere in our land, watching the peace of our country," Warrant Officer Choi Byeong-cheol, who has piloted UH-1H helicopters since 1992, said in his retrospective address.

Over 146 million kilometers of flight: Taking the lead in defending the ROK’s airspace, UH-1H helicopters have protected the lives and property of the people, as well as national defense, while serving as the Army’s main mobility force, in areas that include command control, troops and freight transport, and combat support, for more than half a century. The UH-1H helicopters flew a total of 792,000 hours and covered over 146 million kilometers, which is equal to 193 round trips between the Earth and the Moon.

UH-1H helicopters are part of Army Aviation history itself. Having established the 21st Maneuver Air Squadron, which is composed of six UH-1D choppers, in October 1968, the Army opened the rotorcraft era. Starting with the enhancement of engine performance in 1971, the Army pushed to introduce UH-1H helicopters, which had some changes in the location of the pitot tubes (used to measure fluid flow velocity) and the direction of the exhaust pipes.

Having established the Army's 1st Aviation Brigade, a forerunner of what is now the Aviation Operations Command, in 1978, the Army formed the Air Mobility Unit which UH-1H helicopters belong to. This enabled the unification of command systems and flexible aviation support. In the same year, the Army formed the 202 and 203 Aviation Battalions, which exclusively operate UH-1H helicopters, in the 61st Aviation Group under the command of the 1st Aviation Brigade. In the 1980s, the Army reorganized four mobile air forces into the 201·204·205·206 Aviation Battalions to deploy them by area.

The Army has operated 129 UH-1H helicopters in seven battalions after force integration since its establishment of the 207 Aviation Battalion under the command of 21 Aviation Group in 1998. The UH-1H helicopters were mobilized in various trainings and missions. From 1968 to 1996, they were used for the transportation of combat troops and supplies and command control in many operations, including the Uljin·Samcheok area operation and the Hwacheon·Daegu·Suwon·Gangneung area operation.

The UH-1H helicopters also performed their mission of providing military aid to civil authorities following natural disasters. When the Chungcheong area and the western part of Gangwon Province were greatly damaged by Typhoon Thelma in July 1988, 60 UH-1H helicopters and nine 500MD helicopters were mobilized, and saved some 3,000 persons despite heavy winds and rain, an operation that was widely praised. Even in the damages caused by Typhoon Maimi in September 2003, the helicopters were mobilized to provide medical aid and transport relief supplies, providing great help to the people. They also completed fire suppression activities all across the country, including the forest fire in the south area of Chungcheong Province and the north area of Jeolla Province in 1986 and the forest fire in the Goseong area of Gangwon Province in 1996.

The UH-1H helicopters were also mobilized for major national events. During the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, they performed aeromedical evacuation and quick reaction alert (QRA) against terror incidents, as well as covering torch relays. During the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, they were on 24-hour alert.

The UH-1H helicopters will be replaced with Surions. The Army is pushing to enhance its helicopters’ capabilities so that it is better able carry out its missions in all weather conditions, day and night, by addressing the two issues of a lack of load capacity and survivability, which were pointed out in the operation of the existing aged helicopters, and enhancing navigational capability.

Stepping up to the spotlight as the replacement, the Surion helicopters show enhanced stability and pilot survivability because they are equipped with automatic flight control systems, which enable them to automatically fly to the tactical target and to perform missions at night or in bad weather conditions. The Surion helicopters are also equipped with survival systems, such as missile·laser·radar warning receivers, and navigational systems, such as global positioning system·inertial navigation system (GPS·INS) and integrated digital map chart (IDMC), and forward looking infrared (FLIR).

Developed on the basis of Surion helicopters, the Medeon helicopters are also under force integration. The Medeon helicopters are equipped with upgraded precision navigation systems and medical systems, focusing on the UH-1H helicopters’ missions — rescue and patient evacuation work — in war/peace time. Deployed in each base of the frontline area, they will conduct aeromedical evacuation missions to transport emergency patients within the golden hour. "UH-1H’s many missions to defend the country will be taken over by the helicopters in use, such as the Apache, Black Hawk, and Chinook, and Surion and Medeon helicopters under force integration, and light armed helicopters (LAH) under development," Commander Kang said.

Leading the future war based on upgraded aviation operations capabilities, the Army will continue to work to develop into a ‘top-class army that transcends limits.’ Lieutenant Colonel Choi Hyeong-tae, chief of the 203 Aviation Battalion, stressed "We will do our best so that the future high-tech forces, including Surion, can perform their missions admirably, keeping up with the UH-1H’s mission of defending the country." /

Written by Choi Han-young

Photographed by Cho Jong-won
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