20th Air Forces prepares for MH-139 with visit to Ireland

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Emily Seaton
  • 20th Air Force

The long awaited UH-1N “Huey” replacement, the MH-139A “Grey Wolf,” has experienced some schedule delays, but that has not stopped the 20th Air Force from preparing for the new aircraft.

Countries from around the world fly the related AW139 in support of defense/military missions, but the first to do so was Ireland who received their first two in 2006.

With over 16 years of experience in this helicopter type, the Irish Air Corps has extensive knowledge to share about the aircraft. Seeing the value in a knowledge exchange, Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, 20 AF commander, visited the IAC in the spring of 2022.

Three representatives from the IAC then visited F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, in August 2022 to gain a better understanding of the 582nd Helicopter Group’s mission within 20 AF.

To continue building on the relationship developed over the past year, 14 20 AF pilots, flight engineers and security forces members ranging from senior airman to colonel visited the IAC’s Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Ireland from Oct. 25-Nov. 2, 2022.

During the visit, the IAC, and more specifically the No. 3 Operations Wing, shared their history, mission, experience, and camaraderie with the U.S. team.

Beyond briefing about the organization and structure of their Defense Forces, the Irish team built context for the U.S. visitors by providing immersive experiences for the team to learn about the history of the Republic of Ireland through tours centered around the Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence.

On the mission side, they progressively provided opportunities for the U.S. aircrews to advance their understanding of the AW139 by allowing them to first explore the aircraft while in the hanger, then ride in the helicopter during a day and night exercise, and later actually fly the aircraft. Throughout the engagements, they shared lessons learned, techniques, tactics and procedures.

“We greatly appreciate the opportunity to interact with the technicians and maintenance crews to learn about challenges the Irish Air Corps experienced in their early days,” explained Col. Philip Bryant, 20 AF/A3/6 director. “We have taken away so many notes that will save us time and money and increase our safety.”

Capt. Nikole Poupart, a 37th Helicopter Squadron flight commander, shared similar thoughts, “it was a great insight into a program that has already been established for the last 16 years with the same aircraft more or less.”

More than just allowing the team to ride in the helicopter, the day and night exercise was a way for the U.S. members to become familiar with the IAC’s way of doing things and to demonstrate capabilities: mission planning, joint operations, communication flow, weapons employment procedures, off-field operations, nighttime flying over water and night vision goggle operations.

“It was cool seeing another agency and how they operate as a crew, and meeting others doing the same job,” said Technical Sgt. Brian Puranen, a 37 HS flight engineer.

The U.S. security forces members also found value in the exercise.

“Experiencing integration between the air and ground forces shed light on possible improvements for future tactics within 20th Air Force,” said Master Sgt. Clayton Staub, 20 AF/A3S program coordinator.

“It was valuable to see how they practice precision firing,” added Master Sgt. Junior Ramirez, 20 AF/A3S functional area manager, weapons and tactics.

In addition to sharing the defense side of their mission, the IAC also shared details about their emergency aero-medical services which allowed the U.S. team to see how the Irish handle being in alert status with a quick response time and needing to scramble in a safe and effective way. Though their missions are not identical, the 582 HG benefited greatly because they must also meet a quick response time.

As Col. John Beurer, 582 HG commander, put it at the end of the visit, “there is a great deal of mission overlap, so it was very easy for us to find commonality.” He added, “after this visit, I am very confident this aircraft will deliver every capability we need. We look forward to continuing this relationship.”

The continued relationship and growth of further opportunities was a common theme on both sides in closing comments.

“It was a pleasure to host the team; we thoroughly enjoyed it and we benefitted and learned as well,” said Lt. Col. David Browne, No. 3 Operations Wing commander. “We do have a lot of similarities and I am glad we were able to add some value…we look forward to expanding the opportunities.”

To sum up the whole experience, “it has been a real pleasure socially, professionally and historically,” said Col. David Corcoran, IAC Chief of Air Staff Operations. “We have had three successful visits and we are hoping to build on this.”

The 20 AF and IAC are currently working to develop the next opportunity for the partnership to expand.